Carrying Each Other Through the Load of Grief

Author: Betty Medlock

My parents, who were part of the Greatest Generation, taught me to respect and honor Memorial Day. But, while several members of my extended family served our country, none died while serving. So, for much of my life, Memorial Day remained mostly an abstract holiday.

All that changed in January 2016, when I lost my son, Michael.

After Michael’s death, Memorial Day shifted from abstract to too real. For our family, every day was Memorial Day. I struggled with what to do with the weight of such heartache and grief. As the months ticked by, I remained stuck with a sadness and despondency I had never known as my first “real” Memorial Day approached.

Fortunately, that year, friends encouraged me to join them on the Carry the Load walk in Dallas. Over the years, I had seen Carry the Load television commercials and billboards, so I was familiar with the organization. I respected and appreciated their mission of emphasizing the authentic significance of Memorial Day, I just never thought it would be so personal to me and my family.

Betty Medlock at Carry the Load 2023

The three-mile Katy Trail of the Dallas relay was lined with thousands of photo storyboards testifying to the shared sacrifice of military service members and first responders who died in the line of duty. As I walked along the trail, I stopped and read the stories of these brave men and women, like my son, who had served and died protecting our country.

On that walk Memorial Day 2016, a surreal thing happened. While I was carrying the name and memory of Michael, I felt the weight of my sadness disbursed and shared by so many other walkers on the trail. In unity with them, my burden of grief was dissipated with an enormous sense of pride and gratitude for all those who have served and died.


TAPS is a nonprofit partner of Carry the Load

Passionate about the goals and purpose of Carry the Load, I’ve become their biggest TAPS cheerleader. As the event has grown over the years, so has the TAPS presence in the program. We, TAPS, have been honored for the past several years to be selected as a nonprofit partner with Carry the Load. One of the benefits of this partnership is the opportunity to have a booth display at the Memorial Day weekend event in Dallas. There, we share the hope and healing TAPS offers with the thousands of visitors who attend.

This year, hundreds of TAPS families are participating in 29 city relays throughout the country as the five Carry the Load teams make their way to Dallas. These relays provide a tangible way for fellow survivors to carry the load of grief while sharing the TAPS mission. This year, like every year, I look forward to talking with others along the trails — hearing their stories and learning about the hero they are honoring. So much is gained when we share our load with others.

Since attending my first Carry the Load event in Dallas in 2016, my life has changed dramatically. I am an eight-year survivor of the worst day of my life, a TAPS Peer Mentor, and a Care Group Leader. In my early days of grief, my heart was closed to the idea that anything good could come from Michael’s death. But God’s plans persist despite my stubbornness.


New Friendships in the midst of Shared Tragedy

One of the beautiful blessings of this journey has been the people who have been brought into my life through shared tragedy, including Marlynn Olivarez. Both TAPS and Carry the Load have been a part of that.

I met Marlynn on a TAPS Zoom chat during the pandemic and knew immediately I wanted to be her new best friend. It was amazing how many common denominators of life experiences we shared. And, although a fellow Texan, she hailed from the far southern border of this big state. It is most unlikely our paths would ever have crossed, if not for TAPS. Marlynn lost her son, U.S. Air Force Captain Nathan Olivarez, in 2017 and came to TAPS soon after.

Our friendship blossomed over the months both via Zoom and phone conversations. We were both Peer Mentors, but sometimes, Peer Mentors need some peer support too, and we became that for each other.

I was amazed when Marlynn offered to drive nine hours across the state to help our local TAPS group at the Carry the Load weekend. What a great opportunity to hug my new friend in person. Over that weekend, we shared TAPS with hundreds of participants at the event and shared our grief with each other — deepening our bond of friendship. Carry the Load has become our annual reunion over these past three years.

Betty Medlock at Carry the Load 2023

Betty Medlock at Carry the Load 2023

Our friendship is another reminder of the most remarkable thing about this grief journey. Laced within the tapestry of grief are golden threads of blessings. Sometimes we have to look for them with intention, sometimes others have to show them to us, and sometimes we are the ones who point them out to others. Because that is the common bond of this TAPS Family — to carry the load of grief with each other.

Join Carry the Load in this Moving Tribute

All throughout the month of May, TAPS will participate in the Carry the Load Memorial May campaign. No matter where you are in the country, you can be a part of this moving tribute to America’s fallen. Walk a route near you, fundraise, or donate in honor of your hero. Visit our TAPS Carry the Load page to access routes, registration, and donation links.

Betty Medlock is the surviving mother of Sergeant Michael Medlock, U.S. Marine Corps.

Photos are courtesy of Betty Medlock.