Letters from TAPS: Navigating Men’s Grief

Author: Gabriel Rao

Dear TAPS Family,

What does it feel like to hike the Appalachians' most challenging peaks? To reel in a trout while fly fishing in a remote corner of Montana's breathtaking wilderness? To share these experiences with a group of men who get it? Profound. 

Gabriel Rao

Recent evolutions at TAPS provide a space solely for men to explore beautiful locales of our great American landscape while navigating together the unique terrain that is a man's grief. 

As men, there is no denying that our journey through grief is different. It's not about right or wrong; there are just aspects of our path that we may not share with the women in our lives. Oftentimes men are the fixers of things, the solvers of problems, and the providers of security. The rocks upon which our families depend. We put on masks, conceal our emotions, and step up to take care of those we love who are hurting. What are we to do, then, when the pain of our own grief seems unbearable?  How do we begin to understand or express something we cannot fix or even comprehend? 

The TAPS Men's Program (#TAPSMen) creates a space for men to come together as they are sorting through these questions and more. We are focused on providing various types of opportunities for #TAPSMen to connect in order for all to find something within their comfort zone. For those who attend seminars, we facilitate men's specific support groups at Regionals and venture offsite for half-day activities at the National Military Survivor Seminar. For those who have more time to commit, we offer multiday Men's Wilderness Adventures and Retreats. 

Our multiday #TAPSMen options are tailored to provide you (or a man in your life) an environment outside of the normal pressures of day-to-day responsibilities with space to explore your grief on your terms while connecting with other men who truly understand. For our first Men's Wilderness Adventure, a group of six men hiked the mountainous terrain of the Presidential Traverse on the Appalachian Trail. Admittedly, it was no easy feat, but the physical challenge it presented brought us closer to one another, and to our loved ones as well. Ascending above the tree lines to summit five peaks together left us feeling accomplished, connected, and with broadened perspectives. 

Maxwell Turner, the surviving brother of Private First Class Neil Turner, said, "This experience was life changing. I have made new lifelong friends and found a renewed confidence in myself."

Our second annual Montana Men's Retreat was less physically daunting but no less awe-inspiring. The rustic beauty of Montana, paired with the exhilaration of fly fishing in the Yellowstone River, created an incredible backdrop for men to share conversations with others who identify with their journey. 

TAPS designed both experiences with the intention of creating starting points for conversations in smaller group settings or during journaling exercises on your own, at your own pace. We recognize the importance of the validation you can experience when you, for the first time, hear a peer say, "Me too." 

"It had been a long time since embarking on a true outdoor adventure," said David Adams, surviving father of Sergeant Brandon Adams. "It was so fulfilling to be with others who share the same pain and grief."

At TAPS, we continually update our programming to better meet the needs of the survivors we serve. The growth of our TAPS Men's Program is largely dependent upon you, our #TAPSMen, and the unique challenges you face. Come join us. 

I look forward to sharing in the journey alongside you at a TAPS Men's Event.

With warmth and care, 

Gabriel Rao
TAPS Expeditions Project Manager