Unity is What Makes Us Stronger

Author: Amy Dozier

To My TAPS Family,

We have had quite the journey together, haven't we? Thank you for being there for me in my darkest hours and in my brightest accomplishments. We have grown so much and found our way to accomplish things we never imagined. Yet, the world around us recently seems a sad and scary place. The discontent and lack of purpose in others, serves to remind me, yet again, how important it is to find my balance amid the storms that pass. You all help me find my way to safe harbor by being the buoy that keeps me afloat in rough waters.

TAPS Survivors at retreat

I used to think grief was a step-by-step process; that once I was "all done" I would be "better" and back to "normal." I've learned this is a massively fallacious concept. Grief is a shadow that follows us around, taking on different shapes and sizes at any given time. External events buffet us and cause us to doubt the route of our grief journey.

Let's face it, grief is a part of who we are since the death of our loved one and it doesn't go away. Guess what? That might actually be a good thing. Our grief milestones are the breadcrumbs on our ultimate path to healing. It is a reminder that we are so incredibly lucky to have fully loved.

There have been a lot of changes in our community over the last year. As a result, I saw the tone of our hearts greatly change. What happened to some of our Gold Star Families-and in Chattanooga, at the Navy Yard and beyond-could happen to any one of us. I'm so fearful this tornado of negativity has stirred up a lot of emotions in many, especially those who have suffered a traumatic loss.

When devastation occurs in the lives of one of our own, it happens again to all of us. We feel their pain so deeply that it can also bring the raw emotion of our past experiences to the surface again.

In those moments, we feel the need to only move forward, that doing so is the only way to accomplish something positive. I recently struggled with the idea that we need to also take steps backward in our grief. When the shadow of grief is cast over us, we can do one of two things: either see it as all of our old emotional junk dragging us down, or turn it into a springboard for action. I hope we choose the latter outlook as we face a New Year.

It's quite possible; however, that we may need a little extra encouragement as we use these little backwards dance steps to fuel our march forward.

That is why I count on my greatest support network-you. You get it. You get me. And every once in awhile, I find myself back at my therapist's office, not because I am weak, but because I have the courage to open my heart and sort out the many emotions that flood it. Scary? Yes. Imperative for my continued growth? Absolutely.

I'm learning that there's a great relief that comes with a clean slate. New beginnings allow us to start over with different perspectives and expectations. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I'm learning is that starting fresh means saying "I'm sorry" for not letting others in to help when I thought I could do this by myself. Be mindful of this as you navigate your own "new." Let people love you. You're worthy of the best kind of love.

I realized that our potential does not stop because our loved one is gone. Indeed, do they not watch over us as we take fledgling steps into tomorrow? Do they not still see us as we cross the finish line of a race or the graduation stage with a new diploma? We must find a unity of purpose to unlock the future potential that still awaits each of us. I know I can't find it without you to walk beside me.

I am so grateful to have you to talk to; to laugh and cry with; to share stories with. Look at how far we have come on this road. It's beautiful how we actively turn tragedy into a story that helps others and us to heal- even if it sometimes seems slow going. We have each other and we have so many resources to help us through this storm.

While grief may never leave us, we can help put it to rest occasionally by grounding ourselves and being honest. Look around you right now and list five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Do it again. Take your time. This is grounding. This is you controlling your body in space right now and connecting with the earth below you. Close your eyes, breathe in and let yourself feel whatever is in your heart. Sit with that for a moment and know that you are okay. Exhale. You're still okay even if it hurts. I promise.

If there is ever a day you doubt yourself, remember this: you are amazing because you are here; you are so worthy because you try. You always have the capacity- and the permission-to rewrite your story when you feel it isn't quite the way you want it. You have potential! Some days the focus is simply keeping your head above the water. Other days include reminding yourself your track record of getting through the hard times is currently at 100%!

Maybe you'll find an "accountability friend" who will help push you through your challenges as you find greater strength. Find your person-or your people-who listen to your heart. Make your best effort to be present in every moment and every feeling. Part of getting through the hard times is living it as it's happening. You may cry, but at some point, you'll realize there is strength in letting go of all those tears. Again, what you choose for self-care is the right thing for you!

My prayer for you in 2016 is that you find that one thing that reinforces your purpose here on earth. You have so much to share and I can't wait to see the great things we all do! This journey is difficult, but oh, it is every bit as beautiful because we have each other. Take care of you in 2016 and know that you are loved by so many in your TAPS Family. 

Amy DozierBy Amy Dozier, surviving wife of SFC Jonathan Kilian Dozier: Amy Dozier is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Public Affairs with a concentration in nonprofit and community service leadership. She is a volunteer with TAPS. Amy finds solace in pouring her heart onto paper and hopes to provide support to others the way TAPS has given support to her family.