Spotlight on Service: Emily Hoey

Author: TAPS

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The ancient Greek philosopher Plato described what we know today as mentorship, a personal relationship between two people - one with relatively more experience, greater knowledge or particular expertise, and the other with an open mind for new perspectives and insight. Mentorship, however, is not easy, and for many it requires a certain calling. 

For TAPS Peer Mentor Emily Hoey, surviving wife of Army Capt. John Tinsley, the calling to serve others came with a feeling of gratitude. The benefits she derived from TAPS programs compelled her to give back. Emily remembers the moment she registered online to receive the quarterly TAPS Magazine, and even her first phone call. "I received a phone call from Betsy Coffin, and she was great helping me out!" Emily said. "She helped me find a counselor and set me up with a Peer Mentor." 

At the time, Emily had moved from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Cincinnati, Ohio, to be closer to family. But the move resulted in feelings of isolation. It was six months after John's death that she signed up for her first TAPS event. Desperate to meet and connect with other women in her shoes, when she saw the Alaska Widows Retreat being offered in March 2010, Emily said, "I knew I had to go." 

Emily loved "being surrounded by so many other women who understood how I felt and what I was going through," and shortly after she signed up to attend the 16th National Military Survivor Seminar. 

For Emily, finding support and new tools to navigate her grief journey was critical through those early years of grief. The resources offered at the National Seminar allowed her to do just that. In another safe environment, Emily was able to build upon existing friendships from the Alaska Widows Retreat. She also met and connected with other survivors, some who had been walking the grief journey for less time, and some who were more seasoned survivors. 

It was through these experiences that Emily felt the need to give back. "I felt so strongly, and still do, about widows not walking this path alone, that I knew it was my turn to help out," she said. In 2013, Emily attended the Fort Benning Survivor Seminar in Georgia where she took the Peer Mentor training, and she was matched with her first survivor shortly after. She has been a Peer Mentor for more than two and a half years. 

There are aspects of mentoring that are easy and some that provide a challenge. Emily believes that challenges are not always a bad thing; being challenged is a part of growth, and you cannot have one without the other. Some days are challenges where she is still navigating the grief in her own life. "You're reminded of that pain again or that experience, and it can bring up a lot of old emotions," Emily said. "It can be challenging emotionally, and it hurts because you don't want someone to feel what you felt. It can be heartbreaking knowing that I am speaking to someone who's been through that." 

In spite of the challenges, Emily believes that when she is helping her mentee, that survivor is also helping her. "There are lots of sympathetic ears out there, but when you are speaking to someone who has been through those circumstances, there is another bond, and it makes a huge difference," she said. For Emily, the best part of being a TAPS Peer Mentor is knowing that she tries to make her mentee's day a little brighter, and she is able to give an ear or shoulder to a survivor when she needs to talk. 

"It is my hope and best intention that I can be of some help or service to these women," Emily said. "The least I can do is to let them know they are not alone. I am always here and willing to listen." 

Plato understood the significance of mentoring. He felt the power of reciprocal relationships, of listening to and learning
from one another. A shared journey, a quest for understanding or healing, is a truly bonding experience. While no grief journey is smooth and easy, the experience of a peer mentor can help lighten the load on some of the most rugged, difficult stretches. Peer mentors like Emily help because they know the terrain. With strength and experience gained from their own travels and their own mentors, they reach out to provide comfort and companionship.