Are You Ready to Be a Peer Mentor

Author: August Cabrera

During my first TAPS Expedition, I watched new friends stretch, reach and jump for handholds on the rock walls as we climbed. This day, full of red sandstone cliffs near Moab, Utah, was the culmination of our four-day Colorado Plateau adventure. Earlier, as we prepared to rock climb, we learned to be successful we have to properly gear up: shoes, harness, helmet and, the most important thing, a safety line tied to an experienced, committed guide. The best guides are those who have conquered the route you are attempting and who will not only talk you through finding each hold, but who are tied to your safety line, ready to catch you if you should get scared, need a break or even begin to fall.

Survivors Jumping at Retreat

They know how to help because they have been in the same place. 

However, simply having climbed the wall - or walked further down the grief path - doesn't mean you are ready to be a guide. Good guides are only valuable when they come to the relationship fully committed to the success of the person relying on their experience and support. 

If I want to get to the top of a 40-foot wall, I want someone below me who is paying attention, talking me through it, responding to my concerns and ready to catch me. And if I want to reconcile my life with my loss, I want a Peer Mentor who is attentive, communicative, responsive and also ready to be my lifeline on the bad days.  

How do you know if you are ready to be invited into another person's life - someone who has lost a loved one and is searching  for support - and walk alongside them in their grief? How do you know if you are ready for that kind of responsibility and commitment.

Here are three key questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I in a place in my life where I can logistically make this work?

    A good guide is patient and has the necessary time.

    Do you have enough space in your life that you can be available to your mentee on a regular basis? While the time necessary is different for each relationship and can range from daily communication to chats a couple of times a year, you need to know what resources you have available.

  2. Am I in a place in my life where I can emotionally make this work?

    A good guide is prepared and has the necessary strength.

    The Peer Mentor program tries to match mentors and mentees based on relationship and the nature of the loss (combat widow to combat widow, for instance).

    Do you have the emotional strength to hear details of what happened to their loved one without it upsetting you and opening still-tender wounds of your own loss?

  3. Am I in a place in my life where I can commit to it being all about them?

    A good guide is present and has the necessary safety equipment.

This is not a typical friendship, this is a loosely structured relationship where the main focus is on the mentee’s journey. Are you committed to being as present as possible to your mentee? Do you have your own support network, connections within the TAPS Peer Mentor program or maybe even your own personal Peer Mentor as your necessary safety equipment?

If you have pondered these questions and discover you are ready to begin a new part of your journey helping another survivor navigate his or her own grief, please contact TAPS at

Maybe now it is your turn to grab a safety line or a phone and commit to supporting another survivor. Your shared experience could mean all the difference for the person on the other end of the line. And the relationship created when two survivors are joined together is life changing for everyone.

By August Cabrera, Surviving Spouse of Lt. Col. David Cabrera: August is raising her boys with the love and support of her friends, family and fiancée near Washington, D.C. Currently pursuing a degree in writing, she says, "I kept waiting for the right time to follow my dreams, but it turns out now is all we have." She believes in teaching her boys to be grateful for what is, not wishing for what was. And according to her, her TAPS family is near the top of the list of things she is grateful for in her life.