Volunteer Spotlight: Surviving Military Parents Advocate for Fellow Survivors

Author: TAPS

Volunteer Andy Weiss and Kim Ruocco

For three and a half years, the Chicagoland community has had Andy and Julianne Weiss holding the tender hands of those in grief. Together, they facilitate the Chicago-area TAPS Care Group, a monthly support group for those who know the loss of someone who has served in the military.

The couple are Peer Mentors and have trained in ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills. They lost their son, Daniel, a first lieutenant in the Army, in 2012. They actively advocate for military surviving loved ones in their community when they are not running their home-based import business.

Question: How did you come to lead the Care Group?

Andy: When we were struggling to find our equilibrium after Danny’s death, Kim (Ruocco) and Bonnie (Carroll) saved our lives. We saw them running around at a seminar and they told us about the Peer Mentor program. We couldn’t do the training at the time because we were only six months out. Exactly 18 months and 20 seconds out from our loss, we took the peer mentor training. It was part of our grieving process…I dragged Julianne into the Care Group.

Julianne: And I am glad to help! We’ve been fortunate that we’re different and are able to help each other in our grief differently. And in that way, we show others that there are different ways to grieve.

Andy: My wife shows up with her yin, I am the yang.

Volunteer Julianne Weiss

Question: What do you like about facilitating a support group?

Andy: I have selfish reasons. Through service, we’re loving on Danny. Leading a support group is just a real lovely way to remember my son. I am honored by people sharing their stories, honored to be with people who have been profoundly damaged and are still hopeful to embrace life. That’s a treasure.

Julianne: I love hearing everyone’s stories about their loved ones, and learning about their lives and what they did and their service. I really appreciate that — getting to know everyone. They can talk about anything, any part of their lives when they come to the group. It’s very special.

Question: What do you say to those who are hesitant to come to a TAPS Care Group?

Andy: Often times, especially early on in the loss, people are afraid of everything. The last thing you want to do is see other people. I tell them to come as your strengths and needs and schedule allows. It is constantly shifting. Overcoming fear is a personal battle; we’re ready when they are.

Julianne: Sometimes our own families don’t understand what we’re going through and yet, you can come to Care Group and everyone understands your feelings. They can open up with the group, and not necessarily with their families because there’s that grief and military connection. I also say: If you want to come and just listen, that’s fine. You don’t have to speak or share. Just come. You don’t have to be alone.

View our calendar of upcoming TAPS Care groups across the country.

TAPS welcomes new volunteers. Visit our Volunteer page or email volunteer@taps.org.