TAPS Peer Mentor: Someone to Lean On
Author: Lalaine Estella
Peer Mentor Sara Wilson (left), surviving spouse of retired Navy Captain David Wilson, and her mentee, Kellye Bone (right), surviving spouse of retired Air Force Technical Sergeant Thomas Bone, have similar stories—their husbands had long military careers in similar jobs, they died of similar causes, and they both have daughters around the same ages (11 and 7 for Sara; 21, 13, and 9 for Kellye). They met for the first time at this year’s National Military Survivor Seminar over Memorial Day Weekend. They help each other in very different ways to navigate the painful path of grief.
Kellye: When she emailed me for the first time, it was very quick and to the point. She didn’t beat around the bush. She said she lost her husband, now tell me about you.
Sara: The first contact after that was a little tentative, because Kellye asked me to give her a call and in this world of emailing and texting, I had to remember what to do!
What it was like to meet in person:
Kellye: I walked in late to a workshop. I came through the door and Sara’s eyes jumped out at me. There was a look of happiness. I knew who she was before I met her. She came up and hugged me, and suddenly I felt I wasn’t lost anymore. It was a profound moment.
Sara: I was sitting at an orientation for new attendees, and a few minutes into the presentation a woman walked in. Sure enough, it was Kellye, and I jumped up to give her a hug and pull out a chair for her to sit next to me!
How each would describe the other:
Kellye: She is the Navy version of me. We have similar stories. Her husband did radar, my husband did radar. Her husband died of a sudden illness, mine died suddenly from flash pulmonary edema. Our kids are around the same age. She can complete my sentences because she has been in my shoes. But she has more strength. When I met her I looked at her and said, “I forgot you’re a survivor too.” She said, “Everyone here is a survivor.”
Sara: I would describe Kellye as a strong woman who is confident in her place in the world. Her values are solid, and it’s so clear how much she loves her husband and daughters.
How she’s helped you:
Kellye: She made me feel that I was not alone. She gives me hope and guidance when I feel lost. There were so many complications with my husband’s burial, for example. Sara called to check on me, and I told her what was happening. She suggested I cancel the funeral. I did. I didn’t know I could do that. It was such a relief. I wasn’t going crazy; she made me feel sane.
Sara: She has helped me realize that I still have the ability to help people, even though I’m still on my grief journey.
How you’ve helped her:
Kellye: She told me that I give her hope and strength. I’m not sure, really. At the seminar, she told me, “Thank you for helping me remember what’s important.”
Sara: I hope I have helped her in some small way to realize how much strength she has in the face of adversity. I love that she took this cross-country trip with her girls to the National Seminar to open up her heart and do the hard work that grief work really is.
How she’s changed you:
Kellye: She has opened my mind and given me strength. She keeps me going.
Sara: I think that getting into this Peer Mentor relationship really helped me change how I view myself. And I realize that I am armed with so much information, good counsel, wonderful friendships, and deep resources because of TAPS.
One thing you’d like her to remember:
Kellye: She matters. Sara saved my life. I wouldn’t be here without her.
Sara: I would like Kellye to always remember that she is not alone. Some of her friends might be 3,000 miles away, or online, or on the phone, or just there in spirit, but we are there to lift her up and accompany her on her journey.
Be Part of the Peer Mentor Program
The TAPS Peer Mentor Program equips survivors 18 months past their loss to serve as a mentor to fellow survivors looking for support from someone who truly understands. Our Peer Mentors are survivors who are trained by peer professionals to accompany others in their grief.
If you are an adult survivor and would like to be connected with a Peer Mentor, please call the National Military Survivor Helpline at 800-959-8277 and ask to speak with a member of our Survivor Care Team, who will walk you through the process.
Photo courtesy of Tara Ruby