Peer Mentor Program
Author: Claire Hunter
We have all heard them and even used them ourselves. I am talking about metaphors to describe grief and the grip it can have on us. The visual is often easier to say and understood by others when words are hard to find.
Grief is like a wave. It comes in and out. Grief is like being out in the middle of the ocean in a boat with no paddles. You can’t control the movement. Grief is like a phantom. Something that is scary and unknown. Grief is like a roller coaster. It can be unexpected and make your stomach feel like it is in your chest. Grief is like walking into a dark room. You can’t always easily feel your way through it. Grief is like a maze. You never know where it is going to take you.
And while it can help to find some way to explain what we are feeling, especially since it is unique - specific to how we are feeling in our own skin; what if we didn’t always need words or descriptions to help someone else understand? What if the person you are talking to just knew? What if that person just ‘got it?’
It is a dichotomy that while grief can be difficult to put into words, we often have a need to be heard to help us feel less alone. It can be especially meaningful to feel this sense of being heard and connected when a loss is attached to a specific culture, like military service.
Being heard, understood, and having a sense of community is at the heart of TAPS and is the mission focus of the TAPS Peer Mentor program.
Our program’s foundation is the power of connecting to others with similar experience. Our one-to-one parings of two adult military survivors offer a companion to new survivors as they face their unexpected path. In addition to our one to one matching; we also engage our peer mentors in leadership and facilitator roles supporting survivors within our care groups, TAPS Togethers, seminars and ambassador program. A TAPS Peer Mentor is a survivor who is at least 18 months beyond their loss who has reached a place where they feel ready to give of their time and their heart to be a supportive presence to a new survivor (their ‘mentee’). Peer Mentors receiving training and become a vital part of our outreach and complete the circle of love that is TAPS.
We have often heard our mentees say, “My mentor just gets it.” This brings relief and comfort to know we are heard and validated in our grief. It’s as if a weight is lifted and makes the images we used earlier to help describe the potentially indescribable grip of grief in different terms. We now feel as though we have the strength to take on the grief waves and support others to paddle into more peaceful waters. That phantom of grief is less scary and more familiar. The roller coaster feels a bit smoother now. That dark room is finally less dark. And that maze seems to have fewer obstructions.
As one of our beloved Peer Mentors has so aptly described the experience of pairing two survivors together who have experienced similar loss: “Heartache and pain shared is heartache and pain halved.”
Would you like to take your experience and help ease the heartache and pain of another? Please consider becoming a Peer Mentor. The gift of your presence can offer hope to another that through the waves and roller coaster of grief - they are not alone.
By Claire Hunter, TAPS Peer Mentor Coordinator
Want to become a Peer Mentor?
Interested in connecting with a Peer Mentor?
Need that special someone who just “gets it?” Request a Peer Mentor today!