A Comforting Companion for the Journey

Authors: Rachelle Ellis , Sue Quackenbush

TAPS Peer Mentor Program - Sharing Strength and Hope

From Rachelle Ellis…

Tommy, Jarrett and Rachelle EllisPhoto courtesy of Rachelle Ellis.

I will never forget March 26, 2019.

I received the news that my son, Jarrett, had passed away. Jarrett was such an amazing young man. He was loving, caring, funny, and compassionate. He had so much going for him and I just couldn't believe it. I was in shock. My whole world came crashing down. I couldn't believe the nightmare that was now before me.

My husband Tommy and I had lost Tommy's oldest son (my stepson), Josh, in 2012 and then we lost Jarrett seven years later. Together, Tommy and I are trying to our best to adjust to our lives as they now are. We are truly blessed with all love and support we have received, but nobody knows how we feel - nor do I ever want them to.

My husband and I have been with each other for 24 years, so we know how to support each other. We know when to give an extra hug, allow personal space, or when we need “us time” to escape from the hustle and bustle. He always reminds me that we are in this together. However, my husband prefers to grieve alone, and I prefer to grieve in the company of others.

As someone that needs to talk and connect with people, I was appreciative of the TAPS Survivor Care Team member who listened when I was in shock and who guided me to the TAPS Peer Mentor program. 

I was blessed to be connected with Sue Quackenbush. As a surviving mother who has also lost two boys, she and I connected in a very personal way. I find great comfort in that she “gets it.” She knows how I am feeling and her kindness, compassion and words of wisdom offer me hope and lift me up. 

She acknowledges special dates and she takes the time to send me special notes of remembrance, which are a gift to my heart. It lets me know I will never be alone in this tragic nightmare. I know on my hardest days I can call Sue and she can offer me calm and help me focus on the positive in my life.


From Sue Quackenbush…

Sue Quackenbush and Melinda KanePhoto courtesy of Sue Quackenbush.

I am a surviving granddaughter, daughter, spouse and mother. As a peer mentor, I am someone who has lived through grief and am now sharing that experience with someone new. Rachelle and I have a strong mentor-mentee relationship. It makes such a difference to say “I know” to her about the loss of two children.

Rachelle calls Sue her ‘grieving angel.’ Rachelle encourages others to find the comfort a  peer mentor can bring. Her message to her fellow survivors is: “A peer mentor will listen when family and friends don't want to talk. They (my family/friends) don't want to get me upset, but not talking about Jarrett makes me feel he is being forgotten. I know my family and friends love him too but they don't want to hurt me by bringing him up. I can call Sue and she listens to me no matter how many times she has heard my stories.”

Sue has taken her experience and brought hope to Rachelle and others. She honors her sons through being a comforting presence to others. “As a TAPS Peer Mentor, I try to be a good listener, non-judgmental and honest. Trust, confidentiality, and mutual respect have a powerful, positive effect on mentoring. I cannot say enough about TAPS and the vision of one woman to see through her own pain to help others. I will spend the rest of my life trying to do the same.”


TAPS Survivors cooking with Chef IrvinePhoto courtesy of Sue Quackenbush.

About TAPS Peer Mentors

Whether you’re further along in your grief journey and ready to help others or recently bereaved and reaching for hope, the TAPS Peer Mentor program can offer you the opportunity to make a difference or provide strength and encouragement as you cope with loss. Visit TAPS Peer Mentors to learn more.