I Thought I Knew Grief... TAPS Has Set a New Course for My Future

Author: John Wellington Huss II

I don’t need to learn about grief– I am living grief. The overwhelming waves of sorrow and raging undertows of fear pull me out to sea. When the waves rise, I can pop my head up and gasp for air, sometimes for an extended time. But, the waves inevitably crash. They spin me head over heels and drag me down. The riptides continue, wave after wave, forever. I have been grieving the loss of my son for two and a half years. I know grief. 

I Know Grief

I already had my village– I had been in a 12-step alcohol recovery fellowship for many years. Through this program, I have become very close with several men who are now my anchors. They have held me up in my darkest moments, listening, supporting, and encouraging me through my loss. I can be vulnerable and comfortably cry with them. 

I also have my wife Janine, and no one understands the loss of Christopher better than his mother. We take turns along our grief journey, with one of us being the rock for the one who is falling apart. Yet, occasionally we both crash at the same time. Losing Christopher has strengthened our bond, for which I am deeply grateful. I don’t know how I could do it without her. 

Janine encouraged me to join her at the 2021 TAPS Southeast Regional Military Seminar in Jacksonville, Florida. I knew that it would be good for her to build a support village of her own, so I wanted her to make some connections at the seminar. Not expecting much, I agreed to go with Janine. Maybe I would make a friend or learn a thing or two. But as I said, I don’t need to learn about grief. I’m a grief pro.

Speaker at TAPS Seminar

I Didn’t Know It All

On Friday, August 13, I arrived at the seminar. Janine could no longer attend Friday’s sessions because of a conflicting event, and initially, I didn’t want to go without her. However, that whole day, something inside me was urging me to go. I decided at least one of us should join the First Time Attendee Gathering. And so, I went, alone but not for long. I can’t exactly explain the feeling I got as I walked up to check into the seminar. It was sort of like a cup of hot cocoa after a hard day in the cold rain. People smile and say hello all the time. But, this experience felt so different– genuine and warm. You’re just going to have to experience it for yourself. 

Dinner conversations with fellow survivors flowed naturally– sometimes light, sometimes heavy, but always real. At the First Time Attendee Gathering, we all introduced ourselves. We honored our loved ones by name and shared an interesting tidbit about ourselves. Before we broke for dessert, I knew I had been wrong. I didn’t know it all. I was about to learn much more about my grief journey. 

Session facilitators had a level of understanding, empathy, wisdom, and love that I have rarely ever seen. Janine joined me on the second day of the seminar, and we listened, shared, and learned. We shed tears for ourselves and others. We also smiled, even laughed, and grew. By Sunday, I found myself wishing that I could have attended every single session that was offered.

Fallen Hero photo display at TAPS Seminar

I Didn’t Want to Leave My Taps Family

Janine and I met loads of wonderful people. People like us, learning to live through a difficult loss. Although stories, circumstances, and details varied, we were all the same. I had a feeling that this might happen. I mentioned my alcohol recovery fellowship earlier, and one of the most beautiful things about it is walking into a group of alcoholics and not needing to explain my problem. We all have the same problem. They understand me, and I understand them. 

And TAPS is the same. You know my pain, and I know yours. We share the pain. We don’t have to start from scratch. We have a fundamental understanding of each other. And it is beautiful. We are all members of a club that no one ever wants to join. I am, however, sincerely grateful for it. No one has to do this alone. I know that my wife and I will see many of the friends we made at the seminar again. I’m already looking forward to attending another TAPS Event. At the end of the weekend, I found myself not wanting to leave. It was hard to say goodbye to my new family.

Survivors laugh together at TAPS Seminar

You Just Don't Know What You Don't Know

I had so much to learn, and I still do. Grief is a journey without a destination– it is love with nowhere to go. Somehow, grief keeps me connected to my son. Christopher will always be a part of me, even though he is not physically here with me. And there will never come a day where that doesn’t hurt. I will carry both my grief and my love for my son for the rest of my life. That is how it should be. 

Now, I won’t share everything I learned from this seminar. But there’s a reason for that; I want to meet you. I want you to come to a TAPS Event, share your loved one’s story over dessert, hear from amazing mentors and teachers, and become a part of our beautiful TAPS family. 

Now, I will tell you that TAPS has set a new course for my future. The seminar gave me hope. TAPS helped me understand. Most importantly, it helped me accept my grief. Today, my grief feels appropriate, necessary, and natural. I owe that feeling to my new TAPS family. Although I still have a lot to discover about my grief journey, I feel like I picked up a surfboard from TAPS. I can’t stop the waves, but I can learn how to ride them. And TAPS has made me want to learn.

John Wellington Huss II is the surviving father of U.S. Army Private Christopher Wellington Huss.

Photos: TAPS Archives