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Red Rose - Blurred
Saturday Morning Message: Replying to Comments About Your Grief Journey

March 25, 2017

Good Morning,

This week's question had so many responses that I am going to keep my comments short, but I wanted to send you a picture of a rose, my favorite flower, and have you read this poem, "Don't Tell Me That You Understand," written by Joanetta Hendel and sent by Karl, father of Tre. Karl wrote, "I sent my family and friends this great poem I found hoping it would help."  The last lines of the poem are the perfect short words to say to those people who think you should be somehow over your grief. "Just hold my hand and let me cry, and say, 'My friend, I care.'"

Would you like to read how other survivors respond to a topic or question you have? I would love to gather some thoughts for future Saturday Morning Messages. You can also submit favorite songs that are meaningful to you. It can be helpful to read and hear how others cope. If you would like to send a message communicating your thoughts to one or all of those who wrote this week, send it to me and I will make sure your thoughts are passed along to them. I encourage you to reply to the question of the week by emailing your response to online@taps.org. I directly receive all emails sent to this address. In order to have your reply included in the week's Saturday Morning Message, it is best to send them to me by Tuesday of the following week. This week's question is located below my signature. Thank you to everyone responding this week and those who read this message.

Hugs,
Carol 

Question for Next Week's Saturday Morning Message 

Adra, mother of Kyle, sent this question: Do you have a favorite photograph of your loved one?  Write a short paragraph about the picture.  This will be a great way to introduce our loved ones. 

  Song for the Week 

Anne, mother of Michael, sent the song this week, which is "My Buddy." Anne wrote, "This song is so meaningful to me. I lost my husband, John, on June 6, 2015. He was a Purple Heart Korean War veteran, and his nickname was Buddy. We were married 59 years, and he was my Buddy and my best friend. I hope you enjoy hearing the words to this song as much as I do. It is a very old song, and the sentiments fit my feelings!" 

Answers from Survivors 

From Timothy, father of Thomas: This has helped me, and perhaps it will mean something to you. Grief, at least to me, is the same road traveled differently by each person who has been made to drudge its dreary path. We all have to find our own way, our own route, our own speed on the road of grief. There are no guidelines, no warning signs, no directional indicators. Only a difficult, tiring, often heart-wrenching and woefully misunderstood journey for those who must traverse the road of grief. And though the scenery may change, or our perception of the scenery may change, the road is still the same - the road of grief. No stop signs, no yield signs and no final destination. Only the road. There are no traffic cops, so no one can, or should, attempt to direct another's journey. Only those undertaking the journey are qualified to determine their path. Grieve your own way, make allowances for those who mean well but miss the mark, accept help from those who truly offer help and remember that only you can walk this road. At your own pace, on your own path, on your own terms. God bless and give you peace.

Belinda, mother of Benjamin: First of all, unless you've been through what we have you can't understand, but here is what I'd say: There is no time limit with grief. When it first comes, it's a great big bag we carry on our backs, and over time the bag gets smaller and smaller but it never goes away. We just learn to live with it. Benjamin is always on my mind and in my heart until the day I see him again in eternity.

From Dan, father of John: I still struggle with the question about our children from people I meet for the first time. Most often, these occur in business settings and are not the time or place to get into the very heavy topic of the loss of a child. I still remember the first time someone asked a very innocent question, after John died, of how many children I have and how old they are. Not wanting to rip off the painful scab to the hole in my heart, I paused and then only mentioned our oldest daughter, Ashley. I have grown through my grief to now be able to answer that we have a boy and girl and that Ashley is 29 and John would have been 27. It has taken six years to get to this point, but each time I feel the pain and anxiety well up. Now, when I meet someone new, I avoid asking them questions about family and children so I can avoid having to answer them back.

From Diane, spouse of William: It still surprises me that even after this time, with most of the people I know thinking I should be over my grief, it still can sneak up on me. Grief is a journey. I will never be "over it," it is just a lifelong journey. But I know I get to go to an event in Colorado Springs in a few weeks, and I can reach out to our community for support.

From Kitty, mother of John: I am getting on with life with a tremendous hole in my heart.  Have you lost a child? It's like you've lost a part of yourself. You can hardly think or breathe for that matter. I happened to have loved my son very much. Besides, it's not the natural order of life for a child to precede the parents. I'm not living in the past; I just haven't found my "new normal" yet without my son. It would help me if I knew that you were praying for my "new normal." Would you pray for me? Thanks.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: I'll never forget the first time someone said that to me - it had only been a year. I was speechless and so hurt. It is now four years since my son's death. I just tell people, "Four years is like four minutes and forever." My son will always be a part of my life. I will talk about him all the days of my life. I carry him with me everywhere I go, and he is part of everything I do. There is no "getting over it." I will never get over it. That's just the way it is. The amount of grief is in proportion to the amount of love (someone said that and I felt it was so true). I love my son with my whole life. So no, I won't ever be over it. Get on with life? Move on? I do - every day. I get out of bed. I put one foot in front of the other and move, one step at a time. Some days are better than others. That's just the way it is. It doesn't bother me anymore when people utter such useless clichés. This is the journey we are on. It is difficult every single day. It will all be better one day - the day I see Caleb again in heaven. Until then, I know I will miss him something terribly - all the days of my life.

From Karl, father of Tre: I have lost MANY so-called friends since my son's passing. I guess I have just accepted the ignorance of others. So it's all relevant. I've had people say to me, "Well, your son had no business in Afghanistan." Now, I just write it off as ignorance.

From Rebecca, mother of Griff: My reply would be honest: "My son is always going to be in my heart, in my life. There is no getting over my son Griff's future that would have been. I am always grieving and will never not be grieving. The emptiness and guilt will never go away. The longer Griff is in Heaven, the more I miss him - the more depressed I feel. My son is my purpose in life. There is no getting over his journey to Heaven. What you said to me is hurtful."

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: I would say, "I am sorry that you have lost your patience for my tragedy. The loss of a child is something you never get over. You have good and bad days while learning to live a new normal without them. If listening to me about my child is too much for you, then please take my number out of your phone."

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Amazingly, I have never had a remark made to me that offended me, however, I was extremely careful where I went and with whom I had contact. If I encounter a statement now that would let me know the person talking has no idea of the grief and loss journey, this is probably what I would do: There is a radio program that has a soundbite in its introduction of a woman saying, "Do you understand the words coming out of my mouth?" I've often thought that if I encountered someone making an inappropriate comment, I would change the wording in a nice way to say, "Do you understand the words coming out of your mouth?" Hopefully, I would build a bridge and not make the situation worse, although I can sometimes react too soon.

Upcoming Video and Text Chats 

General Support Chat  
Date: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern 
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at1-800-959-8277.

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Service Member Medals
Requesting Your Service Member’s Military Records

March 20, 2017

~ Jen Harlow, TAPS Casework Director

While military records are used to establish benefits and entitlements, they also tell the story of our heroes' military careers, capturing important events, dates and locations of service. These cherished treasures of our loved ones' service can be comforting in a time when grief has our emotions swirling and we don't feel like there's much we can control.

Memories help us feel like our loved ones' legacies live on, so displaying these military records, awards and decorations can be a healing experience. Many families choose to reach out and ask for copies of the records, awards and decorations for historical, genealogical and memorial safekeeping.

The National Personnel Records Center, located at the U.S. National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri, holds the historical records of nearly 100 million veterans. Full military records may be requested by the Next of Kin. The process and cost for replacement medals differs among service branches.

Each service branch has its own definition of Next of Kin who may request records: 

  • In the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, Next of Kin refers to the un-remarried surviving spouse, child, parent or sibling.
  • The Army defines Next of Kin as the surviving spouse, eldest child, parent, eldest sibling or eldest grandchild. 

If you are not the Next of Kin, you can request certain records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). If you do not meet the definitions listed, you are considered to be a member of the general public and have access to records that can be released without violation of the Privacy Act. General public requests include the following: name, service number (not the Social Security number), rank, dates of service, awards and decorations and place of entrance and separation.

Replacement or duplicate medals and decorations may be ordered online. Generally, there is no cost; however, if a service or cost is associated, the requester will be notified.

The TAPS Casework department is available to answer questions on how to request records. Reach out to us at casework@taps.org or call 800-959-8277.

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Traveling With TAPS
5 Things to Pack for the Grief Journey

~ Erin Jacobson, Survivor

March 19, 2017

Whenever we travel to a new location, there are elements of both uncertainty and promise. We try to pack our bags in anticipation of planned activities, weather and terrain. The grief journey takes us to unknown places, and while we don't know all that we will encounter, we can be mindful to pack some things to help us on the journey ahead.

  1. Self-care: We pack our toiletries to help us take care of our appearance, health and physical needs. So too on the grief journey we need to be mindful to take care of ourselves. Be aware of your needs. Do you need time alone? Or do you feel like being around others? Are you overwhelmed about making a decision? Do you need a break from the day? Tell others if and how they can support you. Grief is exhausting. Take time to sleep and rest. Make food choices that will help fuel your body for the long road ahead.
  2. Memories: When we travel, we make sure to pack our favorite clothes, the most comfortable pajamas - even some fuzzy slippers are nice. These are some comforts of home. So too, we bring our loved ones with us on the grief journey as we remember them. They are a part of our former selves. Take time to remember your loved one's laugh, smile and hug. Share stories of your loved one with others who understand this journey, or make a sacred space where you can go to intentionally remember him or her.
  3. Compassion: For our trips, we often bring with us the "what if" items - a nice outfit in case we go out, an umbrella because what if it rains? or spare band-aids in case of any falls or cuts along the way. Trips don't always go as planned. There will be delays, unexpected weather and events that didn't meet our expectations. Grief has its ups and downs and unexpected moments. Compassion for ourselves gives us the flexibility and the attitude to cope with the unexpected.
  4. Presence: A camera helps us document our presence on the journey. It takes a snapshot of a moment in time. In grief, we honor our loved ones by being "in the moment" with our grief. Make time to be still and take in your surroundings. Take a walk at dawn or sunset as a time to reflect and regroup, and take in the beauty. Take grief one moment at a time.
  5. Open mind: Our passport enables us to have adventures worldwide. A zest for adventure helps us open our hearts to our grief and to others who are grieving. When we become adventurous and open to experiences, we can be there for others, sharing our travels and honoring our loved ones. Take a step out of your comfort zone to experience something new. Attend an event you think your loved one would have loved as a way to honor him or her and yourself.

Every grief journey is unique and every sojourner has his or her incomparable story. Traveling together makes the adventure a positive and healing experience.

Are you interested in sharing the journey with others?
Pack your grief gear and plan to attend an event with your TAPS family this year. Find out more here.


From the pen of…

Erin Jacobson, Director of Survivor Programs, has been with TAPS since 2011 after her fiancé, Army Ranger, Cpl. Jason Kessler was killed in Iraq. She is currently getting her Master's Degree in Nonprofit Leadership, has a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling and has completed post-baccalaureate studies in Art History and Fine Arts.

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Survivor at Hawaii Seminar
Saturday Morning Message: Handling the Balance of Life

March 18, 2017

Good Morning,

This week's question about how each of us handle the emotional events of our lives was reflective, so I chose a picture showing a survivor taking time to contemplate. She is sitting by the ocean, but others may like to take a walk in the woods or just find somewhere quiet to think. In the early days of my grief journey, I went to the cemetery to sit on a bench and think about how my life had changed and how I could honor my son. I used to rely solely on myself, but now I find that I reach out to others a lot more when I find myself having difficulty with an event that comes suddenly and brings a range of emotions. I believe I began to change when I connected with TAPS. I found others who had gone through the same experience, and talking to them was uplifting. Now, when I face a problem of any kind, I am likely to call or email a close friend to get another opinion and support. 

Tuesday was a perfect day to think about this week's question. A snowstorm came to my area,   which made it a wonderful time to think about the replies that came from survivors this week. Each person handles these times differently, and there is no right or wrong answer. Thank you to all who shared their thoughts this week. If you would like to comment on any of the replies, please send them to me and I will pass them on to the person who wrote it. 

Questions are the backbone of the Saturday Morning Message. In order to keep the Saturday Morning Message fresh, I am always looking for more questions or topics you would like to see addressed. You can email me at online@taps.org. I directly receive all responses that are sent to this address. Replies to the weekly question are best sent to me by Tuesday afternoon. You are an important part of this message, and I look forward to your questions or any ideas you may have. 

One suggestion a survivor had was to include a song of the week, which is now a weekly section. If you have a song that is special to you or reminds you of your loved one, please send it along with a sentence or two about what makes this song distinctive. One of our contributors, Andy, father of Danny, makes a playlist on Spotify of the songs that appear in the Saturday Morning Messages along with a few other songs that are special to him. The playlist is called "Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Songs of Love and Remembrance." You can sign up for Spotify for free to listen to the playlist. I often listen to it and think of our TAPS family while I am on the computer. 

Hugs,
Carol 

Question for Next Week's Saturday Morning Message 

Caryn, mother of Nathan, sent this week's question. It is one that we have all had to face. Caryn wrote, "What do you, or would you, say to someone who makes comments like: 'You're still not over your son's death? It has been six years already. You need to get on with life and not live in the past!'" I look forward to your responses. 

   Song for the Week 

Linda, mother of Christopher, sent the song of the week. Linda wrote, "'When I Get Where I'm Going,'" sung by Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton, touches my heart in so many ways. Of course, the lovely words, so sweet and precious, would make any eye misty. But the lyrics that really pull at my heartstrings are in the second verse. The thought of Chris's granddad being there to greet him as he came home fills my heart with joy and my eyes with tears. They had a very special relationship, and I know how happy they each must have been to see one another again."  

Answers from Survivors 

From Cheryl, mother of Jack: As I read the topic of the week, it was like I could feel that seesaw of emotions, the ups and downs of my grief experience like waves in the ocean. There are times I talk about Jack and I can smile or laugh. Then, yesterday, as I was sharing with someone that Jack had been killed by an IED, I was crying and mourning. It has been up and down continually for me. How do I respond to some of life's ups and downs? Well, we are all struggling with so many emotions, memories and life experiences that I do not always respond the way I think I should. And there are times when I do wait, consider, alter and correct my impulsive reaction. I do go talk to a counselor, and I do not have plans to stop. Through the past seven years, I have learned that I may always be up and down. I may always have some pain in my heart for Jack, I may always have times where I mess up and react the wrong way, but it is all OK.

From Ed, father of Misty and Edward: I balance things by working. I work as many hours that I can. I have been doing this for almost six years now. 

From Merry, mother of Wesley: During the early stages of my grief journey, I felt paralyzed by decisions that needed to be made. When another catastrophe occurred, like those on the daily news - even those that were not directly relating to me - they affected me and sent me into a preservation mode. It was very hard to move forward from week to week.

Gradually, over the coming months, as I embraced healing, my mind and body started to react much differently, and I realized I could handle a little more each month. Situations that would set me back then are more of a minor distraction now, and I can face them and carry on.  

I now know that I can come alongside others who are experiencing the grief journey because I started to care about them, keep in touch and send out cards of support. I'm less focused on my own problems, and I can actually take in other people's concerns.

My journey thus far has taken four and a half years to come to the point of listening to others and helping if I can. The TAPS chat room saved my life during the first year, attending regional and national seminars was another step, having a mentor was another and becoming a peer mentor is now another. I look forward to what my faith has brought me to -  a calling on a different path. Oct. 5, 2012, was a former life, and I cannot return. Oct. 6, 2012, began a completely different journey, and I have a lot of support and company, which includes TAPS.

Upcoming Video and Text Chats  

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs    

Survivors of Illness Loss Chat 
Date: Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Kim Suggs 

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at 1-800-959-8277.

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Survivors Smiling at National Seminar
Saturday Morning Message: Benefits of TAPS Seminars

March 11, 2017

Good Morning,

In this picture, you can see the smiles on these survivors' faces as they hug each other. For me, that is the best part of attending a TAPS Seminar. I spend a lot of time on the computer, but when I go to a TAPS Seminar, I get to meet other survivors in person. We can go to the workshops and events that are planned or just sit, have a cup of coffee and talk for as long as we want. Survivors come from all over the country, so we usually don't have a chance to meet in person except at a TAPS Seminar.

When I first went to a seminar, I thought everyone would sit around crying, but I soon found out that survivors could also smile as we shared memories of our loved ones. Now when I go, I look forward to meeting those with whom I am in contact through the Saturday Morning Message, the Writers' Circle Newsletter and the chats that I co-moderate. I also seek out those who look lost and need a hug or just someone to sit and talk. Connecting with others helps me, and I have made lifelong friends from going to the TAPS Seminars. Later in this message, you will read what other survivors have to say about the benefits of the seminars.

You can learn more and sign up for our 2017 seminars on the TAPS website under Survivor Events. We hope you'll join us at a seminar this year.

This week, there were many survivors who sent me topics and songs for future Saturday Morning Messages, but I am always looking for more. If you have a question or would like to read how other survivors respond to a topic you have, please send them to online@taps.org. I directly receive all responses that are sent to this address. If you would like to send a message thanking one or all of those who wrote this week, send it to me and I will make sure your thoughts are passed along to them.

I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. In order to have your reply included, it is best to send it to me by Tuesday afternoon of the following week. 

I wanted to share some information about the Writers' Circle Newsletter. It is a monthly newsletter that goes out to those survivors who sign up for it. It provides a forum for those who like to write about their grief journey in a way that does not answer a question from the Saturday Morning Message. The submissions can be prose, poems, or any other way the survivor wishes to communicate feelings. If that sounds like it would be of interest to you, send a request to online@taps.org and you will be included in the upcoming March newsletter.

Thank you to all who contributed to this week's message as well as those who read it.

Hugs,
Carol 

Question for Next Week's Saturday Morning Message 

This week's question and song centers around the changes in our lives that are brought on by the deaths of the most precious people in our lives. I look forward to your responses. 

Bonnie, mother of Andrew, came up with a great reflective question. There is no right or wrong answer because we are all different. Sometimes knowing ourselves helps us understand our emotions. I know her question made me sit down and think a bit. Bonnie wrote, "Life is a seesaw with continual ups and downs. How do you handle the balance of it? Do you react right away when something happens or sit back a bit? Do you reach out to others or hold it all inside?" 

  Song for the Week 

Adra, mother of Kyle, sent the song for this week, which is "Landslide," written and sung by Stevie Nicks. Adra wrote, "Landslide is about the risk of loving. Seasons in our lives change, love grows and we climb mountains. The risk of a landslide only increases. Still, we climb mountains; still, we love." 

Answers from Survivors 

From Belinda, mother of Benjamin: The National Suicide Survivor Seminar last October in St. Petersburg, Florida, was the first one Glen and I attended. Benjamin had only been gone nine months, but I felt a compulsive need to go. Thank God I did! What impressed me most was the fact that others understood my pain in a way no one else did or could. I wasn't alone, and I desperately needed to know that. Glen and I made new friends that weekend who will last a lifetime.

From Robert, father of Louis: I think the most important thing was the sense of community with everyone. Some thoughts we usually keep to ourselves could be shared because we all understood the depth of our loss. We all could say his or her name without worrying people will think we're obsessed.

From Don, father of Joshua: I find a lot of comfort when I come to a TAPS Seminar. I love reconnecting with old friends whom I now consider family. Even more important to me is meeting new survivors who may seem lost and out of place. I find I benefit from offering them a compassionate listening ear and showing them how they fit in with this group none of us wanted to be a part of. I get more out of welcoming them than they do. There isn't much I remember about my early days of grief. However, I do remember how I felt when others did the same for me. A warm smile, a gentle hug, a firm handshake and comforting words can make a big difference to someone new in their grief, and I love sharing them with anyone willing to receive.  

Upcoming Video and Text Chats

Parent Chat  
Date: Monday, March 13, 2017 
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern 
Hosted By: Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson  

General Support Chat  
Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern 
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs  

West Coast Online Care Group  
Date: Tuesday, March 14, 2017 
Time: 11 PM - 12 AM Eastern, 8 PM Pacific 
Hosted By: Kellie Hazlett and Peer Mentor  

Survivors of Suicide Loss Video and Audio Chat  
Date: Thursday, March 16, 2017 
Time: 9 PM - 10 PM Eastern 
Hosted By: Carla Stumpf-Patton and Kim Suggs

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.  

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at1-800-959-8277.  

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Linda Ambard
7 Lessons Running Taught Me About Grief

~ Linda Ambard, Survivor

March 10, 2017

Just like grief, running is a journey, not a destination. My journey with running began nearly 41 years ago. While I was once pretty fast and I was a collegiate runner, I run for other reasons now. Running is the essence of who I am and it is the gift that I give myself. When my husband, Phil, was killed nearly six years ago, running became my way forward. It allowed me to process the tears, the fears, the confusion, the devastation and, at times, the misplaced anger. Here are seven lessons I've learned about my grief as I've pounded the pavement:

1. Focus on the next step. I have run 113 marathons. Never once did I think I had a marathon in the basket. I know the race will hurt. I am going to want to quit. I may fall down. I may veer off course for a brief time. But if I concentrate only on the step ahead, I will get there.

2. Go places you never thought possible. Running has given me a hard fought independence. I didn't know who I was when I became a widow and my children all left the house. Last year, I ran the Great Wall of China Marathon because it was the last thing on my first bucket list. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. It was the hardest marathon I have ever completed - both physically exhausting and liberating.

3. Trust your training, your body and yourself. People always want to tell a griever how to grieve and to put a timeline on grief. I had doctors try to prescribe antidepressants and sleeping pills shortly after Phil's death. I had friends want to ply me with alcohol or set me up on a date. I knew none of those would help and I would feel worse in the long run. Running is about trusting one's training, body and self, when everything screams to quit. Yes, it hurts. Yes, I want to quit. But I will continue to pursue the finish line.

4. Find a spark of hope. I used to run status quo, wearing all black and thinking it made me look thinner. After Phil's death, I was tired of darkness. I started wearing pink, sparkles and costumes. I now run happy. Humor is part of spiritual resiliency. Thus, if one can genuinely find laughter in grief, it can be a jump start. Humor produces optimism; optimism produces hope in what lies ahead.

5. There is light to be had in the darkness. Running gets me outside in the light. In my darkest hours, I lace up my running shoes and run until the moment of heartache has passed. I always feel better when I am finished. It quiets my soul and drives out the darkness.

6. Connecting helps on the journey. Running has brought me to people and untold friendships. Grief is isolating, and as a shy introvert, I withdrew into my house after Phil's death. I ran the Vermont Marathon just weeks after Phil was killed. I will never forget the runners who came out to support me and to laugh with me when my polka-dotted skirt fell down mid-race. Team TAPS has allowed me to connect in a comfortable and safe way with other surviving families. I wasn't comfortable talking about my grief initially, but these connections gave me a way to reconnect to a world I thought I wanted no part of.

7. You can face your fears. I was at the Boston Marathon in 2013. One stop light from the finish line. I could see the end, and as I pressed on, the first boom hit. While I was processing what that boom meant, the second blast came as mass chaos erupted all around me. I ran for my life and found myself cowering about a half mile from the finish line. That day lives in my nightmares and flashbacks, but in 2016, I took back my finish line. I simply could not let terrorism take my running too.

Running is my journey of life and living. It isn't always easy, but I run the road ahead, one step at a time, and know that I honor Phil and myself. 

Are you ready to find your own resilience? To find your feet on your grief journey and connect with others who are part of Team TAPS, register now to secure a spot in the Marine Corps Marathon or Army Ten-Miler.

 

From the pen of…

Linda K. Ambard is the surviving spouse of Maj. Phil Ambard, killed in action in April 2011. She works as a violence prevention specialist and in resiliency for the Air Force at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Linda has completed 113 marathons to include the Great Wall of China Marathon and the Boston Marathon. She is the author of "Courageously Alive--A Walk through Military Loss."

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Dana O'Brien
How Persistence and Patience Paid Off

~ Dana O'Brien, Survivor

March 10, 2017

My wife and I found TAPS in May 2010 after my grandson's death by suicide the previous year. We were overwhelmed at our first TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar - to have to admit this loss is real is so difficult. But we found the family and comfort we needed.

My wife was determined to be a TAPS Peer Mentor. As a Marine who served in Vietnam, I wasn't sure I could be a mentor to another person because of my own post-traumatic stress. I was a bit hesitant, but I accompanied her to the training. And even though I was not signed up, TAPS encouraged me to complete the training, and I found myself joining the group. Through that training, I was equipped with the tools to take my own loss and grief and help others.

In the summer of 2012, the TAPS Peer Mentor team matched me with my third mentee Simon. Simon's son died by suicide earlier that year. I called Simon two or three times a month, never connecting directly with him but leaving messages or speaking with his brother. While Simon's brother said the calls were appreciated, Simon just couldn't talk. I never gave up. I continued calling and speaking with his brother for almost two years.

Then, in 2014, I was reading an old issue of the VFW magazine I had saved. The magazine listed the military deaths during the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. I read the list, and there was Simon's son's name. A thought came to me. Could this be another way to reach out to Simon and make that personal contact? I found his address and mailed the magazine and a card with a note to him. I still had not spoken with Simon one-on-one, but my phone rang at 6:30 the following Monday morning. It was Simon. He told me how grateful he was for the magazine, my card and all the phone calls to his brother. I was overwhelmed with happiness on so many levels. Our contact has continued to this day.

In September 2016, Simon indicated he was giving up. My peer mentor training kicked in, and I immediately contacted TAPS. The TAPS Peer Mentor program saved a life. Simon has thanked me many times for my help. He calls me his angel and says he would not be here if not for me. It's so powerful! The gifts Simon and my other mentees give me cannot be replaced. They have given me happiness, helped me to open up more and my post-traumatic stress symptoms have lessened. My mentees help me go on and honor my grandson's legacy.

This reluctant peer mentor is so grateful for TAPS.


From the pen of…

Dana O'Brien is the surviving grandfather of Marine Cpl. Daniel O'Brien. Dana was born in Presque Isle, Maine. Dana joined the Marine Corps in 1966. During his time in Vietnam, he served with the 1st Battalion/9th Marines, The Walking Dead. Dana has three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He lives in South Carolina with his wife.

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Renee Taylor
Peer Mentoring Forges a Deeper Sibling Bond

March 10, 2017

When Renee Taylor's younger brother, Army National Guard Capt. Jonathan Shively, died in 2010, she didn't know how to process her loss as a sibling. "We all talked about him all of the time, but I didn't really think, I lost my brother." Renee attended her first TAPS event and started to see her loss as her own. She realized she could be sad about losing her brother and not just sad about her mom losing a son.

As she began to process her own loss, Renee and her older brother, Wally, wanted to get more involved with TAPS. Renee suggested that they attend a peer mentor training. What they didn't realize was that going through this experience together would forge a deeper sibling bond.

After completing the training, Renee and Wally would practice with each other using the tools they had been taught. Naturally, their practice sessions led to conversations about Jonathan. "We were able to talk about our loss and talk about our brother," Renee said. "By having Wally to do these things with kind of brought us closer together and made our younger brother feel closer to us."

Throughout their time as peer mentors, Renee and Wally have continued to support and encourage each other. "Not long after I had gone through the training, TAPS called and said they had a mentee for me. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm not sure I'm ready,'" Renee said. "But Wally was there cheering me on. It was like another little safety net."

Through the shared experience of mentoring others, Renee and Wally have been able to lean on each other and grow in their healing.

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Medal of Freedom
6 Women Who Inspire Us In Grief

March 8, 2017

Women have defined so much of our world's history as leaders and pioneers. So, why wouldn't they help us define the way we grieve? In honor of International Women's Day, we recognize some of the women who inspire us along the grief journey.

1. Our mothers

The woman who gave me the courage to grieve is my sweet mom, the most genuine, kind-hearted person I've ever known. When my brother died, she somehow instinctively knew when to rein me in, when to honor my silence, when to counter my sass and when to just let me wander. She was the teeter to my totter, helping me balance the unwelcome weight of my broken heart. It was she who understood what I couldn't say, and it was she who was brave enough to acknowledge that grieving lasts a lifetime, not a season. She frequently said, "It is what it is," not with an attitude of defeat, but more as a challenge to go on living. When she gave up this life to join her hero son not long ago, it was a tribute to them both to etch the words on her headstone, "It is what it is… a life well lived." It was my mom who gave me the courage to grieve, but more importantly, it was she who gave me the courage to live. - Michele Marcum, surviving sister 

2. Our friends

The woman who has inspired me in my grief journey and whom I admire is Tammie Pulliam. She lived in my hometown. Her husband and all of her children, three young sons, were killed in an automobile accident. I remember being obsessed with locating her and speaking with her after the death of my son, Justin. I needed to hear from someone who had been through this. Watching her live her life has inspired and helped me tremendously. Her story of tremendous courage and faith has given me the courage to grieve. Her life has been a testimony of how you can live through an irrevocable, life-changing event, full of unimaginable sorrow, and channel that grief into something positive. Tammie said, "Let's think of the beginning of spring, and be forever reminded of life - and the joy, love and excitement that [our loved ones] brought into our lives when they were here." - Paula Davis, surviving mother

3. Our daughters

The woman who gave me courage to grieve was right beside me that fateful night. I tried to keep my composure so she wouldn't see me crumble. Over the next several months and years, she encouraged me to open myself up to the possibility of life; the option to grieve and move beyond the feelings of shock, confusions, brokenness and anxiety. She showed me that the hard road was worth it and that I was worthy of unconditional love. She gave me the courage I needed to live life as it should be lived. It is the strength I have gained from her that has made me selfless and whole again. She has no idea the impact she has made, for she is only a child. She is my daughter. - Amy Dozier, surviving spouse

4. Our cousins

My cousin, Catherine, gave me the courage to grieve by always reminding me that she was just a short phone call away. Catherine may have lived Massachusetts while I was in Maryland, but she never hesitated to respond to a text message or answer a phone call, even if it meant leaving work in the middle of the day. She taught me that when I grieved, I was never alone. There was always someone who would be there to talk to me and understand the way I was feeling without asking any questions. Her support not only helped me when I needed her, but it taught me how to support others when they need me. - Grace Derbyshire, surviving cousin

5. Our heroes we've never met

I remember my mother using Jackie Kennedy as an inspiration for who she wanted me to emulate when I grew up. With poise and grace, Jackie was well dressed and educated. She was everything a young lady should aspire to be. My mother died by suicide when I was 19 years old and it changed my perspective on a lot of things in life, but one thing stayed the same; I still wanted to be that woman my mother envisioned. I will never forget buying a dress for my mother's funeral. After crying in the middle of the mall when I couldn't find a black dress, I remember walking into one store and seeing the most elegantly cut black and white dress, one that looked like Jackie Kennedy would have worn and one my mother would have loved. One that represented everything that my mother was, poised and elegant just like the role model she had chosen for me many years before. - Ashlynne Haycock, surviving daughter

6. Our TAPS President and Founder

Bonnie Carroll has inspired me with her heart of service and her ability to dream and create. Through her example, I have seen that each of us can use our natural gifts and skills to help one another. It is through being the best versions of ourselves, using what we have been given and daring to reach outside of our own experience that we can help other people get back up again after tragedy. Bonnie is a constant inspiration that when there is a void, maybe we can be the ones to bring hope and be that helping hand to assist our brothers and sisters along the path towards healing. - Erin Jacobson, surviving fiancée

Who inspires you on your grief journey? A family member? A peer mentor? A celebrity? Share your thoughts below.

 

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Jeanne Weaver - Shoes Painting
Saturday Morning Message: A Change of Purpose After Loved One's Death

March 4, 2017

Good Morning,

Our life is forever changed after the death of a loved one. This week's question was about doing things that honor our loved ones as our purpose in life changes. Jeanne, mother of Todd, sent this link to the "Open to Hope" radio show in which she was interviewed. Jeanne is an artist who has created many paintings including one series titled "Losing Todd: A Mother's Journey." This painting is the first in a series Jeanne painted. She writes, "They were Todd's shoes - his red leather baby shoes purchased in Hungary where we lived when Todd learned to walk." 

Think about the things you do well and consider using them to honor your loved one while touching others. This week, several survivors wrote about what they are doing, which you will read later in the blog. 

One idea to think about is the TAPS Peer Mentor Program. You can request a peer mentor who is at least 18 months beyond their own loss, has had training and can connect with you through a variety of communications. Later, you can decide to become a peer mentor yourself. As I have said before, that is how the Saturday Morning Message came to be. There were a group of survivors with whom I was in contact as a peer mentor and this was a way to connect weekly. 

Questions are the backbone of the Saturday Morning Message. In order to keep the Saturday Morning Message fresh, I am looking for more questions. If you have questions or topics you would like to see addressed in the Saturday Morning Message, you can email me at online@taps.org. I directly receive all responses that are sent to this address. 

I am looking for songs to feature as the song for the week. Please send me a song that has touched your heart and a few sentences about why it is special. 

In addition to replies that are placed in the message, I also look for thoughts you have. You can write to me anytime just to communicate or share your thoughts on what could make the Saturday Morning Message more helpful. Replies to the weekly question are best sent to me by Tuesday afternoon. You are an important part of this message, and I look forward to your questions or any ideas you may have. 

Hugs,
Carol 

Question for Next Week's Saturday Morning Message 

The 23rd Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp is coming up May 25 - May 29. There are a few things that are important for you to know about the National Military Survivor Seminar. I thought it would be helpful for those who have never been to a TAPS Seminar to read the answers to this question: What did you find most beneficial to you at a TAPS Seminar? We look forward to your answers.

There are a few things that are important for you to know about the National Military Survivor Seminar.

Donated Airfare: TAPS is pleased to be able to offer, through the generosity of the Fisher House Foundation, a limited number of flights for survivors attending the National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp. The deadline to apply for donated airfare isMarch 30.

Scholarships Available: If the registration fees or lodging are barriers to your attending, please let us know. We understand that the costs associated with attending this Seminar may prevent some from being able to join us, and we want to be sure everyone has access to this loving support. We are able to offer registration fee waivers and lodging assistance based on need and upon application. The deadline to apply for a scholarship is April 26

 Song for the Week

Joann, mother of Blaine, sent the song for this week, which is "You Should Be Here" by Cole Swindell. The words are so meaningful to all of us. 

Answers from Survivors 

From Belinda, mother of Benjamin: Benjamin was my baby even though he was 42 when he died. I can't hug or cuddle him anymore, but I now volunteer as a cuddler to drug-addicted babies at our local hospital. It fills a void in me! I hold them, feed them, change diapers and, yes, I have even been peed on, but God has allowed me to do this. As I said, my son was a grown man and doesn't need me anymore, but the babies do and being needed is what I need.

Jeanne Weaver - Comfort CreaturesFrom Peggy, mother of Cody: I never really thought about having purpose before my son, Cody, passed. However, when he took his life I made a vow to him that I would not let his death be in vain, and I have kept true to that. Two years after his death, my family and I came up with the idea of creating Comfort Creatures for children of the fallen regardless of relationship or cause of death. We began sewing and creating and, to this point, have made and distributed over 2,000 creatures in my son's honor. Cody generally had a love for children, and he was so good with them. I know Cody was young at 18 years old and lived a short life, but he has inspired me in ways I never knew possible. I would have never seen myself or my family doing something like this before his death. Making these creatures has given my family purpose in life again. We have distributed these creatures at TAPS Regional and National Seminars, Snowball Express and even to an orphanage overseas. This year we plan on continuing this and will be trying to extend this into Survivor Outreach Services as well. 

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: Since the death of my son I have been more aware of people, places and things. I need to put my phone down more but am working on it. I do make sure my many grandkids know who we are and what we do because we are interested in them. They are of various ages from one to 21. And we are having our 10th grandchild in August. My Eugene would have been delighted with all these kids. I am sure he would have had his own team!

We may be busy, but we make time for all the kids and grandchildren. That seems to be the biggest change - getting out from behind the piano and enjoying family.

From Rebecca, mother of Griff: I crochet scarves, hats, afghans, coasters and totes and make themed jars and framed jigsaw puzzles in honor of my son, Griffin. I sew labels inside the items or double-tape the jars and framed puzzles that say "Wraps of Love In Memory of Sgt. Griff 08.23.08" with a blue heart on the label. I make all of the items. I give some to my VA counselor to pass on to those who've had a soldier join heaven's military, and I take some to TAPS events to give to those who also have hurting hearts. I give to others to put a smile on their face.

I do stitches that have two-three crochet patterns, five-row or five-stitch patterns, eight-four stitch patterns and one and three crochet patterns (like one single crochet then a triple crochet) or one of one stitch and three of another stitch.

I do 23 because my son, Griff, joined heaven's military when he was 23 on Aug. 23. Five stitches because Griff was born on Nov. 5 and is an E5. I use 84 because Griff was born in 1984. The 13 is because Griff's bar mitzvah took place when he turned 13.

I use the jars that candles come in. I wash them out and remove labels. I put the stickers on the jars with a specific theme - flowers, birds, animals, beach/lighthouse, holiday, thoughts and especially a military theme. Then, I cover the jars with two layers of Mod Podge. They can be filled with someone's favorite candy. The receivers of the jars have enjoyed receiving them because they're personal.

I like to do jigsaw puzzles, so I will do specific puzzles that I know someone would like. Then, I  Mod Podge them twice on the front, put colored scrap paper behind the puzzle and frame it as a present. Family friends have really liked them and put them up on their walls.

When Griff gave me a jigsaw puzzle for a present, I would do the same with each puzzle. I look at them right before I go to bed because they're right across from my bed. My most important, favorite presents are those made by my Griff.

Doing things that are made from my heart helps with my own hurting heart.

From Adra, mother of Kyle: We lost Kyle, our oldest son, on Jan. 22, 2015 to the ravages of post-traumatic stress. Kyle fought so hard to make his life work after he came home. But one thing after another deteriorated, including his mental health. Along the way, there were many people that came into Kyle's life and walked alongside him and many that Kyle came alongside as well. Fighting for his children, even just to visit, was so important to Kyle. So, for me, I've worked really hard to put aside my feelings, and sometimes to channel them into passion, in order to help homeless vets. I'm a grant writer, really, but I took on the management of two major grants for our community. I've now asked to step back from that responsibility. My next mission is to regain access to Kyle's children and fulfill my word to him that I would never give up as their Nana and they will know their daddy loved them. He was just too sick to survive. What else will I do? I'm thinking that I'd like to do something related to service dogs for vets impacted by post-traumatic stress. We'll see.

Upcoming Video and Text Chats

General Support Chat  
Date: Tuesday, March 07, 2017 
Time: 9 PM - 11 PM Eastern 
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs 

Honoring the Memory and New Relationship Video Chat 
Date: Wednesday, March 08, 2017 
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern 
Hosted By: Kellie Hazlett and Peer Mentor  

The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) is a weekly communication; written and contributed to by survivors. The primary focus of the SMM is to foster peer based connection, survivors helping survivors, for support and encouragement along the grief journey. It is the goal of this communication to foster a safe, supportive atmosphere where we can openly share in a non-judgmental and caring manner. Read and contribute as you are comfortable, and explore any opinions/ideas shared that are most beneficial to you on your individual journey. Content submitted for inclusion in the SMM is edited for spacing considerations and grammatical corrections.  

If you ever need to speak to someone regarding an urgent matter or just need a listening ear, the loving family at TAPS is available to you 24 hours a day. Please feel free to contact TAPS at1-800-959-8277.  

 

This blog is copyrighted by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). These blog posts may not be reproduced in whole or in part by any means, electronic or otherwise, without prior written approval. It is permissible for an individual reader to view, reproduce or store a copy of this article, provided it is used only for their own personal and non-commercial use. Uses beyond that allowed by the “Fair Use” limitations (sections 107 and 108) of the U.S. Copyright law require permission from TAPS. Please contact blog@taps.org to request permission. All other rights reserved.

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