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sec60arrival
The Final Commute

~ Claire Henline, Survivor

May 5, 2016

Cinco de Mayo sings out to me though each year as the culminating date of the journey on earth with my father. Eleven years ago on the 5th of May, we took him to his final rest at Arlington National Cemetery.  Our last commute together.  I commuted all my life with my dad.  Even now I can describe for you so clear the back of his head . . . because I sat behind it for at least 16 years for miles and miles and miles . . . and miles.  A precision military haircut that ran in perfect formation around his scalp a gig above his ears.  A part so pristine straight school rulers were calibrated from it.  Sometimes I liked to get a peek of the road through his amber tinted aviators.  “For clearer vision,” he told his 21 questions little navigator.   A hostage to his music choices on those rides, I’ve come to have a special place in my heart for Barry Manilow, The Carpenters, and (bless him), Roger Whittaker.  I mean really, my dad was an odd music niche of his Baby Boomer generation.  And oh, yes, he did sing along.    

You came along just like a song, and brightened my day . . . 


In the years we had together, there was the rush hour rides to day care, the Saturday morning grocery run, the Sunday drives looking for dream homes, road trips down to Florida and out to Illinois, and endless endeavors on the autobahns and really narrow country roads of Europe.  I met the world with a yellow tint through the back of my dad’s head and heard it through his soundtrack.   

 

For you are beautiful, and I have loved you dearly,  

more dearly than the spoken word can tell . . .  

 

We picked out my first car together; then my second, third, and fourth.  In that full circle legacy way, I started clairehenlinedadworking at the Pentagon with my dad.  And so we commuted there together but as the driver, I got to pick the tunes finally.  Coldplay, Dave Matthews Band, and Kenny Chesney began to stream our drives.  We could agree on Chesney.  “Hey, CG!  What’s that ‘C’ guy’s name again? Kenny Chesney, dad.  Yeah, Kenny Chesney. I like him.”  In my room at night, while my dad battled his last foe below me in the dining room that we’d turned into a hospice room, his voice would carry through the grates to me as he sang Chesney’s hits for comfort.  It took 20 years and cancer for us to agree on music.   

 

He smiles.....There goes my life. There goes my future, my everything.
I love you, daddy good-night . . . 

 

But our final commute together, the soundtrack was not ours to choose.  It was one of tradition.  There I was behind my dad, viewing the sloping vistas of Arlington with the scene of his caisson drawn casket in front of me. No yellow lens to see through now.  Instead it was a pantone of red, white, and blue that colored the scene and draped him as Pershing’s Own provided our cadence.  No one sang except the birds.  It was a slow, purposeful walk from Old Post Chapel to Section 60.  Over a mile of in the moment and out of body thoughts merged.  This was it, our final trip together.  And then the lone bugler called. 

 

God is nigh . . .  

 

It’s strange to think I am now eleven suns away from that May day.  Still commuting to work, to stores, to some great road trips in between.  I sing in the car now too . . . horribly, and I’m sorry if you’re my hostage.  As I watch the road unfold and look through my own amber colored lenses (for clearer vision) I still feel my father there with me, and I’m still peskily asking, “Dad, are we there yet?”


                                                 All my best memories come back clearly to me.            

                                                 Some can even make me cry, just like before.

                                                                It's yesterday once more . . .            


 


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Apple - Health
Saturday Morning Message: Healthy Ways to Step Away from Grief

April 30, 2016

Good Morning,

Grief is a tiring experience. There are times when we all need to step away for a bit to regroup. The picture comes from an article in the TAPS Magazine archives titled "Grief and Your Health" by Margaret H. Gerner, MSW. In this article, the author talks about how the stress of grief can affect your health.

After reading the article, you may wonder how to reduce the stress of grief in your life. One thing that might be helpful is to make a list of the things you enjoy. They don't have to be time-consuming or costly. Something like planting your favorite flowers in pots around the house can bring great comfort. This week, survivors showed some healthy ways they take care of themselves. This may seem selfish at first, but it really isn't. It is impossible to take care of others in our lives without giving ourselves some time to relax. In that way, everyone gains support.

Since it is less than a month until the 22nd Annual TAPS National Military Seminar and Good Grief Camp, I will post the following information in the Saturday Morning Messages for the next few weeks. If you are coming, you might want to attend a workshop on Sunday, May 29, titled, "Become a Contributing Writer for TAPS Publications," given by Bevin Landrum, TAPS Magazine editor, and myself. We would love to see you there.

Would you like to share a question or 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 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.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by emailing carol.lane@taps.org. 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 Message

I have seen a lot of questions lately from survivors about relationships with extended family members after a loved one has passed, so I thought the question for this week could be to share what we have done to keep these relationships healthy. I look forward to reading your responses to: How have your interactions with extended family and friends changed?

♫ Song for the Week

Leslie, mother of Eugene, sent the song "Like An Angel Passing Through My Room" a while ago. The music made me sit back and just listen. The link takes you to the version Abba performed. Madonna also sang it, but it didn't make any of her albums. You can also listen to Madonna's version. Listen to both and you will hear the same orchestra music with different singers.

Answers from Survivors

From Donna, mother of Eric: It's taken some time for me to find healthy ways to handle my grief. I recently attended the Mountain Man Memorial March in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. At first, I was going just to meet some of my online Gold Star friends. Then, I decided I'd run the 10K in honor of my son. I used to do 5Ks before. Eric was the first one I'd call to tell him how much I'd improved my time. He was always very proud of me. So, in order to do a 10K in the mountains, I've spent many hours in the gym on a treadmill up on a 10 percent incline. I could feel Eric cheering me on in my mind the whole race. It was very peaceful and healing. I'm going to continue doing these 10Ks and maybe work up to a half marathon. Sometimes I cry while I'm on the treadmill, thinking of him. But, that just makes me go harder and faster to make him proud.

From Merry, mother of Wesley: Healthy, well, I need to keep motivated to continue with Curves. And I need to get back to my regular organic foods; boredom and purchasing hotel food for meetings kind of got me off track. And water! I need water! I don't drink enough. Healthy is also getting enough sleep and taking small breaks during the day to clear my mind of cobwebs. I find I get to a point where I can't really continue on unless I "regroup" for a few minutes.  

Spring is blooming, and the birds are visiting the feeders in the backyard. So simple to have, but so rewarding of the promise they bring just watching them. I planted seeds in tiny pots yesterday and will continue this weekend with starter plants. That's promising as well. The major snowfall we're experiencing is bringing major growth and major pruning. When I returned from the state conference last Sunday, I had to dig my way into my driveway to get into my garage, and a huge branch on the ash tree in the backyard just off the patio had a spiral fracture that needed pruning. I'm glad it did not fall onto the roof of my sun room.

From Mary-Ann, mother of Blake: I have found the best way to step back from the grief is to dwell on helping others and through prayer. There are so many ways you can do this, and in doing so, it makes you realize that we all have crosses to bear. Some are harder than others, but helping others eases their burden. It actually helps with your load, too! I know at first you're doing good to just crack a smile and greet someone but try, try and try again! Once you get past that, try other things like working in a soup kitchen whenever possible or paying a visit to a shut-in or a nursing home. Those elderly people that are shut in are often such a help to me and have become good friends. They are full of their life experiences and wisdom that they are happy to share with anyone who is willing to give them the time to listen. There, again, you will find you will be helping one another out!

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat
Date: Tuesday, May 03, 2016
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, May 05, 2016
Time: 9 PM - 11 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 at 1-800-959-8277.

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2008 Gala - Table
Saturday Morning Message: Special Gifts

April 23, 2016

Good Morning,

A knack is a special gift that each of us has. We can share that gift with others in our daily lives, or sometimes we use it in the work we do. I chose this picture of a table setting at a past TAPS event banquet to show how these gifts can be used at work. The table is set in an inviting way and includes the red, white and blue colors to honor our loved ones. It makes survivors want to sit down and enjoy the company of others, as well as the food to come.

We can also use these gifts in hobbies or working with others in a community project. Some people are wonderful cooks, carpenters, gardeners or many different things. For some ideas about what others have done, look through previous articles in the TAPS Magazine Honoring the Fallen archive. Think about the gifts you possess.

As we work toward our new normal, it is sometimes helpful to look at the knacks we already have to see how they can be used. This week's Saturday Morning Message is about the knacks of our loved ones. Next week's question asks you to make an inventory of your talents and share with us how you use them to cope with the emotions of grief.

Thanks so much for those who responded this week and those who read the Saturday Morning Message.   If you would like to receive the Saturday Morning Message in your inbox each week, you can sign up for our email list.

Would you like to share a question or 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 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.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by emailing carol.lane@taps.org. 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 Message

Questions for the Saturday Morning Message come from many different places. This past weekend, I was reading the new edition of the TAPS Magazine and an idea came from reading the article by Franklin Cook, MA CPC, titled "How are Pain and Love Connected?" At the conclusion of the article, there were a group of questions. One struck me as perfect for this week in a slightly reworded form. So the question for this week is: What are healthy ways you have found that help you step back from the pain of grief? By sharing what works for us, it may give other survivors strategies to honor our loved ones while working on our own healing. In that way, readers can decide what might work for them. We can walk this journey together, and together we can heal.

♫ Song for the Week

Nikki, sister of Chad, sent the song for this week. She wrote, "A  song I like to hear is "When I'm Gone" by 3 Doors Down. It takes me back to the summer my life changed completely and my brother wasn't coming back. I miss him so much."

Answers from Survivors

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: My son had a knack for doing the strangest things in the math/science field. He was hard to buy toys or things for because they had to be complicated. He could take Legos or an Erector set and create the unimaginable. I remember my dad bought him something that looked like a slide ruler from the Museum of Modern Art when he was 7. My dad told him it would take weeks to figure out how to turn the parts to get it to slide out. About 10 minutes later you hear, "Like this, Grandpa?" My dad asked him how he did it, and Gene told him it was the binary code. And that is why the Navy discovered his talents for intelligence work!

From Annette, mother of Joseph: Joe had a knack with people. He loved to talk to people, and be it a 5-year-old or a 90-year-old, he would strike up a conversation. When he passed, one of my friends remarked that he knew Joe for a shorter period of time than most of his friend's kids, but he knew more about him and had spoken to him longer than any of the others. If we had a gathering of all my friends and Joe was home, you would see him engaged in a long discussion with one of the guests. He loved people and had a special kindness. If he went to a Rotary Club meeting with his dad, the members were in love with him and made him an honorary member. On his trip to Mexico with his girlfriend, they were having dinner and there was an older lady dining by herself at the next table. Joe invited her to join them. He loved people, loved to help anyone and, in return, was loved by all.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: Caleb had a knack for doing everything! He was wonderful. If it was broken, he could fix it. He was very good at woodworking and building things. He was always that helper when he came home. If he saw something that needed to be done, he'd just do it.

He also had a knack for making people feel at ease like they'd known him forever. He was a trustworthy, faithful friend and had a knack for making people laugh. I miss him so much. I look at his life and see so much wisdom. I want to be like my son.

Upcoming Chats                                                                                                                

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs
 

Survivors of Illness Loss Chat 
Date: Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Time: 1 PM - 2:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Kellie Hazlett

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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Man in the Fog
Saturday Morning Message: Coping with Lack of Concentration

April 16, 2016

Good Morning,

This week's message centers around understanding the loss of concentration when grieving and the strategies other survivors use to cope. One thing that helped me was to buy a package of sticky notes. I put one task for the day on each individual note. Then I laid them on the kitchen counter in the order they needed to be done. When I finished one, I threw it away or put it in the recycling box. I liked this system because I could change the order quickly. If I didn't finish a task, I just put it at the front of the next day's  stack.

I still use a small notebook to list the important tasks of the day. I check off each as it is completed, and that keeps me on track. An important thing to remember is that lack of concentration is something common in all grievers.

A previous article in the TAPS Magazine called "The Fog of Grief: When Will It Lift?," by Betsy Beard, surviving mom of Spc. Bradley S. Beard, includes thoughts from many different survivors on this topic. In the article, there is a short list of strategies to "remind yourself that your brain fog is normal for your situation."

The strategies include:

  • Lower your expectations of what you can accomplish these days.
  • Divide tasks into smaller increments and adjust your goals.
  • Give yourself extra time for getting ready for events.
  • Start slowly to rebuild a daily routine that will give you new habits.
  • Review your lists at the beginning of the day and as often as needed.
  • Above all, be patient with yourself.

I hope this article, along with the creative suggestions sent in by survivors this week, will help with your concentration. Remember to choose an approach you like. These are just suggestions.

Would you like to share a question or 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 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.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by emailing carol.lane@taps.org. 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 Message 

It is always interesting to share memories of  our loved ones, and we haven't had a question related to that for quite a while, so the question this week is: Did your loved one have a knack for doing something? I look forward to reading your replies.

Song for the Week

Since Ginny, mother of Patrick, sent in the question about concentration, I thought it would be appropriate to share the song she sent, which is "You Should Be Here" by Cole Swindell. Ginny shared why this song is meaningful to her, "There are so many times I had wished Pat could have been with us for special events. So many things I wish I could share with him. Pat was famous for his 'rants,' his wild commentary on life!  As crazy as the world is now, I would love to hear what he would have said. He was always so politically incorrect, so irreverent, often times shocking, but at the same time so funny, logical and usually right! How I miss those rants!"

Answers from Survivors

From Merry, mother of Wes: Looking back over the last three and a half years, bringing back memory and the ability to concentrate is really a long, rough road. Starting my grief process, it was all about getting through my day, contacting at least one friend daily just to check in, maybe going grocery shopping, going to church if it was Sunday or to choir practice on a weekday evening and then to Daughters of the American Revolution meetings once a month. My routine was very limited and very small. I'm just about to throw away the loveseat on which I spent the first year sitting, sleeping and eating. It's a disaster.

I would love to see a study on the brain and if scans would show a "shutting down" of parts of the brain so the mind can remain safe and then begin to heal. Unfortunately, one would have to begin that study in the throes of deep, deep grief.  

In the past six months, I have begun to create clothing again in my sewing studio. My mind can grasp what I want to do and not get exhausted in one hour, and now I can be creative for four to six hours. I'm beginning to "see" what needs to be done in my house to give it the TLC it has not had for three years and to throw out, store, give away or continue to use items that have collected dust.  

Yesterday, I was sitting on my patio in the sun, for the 10 minutes-per-day routine, and I was thinking that, yes, I do remember this horrendous event of losing Wes - how I was informed, how very sad it continues to be - but yet somehow I've moved into, not moved on to, interests that take me into my life before I lost him. The expression "moving on" suggests we forget our loved ones. Not so. We can never forget. We just, by God's grace and a lot of hard work, pass into a new path of surviving life and facing all of it. It is scary at times, very scary.

From Rebecca, mother of Griff: Do only one thing at a time. Don't believe in multitasking. It means starting a bunch of things and not finishing anything. It also adds panic and stress to me. Do a monthly list of bills that need to be paid and things that regularly need to be done. Then I put the dates that I do them beside each item. Use a real calendar with squares to write appointments or other things with times on there. Also, use the TV for sound in the house. Quiet makes doing things harder for me.

From Leslie, mother of Eugene: Allow yourself the idea that some days it is difficult to concentrate when you have thoughts of your loved one. This is going to sound way out there, but I find, for me, it works. Have a conversation with your loved one explaining you have to get xyz done and you will get back with them later. Do whatever, even if it is a full day at work. When you have quiet time, let them back in your head.  

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM EST 
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat  
Date: Thursday, April 21, 2016 
Time: 9 PM - 11 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
Facing My Fears On Heartbreak Hill

~ Linda Ambard , Survivor

April 15, 2016

The Boston Marathon is going to be my 100th marathon on April 18th.  It was never supposed to be my 100th marathon because 100 marathons is usually a time where people come and celebrate the milestone.  My 100th marathon was supposed to be about finishing the Bucket List I had when Phil was killed and starting a new Bucket List for the next chapter in my life.  I figured five years would be time enough to be ready to close one chapter and start another.  Instead, the five years has taught me untold lessons.

I have learned I will be afraid.  I thought Phil was safe as an officer/Advisor working with the Afghan officer.  I thought running marathons was safe until 2013.  I learned how wrong I could be in my assumptions life is always fair.  I am not the same person I once was.  I am afraid of unseen monsters, booms, guns, and a certain finish line I hope to cross on Marathon Monday.  I can’t control the fears and the nightmares are starting to catch me unexpectedly. I know if I keep my eyes focused on the step ahead, breathe, and concentrate on the people waiting for me at the finish line, I can push through my fears to perform.  While that is not exactly the way a celebration is supposed to play out, it will be a moral victory to finish that race upright.

I have learned I will hurt.  Grief hurts on every level.  Heartbreak Hill is the perfect metaphor for grief.  A marathon is 26.2 miles.  There is never a race where I think I have the 26.2 miles in the basket.  During every race, there comes a time when the thought will cross my mind I am done and want to quit.  I know I will hurt more the next day and the day afterwards, but I also know if I concentrate on just the step ahead, I can push through the pain and get to the finish line one minute at a time, one hour at a time, one mile at a time, one marathon at a time.  Yes, it is going to hurt, but by only looking at the step ahead, I can make it through to the end.  A fallen step forward is still a step forward.  While marathon 100 will be a bunch of fallen steps forward, I will crawl to the end if need be.

I will learn my life isn’t over.  Five years ago, I had run 38 marathons.  Now the past 61 marathons have showed me I am alive.  For a long time, I wanted to crawl into a corner, curl up and die.  That didn’t happen.  Running was just a way to get our of the house and feel pain separate from grieving….and, then it became about something else.  It became about the changing Linda and the new hopes, new dreams, and even something I could never have imagined five years ago—something would have made me recoil and sprint away from.  Running became the conduit for me to meet someone who makes me think past running races to the thought of what comes after the 26.2—or the 26.3 marker.

Marathon 100 is the closing of one chapter and the start of a a new chapter.  While surely there will be tears and fears as I press toward the Boston Marathon finish line, it’s all a part of my hard fought for journey.  Marathon 100 can be about surviving the Heartbreak Hill of life and pushing through my fear to take back my life one step at a time.  I may fall and I may cower in fear, but I am going to get it done.  Along the way, I know people will be waiting to offer that soft place to fall and lean.  Marathon 100, then, has become a celebration of my life, my awakening heart, and the recognition that by stepping or falling forward, I am moving forward while at the same time honoring the past that shaped me into the girl I am now.  I am a fierce warrior ready to take on Boston. 

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Companioning_Stillness
Companioning the bereaved is about being still; it is not about frantic movement forward.

April 11, 2016

By Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. 

"Things come suitable to their time."

- Enid Bagnold

Many of the messages that people in grief are given are in opposition to stillness… "carry on;" "keep your chin up;" "keep busy;" "I have someone for you to meet." Yet, the paradox for many grievers is that as they try to frantically move forward, they often lose their way.

As a companion, your capacity to be still with the mourner will help them honor the deeper voices of quiet wisdom. As Rainer Marie Rilke observed, "Everything is gestation and then bringing forth." In honoring stillness, you help the mourner rest for the journey.

Times of stillness are not anchored in a psychological need but in a spiritual necessity. A lack of stillness hastens confusion and disorientation and results in a waning of the spirit. If the mourner does not rest in stillness, they cannot and will not find their way out of the wilderness of grief. Stillness allows for movement from soul work to spirit work; it restores the life force.

Within the sanctuary of stillness, discernment that is bathed in grace and wisdom is born. Thus, one of my mantras as a caregiver is, "Go slow; there are no rewards for speed." Grief is only transformed when we honor the quiet forces of stillness.

Without Stillness

Without stillness the mourner cannot create the energy needed to embrace the work of mourning. In sitting with suffering in stillness, you make yourself available for those you companion to give voice to their grief. You become present to the insight and wisdom that comes forth only out of stillness. It's as if the stillness invites the head to settle gently in the heart.

Without stillness, the mourner lacks a foundation from which to, eventually, transform grief into renewed meaning and purpose. The mourner needs stillness to encounter the full force of the powerful nature of grief. Out of the stillness often comes the inspiration to be respectful of grief, to seek the wisdom of those who have gone before.

Observation has taught me that the integration of grief is borne out of stillness, not frantic movement forward. By saying no to the use of techniques to try to "make something happen," sacred space arises for things to happen; divine momentum is set in motion. When we stop managing grief, other things such as grace, wisdom, love and truth come forth.

In honoring stillness as a companion to someone in grief, you discover that spiritual forces evolve that discourage striving and encourage rest and eventual renewal. Attempting to consciously move forward, or worse yet, making any attempt to get a survivor to "let go," becomes counterproductive. Frantic movement forward depletes an already naturally malnourished soul. It is through stillness that one's soul is ever so slowly restored.

Stillness and Pain

As a companion, you will be well served to focus your heart's attention on the importance of stillness in relation to pain and suffering. If you do not perceive value in the role of pain in healing it will be all but impossible to be still with people in grief.

If you in any way perceive the pain of grief as unnecessary or inappropriate, you will be reluctant to be in the stillness. In stillness, you come face to face with the essence of grief and raw feelings of loss and profound sadness. At times, you will confront the dark night of the soul-a profound sense of spiritual deprivation wherein the person you are companioning may well question the very desire to go on living.

If you do not see that it is in hurting that we ultimately heal, you will greet stillness with anxiety and fear. Fearful of what you might find in the stillness, you will instinctively push stillness away, keeping yourself and the mourner busy with techniques intended to avoid the depth of a multitude of feelings. In stillness, as you stop and listen, you will hear and feel the emptiness that accompanies grief.

By contrast, if you surrender to the reality that pain and suffering are part of the healing journey, you can sit with the stillness. You can step back from any urge to fix the pain. You can appreciate and trust that out of the darkness will eventually come the light. You will see the underlying strength and wisdom that is borne out of respect for the stillness. You will come to see that it is out of the stillness that the person discovers that authentic mourning invites the blessings of living fully each and every day.

This article is excerpted from Dr. Alan Wolfelt's book Companioning the Bereaved: A Soulful Guide for Caregivers, available at bookstores and at Dr. Wolfelt's website, www.centerforloss.com. Dr. Wolfelt is an internationally noted author, teacher and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is an educational consultant to funeral homes, hospices, hospitals, schools and a variety of community agencies across North America.

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Peer Mentor Brittany Johnstone
Meet a Mentor: Brittany Johnstone

April 10, 2016

 Each connection between a mentor and a mentee is unique and special. Sometimes, the bond is formed over shared interests or common grief journeys. Some relationships start over a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop. Many times, for Brittany Johnstone, her mentee relationships develop through texting, social media and email.

Brittany is a surviving adult child who lost her father in a helicopter crash during a training mission in February 2001. Because her father's death was prior to 9/11, Brittany felt that it was an isolating time to be a surviving child. It wasn't until 2012, after a season of transition in her life, that she finally made the decision to come to TAPS. Through TAPS, she has been able to find a community of adult survivors who understand what she has gone through, and mentoring has given her the chance to be a resource to others.

When Brittany first started mentoring, she tried reaching out to her mentees over the phone. Then, she got a mentee who only wanted to communicate through email, and Brittany said that's when it clicked that she should communicate with her mentees through whatever way makes them most comfortable, and her age group tends to prefer texting, emails and Facebook messages.

"I continue to be surprised with how deeply you can connect with people through texting, email  or  Facebook messages," Brittany said. "When you invest time in people through those modes of communication, you can make it really personal."

Now, the way Brittany supports and connects with each mentee is different from person to person, but the goal is always the same - to help survivors know they are cared for and supported.

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2015 National Parade
Saturday Morning Message: TAPS Seminar Experiences

April 9, 2016

Good Morning,

TAPS Seminars are a place to come together to share the love and celebrate the lives of our loved ones. I have attended several regional Seminars as well as the TAPS National Survivor Seminar in Arlington, Virginia, and they are all full of love, caring and kindness. You find that you can attend workshops and go to events. You can also decide not to go anywhere and instead talk to TAPS staff or other survivors.

For me, that was the most important part of the Seminar when I first went. There was no schedule to follow. I could chose to do what I liked from the workshops and events, but I could also sit with other survivors to talk about my son, which was something no one seemed to want to do when I was home. The TAPS National Seminar was the first place I laughed, as well as cried. I found that, together with those in attendance, we could talk about our loved ones and share those memories. I felt I was not alone in this journey and made friendships that have lasted through the years from across the country.

Since you might have other questions about the TAPS National Seminar, you can read some  frequently asked questions  about the Seminar on the TAPS website. You can also call the TAPS Helpline at 800-959-8277, which is available 24/7 to answer any questions you might have. 

Would you like to share a question or 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 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.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by emailing carol.lane@taps.org. 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 Message

Ginny, mother of Patrick, sent this week's question: "Many of us have difficulty with memory and concentration after the death of a loved one. What do you do to help bring back your memory and ability to concentrate?" Your strategies for dealing with this problem will help other survivors. We look forward to reading your ideas.

♫ Song for the Week

Caryn, mother of Nathan, sent "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," by Boyz II Men, as the song this week. She wrote why she chose it, "The song just reminds me that I don't have to ever say goodbye because I'll always have the memories that get me through." It is the perfect song for this week's Saturday Morning Message because that is one thing that comes through at TAPS events. We will always celebrate the lives of our loved ones.

Answers from Survivors:

From Ruth, mother of James: As I get my suitcase out, I find myself humming the refrains from "God Bless America." It seems as though it speaks to each one of us. "From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam" expresses so well the places from which we are traveling. We each have our own story, our own sorrow and our own hopes for tomorrow. We come separately carrying our own burden; the load is heavy and to some of us we are lost. We then discover that we are all united as one, with hopes and sorrows that run deep.

Red shirts appear with the TAPS logo, and you see others who have experienced the same loss of one who gave his or her life so we would have the freedoms to meet together and embrace the very tragedies that brought us together. Soon we find that we are hugging each other, listening to speakers, attending individual classes and so much more. We find a sense of purpose to rejuvenate our life and return home with strength and energy. A serene, unified spirit fills each heart.

I pack my suitcase not to see the sights and sounds of the capital but instead to spend time honoring our loved ones. Embracing the lives that made it possible for us to gather together because they were willing to stand their ground. We find newfound friendships that will last a lifetime and a new purpose for the future. We are so honored to have TAPS give us the means to find purpose in lives that were shattered.  

I look forward to seeing those red shirts that rest upon the hearts of those loved ones left behind. It takes courage to attend that first conference not knowing what to expect. It is the love and friendship that fills your heart and brings you back.

From Patricia, mother of Kyle:  I have been attending the TAPS National Seminar ever since I lost my son, my baby, and I find that it is the only place where no one judges you. You are free to express yourself in whatever way you are comfortable. The support is very great. There is so much information for those left behind after a military loss. The kids meet other kids, who soon find out that they are not the only ones who have lost their mom or dad. I do have to say that I have met some of the most caring and special people ever. TAPS staff are always there to hold your hand as many times as you need it. Long after the TAPS National Seminar is over, they keep in touch with you every so often to be sure that you are where you need to be in your journey. They never forget birthdays and angelversary dates.

I have found the best help and information that I have ever received from attending the National Seminar and meeting new people and the staff at TAPS. For those who have never attended the National Seminar, I would definitely recommend attending. It is like fine wine. Try it once, and you will continue to see that each year it gets better.

From Bob, father of Louis: We attended a Seminar near Philadelphia. It may seem counterintuitive, but being around people who are "in the same boat" made us realize that we weren't unique and we had access to help from dedicated staff and friends we met if we needed it.

We also attended a Parents Retreat in Lake Placid. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend a specific retreat (parental, spousal, sibling, child) to participate. We got so much out of our retreat and still have pleasant memories of the participants and staff.

From Diane, mother of Caleb: It is difficult to choose what was most enjoyable at the National Seminar. It is so organized and offers so much to the TAPS families. None of it would be as enjoyable if it weren't for the people and the TAPS staff, as well as all the new faces from all over the country who gather to honor and remember our loved ones. It is wonderful meeting new people. As difficult as this journey is, it helps to meet and share. I love that the Seminar is over Memorial Day in an area that is so filled with our nation's history. What a meaningful place to meet, to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we enjoy. It is definitely not free.

From Andy, father of Danny: My first TAPS National Seminar was like so many things new to my life after Danny's death - a great unknown. I didn't know what to expect. I just knew that I was going to support my remaining son and my wife and to try to reclaim myself. I was apprehensive. Anxiety before special days is part of the new me, too. It is always much worse leading up to these events than the day itself.

The National Seminar was no different. I was worried. But once there, I was swept away by the love and support of everyone I encountered. There were plenty of activities to do, all of which were shared with other survivors of loss and grief. I learned so much from my peers, from speakers, from the kids. And there was the incredible feeling of being in our nation's most sacred place, Arlington National Cemetery, surrounded by people who know exactly what I was going through. I was not alone. I thought I was. I found others who suffered, too. And together the load became lighter.

Now, I am still anxious to go but only in grateful anticipation of being among my TAPS Family, again.

Upcoming Chats

Parent Chat
Theme: Rejuvenation or Rebuilding Our Lives
Date: Monday, April 11, 2016
Time: 9 PM - 10:30 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane, Ron and Mary Johnson

General Support Chat
Date: Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs

Widow-Widower Chat
Theme: Rejuvenation or Rebuilding Our Lives
Date: Wednesday, April 13, 2016
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 at1-800-959-8277. 

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reenlistq
A Pain That Never Dies

~ Melinda Russell, Survivor

April 4, 2016

Deployments are always hard. No matter how “easy” they are. You are away from your family, home, and life that you know. You are typically working 12 hours a day, six days a week, if you are lucky. And, even in the “safest” of locations, there is still the risk of the base being targeted; or even being injured by equipment put together by the lowest bid winner. But, the death of your battle buddy by suicide makes a deployment nearly impossible to endure.

I was a newly minted Chaplain, having graduated Chaplain’s Officer Basic just a few months before we deployed. My partner, Quincy, was a specialist who had left the military and returned, being assigned as my assistant just a month before we left for Kuwait en route to Iraq. We developed a great working relationship and seemed to be an asset to the unit we served, getting to know the troops, offering advice to command, and of course providing spiritual support to all.  He was my force protection, ensuring my safety when we went “outside the wire” (Chaplain’s are not armed and must rely on the assistant for protection in theater); he was the one I worked with for those 12 hours a day, six days a week; he was the one who helped me provide all ministry support and counseling to the nearly 800 person battalion we served.  As such, Quincy became a friend and someone I knew I could count on, my battle buddy. That all changed when he died on 2 June 2008.

Everyone has heard of the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. One part of the first stage (denial) that is often forgotten is isolation.  For me, as a Chaplain far from home, I was already isolated. See, we chaplains are not truly accepted into the officer’s corps, and as officers, we are not accepted into the enlisted corps. We don’t “fit” anywhere except with other chaplains, yet are wanted everywhere. On our base in Iraq, there were only five battalion chaplains and we were spread out over a number of miles.  The closest was about a mile away with the next closest about three miles away.  Needless to say, as we had no way to getting to each other’s offices except for walking, and with our own battalions to care for, we didn’t see each other very often. Without Quincy to work side by side with, I was more isolated than ever.  While I attempted to continue to care for the unit, I seemed to have done my best to isolate myself even more. 

As for the other stages of grief, there wasn’t really any denial - I seemed to have known who it was who had died before his name was spoken;  I was not angry at him for making the decision he did, but merely grieved for his family and myself for the loss we now experienced.  So, I suppose I went directly to acceptance, but at the same time maintained two stages of grief for years - isolation and depression.

Oh, yes, depression took a hold on me like I had never known. And, with the real, and perhaps imagined, isolation I found myself in, depression caused me to turn toward suicidal thoughts myself.  I searched for ways and opportunities to end the pain of my heart. These thoughts, becoming more frequent, alarmed the other part of me that knew I wanted to stay.  That’s when I knew I couldn’t perform duties any longer and needed a break. I left for R&R early, with the intention of returning in a month.

The month turned into two, but I did return to Iraq. However, while the suicidal thoughts had lessened, the depression remained, and when I completed my tour, that depression turned once again into suicidal thoughts. The day I returned to the states, I found myself in the depths of despair knowing Quincy, my partner, my friend, my battle buddy was not going to return as well. I spent a miserable flight fluctuating between hot and cold, nauseous and sleepiness due to having taken too much medicine meant to help me sleep after I returned to Iraq. I made it back to the States, but the pain that started at the beginning of June did not abate. 

After a couple of months back home, not being able to connect with my husband and young children, not being able to enjoy work nor even truly know how to continue work, I sought help. I turned in items to my doctor knowing I was not safe with certain things in my home, and was immediately sent to the hospital. That was the first of many trips to various psychiatric centers attempting to lessen the depression, deal with the PTSD that developed, and return me to normal.  What I found was there would be no returning to what had been normal, but simply finding a new normal which allows me to live with a grief that never goes away.

It has been nearly eight years since that day in Iraq. I continue to struggle with PTSD and am in fact rated at 100% disabled for PTSD by the V.A.  The depression is definitely better, but it still prevents me from returning to my military duties.  However, I’m making this most of this new normal, for myself and to give meaning to a life cut short. I volunteer in many capacities, home-school my children, and have even self-published a book on my experience in Iraq and the suicide that changed my life. 

Grieving after the loss of a friend from suicide never ends. It is a pain that never dies; ironically suicide deaths are often due to trying to end pain. It doesn’t though, it merely transfers it to surviving friends and family. It gets easier to live with that pain and the grief.  Life takes on new and different meanings. While it is a pain that I would never wish on my worst enemy, I have found that experiencing a suicide loss has allowed me to help others in ways I never could have foreseen before June 2, 2008. In so doing, I like to think Quincy is still impacting others through me too.   


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Carol Lane's Dogs
Saturday Morning Message: Healing Effect of Pets

April 2, 2016

Good Morning,

I would like to introduce you to Fiona and Henry, my two dogs who cuddle up with me and make me feel warm and cozy. Although they weren't with me when my son died, they certainly can make me smile and laugh at their antics. This week, others have written about their pets and the healing they bring to their lives. I hope you enjoy this edition of the Saturday Morning Message. 

Would you like to share a question or 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 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.

In addition to the ideas shared below, we can also honor our loved ones by communicating with each other through writing. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another. I encourage you to reply to the Saturday Morning Message by emailing carol.lane@taps.org. 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 Message 

The 22nd Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp is being held May 26 to May 30. Many survivors attend this event each year. Some survivors, who have never attended may want to know what happens at this event before they decide to make plans to attend. I thought some of us who participated in years past might write about our experience, so the question for this week is: What did you most enjoy at a previous TAPS National Seminar?

   Song for the Week 

Leslie, mother of Eugene, sent the song for this week, which is "Heaven Was Needing a Heroby Jo Dee Messina. She wrote, "This song is very personal. A few lines down from the beginning, it says 'If I knew the last time that I held you was the last time, I'd have held you and never let go.' We would all like to have advance notice on death, but it is mostly impossible. What we need to learn is to say to those we love what we want to say now and get all those hugs and kisses in all the time. When proximity is an issue FaceTime or Skype work well. Just don't miss these opportunities now so there are no regrets later. 

The hero part is the main thrust of the song. I think of my son saving lives through his intelligence work and as an organ/tissue/cornea donor. He's a hero!" 

Answers from Survivors

Saturday Morning Message - Diane's Dog  From Diane, mother of Caleb: Griz is my best buddy. He is Caleb's dog. Just yesterday, I was thinking about what a sweet gift Caleb left me. I don't know how I would make it through some days without Griz. I believe that God made dogs special. Griz knows when I'm having a hard day. If I cry, he is right there, ready to give me kisses. He never fails to make me smile and laugh - with those boxer/American bulldog features, he has so many expressions. He is also my motivation. He lets me know every day that we need to go for a walk. Because of Griz, I have stepped outside on days I would rather have just stayed home. I would be home alone a lot if it weren't for Griz. He is my constant companion. He follows me from room to room and situates himself wherever I stop. When I run errands, he is my navigator! Griz is the VIP (yes, he is our person dog) of our home. When my children come to visit, he is the center of attention - he is so loved. We are so blessed to have him. It's so like Caleb to have left us with such a wonderful gift to help us through. 

The picture is last year's Christmas card I sent to Caleb's Recon/Marine brothers. It is a picture of Caleb with Griz.

From Donna, mother of Eric: A few months after our precious son passed, we decided I needed a lap dog, one to just sit with me and love me. We got two instead, a boy and girl Yorkie. At first, I thought it was the worst idea ever. All they did at 10 weeks old was bite me and run away from me, but I got to "mother" them. (Eric was our only child.) So, I continued to try to just hold them. It took many sad, hard months before they would sit with me. They are almost 4 years old now. They follow me everywhere I go. They sit at the door waiting for me to come home. I feel anxiety about leaving my "babies," as we call them, so I took some classes with them and got them certified as service dogs. I take them everywhere now. If I cry, they sit with me and lick my tears away. They feel my sadness and respond accordingly. I could not make it without my babies. I encourage all grieving families to get a lap dog. I named my little girl Sunshine D'ann, after my son, who had just changed his name on Facebook to Dean Sunshine. (This was his middle name and a nickname he had earned in Afghanistan by always looking on the bright side.) We call her Sunny Bunny. She is just as tough and ornery as our son was, all 3 pounds of her. Our boy dog is Gator, and he's just as loving and sweet and caring as our son was. Our son would have loved these dogs. I wish he could have met them. To sum it up, it was the best decision we've made since the passing of our son.

Saturday Morning Message - Gloria's Cat From Gloria, mother of Kenneth: When my son, Kenneth, joined the Army in May 2010, he had to leave his Birmin cat, Yuki, behind. She is a beautiful, long-haired cat with blue eyes, and she joined us in our house with three other adult cats - two females and a male (it was quite the transition!). We had more hissing and spitting and swatting than you could ever imagine. Fur was definitely flying! Yuki was rescued from an abused litter of kittens, and learning to trust people took a lot of work. Then to be dumped into a situation with other adult cats - well, you can see how hard the transition was. It took some work, but the cats gradually came around to the realization that this was THEIR "new normal," and they all tolerate each other pretty well now, minus the oldest female, who we had to put down at 18 years old due to her failing health.

Saturday Morning Message - Gloria's Cat ButterscotchWhen Kenneth died by suicide on Jan. 1, 2012, I never dreamed how hard life would become. And on those really difficult days, Butterscotch, a yellow female tabby, and Yuki were my constant companions. I know that animals can be very perceptive. I think they both knew something was wrong, and they were doing what they could to make it better. Sometimes, one cat would be on each side of me in the bed or while sitting in the recliner or one would be on my lap and one on my ankles/feet. Even through my cancer diagnosis, surgeries, chemo, etc., which started 15 months after Kenneth's death, the cats were there by my side, 'grooming' my hand/arm and occasionally my hair if they climbed on the back of the chair or on my pillow. 

Our pets definitely become family members, and now that Yuki has settled in so well with the other cats, I worry how I'll react when she dies. She was Kenneth's cat before she was mine, so that bond is extra special. My eyes well up with tears when I think about it.

Here are some pictures of my 'companions,' Yuki and Butterscotch. 

Upcoming Chats

General Support Chat 
Date: Tuesday, April 05, 2016
Time: 8:30 PM - 11 PM Eastern
Hosted By: Carol Lane and Kim Suggs 

Survivors of Suicide Loss Chat 
Date: Thursday, April 07, 2016
Time: 9 PM - 11 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.

 

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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