Nonprofit Group Plans Grief Seminar for Military Families
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 10, 2004 Organizers of the National Military Survivor Seminar have planned their 10th annual event for Memorial Day weekend here.
A nonprofit organization called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, sponsors the event.
Deb Meyer of South Bend, Ill., who lost her son Jason last year in Iraq, said her family "would never be where we are emotionally" in the healing process if they hadn't attended a four-day TAPS-sponsored grief session last May. This Memorial Day weekend, Meyer said she plans to return here, this time to help other military families who have lost a loved one serving on active duty.
The seminar, slated May 28-31, helps families work through their grief together, with help from some leading experts on trauma and loss. The seminar features workshops and other activities for adults and a camp for kids.
The adult seminar includes workshops on topics such as trauma and grief, financial planning and helping children cope with loss. According to Brian Bauman, TAPS national commander and chairman of the board, the sessions also give participants a chance to share their experiences and form friendships that will help them through the healing process.
While adults attend the general session, children ages 2 to 20 will attend the Good Grief Youth Camp, designed to help them deal with their own feelings of loss. The theme for this year's youth camp is "Remember the love, honor the life, share the journey."
Bauman said many casualty assistance officers those military members who notify families that their loved one has died and help them through the painful first weeks of recovery also attend the sessions to cope with their own feelings of grief.
All participants attend a memorial service, visit Arlington National Cemetery and attend a Memorial Day concert on the U.S. Capitol grounds during the weekend schedule of activities.
Bauman, who lost his Navy father to cancer when he was 18, calls the sessions "a journey compacted into a weekend" that he said helps participants work though their grief by celebrating their loved one's life and military service.
"By the end of the experience, they have explored themselves, their issues and their priorities, cried, laughed and expelled some of the emotions they have carried so they are able to go back to their lives able to move forward," he said.
Meyer, whose son, Pfc. Jason Meyer, was killed in Iraq just seven weeks before last year's seminar, said she was amazed at the outpouring of support from what now calls her "TAPS family."
"The message I got from the seminar is that 'you are not alone,'" she said. "Other people were there reaching out to us. Some of it was just hugging us and letting us cry and letting us know that it's OK to feel all the emotions we were feeling."
Based on relationships she forged during the seminar, she's become a regular participant in a weekly chat room session for survivors on the TAPS Web site. "We all pick each other up when we need it and show support," she said.
The weekend session costs $185 for adults and $50 for children, although Bauman said donors have picked up the tab for some attendees. This year, the Dell Foundation is sponsoring 25 children attending the Good Grief Youth Camp.
For more information about the seminar or other services provided by TAPS, visit the organization's Web site or call (800) 959-TAPS (8277) toll-free.