The Fort Lewis community will host a weekend full of healing and hope Sept. 21-23, with the TAPS Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.
The free programs will be open to family, friends and Soldiers in the Pacific Northwest who have lost a friend or loved one in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will be held at the Stone Education Center at Fort Lewis.
Founded in 1994, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc., has provided grief counseling and workshops to more than 15,000 surviving family members.
It came to Fort Lewis in November 2004 to train care teams for deploying units, but this is the first time TAPS will hold grief workshops, which are its specialty.
“They just needed a place in Washington state to hold it,” said Norma Melo, a gold star wife and school liaison officer at Fort Lewis. “We realized that there were families that hadn’t moved forward in the area.”
Melo attended her first TAPS workshop after her husband, Staff Sgt. Julian Melo, died in the December 2004 mess hall bombing in Mosul, Iraq. Since then she has attended the Memorial Day Weekend workshop every year.
“I think it helped me because there were so many people ahead of me in my journey,” she said. “Looking at where I’d been six months earlier and looking at where I was in six months (later) and seeing women a year or two years into their loss, I knew that there was a place that I could get to, without so much pain.”
Several professional counselors travel with TAPS, and psychiatrists and therapists from Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis also have volunteered for the Saturday work-shops.
But more volunteers are needed, Melo said, for jobs like greeting people at the reception table, setting up rooms and even giving a heart-felt hug.
“Every conference, there are people there that all they do is hug,” Melo said. “It’s that human touch.”
While helping participants understand their grief is a large part of TAPS mission, Bonnie Carroll, the group’s founder, said another is to help connect grieving families.
“Families leave the seminar knowing they are not alone in their grief, that there are others who truly understand and will be with them on this difficult journey,” she wrote in an e-mail.
“Attendees will also gain resources to rely upon and find networks of community care.”
The Good Grief camps can also help connect children who have lost a loved one and often have trouble expressing their emotions.
“They’ll get everything compiled in one day,” Melo said. “What it felt like, where they’re at now, where they think they’re going to go and how to go there ... in a healthy way.”
While dealing with loss can be difficult, Melo said she hopes Fort Lewis residents take advantage of the program “to allow them to move forward. TAPS can do what it can to help the community heal, and we have had so much loss.
“We just hope to get the word out to families.”
Carroll also wrote that she hopes to see as many people as possible benefit from the weekend.
“We are so grateful for the opportunity to be with the families of America’s fallen heroes at Fort Lewis,” she wrote, “to share in the love they hold in their hearts for those who they have lost, and bring comfort and solace during a difficult time.”
Registering for TAPS
To register for the Sept. 21-23 TAPS Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp at Fort Lewis, go to www.taps.org and click on “Fort Lewis” under the “Events” tab. To volunteer, e-mail Gail Kriete at firstname.lastname@example.org and for more information, visit www.taps.org.