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The Grief Seminars and Good Grief Camps offer peer-based emotional support and coping skills to help those dealing with the death of someone who served in the military.
Now, as a reporter, I am supposed to give you the facts of what happened and Leave it at that. But, I can’t. I have to tell you in my own words what it meant to interview someone who has gone through what these survivors have gone through and how, with the encouragement of this group are coming to grips with their losses and moving on with their lives.
Here is my “report”.
Women used to be referred to as “the weaker sex”. Today I talked to two of the strongest women I have ever met.
One was the mother of a victim of the war in Iraq, the other the widow of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, who is now taking care of 4 children on her own.
As I interviewed these two remarkable women and heard them share the events that led to their losses, I was the one who had to choke back the tears that I know they have shed a thousand times over.
Mary Byers lost her son, Capt. Joshua Todd Byers, 29, on July 23rd, 2003, when the convoy he was leading hit an IED. He was the only one killed.
When she spoke of her son, she remembered that one of his goals was to become Company Commander, which he accomplished just 40 days before he was killed.
For four years, Mary grieved until one sleepless night she decided to google family support groups and found the Gold Star Family group. The only problem was the fact that the closest group was in Knoxville and she didn’t feel she could be active in a group so far away. The group asked her to form a group of her own in Middle Tennessee and she did.
She knew she wanted to do something to keep Josh’s memory alive and she knew that Josh wouldn’t want her to sit in the corner and grieve his death. He loved the military and he loved his job.
She now believes that her best friends are in the Gold Star Family that she might never had met. She said, “The commonality is what holds us together because we share a bond that most other people who have experienced a loss don’t understand. Losing a child in a war is different.”
For Danielle Baldwin, her loss is more recent. Her husband LTC Robert Baldwin, Detachment Commander, 101st Aviation Brigade, was killed when his helicopter crashed while performing aerial support for Navy Seals and other Special Ops groups in Afghanistan. He died on September 21st, 2010.
This was Danielle’s first TAPS event and she was a little skeptical about bringing her 4 children because it might dredge up issues that they weren’t yet ready for.
But that wasn’t the case. She retold what had happened after the first night of the seminar. On the way home in the car her 6 year exclaimed, “Mom, no one knows my dad died, they don’t understand, but now I have a new friend and his dad died too. He got “shotted” in the war and my dad got killed in a helicopter. I can’t wait to go back tomorrow.” This brought a hearty laugh from Danielle.
According to Danielle, “The kids are going to be fine. Children are so resilient. They’ve had to grow up so fast and some of their innocence has been taken away, but to have this common bond and to meet other children and know they’re not alone, that there are kids who understand what they’re going through.”
When I asked both ladies if it gets any easier, Byers immediately said, “No”. She added, “You learn to live with it and get through it and it definitely helps to know that I’m helping others through what I’ve been through. My son would tell me to get up and drive on and helping these families gives me a connection to my son.”
Danielle said, “When I walked in tonight, I saw a woman whose husband had died only 3 months ago and I wanted to hug her because I can remember that pain of being only 3 months out and it’s so raw and you never forget”.
My heart goes out to these two brave women who are only two of the thousands of Mothers, Wives, fathers, siblings and extended family members who are grieving over the loss of a soldier. And I am thankful for this group, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)
To learn more about TAPS go to www.taps.org or call 800-959-TAPS.
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