Battleland

My New Family…

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Peter van Agtmael / Magnum for TIME

Rebecca Morrison with some of her husband Ian's belongings in her parents home. Ian, an AH-64 Apache Helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army committed suicide on March 21, 2012.

Thursday morning I bounced out of bed early and yelled “Oh my gosh!”

I never get up on time and certainly never bounce. But this morning I knew that I would be headed to California for the TAPS seminar.

I went to work — my elementary school where I teach third grade — and taught my lessons…but couldn’t hide my excitement over my pending trip.

So at noon Texas time I darn near bolted out of the elementary school and ran home to grab my suitcase.

It may seem strange to have been so excited to be headed to a suicide-survivor seminar, but it felt like going to a family reunion.

I boarded my plane in DFW and prayed that the flight would hurry up. Once I arrived in San Diego, I grabbed a taxi and headed out to the Paradise Point hotel. Then it hit me…

Oh my gosh I’ve flown across the country alone, a widow, and no one I know is there yet. I told myself: “You’re strong, you’ve come so far, you can do this, Ian will help you get through this.”

I made it through the hotel check-in. As I was sitting in the hotel golf cart heading to my room and about to answer the “Why am I here?” question I heard a scream. My fear instantly vanished when I saw the precious face of Petra Peterson, a fellow survivor and panelist from June’s Defense Department-VA suicide prevention conference…she was jumping up and down and yelling at the driver to stop!

I jumped from the golf cart – it was still moving! — and ran to hug her. I instantly felt safe and at home. This is what TAPS is all about.

As I type this I am sitting in my hotel room feeling content, comforted, and peaceful. It has been an incredibly painful and terrifying six-month journey getting here, and I struggle daily to understand how to live this life without my Ian. Yet, I am still standing, due to the love and support of my God, family, friends, and heroes at TAPS.

My connection with TAPS was made the night before my husband’s unit memorial.

I had survived discovering his body, his funeral and burying him. I was feeling like I could not face another service, and was looking for support from someone who “got it.”

A dear professor from my graduate school had given my father TAPS’ phone number – 800-959-8277 — and it had been sitting on my nightstand for two weeks. Somehow I felt that if I called them, it would all be real.

Still, I choked back the fear and tears and made the call. TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll answered the phone. The second I heard her voice I knew I had done the right thing.

I flooded her with my story and she listened, empathized, and reassured me. She made sure I was in a safe place and then told me about a woman named Kim Ruocco. Bonnie told me that Kim’s husband, also a helicopter pilot, had died by suicide and that Kim would want to talk to me. I hung up with Bonnie and awaited Kim’s call.

Then she called. I struggle to put this into words because our connection was so other-worldly.

Kim was truly sent by God. She listened to my awful story, the whole time saying “Oh, honey” in this wonderful Massachusetts accent. She shared her own story and promised me that I would survive this, and that she was going to be there for me the whole way.

Kim pulled me from a dark and lonely place and inspired me to face another day. That was day one. Six months later she has kept her promise. She has supported me more than I ever imagined, as well as introducing me to other TAPS heroes along the way.

My respect and love for this organization goes beyond words. They are incredible people and true heroes. I feel so blessed to be here for this memorable weekend. It is unbelievable and commendable that Kim and the TAPS team provide this seminar to survivors at no cost. Their effort attests to their dedication to military survivors.

I west to bed Thursday night with a grateful heart and look forward to seeing even more of my precious TAPS family in the morning.

Rebecca Morrison of Texas was one of two widows Time featured in its July cover story on the surge in Army suicides. Her husband, Captain Ian Morrison, an AH-64 helicopter pilot, died in March.

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