Shannon, Tim and John.
These names, prior to our trip to the TAPS National Military Survivors Seminar in Washington, D.C., in May were not names I heard spoken in our home. Now, they receive nearly daily mentions and are always accompanied by big grins on my three children’s faces.
TAPS provides Good Grief Camps for children who have experienced the loss of a military family member (usually a parent or a sibling). These camps are offered on the same days and at the same times as the children’s parents are receiving support through educational and sharing seminars throughout the day.
The organization offers open arms to those affected by military suicide: “You are warmly invited to join TAPS for a special program of comfort and support for all those grieving the suicide loss of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces,” it says on its website.
I decided to ask my daughter, Madeleine, 8, about her experience at the Good Grief Camp last May as we traveled on an airplane to the National Suicide Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp in San Diego. This is what she shared with me:
Before you arrived at the Good Grief Camp last year, how did you feel about going?
I was nervous and excited. I was nervous to meet the new kids and the new mentors there to help. I thought we would play games and talk all day.
What did you do all day at Camp? Was it just games and talking?
No! We made crafts that were about our dreams or about our memories. We took a walk downtown Washington, D.C., got to sit on motorcycles and a had big balloon release sending letters up to our Moms and Dads who had died.
One night we had a great big party with bounce houses, laser tag and face painting! Sometimes we talked about Dad. It helped to talk about him because I already missed him a lot. The other kids there understood how I felt.
What was it like to meet your mentor, Shannon, and get to know her?
It was really exciting to meet her because people told me before she got there “Oh! She is really nice!” Shannon and I got along great! Shannon has her own little girl and I really liked meeting her, too.
Shannon taught me what she does when she gets mad or something. She throw a pillow on the floor or lays in her bed and screams into a pillow. I’ve tried it now. It helps a little!
What would you tell another kid who is sad because their mom or dad just died?
I would say, I know you are sad and I know how you feel. I would comfort her and tell her it is going to be OK. I think TAPS would be a good place for her to go to talk about her feelings and make new friends.
What are you excited most about for this new TAPS experience in San Diego?
I am excited to meet new friends, see old ones and get a new mentor! Shannon won’t be there, but we are still friends. I like it that I’ll have two mentors now!
Leslie McCaddon of Massachusetts was one of two widows Time featured in its July cover story on the surge in Army suicides. Her husband, Dr. Michael McCaddon, an Army captain, died in March.