Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Supporting Grieving Military Families

Last weekend’s Washington Post highlighted the 17th National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp. Held in Crystal City, Virginia, the weekend seminar was attended by 1,300 people, including over 470 children, who are survivors of military servicemen and women. The program is organized by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or T.A.P.S.

Every area had bigger children racing through, each chased by an individual mentor. The mentors, all in active service, volunteered to spend their Memorial Day weekend with a child while the surviving parent attended seminars, bonded with other survivors or just took deep breaths and tried to relax.

At 8 a.m., dozens of Rolling Thunder motorcyclists rolled up and parked out front, and children poured out to try on chaps and rev Harley-Davidson engines.

“I’ve never been able to do this on a bike before,” said Noah Smith, 9, of Davenport, Iowa. “This is just awesome.”

Bob O’Leary, a biker from Newark, Ohio, said it was his fourth year of pulling into the survivor seminar for a morning, and 15th in Rolling Thunder. “We’ve got no power, but we’ve got love and compassion,” O’Leary said of his fellow bikers. “We need to show that.”

Bonnie Carroll, who founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors in 1994 after her husband died in a military plane crash, said the first national seminar had five attendees. Now, it seemed to fill a large hotel. Regional meetings are held around the country throughout the year, and many grieving survivors become volunteer leaders.

“When you can connect with another person who understands what you’re going through,” Carroll said, “that’s the only real therapy for grief.”

Hospice Foundation of America has had a long, supportive relationship with T.A.P.S. President Bonnie Carroll has served as a panelist on HFA’s educational programs and the organization’s Good Grief Camps have been the recipients of an HFA Grant in Support of Grieving Children and Adolescents.