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Record-breaking attendance expected for Memorial Day survivors' gathering

Friday - 5/24/2013, 5:43am  ET

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Belle, a therapy dog, greets a participant at the start of the TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar & Good Grief Camp in Arlington, Va., Thursday. (WTOP/Kathy Stewart)

Seminar helps grieving families cope

WTOP's Kathy Stewart reports.

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ARLINGTON, Va. - As many of people plan holiday cookouts, about 2,200 people from across the country began arriving in Arlington Thursday for a five-day gathering to honor their fallen military heroes and to renew their own souls.

The gathering is organized by Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, a non-profit that helps those who are left behind after a military member dies. The organization works with family members of servicemen and women killed in action, by a sudden illness, in training accidents and those who died by suicide.

"It's a huge weekend for these families. Memorial Day weekend is also often very emotional for these survivors," says TAPS spokeswoman Ami Neiberger-Miller, whose own brother died in Iraq in 2007.

This is the 19th year for the annual National Military Survivor and Good Grief Camp, which is for children. Hundreds of families from across the country are expected to come together this Memorial Day weekend to honor their loved ones and grieve their losses, says TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll.

The event will be held at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington.

Nearly 500 children and teens grieving the loss of a parent or sibling will attend. More than 400 of those children will attend the Good Grief Camp where they will meet others who share a similar loss and will learn coping skills.

Neiberger-Miller says this year's record-breaking attendance reflects the increasing number of grieving military families even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.

"For some they keep coming back every year," she says.

Some of the participants say this weekend gives them renewed strength so they can make it through another year.

After Bonnie Carroll's husband was killed along with seven other soldiers in 1992, there were no organizations to help those left behind after the death of a military member. She founded TAPS to fill that void in 1994.

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