WASHINGTON – While folks are firing up the grill for a barbeque this holiday weekend or heading to the beach, military families of the fallen from across the country are gathering in D.C.
They’re coming to remember their military loved one and to try and deal with the grief. A record-breaking number are taking part in this year’s annual survivors conference.
“We have 2,400 participants this year at the TAPS National Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for kids,” said Ami Neiberger-Miller, who joined TAPS after her brother, Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger was killed in August 2007 in Iraq.
“TAPS welcomes anyone grieving a military loss,” — no matter how that person died, on the battle field, in a training accident, by a sudden illness or even if they’ve taken their own life, she says.
This weekend allows survivors, both adults and children, to connect with others who share a similar heartbreaking loss. The Good Grief Camp helps children meet other kids their own age who’ve either lost a parent or a sibling and see they are not alone. Through the camp they learn coping skills, how to live with the loss and they are teamed up with a mentor. The mentor is a current or former service member. Neiberger-Miller says the bond between the mentor and child sometimes continues after the camp ends. Researchers say children will grieve the loss throughout their lifetime and especially when they hit different milestones.
Neiberger-Miller says it can be an emotional weekend for families, in part because the loss resurfaces. That’s why the survivors conference is held Memorial Day weekend, “TAPS is America’s family, which offers compassionate support for families of the fallen.”
The weekend also teaches children how the nation honors their fallen heros. The weekend is full of events that allow grieving family members to share a bond and support each other, she says.
Also, Neiberger-Miller says it’s a time for families to reflect on the life of their loved one and their service, and not just their death.
“Our motto is remember the love, celebrate the life and share the journey.”