ARLINGTON, Va. — As they pass through a hall at an Arlington hotel, family members write notes on paper shaped as leaves and place them next to pictures of their loved ones who never came home. Others hang notes of hope. One says, “Never give up;” another, “Live today for tomorrow.”
They are the more than 2,000 family members of fallen military men and women who have come together to find comfort and healing among people who know their pain too well.
“For the families of America’s fallen heroes, Memorial Day is every day,” said Bonnie Carroll, founder and president of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, also known as TAPS.
Carroll lost her husband in the early 90s in an army aviation accident. She said that after her loss, there was no program to help all those grieving military families.
So Carroll took matters into her own hands and started the program in 1994.
For kids, the Good Grief Camp offers support through events and activities.
“It kind of gives you that feeling that ‘Hey, you’re not alone. Other people are going through what you’re going through,’” said Tristian Hill, 11, of Elk River, Minnesota.
Hill lost his father, Capt. Jeff Hill, in 2010 in a military plane crash. His mother, Rachael Hill, said the events and programs through TAPS have helped her family in the recovery process.
“Sometimes, as the time goes on, you’re kind of looked at like you should get over it and move on,” said Rachael Hill. “But this gives us a place where we can share memories, we can talk about our loved one and talk about our feelings as well.”
Seminars teach parents how to help themselves and their children with the healing process. There are also outings for the families which include a Washington Nationals Game and a trip to the monuments and museums, and time spent remembering the lost at Arlington National Cemetery.
Weston Haycock lost his father at the age of 6 and his mother at the age of 15. Haycock said TAPS events were a big part of his recovery. This year he is giving back as a mentor to a young girl who lost both her parents.
“What I hope she takes away is that strength comes in many forms, and it’s not as simple as one or two coping mechanism,” said Haycock. “There is an entire community that’s always ready to support you here.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly spell Bonnie Carroll’s name.