The inaugural speaker series featured experts on grief and loss.
“We only grieve because we love,” said TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll last Tuesday, at the launch of her organization’s Institute for Hope & Healing.
Carroll speaks from personal experience. She started the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors after her husband died in an Army C-12 plane crash in 1992. Her goal was to provide a national support system for military families grieving the deaths of their loved ones. Since 1994, TAPS has assisted more than 75,000 bereaved family members by providing grief resources and connecting them to peer networks, all free of charge.
Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart was a special guest speaker at the inaugural speaker series, which also featured leading authors on the subject of grief and loss.
Stewart, a longtime supporter of veterans and first responders, told us that he became involved with TAPS after meeting Carroll on a USO tour.
“Bonnie would bring families that had been affected by a death to the shows and it was so interesting to me that there was this group that has been providing this incredible service that was not part of the government,” he said. “It struck me that–wait, we don’t have this? This isn’t something we’re providing for them?”
“Grief and loss is such an isolating experience in the first place and especially when you’re a part of this military culture which is so close-knit to begin with and then to feel like you’ve lost that connection and your loved one, it can be really lonely,” he continued. “TAPS…provides you with another family to fall back on.”
The guest authors also spoke of the “loneliness” of grieving and the need for community.
“Did our great-grandparents go to a doctor or a therapist to find out if they were grieving right or wrong, or if they were getting through the stages properly, or if they should be over it yet? They didn’t. They had community, they had religion, they had family, they had framework, they had ritual, which is something that we’ve come far away from,” said “Motherless Daughters” author Hope Edelman. “As a culture, we grieve in isolation…but I feel the tides turning, and what TAPS offers is a really important part of that.”
“I was really alone,” said “Modern Loss” co-author and former “Colbert Report” producer Rebecca Soffer, about losing both parents in her early thirties. “I felt so isolated and I feel that’s the leitmotif of all these conversations: isolation…I had to pitch stories and pretend like I wasn’t going through hell on the inside, and then go home and no one was waiting for me at home to talk about it…There weren’t any structures in place to have this conversation.”
Soffer spoke in conversation with Allison Gilbert, author of “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive.”
Speaker Claire Bidwell Smith’s new book “The Missing Stage of Grief” explores the little-known connection between grief and anxiety.
“Grief and anxiety are here to teach us everything we need to know about how to live and love,” she said. “The more we can talk about it, the more we can embrace death, expand this conversation, and support programs like this, the more we can heal as a culture.”