TAPS healing retreat unites children of deceased veterans

Weston Haycock shares his experiences while at the healing retreat for adult children of fallen soldiers held by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. Photo curtesy of Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

By Weston Haycock

Surrounded by people who understood me without knowing my story, I immediately felt at home amongst my fellow adult children survivors at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) retreat this past weekend in Asheville. The grief journey of losing a parent is different for everyone, but losing a parent in the military gave all of us at the retreat a common foundation. Some of us struggled to cope with losing a father who passed before a memory could form, and others remember that life-changing knock at the door that interrupted a homework assignment that would never be turned in. The retreat, the people, and the bonding experience surpassed all my expectations. The friendships I made will stay with me for a lifetime. The weekend was full of activities intended to bring us together and make us face our fears, and they did exactly that. By the end of the event, we all realized we have much more in common than our losses.

The first day, we were asked to take a few minutes to share memories of our loved ones. Initially, it was hard to share something so personal with strangers. I wasn’t alone in that feeling; emotions ran high for everyone. When it was my turn to share, I could feel a sickening tightness in my stomach, but when my words were acknowledged with knowing head nods and even tears, I felt more connected to my fellow survivors and my initial fear dissipated. After we finished our grief talk, we ventured to the Asheville Adventure Course, an unbelievably fun obstacle course in the trees. There were different courses of varying difficulty. While most of us took to this course with ease, some members expressed a fear of heights. We as a group cheered them on as they attempted and excelled in the course.

When we showed up to the zipline course the next day, I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself, the group, and quiet frankly, a groping holster. There were 14 different lines on the tour throughout the forest adjacent to the Crowne Plaza Resort Asheville. I felt like I was flying through the trees, barely aware I was suspended. The group grew closer as more conquered their fears, even cracking jokes as we made it to the end of each segment. Our guides did a phenomenal job of keeping us motivated and challenged.

The final day was spent enjoying the Biltmore Estate. As we toured the massive residence, I learned the intriguing history of the house and learned to fly-fish at a lake on the estate. It took a bit of practice, but I managed to catch a large bluegill right on the shore. The mission of the fly fishing excursion was to teach us patience. By the time we left the Biltmore some of us had learned to appreciate the patience involved in fly-fishing, and some of us had decided we don’t care much for it. Regardless, I proudly proclaim the group made it out hook and injury free. The closing ceremony was held at the hotel. The room filled with disappointment with the knowledge that the retreat had ended, but excitement for the next opportunity to get together. As the event wrapped up, we all shared our favorite moments of the weekend, exchanged kind words and numbers, and made plans to hang out in our respective cities.

The weekend and my fellow surviving military children will stay with me for the rest of my life. As Brittany Johnstone said, “We’re all stronger because we have one another in our lives, and TAPS makes that possible.” I am so thankful to TAPS for allowing me to attend and to Asheville for offering the perfect location for an awesome event.

For more information on the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors visit their website.

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