For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one who died while serving in the Armed Forces or as a result of his or her service, peer support – survivors helping survivors – has proven to be an effective strategy in assisting the bereaved.
Erin Jacobson with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)
and surviving fiancée of Cpl. Jason Kessler, joins Paul Lisnek to offer hope to those families impacted by military loss.
Lisnek: Bereavement experts report that for each active-duty military loss, there are, on average, 10 people who also get significantly impacted. Parents, spouses, partners, extended family, friends all find their lives turned upside down when a loved one is lost in service to our country. Over the next few minutes, we´re gonna discuss the benefits of peer support through efforts to connect grieving military families to one another. Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Paul Lisnek. And with me is Erin Jacobson. She´s a senior advisor for outreach and engagement with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, the acronym for which is TAPS.
Lisnek: Hi, Erin.
Jacobson: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. It´s a true honor.
Lisnek: It´s an honor to have you here. Thank you for your service. Because in this process and what brings you to the work of TAPS -- the perfect acronym -- was you lost your fiancé, Jason, to service, and I know you told me it´s okay for you to share that story. It happened in 2007. But tell me what happened to Jason.
Jacobson: Yeah. So Jason was a ranger at a 2/75 Ranger Battalion in Fort Lewis, and he had been deployed in Mosul, Iraq. And he was killed July 30, 2007. And at that point, my whole reference point to how I lived my life was just shattered, and, you know, he had been my home, he had been my world, and I just really did not know what to do at that point. I came to find TAPS. And there was this one night I was just having a really hard time, and I´d decided just to call this number. And when I called it, this woman answered the phone, and the thing that really stood out to me was just that she was so kind. And for me, being a fiancée, I wasn´t even sure if I qualified for the services. And right away, she said, "Of course you´re part of this." And through that support, this whole new world opened up, and I was able to meet new peo-- other people who had gone through something similar to myself, and it really changed everything for me.
Lisnek: So important that people like yourself know this resource is available, so what we´re gonna do, actually, we´re gonna put that help-line number up now, and it´s gonna be on through the course of this segment, because I want people who may be in need to know about this. So you contact TAPS -- And, by the way, 80,000 families, but not just family members, it´s caregivers, people involved get impacted by this. Some would say, "Well, didn´t you kind of sign up for it when it came with it?" I mean, I´m sure you knew the risks were there.
Jacobson: Right. Yes. Of course. And that is what is, I think, one of the most admirable things about service, is that they sign up, no matter what, to serve. And, of course, that could happen, but you never think it´s gonna happen to you. And when it does, there´s people that are able to understand, that can come in through meeting people at TAPS, because it´s a very lonely experience when you don´t know other people who have gone through it.
Lisnek: People, of course, can die of different things or be killed by different things in this setting. I mean, we think of combat as part of it, but, actually, when you look at the statistics from last year, it´s actually a smaller percentage, but there are people who are dying from training accidents, from suicides -- that´s actually a high number, that´s not a pleasant thing to see -- illnesses, other accidents. So a variety of things can lead to somebody being killed in their service of their county.
Jacobson: Right. And I think that´s one of the most important things about the work that TAPS does. It is so inclusive. It is not about necessarily the manner of death. What we say, it´s about how they lived their life. And it doesn´t matter if your relationship is -- It´s all those people who love that person. And suicide, like you referenced, unfortunately, is actually such a high --
Lisnek: Last year, it was the number-one cause.
Jacobson: It was the number-one cause. And we do have professionals on our staff that really address suicide specifically. We have a program that´s been around for about 10 years now, and our second-biggest event that we do each year is directly to support those who have suicide loss, and they´re a huge part of our community.
Lisnek: So I mentioned at the top of our segment, it is, of course, spouses and partners, but parents, kids. So talk to me, as you´ve gotten to know other survivors in this network.
Lisnek: The differences have to be varied, from what a parent needs who´s just lost a child to, perhaps, what a fiancée or spouse needs, and when a kid loses their parent.
Jacobson: Right. You know, and that´s such an important point, is that there is this universality of grief. We all go through grief. But then there are these things that are very specific, and so one of the core things that TAPS does is we connect a surviving parent with another surviving parent. We´re able to look at people who may have gone through a very similar loss and get them to be able to be connected, because no one can understand except for one who has that very specific loss. We do this a number of ways. In some ways, we´re able to connect people across the country through phone calls and e-mails, but we also have events all throughout the country, both large and small, where we´re able to bring the family members in. We have a huge children´s part of TAPS, where each child at our different events is able to be matched up with someone who volunteers who´s currently in the military or a veteran, and they´re their buddy through the weekend. As a child goes through their own grief process, part of that is them having fun, but part of them is processing that on their own level. And then, at the same time, adults are being able to meet other adults that have gone through something similar.
Lisnek: You know, this all goes back to 1992. Eight soldiers killed in Alaska, and the families sort of began to connect with each other, so I guess I have to ask you, now that you connect and have connected with other families and now in the work you do with TAPS, what does it provide for you? What does it do for you?
Jacobson: You know what? I think what happens is that you are able to talk about your loved one. You get to be able to share who they are and that living legacy. And also, our families are so resilient. They get back up again. So many of them have a corps of service in their heart and go on to serve others, to be able to help each other, and it´s a huge part of what we do.
Lisnek: I hope we´ve helped some folks with the help line that´s been on air. Erin Jacobson, thank you so much for the work that you do with TAPS and for your service to our country.
Jacobson: Thank you so much.
Lisnek: And thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders across your community, across the country, just visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Paul Lisnek.