Grief seminar

Tracy Williams, the mother of a sergeant in the Marine Corps who died in a 2016 motorcycle accident, hugs a new friend at the TAPS Grief Seminar Saturday.

Josh Sullivan | Herald Staff

FORT HOOD — If hugs aren’t your thing, too bad. The members of TAPS are going to try and get in at least 45 every day. That much was made very clear by Bonnie Carroll, the founder of the organization.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors — TAPS for short — is a national organization that brings together and provides support for the family members of fallen military members. The group kicked off a three-day survivor seminar at Fort Hood Friday, where more than 400 surviving family members of soldiers from across the country met to share their experiences. The event concludes today.

Leaders in the fields of grief and loss, suicide and traumatic loss and bereavement gave presentations. The TAPS Good Grief Camp is led by experts in child development, mental health and education. It provides a safe space for military children to explore grief and embrace healing, and allows children and teens to learn coping skills through games and crafts.

Tracy Williams could be seen hugging another woman tight after the opening speech was given Saturday morning. She didn’t know that woman’s name. They had just met earlier in the day, and Williams talked about losing her son. Sgt. Najee A. Williams was a 22-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in California when he died in a motorcycle accident. His surviving mother made the trek from Milwaukee to attend the seminar.

“A lot of people feel like grief is a 9 to 5 thing,” Carroll said in her opening address to those in attendance. “But how many people have noticed that grief strikes at 2 a.m.?”

Dr. Frank Campbell is a veteran himself, and said that he enjoys sitting down and talking to members of the military.

“To me, it still feels good to sit down and talk to people who suffered like me,” he said.

When a soldier or a veteran dies, there’s often a long list of people who are affected. That person isn’t always a family member by DNA, but for those who form bonds in the military, the relationship can be closer to that of siblings than coworkers. The country’s grief policy doesn’t cover the death of friends, Campbell said, and that’s not right.

“Oftentimes, the person who comes through that door (after a family member’s death) more than anyone is a friend,” he said.

More than 140 volunteers attended the seminar, most of them active-duty soldiers.

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