Zaneta Gileno works for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit that supports people who lost loved ones in the military. As the Director of Community-Based care, Gileno helps connect people to individualized grief counseling. She spoke with Dr. Heidi Horsley during the 2015 Association for Death Education and Counseling conference about her work and personal experience with TAPS. Peer support is what Gileno believes most helps children who lose a parent in the military, as Gileno lost her own father at a young age.
Dr. Horsley also utilizes the services of TAPS, and knows first-hand just how critical the program is. “The opportunity to speak to your loss” is key, says Gileno. “I wasn’t afforded that opportunity as a child and I see what a difference it makes,” she says. TAPS offers Good Grief camps, which brings children together, gives them a chance to talk and share, and allows them to get that grief work started. She recalls that when her mother came to her to tell her that her dad died, it was just the beginning of a conversation that would ultimately last a lifetime.
Losing a parent in war is a unique experience that automatically creates a community around the loss. However, TAPS also works with widows, widowers and parents who lost their child in the military. A variety of events and dates can trigger memories, from birthdays to a child growing up and getting married without a parent at the big day. Understanding that loss support network may be something that’s helpful throughout life.
You’ll always carry that loss with you, but it doesn’t have to be something that defines you in a negative way, explains Gileno. Maintaining open lines of communication, especially with children, is something parents may need to work on for several years.