As an Anchorage Dentist, finding time to support the community can sometimes be challenging yet so rewarding when the opportunity arises.
In August, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and welcome young military widows from across the nation to Alaska for the 5th Annual National Military Surviving Spouses Retreat. This event brings together those who have lost their husbands in the Armed Forces and provides the opportunity for them to find hope and healing in the “Great Land” of Alaska.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve been able to use my amateur photography skills as a volunteer for TAPS, capturing moments of connection. In this case, it was close to home and against the magnificent backdrop of our state. The participants in this four-day Retreat spent time in Girdwood, where they repelled and “canyoneered” near the Crow Creek Mine. They also climbed the mountain at Alyeska, a challenging ascent over 2,200 feet, and then enjoyed the scenic tram ride down. Back in Anchorage, the group ran in the Big Wildlife Run, with most doing the 5K together as a chance to bond. It was an honor to accompany them and photograph them along the way.
Don’t think that this is just a vacation with a bit of adventure thrown in. This is a carefully crafted progression of transformation, challenging young women who have experienced a trauma to do things they didn’t think they were able to do, to make new friendships with others who understand the depth of their loss, and to create new memories that will last a lifetime.
On the first day, group leaders asked participants to write down their “intentions” for the days ahead. These struck me as incredibly profound, including the following: “To establish peace inside my own soul.” “To start living and stop existing.” “To do the things that can still be done.” “To reflect on the anniversary of my husband’s death the life that we shared and who I am now. To find a place of peace with the two.”
Death ends a physical life, but it does not end a relationship. For these young women, losing their courageous military husbands means that their life is now on a different course, and they must begin to find a “new normal” in which to survive and thrive.
I’m grateful to be a witness to the magic of TAPS, and the program that brings hope and healing to the families of our nation’s fallen heroes.