Anticipation mixed with a healthy dose of trepidation greeted my heart as I contemplated Charleston. My heart graced with such warm memories of being there with my boys a decade or more ago. Heart memories of family fun; of carriage rides and cobblestone streets, waterfront breezes and military forts, mounds of shrimp and lots of lurking alligators, trees filled with branches begging to be climbed, miles of shell-filled sand to build in, and lots of warm Atlantic surf to play in.
And I remember how gracefully the weeping willows filled in the beautiful southern landscape. At once reminiscent of Holly Hobby days and classic storybook treasures, but more than that, they captured the magic of secret spaces created within, the romance of graceful limbs dancing on a breeze, and the surrounding strength of cascading branches, offering both solitude and space.
Space to be held.
That’s what Charleston was to be on this trip… a holding space. Space to hold and be held within. I just didn’t know it. I couldn’t know it, without the experiencing of it.
I had yearned to go from the time I saw it offered. Yearned to join these moms all somewhere along the same journey I’ve found myself thrust into. Yearned to experience the support that comes from shared experience.
But I also bristled at the thought, felt anxious in the anticipation, and faced unbridled rage at the reason.
Because it was a retreat for Moms. Moms of the Fallen. Moms who journey through grief in uniquely individual ways, yet corporately share a most tremendous loss. In all of our lives, in each of our circumstances, the loss of a son. Flesh and blood parts of us we’ve been asked to somehow live without. Some days it feels like we’d have a better chance living without arms and legs than with the torn and ragged hole each of our hearts must learn to carry.
But TAPS knows this. TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
They know it because they are survivors, just like us. They know the grief journey intimately. Without so much as a word, they understand pain you can’t find the bottom of, and they feel the tremendous weight carried by emptiness. But they also know that we are not simply ‘survivors’ as in those left behind, but that we can be Survivors. Warriors for Hope in the midst of our losses.
Their response to the pain is to provide cradling hands, offering places to rest when the holes are too deep, and reminding us of the love and the life when the sorrow and loss would reign. And their response to the burden of tremendous weight is to provide opportunities to share it with others, lightening the load if even for a few moments.
In short, they are daily enduring Survivors, living the TAPS motto: Remember the Love, Celebrate the Life, Share the Journey.
TAPS. Not an organization anyone ever wants to be on the inside of. Ever. But when you find yourself there, when I found myself there and got over the fight and flight response, or at least learned to manage it more, how thankful I’ve been that they exist for those whose very existence has been shaken, broken at the core, and left in jagged pieces of painful heart-torn memories. How thankful I am that they know, they understand, and they respond.
So where does Charleston fit in? Well, it was the designated place for a first-ever TAPS Retreat for Moms. But it wasn’t the location that mattered, it could have taken place anywhere. What mattered was the space created.
Intimate holding space, and space to be held within.
For me, it was like those memories of the Charleston Weeping Willows. Taking on much more meaning in the weeping these days, yes. But the act of the weeping creating the space for the holding.
It created a space for strength to manifest. It created a space to step through the solitude and let myself be held in the community; the act of holding becoming the act of being held, intertwined in arms laden with the same heavy burdens.
It created space to share our loss — whether in silence, in snippets, or in bleeding hearts — but all serving to close the gaps of emptiness and create space where hope could take hold of fragile hearts, and strength could be found.
It was a powerful weekend. It was hard and humbling and heartbreaking.
It was exhausting.
But it was also solace and hope, and courage and faith.
And it was grace.
It was barefoot miles of memories along the shore,
and late night reminiscence of moms sharing memories (and yes, laughter) around the kitchen table.
It was hearts in relief and hearts wide open,
and it was a search for release, for understanding, and for working together to steer a course.
It was I love you’s from our boys in rainbows and hearts,
and it was ridiculously silly songs around a warming campfire.
It was forging new friendships and deepening others,
and learning respectfulness for each unique journey we’re on.
It was palm tree resilience and weeping willow grace.
It was grief-bearing hearts reflected in shimmers of hope,
and it was torrents of rain giving way to warming sun as we traced names in the sand,
and knew the necessity of cradling our boys in each other’s hearts.
It was intimate understanding through sometimes crippling magnitudes of pain, and it was inspiring examples of grief energy turned to hope, and hope turned to healing.
What was this retreat? It was the Sanctity of Space.
It was love in definition, and hearts in a holding space held.