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Something bigger than me

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tori Schultz
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing public affairs
Hearing a five or six-year-old child say "my daddy's dead" or "my daddy's gone" is not something you can prepare for. And to hear a child express it so calmly can be disheartening.

When I signed up for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Good Grief Camp, a program specific to families that have lost a military member to suicide, I never thought it would affect me the way it did.

To see so many kids be so strong and brave and allow a complete stranger into their lives and open up about the tragedies they have endured was such an eye opener.

While I was waiting to be paired with a child, I felt very anxious, excited and unsure of what to expect. I was eager to meet my mentee, but worried about the potential questions I would receive and not have answers to.

I was privileged to work with the four to six-year-old age group and mentor a five-year-old boy. It took some time for him to warm up to me, but after a few ice breakers and roughhousing with the boys we started to bond.

My heart broke and tears filled my eyes when my mentee drew a picture of his dad at the cemetery. I didn't know how to respond and I kept thinking about all the memories I have with my dad that my mentee will never have with his.

A beach day was planned to allow the children time away from day-to-day life and be around children that are going through the same tragedies. My mentee lit up when I pulled him through the water and built sandcastles on the shore. He thought it was the funniest thing to throw wet sand at me so we had a mud fight too.

At the end of the day we relaxed by the pool and watched the Lego movie with popcorn and ice cream sundaes. After the mentees were picked up, the mentors got together to discuss how the day went...that's when it hit me that these children will go through life without that specific loved one.

The next day was organized to allow the kids to express their thoughts and feelings through interactive games and arts and crafts. It made my day when my mentee said he could talk to me when he's upset or frustrated; I felt like I was making a difference in his life.

To end the day I was able to sit down with my mentee and his mom and talk about how the weekend went. We exchanged numbers so I could keep in contact with him and be an emotional outlet for him when needed.

Helping my mentee cope with his tragedy and feel that he is still a part of the military family was very rewarding. This was by far the best experience I have had since joining the military and I will continue to volunteer for the TAPS program at every possible opportunity.