TAPS Program Helps Families Of The Fallen NPR's Susan Davis speaks with Erin Yaggy and August Cabrera about a mentoring program that helps military families coping with the loss of a loved one.
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TAPS Program Helps Families Of The Fallen

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TAPS Program Helps Families Of The Fallen

TAPS Program Helps Families Of The Fallen

TAPS Program Helps Families Of The Fallen

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NPR's Susan Davis speaks with Erin Yaggy and August Cabrera about a mentoring program that helps military families coping with the loss of a loved one.

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

Memorial Day is a time to remember the fallen men and women who died serving our country. But for those that have lost a loved one in service, it's also a time to grieve. There is a program that can help, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, known as TAPS. Every Memorial Day weekend, mentors and mentees in TAPS come together here in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the people they've lost. That includes Erin Yaggy and August Cabrera. They both lost their husbands and join me now from Arlington, Va. Good morning.

AUGUST CABRERA: Good morning.

ERIN YAGGY: Good morning.

DAVIS: I'd like to start with hearing more about your husbands and what branches they served in. Erin, maybe you could go first.

YAGGY: Sure. My husband was Major David "Worm" Yaggy. My husband was a pilot and instructor, a flight instructor, with the military. And he died on a training flight with his student, AJ Prezioso on March 14, 2008.

DAVIS: And August?

CABRERA: I'm the surviving spouse of Lieutenant Colonel David Cabrera. He was on a voluntary deployment to Afghanistan and was hit by a suicide bomber on a convoy mission out to a forward operating base. This was October 29 of 2011.

DAVIS: Erin, it's my understanding that you are a mentor in the TAPS program. Why did you want to become a mentor to other survivors?

YAGGY: Well, I felt like so many of the people who understood me and could help me were people like me, who had experienced loss. And I wanted to be able to better help myself and others by learning what I should do to best speak to people and try to relate to them in ways that were helpful.

DAVIS: August, what have you gained through this mentorship with Erin?

CABRERA: Erin became my mentor in March of 2012. And just having her as a support system for me when I was upset or confused or sad or even happy about things, she became somebody that I could call. So she went from being my mentor - and now that's been seven years - and now she and I are just very good friends.

DAVIS: You're both mothers as well. I understand that children make up a quarter of the survivors that TAPS supports. How are your kids doing?

YAGGY: My daughter was 17 months old. Lizzie (ph) didn't understand who her dad was. She had very few memories. And it broke my heart. I originally think that I told myself that I was coming for my child. But as soon as I met these amazing people, they became our TAPS family. And it's - there's no place I'd rather be than here with our TAPS family on Memorial Day.

It is a happy place. It is a place where - Lizzie pointed out the window as we drove here and said, see those kids with the red shirts? Those are kids just like me. They get it. They know what it's like to lose a dad.

CABRERA: As for my kids, they were 5 and 7 when their dad died. He also had two older kids that were 13 and 14. So all four of his kids, actually, now come to TAPS. But this is the one place that they feel normal. This is the place they don't have to explain who they are or why they're sad or why they're laughing at really morbid jokes. It's just - this has normalized their experience for them.

DAVIS: Tomorrow you're going go to Arlington Cemetery. What does it mean to you to be there?

YAGGY: Well, my husband's buried there. August's husband's buried there. It's a beautiful place. And I am grateful and proud of what he did as he served and who he was as a human being.

CABRERA: Tomorrow I'll take all four of Dave's kids to Arlington. And I'll stand there with the four of them and then my step-kids' mom. And we'll just hold them while they have a moment with their dad. And we'll all cry, and we'll all have a moment. And then we'll start telling stories about their dad and how silly he was.

And most of us walk barefoot because he was always barefoot. And so we'll walk through Arlington barefoot and just be in the moment. The hardest part for me, though, is walking past all those other gravestones and just thinking about all the other broken families that are represented. Every single one of those white stones just breaks my heart.

DAVIS: Erin Yaggy and August Cabrera are paired together in the TAPS mentorship program. Thank you for sharing your stories.

YAGGY: Thank you.

CABRERA: Thank you so much for having us.

DAVIS: For military families dealing with the loss of a loved one, the TAPS helpline is 1-800-959-8277.

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