ST. PETE BEACH - Walk into the TradeWinds Island Grand Resort this weekend and the reality will sink in. Hundreds of families have gathered there for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp.
There are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and children who are coming together to find hope, help and healing after losing a service member to suicide.
Each family has its own story. Jennifer Faulkner and her young daughters shared their story with 10News.
In June 2014, Airman First Class Charles Michael Faulkner, took his own life.
“Our entire world was turned upside down,” Jennifer said.
Her husband's suicide blindsided her. She was left alone to raise their daughters, then just 7 and 9 years old.
“He was scared to get help," Jennifer said of Michael's situation. "He was afraid that the military would blacklist him, that he would lose his career and, in turn, his family.”
In the two years since his death, the Faulkner family, from Hickory, N.C., has found a way to grieve openly about their fallen hero's passing - and the way it happened. Through TAPS and its annual Good Grief Camp, the girls and Jennifer have a network of other families who can relate.
“I'm able to talk with people here because they know what I'm going through,” said 9-year-old Lauren, the younger daughter.
The camp and mentors help all of the children learn to cope with their loss and their parents and other adults do the same in separate workshops.
“It isn't about that moment of death, that very complicated and complex suicide. It's about the years of the life of someone who stepped forward to serve their country selflessly,” said Bonnie Carroll, TAPS founder and president.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 20 veterans per day commit suicide. Carroll says TAPS focuses its efforts on prevention to save lives.
“It should be about the 2,000 that got help, those who lived, those who called the crisis line, those who found meaning and purpose in their life and are going on,” said Carroll.
For the Faulkner family, this annual weekend is about hope and making sure that others get help.
“We wake up every day with a choice: We’re going to be sad that day or we’re going to choose to remember the good times and we celebrate Daddy,” Jennifer said as her daughter Lauren nodded.
If you lost a service member to suicide, TAPS can help you. It’s important to realize that those who’ve experienced loss from suicide are also at risk.
Their hotline is available 24 hours a day at (800) 959-TAPS.