May 18, 2012.
U.S. Army Sgt. Mike Knapp, who had been stationed in Afghanistan, was to travel home to Kansas that day for two weeks of R & R, to be spent with his wife, Abby, and their 9-month-old daughter, Kinsley.
He never made the trip.
Knapp was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Knapp’s widow was contacted immediately by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, known commonly as TAPS, a nonprofit that offers services and experiences to military spouses, finances and significant others following the death of their military loved one.
Abby Knapp was among a group of survivors who bonded and healed together at the TAPS California Surviving Spouses and Surviving Significant Others Retreat, held in Dana Point July 18-22.
As a group, they kayaked and painted and participated in yoga classes.
They interacted with therapy horses at the Shea Center for Therapeutic Riding.
They enjoyed quite moments of reflection and shared emotions in therapy groups.
“Everything they do, they have a purpose … team building, dealing with anger, helping them cope,” said Knapp, at the Shea Center. “I went on my first retreat up in Alaska in 2013. It was a life-changing moment for me. TAPS is dear to my heart because I got to meet other widows in the same situation.”
TAPS organizes about four retreats a year, each one in a different part of the country.
Some include children and siblings of the fallen military member.
Others, such as the Dana Point retreat, are for spouses and partners.
Janelle Wallace, 40, a mother of four whose Army husband, Ray, was killed in an ambush in Afghanistan seven years ago, has been to multiple TAPS retreats.
The Dana Point retreat was Wallace’s first that was for spouses and significant others only.
“The family is grieving too (but) you lost your sweetheart,” said Wallace, who lives in Texas. “This was necessary. It’s been the biggest healer. You learn from each other.”
Wallace said she learns something new at every TAPS event, such as a new resource or a new method of healing.
“There are all different angles on how to deal with things and you don’t know until you try,” she said. “It kind of forces us to go out and do things that I wouldn’t do myself.”
TAPS was founded in 1994 by Bonnie Carroll, spouse of Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, who was among eight soldiers killed in an Army C-12 plane crash in Alaska on Nov. 12, 1992.
Carroll, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, discovered that the families found comfort by supporting each other through their shared experience.
TAPS was founded on that premise.
Kylynn Maxwell, of Salt Lake City, joined TAPS in 2014, four years after her husband, a veteran of the Marines, died by suicide.
“I went to my first TAPS event and I finally felt like I fit in somewhere,” Maxwell said. “I feel like other people could relate to the experience I had.”
Maxwell became empowered to become a retreat coordinator for TAPS, and was one of the coordinators of the retreat in Dana Point.
“It’s been very therapeutic for me to be a role model and to be a mentor to other widows and also surviving parents, and siblings,” she said. “If their loved one served and died, we honor them and serve them.”