Belle is one of the many therapy dogs that helps comfort the families of the fallen.
The nineteenth annual Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) is underway this Memorial Day Weekend, and some 2,200 volunteers and family members of fallen servicemen and women are participating in a series of activities to promote healing.
Carol Hilton, from Chesapeake, Virginia, lost her husband, Navy Lt. Lawrence Hilton, in 2004. She and her daughters began attending TAPS seven years ago. “It’s really been helpful for our own healing because we’ve been able to see the progression of how our attitudes and feelings have changed from year one to year seven," she says.
There are sessions for the children of the fallen called “Good Grief Camp.” Katie Hilton, 18, says that they help her handle her loss. “These friendships that we make over this weekend can actually last quite a long time, it’s like a family reunion and I love it.”
Her twelve-year-old sister, Laura, comforts the peers she meets at TAPS. “I tell them about my story and that it will be better soon and they’ll get through it," she says.
One of the most beloved and popular participants of TAPS is Belle, a golden retriever, who is one of the therapy dogs on hand to greet attendees. Lisa Dolan lives in Alexandria and owns the loving animal. “Belle started coming to TAPS when she was four months old, I bred and raised her for this," she says.
Dolan lost her husband in 2001 and says that was her motivation for returning to TAPS with Belle. “Some of the children who come here for the first time are very scared to be here and don’t know what to expect, and sometimes the very first thing to greet them is Belle and her big wet nose and it makes them feel comfortable and at home.”
TAPS runs the entire Memorial Day Weekend.