Hundreds of military families across the U.S. gather in Mass. for annual suicide loss meeting

DANVERS, Mass. — They gathered from all over the country this weekend -- military families with a terrible, complicated thing in common: a service member lost to suicide.

T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) held its annual suicide loss meeting at the Doubletree Hotel in Danvers. The organization, founded in 1994 by Bonnie Carroll, assists military families with losses of every kind -- but suicide assistance has become a major focus of its work.

“Tragically, suicide is a significant issue in the military,” said Carroll, who lost her husband not to suicide, but in an Army plane crash. “We have over 26,000 families in T.A.P.S. who have lost a loved one (to suicide).”

Suicides sometimes happen during active duty -- but Carroll said that military service can also offer a protective barrier against suicide, with its emphasis on camaraderie, security and a sense of belonging and purpose. Veterans who take their own lives may also be dealing with chronic pain, post-traumatic stress or even undiagnosed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

Whatever the reason for suicide, what’s left in their wake is almost always the same: family members who question what they could have done and should have done to prevent death from happening.

“:Suicide loss is so complicated,” Carroll said. “You will never know the answer to most of the questions.”

T.A.P.S. doesn’t focus on the unanswerable questions.

Carroll suggested that Ret. Lt. Gen Bill Troy, former director of Army staff, said it best:

“We are not about judging the moment and manner of a death,” she said. “We are about honoring the years and the life of service of someone who stepped forward to put on the cloth of their nation and serve their country in defense of democracy.”

One of those Troy could be referring to is Bill ‘BJ’ Tusing, an Iraq veteran who was lost to suicide three years ago.

Adalie, age ten, is one of five children he left behind. She attended the T.A.P.S. meeting with her mother, Amanda, and three siblings.

After her father’s death, Adalie paired up with Army Staff Sergeant Tanner Hagerty, a mentor with T.A.P.S. and a military chaplain.

“Seeing Tanner just makes me happy all the time,” Adalie said. “I just feel I can be myself. I don’t have to hide from saying stuff. And he knows my family well, so I can talk about whatever.”

Last Memorial Day, Hagerty accompanied Adalie as she visited her father’s final resting place for the first time, at Arlington National Cemetery.

“He got cremated and he used to have his box in the living room and it still feels like it’s there,” Adalie said. “When you go to Arlington and you see his name you’re just surprised. Oh my god, it’s actually there.”

Hagerty said it was an emotional day.

“It was a powerful moment just to sit there,” he said. “Adalie and I. And that’s all we did. We just sat there together. I think we both cried multiple gallons of tears that day but it brought us closer together. It was special.”

Around her neck, Adalie wears a button with a picture of her father. This weekend, she added a sticker that says ‘HERO.’

Why does Adalie think he deserves that designation?

“Because he served for our freedom,” she said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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