ARLINGTON, Va. — For Robyn Thomson, meeting her husband, Todd, came down to a chance encounter in college.
“He loved the Army. It was his passion,” she said. “I met him probably about two weeks after he enlisted and then was with him his entire career until I put him in the ground at Arlington.”
With their two young daughters by her side, she said her final goodbye to Lt. Col. Todd Thomson in 2015. After multiple deployments to Iraq, cancer ultimately stole him away from his loved ones.
“It was a long three years for him to suffer,” she said.
In the years since, Thomson and her family grieved and later found comfort with other military families through the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS.
“TAPS is a national organization for all those who are grieving the death of a military loved one,” said founder and president Bonnie Carroll. “Whenever and wherever someone dies in the military, surviving family members are connected with everything that taps has to offer its emotional support, casework assistance, connections to grief support services.”
Carroll founded the group in 1994, after her husband, Brigadier Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an Army plane crash in 1992. TAPS now includes around 100,000 active families. Just last year, another 7,500 families joined them.
“It's a lot more than people think,” Carroll said. “And loss in the military isn't just combat-related; loss is illness, an accident and suicide, and many other circumstances.”
On this Memorial Day, like others before, TAPS will hold a special weekend of events for families like Robyn Thomson’s.
“I don't think the civilian world really understands,” Robyn said. “This is not about parties and the beginning of summer.”
It can be a painful time, one that calls for compassion and reflection.
“A lot of people will say, ‘Happy Memorial Day,' and it's not happy. It's not happy,” she said. “But during Memorial Day, just take a moment, remember those people who went before us, who gave us our freedoms, who fought for our country, and then have your barbecue and enjoy your picnic, but don't forget the real meaning of what Memorial Day is.”
It’s a day for remembering those who’ve left on their final deployment.