Widows, mothers of fallen military meet in Milwaukee for retreat

Posted at 5:47 PM, Jul 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 19:56:43-04

Wives and mothers who’ve lost loved ones in the military are finding support in Milwaukee.

One woman wears her son's fingerprint on a chain around her neck, the other her husband's wedding ring. Before this week, Judy Thomas and Catherine Ignacio were complete strangers.

Now they consider each other family.

"As much as I would like my son back, I can't imagine not having these ladies in my life," said Thomas, who lost her son Nathan in 2014. He was an army specialist and the oldest of five children.

Ignacio lost her husband Jason, an army staff sergeant in 2012. Together, they had two kids.

Both women took part in the Wisconsin Women's Retreat this week through a national organization called TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

The organization was founded in 1994 and supports spouses, parents, siblings and friends of fallen military members.

Each of the 22 women at the Milwaukee retreat share the same kind of grief.

"My only child was killed in 2008," said Bunnie Jacquay whose son U.S. Army Sgt. Cody Legg was killed in Iraq. "You may never be able to heal the loss, but you will be able to heal the wound that was caused by the loss and you integrate your grief into your new normal everyday."

Jacquay says during the retreat, these women can take off the mask and be themselves without judgment.

"It's uncomfortable when you see someone crying, and you're afraid to bring up the name of their loved one because you don't want to make them uncomfortable," she said. "For us, it's our favorite subject. We love to talk about them."

TAPS holds more than 30 retreats each year around the country. The retreat in Milwaukee included a food tour, kayaking, and yoga.

The women paid for their own transportation, but TAPS covered the cost of the activities, and meals. The Hilton Milwaukee City Center donated hotel rooms for their stay.

After the retreat, the women say even though they may not see each other every day, they will always share a connection.

"If we're able to support others, we're always here just how TAPS is for us," said Ignacio.

TAPS is a non-profit organization funded through donations.