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Retreat helps military widows connect, heal

Published On: Jan 11 2013 10:15:34 PM MST
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

Kathy Fernandez waits in line to check out ski equipment at Bridger Bowl's rental shop.  She hasn't skied a day in her life. But that's about to change.

"I'm trying to continue living my life," says Kathy.

Kathy's one of 40 military widows participating in a TAPS retreat, designed to help them connect with one another and conquer new challenges.

"I'm getting to do things that I would have never gotten, that I would never do otherwise, by myself," says Kathy.

Kathy's husband was killed in Iraq in 2003, making her a single mom to her now 11-year-old son.  She says it's reassuring to be surrounded by women who know what it's like.

"You don't really have to say much.  You just know that if you have a hard time, you know that they understand, they get it," explains Kathy.

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS for short, is a non-profit organization that helps folks who have lost someone in the military.

"We do something to kind of push people outside of their comfort level and show them that they still have a lot to do in their life," says TAPS Director of Special Events Kyle Harper.

Harper says retreats like this one give folks the self-confidence to to know they can tackle almost anything.

"When their husbands died, they're not sure how they're going to get through that and this is kind of a metaphor for them.  They're not sure they can get down this mountain but they can," explains Harper.

As for Kathy...

"It's amazing.  This is amazing...Not as much of a learning curve as I thought it would be and I'm just proud of myself for doing it, for being out here," says Kathy.

It's given her a break from her everyday life, a time to relax and to try something new.

"I wouldn't have come and done this on my own and the fact that TAPS can provide all this for us is pretty amazing.  Sometimes you think people forget and I know I'm not going to be forgotten and my husband's not going to be forgotten," explains Kathy.
TAPS has helped over 35,000 military families.  
This retreat is one of 52 events held throughout the year and the first of in a series of three that TAPS will hold this year for military widows.