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Program for survivors brings retreat to New River Gorge

Heather Crutchfield, front, from Florida, with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) gets her gear before heading out on a whitewater rafting trip in Lansing, W.Va. on Aug. 31, 2018.

CHRIS JACKSON/THE REGISTER-HERALD VIA AP

By JORDAN NELSON | The Register-Herald | Published: September 9, 2018

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — Beth Lucci has spent the last five days away from her home in Naples, Fla., to find peace and serenity in the mountains of West Virginia.

She is a survivor.

Lucci, 52, lost her brother, Cpl. David Lucci, when she was 46. David was 47 at the time of his death. He and his sister were only 13 months apart.

David, who served in the Marine Corps for 25 years, fought in Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom before his passing in 2012.

As a way of going through grief, Lucci joined the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a national military service organization that welcomes families who have lost a loved one as a result of their military service.

This year, TAPS brought its retreat, dubbed "West Virginia All Populations Retreat," to Lansing in the Mountain State.

According to several TAPS staff members, the five-day retreat was an opportunity for grieving family members of all ages to temporarily escape from the stressors of daily life and enter into the peace and serenity of the New River Gorge, where they can focus on their healing and connecting with others who have undergone similar experiences.

Their days in the Mountain State consisted of long hikes, whitewater rafting, zip lining and catching the views of all the state has to offer.

Lucci explained her brother didn't necessarily show signs of post traumatic stress disorder, but over a three-month span he seemed to have developed it.

"But I've learned through my loss that he is still with me, and he's still walking with me," she said.

Going through the cycles of grief would not have been possible if it weren't for Beth's mentor, Debra Lucey.

Lucey, who lost her brother, Jeff, due to suicide, began her TAPS journey long ago. After reaching a point where she felt she could help others, she decided to become a mentor in the program.

Lucey and Beth met at a TAPS seminar in Washington, D.C., around a year and a half after Beth lost her brother. Lucey was beginning her mentoring program.

"This whole program, it's just great peer support," Lucci said. "It's just reassuring to know she's kind of walked the walk. She helps me along in case I get stuck on my grief journey, and she's just very supportive and available any time I need her."

Their friendship extends all the way from Lucey's home in Monroe, N.C., to Lucci's home in Florida.

Certain times during the year cause an upsurge in grief for Lucci, but she explained Lucey is always there, anytime.

"But really what I think is amazing is that I'm six years out after my loss, and since she's been such an incredible mentor to me, I now think I'm ready to be a mentor to someone as well," she said.

Although Lucci has been a part of the TAPS program for a while, her time spent in West Virginia was the first retreat she attended through TAPS. It was also the first time she had ever been to West Virginia.

It was nice to exchange her normal palm trees for greenery and mountains, she said.
"It's really amazing because when you're dealing with grief you kind of just get busy doing all the incidentals of daily life that you get to the point where you kind of are just existing and not really living," Lucci explained, "and this retreat has meant so much to me because of the old cliché — you need to stop and smell the roses."

The trip did just that, and gave her an opportunity to "rebalance her life," she said.

The retreat taught her to not be afraid, to have fun, and enjoy. She said she was even taught self-care techniques.

"Just stop," she said. "When you're going through grief, you kind of just like to stay busy so you don't have to deal with your grief. To have an event like this, it teaches you to just stop and live in the moment and enjoy the moment."

Lucci said when she travels back to Florida and goes back to her everyday schedule, she now knows to take some time-outs throughout the day.

As for Lucci's brother, David, she said she will never forget his kind, compassionate and caring personality.

She holds those characteristics of her brother and tries to carry them on.

"I just look at life a little differently now. I look at where the needs are, and I just want to help people," she explained. "I think I work through my grief by helping other people because there's so many people that are struggling in this world and we don't even realize it.

"Not everyone is going to open up that they are having some trouble and I just try to help in any way that I can offer, and this program taught me how to do that."

Information from: The Register-Herald.

Scott Emery, left, the trip leader and raft guide with Adventures on the Gorge, speaks to a group from Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) on how to properly use their personal flotation devices before heading out on a whitewater rafting trip in Lansing, W. Va. on Aug. 31, 2018.
CHRIS JACKSON/THE REGISTER-HERALD VIA AP

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