A Journey Without an End

Sometimes you may not realize the level of strength and resilience you possess until you’re tested by a great tragedy. As a parent, the thought of losing a child is often too dark of a place to visit; too scary; too horrific – until it happens, and suddenly you’re there.

Philips employee Karen Kennedy lost her son due to injuries incurred while serving his country. And just like that, her thoughts were cornered into that dark, scary, and horrific place; but she made a choice: she would survive and overcome this. She would fight her way back into the light and live an honorable life that would make her son proud.

Karen Kennedy with a car full of girls

Five months after her son’s death, knowing she could not embark on this journey alone, Karen reached out to the Tragedy Assistance Program (TAPS), where she was immediately paired up with an American Gold Star Mother from Iowa. The American Gold Star Mother organization represents a group of mothers whose children died while in military service, died as a result of that service, or are MIA. They honor the Fallen and serve their country, state, and community through volunteer work. Being able to talk to someone who has gone through a similar experience is integral to the healing process. The Gold Star Mother from Iowa was able to reassure Karen that the emotions she was feeling and her friends and family not knowing what to say or how to act around her was completely normal. It was then that Karen was able to take a deep breath and arrive at the realization that she was not alone.

Now an American Gold Star Mother herself and peer mentor for TAPS, Karen has been providing care and support to other mothers, the same kind of care and support that she credits with saving her life. TAPS provides opportunities for volunteers to attend retreats and seminars across the United States, fostering a culture that promotes strength, bravery, and survival. She also mentors young adults for the No Barriers “Children of the Fallen” program. It’s opportunities like these that allow Karen to give help, receive help, and create a sense of community and support.

“I desperately needed to find a community – someone to team up with – somebody to help me navigate this new path. After finding my community of survivors, I began to gain strength from them. I listened to their stories and they listened to mine, and together we started pulling in the same direction, toward a revaluation of life and discovering what’s truly important,” Karen said.

It’s a long journey, a journey without an end, and so there will be times when you will be alone with your thoughts. During these times, Karen turned to nature. She would take long walks through the mountains, listen to the gentle hiss of a nearby stream, and when the sun tucked away for the night, she would lie on her back and stare up at an ink black sky speckled with silver dots, and reflect on the vastness of the world.

Karen Kennedy out fishing on a lake

“Nature grounded me,” Karen said. “It became my saving grace. I felt a little closer to my son. I felt a part of something larger than myself.”

When faced with a great tragedy, a tragedy that you believe will break you, you will dig deep to find that inner strength and resilience that will push you to keep moving, to keep believing, and to keep surviving. Karen chose to live and she continues to choose to share her story with others who need to hear they are not alone.

“I love working with other’s who have been through what I’ve been through. I let them know there is a big world out there and they have the power to make a difference.”

This journey is with no end, but it’s up to you in how it begins.