John Ferderer was a young man in the Air Force when he became a gold star sibling.
“When he died, I was 22. He would’ve been 20,” Ferderer says.
His brother, Army Specialist Dennis Ferderer, died serving his country during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005. It was the next year that John learned about TAPS — that’s the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. “One day my mom called and said ‘You know they have a kids program.'”
The New Salem native flew out to Washington D.C. that Memorial Day weekend, for the TAPS Good Grief Camp — and served as a military mentor for kids with a common bond: they were all adjusting to life without a loved one in the military.
“Sometimes at home, if dad was the one that died, we don’t talk about dad, because talking about dad makes mom sad,” Ferderer explains. “And so we don’t want to make mom sad, so we don’t talk about dad. Well in our circle, it’s okay to talk about dad.”
Year after year, John returned to D.C. — first as a mentor, and eventually as a group leader. This year, the Bismarck man prepared curriculum for a group of 17 seven- and eight-year-olds.
“When we’re talking to someone who’s grieving, we don’t say, ‘Oh, I know how you feel.’ I don’t know how you feel. Your grief is your grief. My grief is my grief, and they are not the same thing,” he says.
John says the TAPS weekend is a whirlwind of fun and therapy for these families — and also for himself.
“I go out there as a surviving family member as well,” he explains. “During that weekend I don’t really have a lot of time for that. So I take Memorial Day. I found a restaurant a few years ago that my brother would have loved. I go there, and he and I have our Memorial Day lunch.”
A ritual of healing — for a man dedicated to helping kids heal.
John Ferderer is Someone You Should Know.
Here in our state, John has founded a non-profit that helps pair North Dakota kids with North Dakota mentors, so those gold star children always have close contact with a support system.
That’s a donation-driven non-profit.
Click here to learn more and, if you’re interested, support it financially.