Nothing about losing a loved one is easy, but last night the hope for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) was that a few military families could enjoy a Capitals game as a night of fun and possibly a break from reality.
TAPS is a nonprofit organization that provides comfort and care for anyone who is grieving the loss of someone who died while serving in the military. The organization provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, and much more.
The partnership between the MSE Foundation and TAPS has been in place since 2011 when the first TAPS Courage Caps skate was held.
"We just had such a positive experience [with TAPS] after the first skate that we decided we wanted to do it again and that kicked off our longer term partnership," said Elizabeth Pace, Executive Director of MSE Foundation.
This year instead of a skate, MSE Foundation wanted to do more - inviting nine families and four military mentors and staff to Military Appreciation Night and a meet and greet after the game with players. In total, 11 Fallen Heroes were represented Thursday night.
For Traci, AJ, and Ben Voelke, TAPS' partnership with MSE Foundation has provided them numerous opportunities to interact with both Capitals and Wizards players.
The Voelke's lost their beloved husband and dad in 2012 in Afghanistan and events like Thursday night, remind them that the loss of Major Paul Voelke, United States Army, was not in vain.
"Typically they'd be going to these games with their father, but they can't so this makes them feel special," said Traci of her sons. "It's meant a lot to them that we get recognized in this way."
After the game, the families had the opportunity to meet with Capitals players who feel strongly about connecting with them.
"I always have time for these types of causes," Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "It's great that we have this type of connection with these families. As athletes, we get to do what we do because of what these individuals sacrificed."
Niskanen, along with T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Pheonix Copley met with the families to take pictures, sign autographs but most importantly, listen to their stories.
It's simple gestures like this that go a long way for these families who have gone through so much.
"Tonight was amazing," said Traci Voelke. "It really was."