The tragic and unexpected death of a military service member can have a lifelong impact on family members -- a blow a national organization hopes to help soften with a Girdwood retreat this week to help Alaska-based families cope.

The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, was founded in Alaska and helps surviving families. On Thursday 45 fathers, mothers and siblings took part in several outdoor activities including building an igloo and dog sledding.

The Alaska retreat helps grieving families connect and feel comfortable sharing their stories.

TAPS describes the event as a bonding experience that allows families to recapture their sense of fun and adventure.

“These parents, these moms and dads who have sacrificed their son for the freedom of this country to come here and have the opportunity to experience joy, to be in a safe place to meet others who truly understand to take of that as we say body armor they've been wearing,” said TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll.

One of the goals of the outdoor activities is for survivors of loss to feel more comfortable with each other and share their stories of grief.