30 Days of Thanks

As a military caregiver for my husband for over 6 years, I have gotten to know many other military caregivers through my advocacy work as a Caregiver Dole Fellow, my contributions to the online community team of Military Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) on behalf of military caregivers, and other activities related to caregiving across the US. I have come to deeply value these caregivers as colleagues and friends for many reasons.

The 3 R’s – Recreation, Respite, & Retreat

I have learned to never shut out anyone who reaches out with concern to help. And to never isolate myself and do things on my own (this was very difficult for me to do)! There is a huge element of safety in being around others who get it. But, being with other loved ones, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances who don’t live with similar experiences, but who do genuinely care, is also healthy. These people can be ideal company because when we are with them, we are able to forget, at least momentarily, the many issues we face. People not intimately familiar with caregivers’ responsibilities have no way of understanding how we live on a daily basis, and it is sometimes a great relief to be able to try to ignore all of our challenges and talk about other matters in life. I have received support from friends, family, and community, from those with good intentions, and a lot of times this was the vital push that I needed to make it through the day! This vital help came in many forms: through financial support, a listening ear; a retreat or opportunities for respite, or treatment for my husband, which helps me relax, knowing he is receiving care that he needs.

As wonderful as it is to get together with those who are not caregivers, it is particularly crucial to spend time with other military caregivers because doing so is essential to the well-being of each caregiver. When I can relate with other caregivers, whether in small meetings or in larger groups, it helps me to remain emotionally healthy. Staying in touch with other caregivers is critical to help each caregiver be able to exchange ideas and discuss personal and other issues related to caring for someone with wounds from war. This is particularly true for military caregivers of someone with a mental disability, PTSD, or similar. Relaxing with other caregivers is therapeutic, supportive, and rejuvenating because there is no need to explain to each other “why” you must do the things you do, or “why” things are the way they are.

Being with other caregivers is also comforting in that caregivers automatically understand the unique kinds of issues that we all face, from the sometimes — or constant— unsettling behaviors exhibited by the person in our care to the kinds of services we need to our very serious need for personal respite and rejuvenation to stay emotionally and physically healthy. We often live with much drama at home— a constant whirlwind of changing needs and behaviors and unexpected events that can be unsettling for the entire household. We desperately need to have respite care to help relieve us when our responsibilities overwhelm us, our energy takes a nosedive, our self-confidence slips, and our hope falters. Through the power of shared experience, it’s often other caregivers who can help us through these and other challenging moments in our lives.

Military caregivers are extraordinary men and women who must quickly learn how to manage a vast array of complex responsibilities: they quickly need to become managers, time management experts, quick-change artists, medical consultants, mini-therapists, educators, and much more. I am thankful to have other caregivers in my life and for the times we can come together and talk about what we do, share strategies and coping mechanisms, and collaborate on ideas. I have had the joy of knowing so many of these wonderful people, who have all greatly enriched my life. During this time of thanksgiving, I am ever grateful for their continuing guidance, friendship, concern, and love.

Resources for Caregivers:

Military Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN)

Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes

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