By Dole Caregiver Fellow Elizabeth Rotenberry ’15
As a USMC Veteran Spouse, Caregiver and Mother of 4 young children, it is a busy life! I am so proud of the family that we have shared for 14 years, especially as a Military Family. Of our 4 children, 3 have experienced the Marine Corps life for at most 12 years of our 14 years in service. However, all 4 will endure the lasting effects of war, deployments, transitions, and their Father’s injuries for life. My Husband, a Veteran, Gunnery Sergeant Chuck Rotenberry, suffers from a TBI and severe PTS.
As an Active Duty family, we were constantly on the go, adrenaline was always running with excitement for new places and new people. Fortunately, our children were resilient and accepted the Marine Corps life because it was all they knew and loved. It was not until everything stopped and suddenly, without warning, we were removed from that life with a call from Marine Corps Headquarters, that our loved one had been injured.
Within an instant we were now “civilians” adjusting to life in a neighborhood in which we are the only Combat Veteran
Family. My children have now gone from growing up in a united community on base, to learning how to fit in and at the same time handle becoming secondary caregivers to their Father. After being stable for a few years and having their Dad home the majority of time, my children have become more and more exposed to the invisible wounds he suffers from, internalizing all the symptoms.
I never realized the pain and struggles my kids were dealing with. The ripple effects of second hand PTS are more than prevalent and the stress they endure trying to take care of not only themselves but also their Dad, is tough. Military children are some of the bravest and strongest children I have ever encountered
, they are true warriors among our Nation. Our children, like most Military children, are amazing at hiding their feelings and keeping the family together, much
like they did when my Husband was deployed.
Our 12-year-old has been dealing with so many medical/mental conditions that it pains us to see the daily worry on his face. He suffers with anxiety, OCD, Tourette’s, as well as chest surgery for a condition that he and our youngest share, and many days his panic attacks keep him from leaving the house. When we first transitioned out of the Corps it was important for me to sit down with him and reassure him that all would be ok, that we would be a family now. All we want for him is to be a kid, to stop growing up so fast and taking on so much. I want him to play and not worry about his siblings or his Dad. He carries so much weight on his shoulders and I know it is hard for him to see Chuck suffering in silence, sleeping the day away because his Dad cannot function; it is with this suffering that he feels the need to step in and take over. I worry for our son, and sometimes I am afraid to go to sleep at night because he hyperventilates to the point of passing out and has expressed his own frustrations with life.
Our twin 9-year-old girls have many struggles, from separation anxiety with their Dad, to anger and depression. One wakes several times a night, scared that her Dad has left without saying goodbye, or that he hasn’t said enough “I love you’s” when he does leave the house. She feels the pain that Chuck feels on days when he is not well and takes it very personally. The other worries us with her constant anger and separation from all the people in her life, she is angry and sad most of the day, she never feels loved enough and tells us she feels like she is not good enough for our family. The first one wants alone time with her Dad and craves his full attention; we have found our second daughter hiding, wondering if anyone would notice she was missing. Among all the pain our girls are facing, the one peace of mind that we get every night is watching them sleep together, snuggled as twins do best, even as they have their separate beds.
Our 4-year-old was born just 2 weeks post deployment, post injury and is not fully aware of the Dad that Chuck used to be versus who he is now. He is a typical boy, learning from his siblings and trying to keep up with them! Chuck tries hard to be that Dad that our other 3 knew. It is hard for all of us to understand the new life, the new normal for which we live but we are managing and we have been so blessed to have found new help for our children. Getting my family the support they need has been my mission ever since we have began to see their breakdowns, their struggles with school/grades and the disconnect in our family. They have taken on so many responsibilities but now it is our time to focus on the little Heroes in our lives, the silent warriors who keep our families strong.
It is amazing to see all 4 kids take care of their Dad, to bring him his meds, make sure he has eaten and always be aware of their surroundings considering Chuck’s injuries, symptoms and triggers. It has been a tough road, dealing with Active Military life, deployments, instant civilian life, post injury, the “new normal’ and now our children have waited long enough for support.
I knew something was wrong, I could see the breakdown in my kids and was told by many that I was crazy, that they were great kids and very well mannered. No matter what anyone tells you, they are suffering in silence just like our Wounded Warriors with their own invisible wounds. Reach out and ask the child of a Military or Veteran Member, no matter the age, “how are you?”
We have been so fortunate to have found the Kennedy Krieger Institute, Eagle Project: Military Children’s Behavioral Health Clinic; and so grateful for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation for introducing us to groups such as the Military Child Education Coalition, it is with these organizations that we hope to get the help our Little Heroes deserve. Research, ask, and never give up on Military Children!