I find strength through the smiles of my family... through acts of kindness... My reward is raising a happy, healthy family.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
My advice to other military and veteran caregivers is to “bloom where you are planted.” Although we may not have chosen our current situation or circumstances, we can seek support and opportunities and find happiness in each day.
What does being a military caregiver mean to you?
Being a military caregiver means reminding him of the things he cannot remember and helping him cope with the things he cannot forget. It means picking up tripping hazards and diffusing triggers, hoping to remove some of my husband’s physical and mental obstacles each day.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
The biggest change in my life has been the education and ability to shift priorities and to always take things in stride. I write mostly in pencil in my day planner as I know that many things can change in an instant depending on health and moods. Flexibility has been the biggest change in my life as I have had to learn to manage expectations.
Briarly Wilson of Murrieta, California is a military caregiver to her Marine husband, Marcus. In her daily life, she balances being a caregiver, a mother of 10 children ranging from ages 5-25, and serving in the Air Force Reserves as the 452d Medical Group Superintendent at March Air Reserve Base, California.
While deployed to Iraq in 2006, Marcus suffered life-threatening injuries when his vehicle ran over an Improvised Explosive Device that resulted in an above-knee amputation of his left leg, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After 48 surgeries and three years of rehabilitation, he was able to return to active duty until his retirement in 2015. Briarly draws from her own deployment experience to help care for Marcus’ injuries. Daily, she assists him with navigating around their non-accessible home, bathing, using his prosthetic, administering medication, scheduling appointments, and managing his irritability and anger.
She also manages the emotions of their children—some who remember their dad before his injuries, and others who have grown up always knowing their dad’s wounds. Briarly tries to shelter their kids from the most difficult parts of their father’s struggles. Briarly protects her veteran and family by quietly taking on the stress of life on her own. In fact, when Briarly was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, she completed every test and went to every doctor’s appointment without telling Marcus. It was only when she scheduled her surgery that she shared what was going on. “When I’m with my husband, I strap on my caregiver mask and I don’t complain.”
Briarly had to learn how to be flexible and manage her expectations, especially as she tries to juggle competing priorities when there are only so many hours in a day. She feels lucky that she has been able to find a community of other caregivers who have mentored her through her journey, as well as having the opportunity to provide help and advice to others.
As a Dole Fellow, Briarly is proud that she can represent a unique subset of caregivers who have their own military experience and hopes that she can advocate for programs that will teach caregivers new skills and prevent caregiver burnout.