The end of a chapter is not the end of the story.
What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?
Being a veteran caregiver can be challenging, but also really fulfilling. It is an overlooked and unrecognized public service position for the long-term care of our living heroes. It means I am a hands-on, tangible piece of providing America’s sacred promise to care for our military.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
I was a manager in a utility company, with community volunteer obligations, three busy kids, and an active church member. My job was our main income source and supported our “forever” home. After the injury, I quickly re-learned that nothing in life is actually “forever”. When I left my job for caregiving, we sacrificed a solid income, downsized our home, gave up a lot of activities (which also meant changes in friendships), and did everything in our power to keep our kids’ lives normal until they moved on. I had to give up my self-sufficient spirit to humbly and gratefully accept help and support in a number of areas in my life.
What is one piece of advice you would offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
Be patient while being persistent. Lasting progress comes in small steps that become foundational.
As a caregiver for her husband Eric, Carrie Fisher has seen how the process impacts the entire family. After completing his initial enlistment as a Navy submariner, Eric diligently served in the reserves. He crossed from Navy Reserve to Air Force Reserves Security Forces and then into Transportation, gaining a breadth of experience that made him very deployable. Carrie helped her three children build the skills necessary for resiliency and strength during six separate deployments in a seven-year time span while building her own career and managing the household as a suddenly active-duty family.
In 2011, Carrie learned a role she was unprepared for and untrained for—caregiver. While stationed in Afghanistan, Eric experienced a heart attack during a rocket strike. After his medical evacuation and return home, the family quickly learned the heart attack was just the beginning of the journey. Over the next decade, Eric would be diagnosed with cancer, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe degenerative joint disorder, neuropathy, and cognitive decline due to an undiagnosed and untreated traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The responsibilities mounted and Carrie left her career to create necessary space for caregiving. Along with tracking medical appointments, coordinating medications, keeping family schedules, and providing physical and emotional care, she was often the only advocate in a lonely space. From the Department of Defense medical board to transitioning into the VA system, there were many challenges, deadlines, and appeals that would have gone unanswered without the persistent determination of a motivated caregiver.
While Eric recovered, the kids grew up. In spite of so many losses, including their dad’s limited involvement, financial downsizing, and constantly changing plans, they learned the importance of finding gratitude in loss and lessons in experiences. Carrie recognizes the impact of caregiving on kids—even as they become adults— is life altering. Healing the veteran often involves healing the emotional wounds of the children, too.
As the 2014 Wisconsin Dole Fellow, Carrie is now a Dole Caregiver Fellow Alumni living in Florida where she continues to manage the chronic health needs of her husband. She is also an advocate for caregiver issues, a volunteer, and a proud grandma. She finds strength in navigating this “new normal” with the support and knowledge of passionate caregivers who continue to improve the path for others.