Being a military caregiver means that I have the incredible responsibility and privilege of supporting someone who will carry the weight of his military service with him for the rest of his life – he just needs me to help share the load.
Do you have any hobbies that may relate to your caregiving?
My husband and I have always enjoyed going to the movies, and I’m grateful this is something we can continue to do together even if we have to be more thoughtful about when we go to the theater. We also love being outdoors and traveling, so whenever we can, we try to spend time outside at home or visiting new places. Reading is also a hobby we both love, and we might read together, read alone, or read with our youngest son as a stress reliever.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
As the caregiver to a Post-9/11 veteran, my husband and I have to work a little harder at keeping our marriage strong and healthy where both partners feel like they make contributions. Becoming a caregiver has made me more thoughtful: as a caregiver, as a mom, as a wife, as a colleague, and as a person. Many spouses have to sacrifice their employment or chances to develop themselves professionally because of their caregiving responsibilities. I’m blessed that I haven’t had to do that because of the very careful and thoughtful balance I’ve been able to create with my husband and family’s support.
What are the most significant lessons you have learned from being a caregiver?
As a caregiver, I’ve learned to be mindful of time. Time helps provide structure to my day so I can be “all things for all people” in my household, my husband and my two sons, who need me. Time also reminds me when I need to focus on myself; while I am not afforded a lot of time to myself, I’ve learned to take it when I can and be resilient when I can’t. Time also reminds me to capitalize on every moment, large and small, with the people I love and respect. Becoming a caregiver has also reaffirmed a new approach to life I developed after my family and I experienced a rough couple of years when we endured several significant personal and family tragedies. As a self-declared “planner,” the unpredictable nature of life was difficult for me, but becoming a caregiver constantly reminds me that sometimes, life just gets in the way. I’ve learned – painfully but importantly – to be okay with that.
As the daughter of retired Air Force veterans, I was accustomed to military life when I married my husband, Tyron, a Marine Corps infantryman, in 2006. We endured three combat deployments in our first five years (two to Iraq, one to Afghanistan). On patrol in Afghanistan, Tyron was in the blast radius of a rocket-propelled grenade while attempting to reach an injured Marine. The blast caused a Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, and physical injuries to his lower back – injuries left largely untreated until after his retirement. After nearly twenty years in the infantry, Tyron suffers from migraines, cognitive impairments, memory loss, chronic pain as well as PTSD.
In addition to being his caregiver, I also care for our three-year-old son and my 18-year-old stepson while working fulltime as university faculty. I'm a designated Veterans Support Advocate on my campus. I publish research on veterans reintegration experiences and advocate for Post-9/11 combat veterans and their families. As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, I want to improve awareness about the unique experiences of caregivers in smaller communities like mine.