Do not forget “You” and do your best to not lose sight of your Pre-Caregiver self.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? What sacrifices have you had to make?
I think the most common changes stem from the fact that each day is filled with the overwhelming sensation of uncertainty. I have spent many days and nights in physician offices, emergency rooms, and surgical waiting rooms. I’ve spent a lot of those periods alone and dedicated that time to educating myself on the things that have redefined my family life. In addition, I have learned to appreciate the simplest of things. One example is I try to capture the moments my spouse smiles. Those moments are rare, and I try to have my camera ready at all moments of the day.
At what moment did you realize you were a military caregiver?
I do not know when or if there was a specific moment that I realized I was a caregiver. Looking back, I remember shortly after my husband returned home there was one defining moment that I saw his illnesses emerging. I remember thinking to myself, “he is going to need me for the rest of his life.” Since then, I have taken measures to help myself better understand post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other related issues so that I can be the best for him. At the same time, advocate for his needs as well as others.
What does being a military or veteran caregiver mean to you?
It’s an honor! I am blessed with the opportunity to give back to my husband, my hero, and my champion. Each day I watch him continue to act in bravery. No matter what amount of pain he is in, he continues to fight when placing his feet on the floor each morning.
Geri Lynn Maples’ journey both as a caregiver to her husband Robert, and through her own academic achievements, motivated and empowered her to promote understanding of military culture within her community. She serves as the Dayton Chapter director for Blue Star Families, teaches as an adjunct professor at Miami University, and is the founder of Operation Mission Insight, a non profit organization dedicated to serving military families in various ways.
Geri Lynn’s husband Robert, an Ohio National Guard veteran, sustained injuries during service from exposure to multiple blasts. Injuries include a traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, sleep apnea, hearing loss, and other debilitating conditions. In 2008, after he came close to losing his life from his inability to swallow food and water, Robert was forced to leave his career behind.
With financial instability now a concern, Geri Lynn enrolled in school to pursue a degree and soon realized she had a passion for connecting with and serving military-connected students. She went on to pursue a Ph.D. in educational studies. Her dissertation, "Surviving the Invisible Wounds of War: As Told by the Unseen Heroes,” shared her story as an Ohio National Guard military spouse turned military spouse-caregiver. By having to complete many of her assignments and her dissertation within the waiting rooms of the VA Medical Center and surgical waiting rooms, she was able to share first-hand accounts of her experiences as a caregiver and bring attention to the educational needs of military spouse-caregivers and dependent children.
In addition to her work, Geri Lynn spends most of her time managing Robert’s daily routine to keep him on track. She manages his medication, schedules his appointments, and calms him when a triggering event upsets him. She hopes to continue using her work to help caregivers self-identify, so they do not have to feel fearful of the future like she did at the start of her journey.