I have two fellow caregiving friends who have been a very calming presence in my life. Their approach to humor and kindness has been very helpful for me. Humor-sharing friends are important. We can laugh at our frustrations together.
How has your life changed since you became a caregiver?
Our original wedding anniversary was October 15, 1994. Todd was in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast on October 15, 2009, which killed his friends and ended his life, as he knew it. We tried to muddle through and honor it for a couple of years, but the grief that comes up every year was too hard and we deserved to honor our marriage. We had a vow renewal ceremony and picked a new date just for us. Our new anniversary date is April 11. As far as other sacrifices, I had to walk away from a very lucrative career. I had to give up living just for our child and myself. Now, all of the household responsibilities falls upon my shoulders. I arrange every detail that involves our family. The best thing about the whole ordeal was getting to be present for our son more and not having to juggle his school events with a demanding job. That was the gold lining in the cloud of Todd’s injuries. That, and making the friends who have been there for us during some of the darkest of days.
What advice would you offer to other military and veteran caregivers?
Try to focus on new things to learn for yourself. Expose your veteran to activities and hobbies. Neuroplasticity helps. The brain is about maintaining survival, and it remembers pain and trauma first. If we provide the brain with new positive stimuli, such as Equine Therapy, because it helps build new pathways in the brain to better manage pain and depression. I can’t say enough great things about this therapy. Don’t get offended if your veteran rejects some ideas of treatment. What he won’t try now, a year later he might be more ready to attempt. Don’t give up.
Can you describe a milestone or a moment that made you feel empowered or inspired as a caregiver?
I witnessed my husband bond with his horse at horse therapy and I saw the big smile that reached into his eyes and his soul. That is when I knew he was in the right therapy.
On October 15, 2009, Tara was wondering when her husband Todd would call home to celebrate their 15th-year wedding anniversary. That evening, she received a call from Afghanistan informing her that Todd suffered an IED blast that severely injured him and killed two of his close friends. Their son was only 11 at the time. Tara quickly found out that Todd's blood chemistry was a huge issue because he had lost so much blood during the blast, suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI), and now has an above the knee limb salvage because his femur was broken in three places, which damaged his bone marrow. From the start, Todd was suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tara was so alone and isolated and didn't know anyone else like them in a similar situation. Out of pure desperation to find help and hope, she started a support group for caregivers of wounded veterans. That was one of the best things Tara could have done for herself. As a Dole Caregiver Fellow, her focus will be promoting treatment for PTSD for veterans and family members.