Stronger Together - Purple Heart Spouses

Staff Writer Helen Phillips

October 22, 2019

Those of us that do not live day to day caring for a wounded combat Veteran in our households cannot begin to fathom the level of commitment, endurance, and faith it takes to not bolt. Neither the warrior nor their spouses, families and even post-service injury spouses expected to manage symptoms for 20, 30, 40 plus years. The longevity of the strength required of a veteran caregiver is extremely heavy and lonely. Therefore the need to group them together for support through our Strong Hearts Spouses Retreats is greatly needed.

Imagine if you will, a husband and father that was once a soldier protecting our nation, now unable to work due to a Traumatic Brain Injury, who feels he has no purpose or direction. He believes his family would be better off without him and voices this often. The wife constantly reminds him how valuable he is and that his presence is all they need. It doesn’t seem like a hard thing to manage until she explains to an understanding small group of women who live the same life, that simply being gone for a weekend retreat for her to breathe and find support, she is constantly afraid that she will return to find he chose to end their suffering, so he thinks.

Now imagine a young wife and mother whose combat veteran husband suffers daily from chronic back and ankle pain. Although he was fortunate to find a new purpose post-war and works helping others as a therapist, his constant pain creates an inability to sleep and be comfortable doing the simplest of things, resulting in irritability, lack of patience and added stress in the household. She wants to turn to her “friends” who live and work around her for support but quickly finds she cannot share as they can’t understand this level commitment nor life with a wounded combat Veteran. She chooses to suffer in silence.

How about the one that feels guilty for choosing to go back to school to start a career not only so that she has an identity but can provide more for their family. Her guilt is because the focus isn’t all about him after ten years, her soldier man who was left an amputee after the battle. She is in that place where like on a commercial flight the attendant instructs, “please place the mask over your own mouth before assisting others.” She must be able to breathe in order to breathe life into her family.

Then there is the most beautiful one, the most selfless, supportive and loneliest of them all. She is the one that lost her warrior to that silent thief of hope and life. She is the one that chose to hold her story till the end of the retreat, speaking as if her husband were still alive, as she recognized that as soon as she shared, the narrative would turn from them, those that still have time and can possibly find ways to change the days ahead. She was simply satisfied to still be considered part of the group, this community of strong spouses. When a Veteran dies, services are no longer needed for the Veteran, much if not all support the caregiver received is gone as well. An immediate void of inclusion and identity during a time of unimaginable grief.

They all have anger, frustrations, fears, stress, and lots of tears, but each and every one of them expressed their pride, adoration, and love for their husbands. These women will fight in any capacity to protect their men and get them what they need. These women will defend their warriors’ honor and praise their courage to have stepped up to the fight and who gave it their all! “Strong” really does not encompass the full description of the role, these men and women play just because they love and care for those that sacrificed mind and body to protect Americans and our freedoms. Neither do the words survivor, selfless, committed, empowering, nor amazing. There is not one word that truly personifies these great American heroes, the caregivers.

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