“Mrs. McCoy?”… “Mrs. McCoy?”… “I know this is hard but we need to know.”
Even though his voice was soft, empathetic, and understanding, it echoed loudly through the tiny consultation room. I remember feeling as though the walls were closing in around me and there was nowhere I could go. I was trapped.
‘How did they expect me to make this decision?’ So many different scenarios raced through my mind and our entire history together. The last seven years of my life replayed over and over again. The day we met, our first kiss, our wedding day, the day our babies were born…over and over I replayed those moments in my mind. .
Softly the doctor says once again, “Mrs. McCoy, Ma’am we need to know your decision.”
A few days prior…
Just day’s ago we celebrated my husband’s 23rd birthday. He was wide-awake and extremely alert. He smiled as I walked into his room, and I remember feeling so lucky that I was able to share another day with him.
I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, but before he could answer the nurse spoke up and said, “a Dr. Pepper and a kiss”. I looked down at my Soldier who had clearly already had this conversation with the nurse, and was now grinning from ear-to-ear.
I will never forget this day, as it was the last kiss he and I shared together, and one of the last days he was able to talk. This new life that he and I had come to know was once again about to quickly change.
As the weight of the world fell upon my shoulders, for the first time the thought of not sharing a future with my husband crossed my mind. ‘How was I supposed to process all of these feelings? ‘How was I to make all of these decisions?’ ‘I can’t do this,’ I remember thinking. Everything I once knew, everything I once depended on, my world, my life, and my future was beginning to unravel.
Advice for Professionals and Family Caregivers
As in most situations in life we will be required to make decisions. Some decisions of course will be harder to make and some will need immediate action. But what do we do when family members are not prepared to address such decision-making?
In dire moments some may not have the ability to answer our questions as quickly as we would like, such was the case for me personally. I could not quite pull my thoughts together quickly enough as I was flooded with emotions, questions of “what if”, the unknown of my future, and the memories of my past.
There are two key elements that I have learned during my time training to be a Marriage and Family Therapist that I believe transcends to the professional caregiving field and can be used in situations similar to my military caregiving experience. These elements include (1) pacing and (2) space.
- Pacing in its simplest form has to do with the rate at which you are speaking as well as asking questions. This constantly remains in my peripheral when I am with my clients and I do my best to remain cognizant of not only what I am saying but also how I am saying it. I personally believe this includes my tone of voice, the rate at which I speak and perhaps even my facial and body expressions. Pacing in my opinion is invaluable to us as professional caregivers, especially during stressful situations. Remaining mindful of the rate at which we speak and the tone of our voice we have the ability to reduce at least a small amount of the stress and anxiety a family member may be having.
- Space and pacing of course go hand in hand and it is hard if not impossible to have one without the other. For me personally I think of space as belonging to my client, it is theirs to use however they see fit. It is not my job to determine how much time my client may need to answer a question or finish a thought. As professional caregivers when a question is asked to the family and there is no response we have the choice to either immediately ask the question again, or allow the family some space to sit with question and at least attempt to think through the possibilities or potential outcomes. I am not implying that we allow family members an infinite amount of time, as I am aware that some decisions require immediate action. What I am suggesting is that we remain mindful of their needs and sensitive to their situation. When our pacing is pressured or rushed and we constantly fire question after question wanting an immediate response we rob our clients of the space that is needed and potentially become yet another stressor for them.
Life is full of hard decisions, some of which we never imagined we would have to make. For the families of wounded service members, life-altering decisions are made regularly. As professional caregivers we do not have the ability to eliminate the decision making process, however we do have to the ability to offer comfort and reduce the anxiety surrounding the process if we remain mindful how we speak and the space we allow the family member to have during these difficult times.
Missed the beginning of my series? Go to ‘The Phone Call’ to read the first installment of this caregiver series.
The caregiving mini-series, 444 Days in the First Year, was written by Tabitha McCoy. Tabitha is a contributor to the MFLN–Military Caregiving concentration team and is a former military caregiver to her husband, SGT Steve McCoy. In this mini-series, Tabitha shares her personal story of caregiving, loss, grieving, and transitioning, as well as insight and advice for both professionals and family caregivers as she recounts the 444 days following her husband’s injuries and then unfortunately his death in June 2008.
Tabitha holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, and is currently a graduate student at Valdosta State University where she is pursuing her Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.