There was always a rush whenever I was given the “ok” to see my husband in the hospital. The anticipation of getting to see him, touch him, and talk to him was almost overwhelming at times. I craved to be near him, I’d give anything to just be in his presence during the road to recovery.
I would wash my hands, and put on the hospital cap, gown, shoe covers, and mask as quickly as I could. I would selfishly hope that he would be awake each time I went into the ICU burn-unit where he was being treated.
On good days he would be alert, constantly asking about our children, curious about everything and everyone coming in and out of his room.
I always looked forward to our conversations; however I also knew he would eventually ask questions regarding the day his unit was hit, and I wasn’t quite sure I knew how to answer them.
‘How would I answer?’ ‘Should I wait for him to ask, or should I approach the topic myself?’ ‘How could I possibly find the words to say what I could barely stand to even think about?’
‘How could I ever explain to him that he was the only survivor?’
Late one evening, as visiting hours were drawing to an end it happened, he asked. I remember feeling so selfish. I fell to pieces right there in front of him, it was the first time he had seen me cry since everything had happened and I couldn’t stop the tears.
Caregiver’s Advice to Professionals and Military Families
Unfortunately, in spite of our many advances we will never be able to see, heal or project the prognosis of the ‘invisible wounds’ many of our service members endure.
I remember my Soldier getting angry with me when I would say, “It’s not your fault.” Truthfully, it wasn’t his fault. However that did nothing for his feelings of regret, or the loss and grief he was beginning to process.
Why? Because I was essentially telling him he needed to stop feeling that way, something I had no right in doing. Something none of us have the right to do, their feelings are real, their emotions are real, and the ‘invisible wounds’ are real.
As caregivers and mental health professionals we know that there are no “correct” answers. Traumatically and forever their lives have changed and the loss they may be experiencing is real.
Learning to “be” with our wounded service members is extremely important. Whether they find comfort in remembering the past and re-telling their stories, or prefer to be silent in their reflections, our job as professional and caregivers is not to deny them of their feelings.
If they are feeling regretful, allow them space to feel this, and to begin processing what this means for them. We should not stand constantly on guard waiting to disarm the first signs of grief, remorse, or sadness. Our job is to aide them in their journey of finding healthy ways to process these feelings and new ways to navigate through each day.
We must learn to “be” with them as they sift through their emotions and begin to make since of their ‘new normal,’ always remembering that some of the deepest wounds are not seen, only felt.
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.