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Caregiving of our Parents

 Posted by on October 12, 2015 at 08:00
Oct 122015
 

Blogger Biography: Stephanie Hughes-White is a marketing and communications professional with experience in the corporate and nonprofit sectors. She is a proud Navy spouse for over seven years and currently resides with her husband in Connecticut.

When my husband and I were newlyweds, we never expected that our lives would take the path it did. We knew the strains that the service would put on our upcoming marriage and life together with my then fiancé’s overseas deployments. The difficulty of spending time together was consistently an issue. However, we knew we could persevere. What we didn’t know was what lay ahead.

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease shortly before we were married. Within less than a year, the disease started to have some serious effects on him. We made the decision that I would help take care of him at home and fly away for periods at a time to help my mother. This was not an easy decision for my husband and I. He was busy with his military service and I, with my career. But, family is family. Putting my father into a care home was not an option any of us wanted.

Over the next few years, my trips to my father increased and the time with my husband decreased. We were spending less and less time together. My husband liked to phrase it as “my family deployment times.” He was so incredibly supportive even though it was difficult for me not being there at home for him.

I learned to have more patience, which I never thought I had in me. My father ended up in a wheelchair and started to need care in every way. Finally, when my father passed away, my mother and I were by his side and, as difficult as it was, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. He was one of the most amazing men I knew and I would have done anything for him.

The strain that this can put on military couples could have ended in divorce. However, we are better people for having made the sacrifice of time together for the greater good. Just remember there are resources such as the Military OneSource and Fleet and Family Support Program to help provide guidance and support.

Caregiving is something that is becoming more and more common today. It is not to be taken lightly. The impact on those needing help and to your family can be incredible. I think of it as giving back to my parents for all they did for me.

 

Jul 152015
 

Changing of the seasons reenergizes me, unless I’m not ready, and I’m often not ready. I need a to-do list, change seasonal clothes out, get my toes ready for sandals, etc. I am also a type A who is a yellow or orange personality (depending on the test). I’m motivated by fun, but I procrastinate. I’m a squiggle line, not a circle or square (another test) and I have selective OCD that mostly manifests when my husband leaves his closet light on.

Kelli

Kelli

I am a cheerleader, which means I’m a motivator and able to rope other people into my schemes who end up doing most of the heavy lifting. I’m programmed to be fun unless you expect dinner on the table every night at 1700. Then we have a problem.

I can become overwhelmed by my own mind and other’s expectations. I shut down, hide in my room, known as the cave, and get sad. I have a few friends who know how to lure me from my cave of despair, but when they’re not around I need to figure out how to get out on my own.

If any of this is sounding familiar then you are normal, not alone, and part of a really cool group known as humans. It happens to everyone, just sometimes in different ways and for some of us we can get lost in our caves.

Here are my tips for getting out of a cave of despair and perhaps avoiding it when you feel the sadness coming.

Disruptive Innovation

This is always different. Think of something creative that will change your environment, activity or situation. It can be a large or small. When I’m at work and getting frustrated I might get up and go for a walk, repot a plant or go rearrange a cabinet. The point is I move, change my environment and focus my brain on something else for a few minutes. When I come back I’m often in a much better frame of mind to address the problem I was facing.

A larger disruption is running away to the beach for the weekend. Yes, I do that. I actually feel better having my family with me without the distractions of work, home and other obligations. I have hidden in a car on occasion in the driveway though, just long enough to eat a snack and not have to share.

Find perspective

Before you get creative and disrupt life as your family currently knows it, take a moment to put everything in perspective. Let me give you a hint, you’ll need help on this one. If you had a realistic perspective you wouldn’t be in the cave. Sometimes the disruption needs to be life changing like in career, education or lifestyle. Talk it over with trusted confidants if you think you need to make a more drastic change. Never make these decisions out of emotion or when you are in the cave. That’s when bad decisions are made, like shaving your hair all off.

Have a sounding board

Before one impending deployment, that was closely following a particularly difficult deployment, I had a friend that said, “Hey Kelli, you really should get a counselor for this deployment.” At first I was like, “Oh my gosh, people actually know I’m crazy.” I thought I had hid my crazy. This sweet friend of mine went on to say, “I got one just to have someone to talk to and it was fabulous.” Sometimes your friends are afraid to tell you how it is and, with your service member deployed, you lose the ability to be objective. Best advice ever. I had someone to talk to once a week and she didn’t care about being my friend. She let me know when I was going overboard or when I maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to something. I had six children at home. I needed someone who would give me a raised eyebrow when I was being ridiculous.

Prioritize

Sit down and evaluate how and where you’re spending money, time and emotions. Life gets in the way and it’s easy for us to lose focus of where we really want or need to spend resources. When I do this, I often unravel the string I’ve tangled myself up in and life becomes more manageable. What is most important to me? What is necessary and what is not? I love making lists. I never use them, but I really do love making them, and they help me get back on track and sharpen my focus.

Mind, body and spirit

Take inventory of you specifically. Are you getting enough rest? Are you eating well and exercising? Are you feeding your spirit? All these things affect how we view and manage life. It’s important to make sure we find and maintain a balance. Nothing throws me into a tailspin like being exhausted, eating an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise or neglecting those things that uplift and edify my soul.

I should say something profound here like, “life is a journey, enjoy the process,” etc. But honestly what you need to hear is life is hard and beautiful and rotten and amazing. It’s dirty glorious work this “becoming a better person and helping others become their better selves.”

It’s also OK to get help if you just can’t get moving again, don’t wait. You wouldn’t lie around having a heart attack and tell first responders to go away you can fix it by yourself. Sometimes our hearts are attacked in other ways and it’s not as obvious.

Call Military OneSource for no cost, confidential counseling or get a referral through your primary care manager to figure out if you need a little extra help getting out of your cave, healing your heart and starting back on your journey.

 

 

Guest Blog: Against the Wind

 Posted by on April 3, 2014 at 16:46
Apr 032014
 
Guest Blogger Liz

Liz

This morning the sky is overcast and it is very windy. A storm is on its way. But I guess our community already feels like it has been through one.

I was one of many people today out on the trail at one of the city parks. I’ve never seen it empty, but today it was very crowded, especially given the appearance of the skies. But I guess it was a good day to burn off steam. Some people were walking their dogs. Some were holding hands with a loved one. Others, like me, were trying to run off some stress. All of us seemed like we were trying to process – to decompress – to move onward.

We all desperately want to move on from the past hurt and history of this post. And yesterday, I know, felt all too familiar for some.

For the wife who within 30 minutes gets two separate texts: “Trying to leave early to make it to the game on time” and “Gonna be late. Active shooter on post.”

For the mom who drops her kids off in hourly care for a quick meeting and can’t get to them for the next six hours while the post is secured on lock down.

For the family members who are stranded in town indefinitely because they can’t get back to their home on post after work or school.

For the soldiers who are trained to respond to attacks such as these overseas, but are forced to hunker down helpless on their home land.

For the families that were not fortunate enough to receive a text, that all was well before the signals got tied up and had to rely on the fluid reports of the Internet for their information, who had to sit silently and worry while they waited.

For the families who feel relief when they realize that their soldier is unharmed, for the friends who feel relief when they know their friends were unaffected, both feeling guilt afterward that not everyone found relief this day.

I circled around and around the track, people watching and silently praying. There was about a quarter-mile portion of the loop where you ran face first into the gusting winds. Moms with strollers slowed to a walk. Men and women with little dogs on a leash moved ahead of the dogs and braced them from the wind so they wouldn’t blow up in the air like a kite on a string. I actually watched some people “about face” and take the track the other direction. I stubbornly pushed onward. (It’s the Texan in me, I guess.) At one point, I wondered if I was even still moving forward or if the wind was pushing me backward. Dust from baseball dirt and mowers spit at my face. I was about halfway done with the windy stretch when I decided that I would finish it out and be done. There’s was just no reason to go running against the wind.

I put my face down to the ground and I unzipped my jacket to help let some of the breeze cool me down. But then, something better happened. A gust of wind caught my open jacket and it blew up behind me like a cape. I know it sounds silly, but I suddenly felt empowered. I lifted up my face and I charged through the wind. I finished up that windy stretch and I took an additional loop around the track, letting my “cape” fly freely behind me.

Sometimes in life we will feel like we are constantly running against the wind. We’ll want to slow down. We’ll want to turn around. We’ll want to stop. Today, I realized that the greatest way to overcome is to simply push onward. That’s the way everyday heroes are born.

I think this message lends itself well to our community and to our fight. We will push onward together. Because if tradition has taught us anything, it’s that the Army goes rolling along.

Here’s hoping that today the wind is at your back – or providing your cape!

Dec 122012
 
Staff Blogger Kelli

Kelli

My favorite thing during the holidays is sitting in my home late into the evening with the house quiet and the lights from our tree casting a warm glow into the shadows. I sometimes have a garland with white lights intertwined around an archway or up a stair railing. The centerpiece for me, though, is our tree.  I have ornaments that remind me of duty stations, particular years and most, importantly people, who I dearly love but no longer have here with me.  Grief in the holiday season can be a difficult time for many.

As I grow older and life has more opportunity to refine me by the various fires that come with living, I find the holidays bring a mixed bag of emotions. As a little girl it was joy, happiness and fear of Santa. A fear my family very much took advantage of for their entertainment, but that is for another blog another time…

Along the way I’ve lost loved ones to death. The grief and the pain of their absence are now woven into my holiday traditions, and my memories of them and how I dearly miss those individuals have become part of my personal reflections of the year that has passed.

Depending on where you are in the grief timeline after losing someone, the holidays can be almost unbearable. What might have been a joyful noise is now loud and obnoxious. The traditional holiday salutations ring hollow and insincere. The twinkling lights, shiny tinsel and festive wrappings are all garish and crass, especially during that first holiday season after a loss. Sometimes you wonder if you’ll ever feel joy again.

You will and you do.

I can’t tell you how or when it happens. It’s different for everyone. There is no fixed formula or one proper way to express grief or to mourn. It’s as individual as you are.

What I can tell you is you never get used to the loss of someone, but you do learn to live with the understanding that they are gone. It gets easier and less tender, except in the moments when it hits you like an unexpected wave washing over you and crushing you beneath the current. The holidays can sometimes be that big wave.

The losses of my father, grandfather and a granddaughter have had the greatest impact on my life thus far. With their deaths our family changed the management of affairs in just about every aspect of life, to include the holidays. They played big roles in how, where and what we did for various holidays.

I wanted to share a few things I’ve done and what some of my friends have done to bridge the gulf that exists between grief and joy during this time of year.

My tree

As I hang ornaments, and later show them to my children and grandchildren, it opens the door for conversations that can be tender. It helps us talk about what someone meant to us and why. This ritual has often been the catalyst for conversations about our loved ones, about who they were, how they lived and, more importantly, what they believed and stood for.

I have red cardinals for my grandfather and his mother, my great grandmother. He loved watching for the first cardinals of the season through his big dining room windows that looked over his beautiful backyard.

My father, a pilot and lover of anything tropical, is represented by several different ornaments. Most of my children remember him and it gives them great comfort to be the one to find a special place on the tree for “him.” We have airplanes, a sleigh from Hawaii and a sand dollar from Key West.

Other ornaments were passed down to me and make me feel closer to those who are no longer here, like the one of my mother and father’s wedding photo and the one beautiful blue Christmas ball that has survived 45 years from my parents first Christmas in Spain right before I was born.

Traditions

Other ways I’ve found to ease the pangs of grief is by carrying on the traditions I know they loved. Sometimes we’ve tweaked them depending on where we are, but the core of them is the same nonetheless.

One particular tradition my father enjoyed was my husband and sons building a manger. It was usually out of landscape logs and other materials around the property, but every year the boys would put it together. Then the kids would dress up in outfits depicting the dress of ancient Jerusalem. When doing this in more recent years, inevitably we hear things like, “remember when…” and someone will tell of a past holiday. Like “Remember when Granddaddy wanted to hang Rebekah from a pulley and hoist her from that big tree over the manger as the angel and Dad talked him out of it?”

Or “Remember when Adam was jumping from one bale of hay to another and fell and had that baling string stripe across his face for months?”

Oh yes, injuries are typically part of our memories…

Sometimes, especially the first year or so, it doesn’t feel right not setting them a place at the table. It feels like someone is missing and they are. I have friends who have set them a place, knowing the chair would remain empty but the family found comfort in recognizing them, showing they were not forgotten.

Humor

Laughter IS some of the best medicine. I wish it could cure all that ails a grieving heart because it doesn’t. It can, however, bring a few moments of relief from what can be a heavy burden to bear.

One year I did a candle ceremony where I lit a candle for each family member we were missing. My brother-in-law was really glad that didn’t become a tradition. He didn’t trust me with lighted candles inside the house. Some things you try and discard. Everything can’t be for everybody.

So do what you are comfortable with. It’s your grief, it’s your sorrow and no one can tell you how to fix it. They can only share what has helped them.

Most importantly, it’s okay to not be okay for a while. Grief, loss and deep sorrow are part of our human experience. These emotions are somewhere along each of our paths and as long as we recognize there is no way around them, we will be able to walk through them.

Most of the time we come out on the other side kinder, more gentle and little better at reaching out and loving our fellow man. We are a little more tender and aware of the fragility of life.  Isn’t that what the messages of the holidays are about? Gratitude, peace, love, hope and a giving heart. Sharing our generous spirits with those around us and maybe, just maybe, being that helping hand for someone who is new to the journey of grief.

When the Military Breaks Your Heart

 Posted by on October 24, 2012 at 08:00
Oct 242012
 

When the Military Breaks Your Heart

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

I remember the day very clearly, when we took a chance and decided to build a house at Camp Lejeune. We were still in school and hadn’t officially received orders, but we had a good feeling. We picked out everything from siding to shutters, and tile to countertops. We would drive down from D.C. and visit the work in progress, and I even once stood on the foundation that would be our kitchen.

We never lived in the house, and we didn’t go to Lejuene (until now, of course). That was the first time the military truly broke my heart—when we received orders somewhere else. I was devastated.

A few weeks later, we were in California. Heartbreak set in again a few days later as the moving truck showed up in our driveway and the hubs kissed me goodbye to leave for workups at sea—for three weeks. I cried when I looked at the boxes the movers had left, completely overwhelmed. That was the beginning of the hardest thirty-six months of our lives. It was filled with sadness, death, wounded friends, and a whole lot of tears. The hubs was gone, training or deployed somewhere, for twenty-eight months of a three-year tour. I think one of the biggest blows came when three months into what was to be a six-month deployment, we found out he would be gone for thirteen months. I felt like someone had kicked me in the chest. It was hard to breathe. I have never seen my kids so devastated. We were pretty inconsolable there for a couple of weeks.

That’s when I learned the term, “I’m having an ‘I hate the military’ day.” I found that it made it easier to say it out loud—that I severely disliked what military life sometimes throws at us, and at our service members. It’s hard, and I know I’m not alone in my thoughts. I’m sure we have ALL had those days where something didn’t go as planned or a dream we had didn’t come true.

I wish I had some magic answer that would help you through your “I hate the military” days. I don’t. All I can tell you is what I did, and still do, to help myself and my kids.

We cry it out but only long enough to get it out. That night, when we found out that the hubs wasn’t coming home when we thought, I mustered the courage to tell the kids and we sobbed, the three of us on Frick’s bed. We cried until our eyes were puffy and our noses were clogged. BUT, we pulled ourselves together, splashed some cold water on our faces, and drove to the nearest ice cream shop. Nothing cures sadness like ice cream.

We take a trip. There is something about the open road that seems to make everything better, if only for a little while. Sometimes, the kids and I would pile in the car and drive to a park that was two hours away, when it would have been just as easy to walk to one up the street. The magic was in the escape.

I commiserate with my milspouse buddies. No one understands military heartbreak like your fellow milspouses. We whine over wine, and movies, and shopping. Hey, whatever gets you through the day.

We remind ourselves of the good times. I think about the smile on my kids’ faces when they see their daddy at homecoming or how AWESOME it is to date my hubs after he’s been away for a while. I browse through old photos and remember those happy days the military has given us—homecoming, family days, the Marine Corps ball, and my all-time favorite picture of my boys in full Kevlar and gas masks. That’s the good stuff.

I love our military life. I have lived places I never thought I’d live, and experienced things I never thought I’d have the chance to do. I have two, well-adjusted awesome boys who have done the same. I married the man of my dreams and um…he looks GOOD in uniform!

However, I also know that I’ll have many more days where I think it might be time to leave this life behind. When I do, I’ll be reminded of this,

“You never see bad days in a photo album, but it is those days that get us from one happy snapshot to the next.”—unknown

How do you make it through your tough days in the military?

Overseas Adventures: How to Help Your Spouse Grieve

 Posted by on August 30, 2012 at 08:00
Aug 302012
 

Overseas Adventures: How to Help Your Spouse Grieve

Staff Blogger Melissa

Melissa

Well, a few months ago we got a major dose of reality from the other side of the world.  It started with a phone call in the middle of our afternoon in Okinawa, which meant is was the middle of the night in America. My heart sunk, because I knew this couldn’t be a good phone call. It was my husband’s sister calling. My husband’s father had suffered a heart attack and things didn’t look good.

Anyone who has ever lived overseas understands that this type of phone call is your worst nightmare. We couldn’t just drop what we were doing and be home within a matter of hours like we wanted to. Instead, we were looking at a twenty-four-hour plane ride in addition to waiting to get all the approvals needed to leave the island. In the end, we were able to make the journey back to the states before my father-in-law passed away.

No one is ever prepared for a loved one to pass away, especially a parent. I had no idea how to support my husband emotionally during this time. The possibility of dealing with this, especially at our age, had never even entered my mind. But alas, this was our reality and I wanted to be there for my husband in every way that I could.

The days immediately surrounding a funeral are such a blur that reality doesn’t really hit until you are back in your normal routine. I learned that the days and weeks after the funeral are when grief really comes.  It was, and still is, a “learn as we go process.”  I did learn some valuable lessons these past few months that I hope will help you help your spouse deal with the passing of a loved one.

Silence is golden (at first). I was able to gauge my husband’s reaction and knew that he didn’t want to talk about his feelings right away, and he didn’t want to hear all the clichés like, “It will get better with time.” My physical presence was what he needed, not my words.

Check in.  My husband is a typical military guy:  tough exterior and seldom rattled. So his way of coping was to jump straight back into work and make life as normal as possible. I totally respect his way of dealing, but I also want to make sure he is ok. I will often “check in” with him during a quiet moment. I want to let him know that I am here if he wants to talk about anything, but I know to never force it. He will talk when he is ready and needs to.

Don’t “tip-toe”… help keep the memory alive.  In the days after my father-in-law’s death, I was hesitant to bring anything up about him or even say his name for fear that it would be upsetting.  One evening we were reminiscing about my father-in-law and sharing funny stories, and I saw how good it was for my husband. Laughter and good memories are great medicine for dealing with grief.

Offer encouragement. Now that we are back in Okinawa, I know it is hard on my husband being so far from his family. He wants to be there for them and help them grieve, too. Encourage these relationships, and offer support and help where you can.

Advocate. It is normal for the first weeks and months for your spouse to be upset. If after a few months you feel that your spouse isn’t coping with the grief well, it is time to encourage outside help. Gently, offer up the idea of attending a local support group of peers that are going through the grief process. If you feel your spouse needs more help, it might also help for him or her to speak with a professional. Know that resources are available on your installation, and if you do not know where to find them, Military OneSource can point you in the right direction. You can also call and speak with a non-medical counselor at Military OneSource by calling 1-800-342-9647. Now is the time to advocate for your spouse and make sure he or she gets the assistance needed to work through the grief process.

Unfortunately, dealing with the death of a loved one is something we all experience. It is important to remember that everyone grieves differently and no article or advice is one size fits all. Grieving is a lifetime process that does not follow someone else’s time schedule. Follow your spouse’s lead. Your heart will immediately tell you what you need to do.

A Memorial Day Memoir

 Posted by on May 25, 2012 at 08:00
May 252012
 

A Memorial Day Memoir

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

Until 2005, Memorial Day was just another holiday, a day off from work, and a sign of the first days of summer vacation. I was not exposed to the military growing up aside from stories that my grandfather had been wounded during the Battle of the Bulge in Germany during World War II. Though I had been married to my Marine for several years in 2005, war had not hit us close to home, at least not yet.

On September 11, 2001, we had just moved to the Washington, D.C. area for work. We had been there just short of a month. My husband was on his way to the Pentagon to get his hair cut, and I had dropped my son at day care. On my way out the door, the receptionist said, “Turn on the news when you get home. A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” Like many Americans, I watched the second plane hit from my living room. I stood in silence as my younger son played at my feet. My phone rang and I heard my husband’s voice on the other end, panicked through his muted tone, “Get (our son) and stay in the basement. Wait there until I get home.”

I replied, equally calm, equally panicked, “Don’t go to the Pentagon. I have a bad feeling.”

Shortly after September 11, I took a job at a Marine Corps base perched atop a hill overlooking the Pentagon and adjacent to Arlington Cemetery. For the next year, I watched as the cranes and crews slowly rebuilt the structure while the country tried to rebuild from the tragedy. On the one-year anniversary, I dropped off my son at the child development center on Bolling Air Force Base, which is located just on the other side of the Anacostia River, near downtown D.C.  Eyeing the surface-to-air missile that had been positioned at the back of the center, I asked the center manager how I would access the base to pick up my kids if we were attacked. “You don’t. We have enough food and water here to feed the center children for two days. If the base is locked down, even parents will not be allowed access.”

The underlying concern for our safety lingered throughout our time in D.C. We raised our children under guard and gun, and when my husband received orders to an infantry battalion in California in 2005, we knew he would deploy to Iraq shortly after we arrived. One afternoon, my husband and I sat among the boxes in our new house on Camp Pendleton discussing who would raise our children if we both passed, where he wanted to be buried if he were killed in combat, and whether all the powers of attorney were in place. I had convinced myself he was not coming home alive, a fear that would escalate a few days later.

Seven days after we moved in, my husband was already on a ship, floating off the coast of California in preparation for his deployment. It was late in the afternoon and I sat on the playground watching my kids pick through the bark floor while chatting up their new friends. One of my neighbors came to me with a broken tone in his voice. He kneeled down to where I was sitting and softly murmured, “I need you to keep this little boy outside. The casualty officer is here to tell his mom that his father has been killed in Iraq.” The boy was the same age as my oldest son.

For the next nine months while my husband was deployed, I watched their family struggle from two doors down. I eyed the yellow ribbon magnet on their car everyday as I left the house. “Keep my daddy safe.” Looking back, I can say that despite my years of working and volunteering in the Marine Corps community, hearing the stories, and knowing that some Marines really didn’t come home, nothing could have prepared me for those days.

One morning, I browsed the internet and found that our battalion had lost six Marines. I had not heard from my husband in more than two weeks. Despite the 24-hour window of notification, I remember being frozen in fear over those next few days, terrified each time I turned the corner on my street. I scanned for cars I did not recognize in fear that someone was waiting to deliver the dreaded news when I got home, just like what had happened to my neighbor.

Eventually, my husband made it home safely, but not before losing the company commander he was attached to and a close friend from the battalion. While he fought, I attended the commander’s funeral, and quietly grieved with the other wives in the unit.

Straining through tears at a restaurant that next Memorial Day, I tried to explain the true meaning of the day to my boys. I certainly had plenty of material. However, nothing can prepare you for having to explain war to your children, especially when they know their daddy is still in harm’s way. We got through it the best way we knew how…together. To date, it was the longest nine months of my life.

The three years we spent in the operating forces before moving to our current duty station opened my eyes to Memorial Day. It is not about backyard barbeques or summer vacation. It is about remembering what we have lost and celebrating the sacrifice those individuals made to secure our safety. It is about teaching our children to appreciate our veterans and that brave men and woman and their families who have come before us have scarified in many of the ways we have. On this Memorial Day, as you enjoy the time off with family, remember that this day is about recognizing our fallen heroes and all of the veterans, past and present, who have served and sacrificed for our country.

 

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.