A Caregiver Story: My Tribe
By Laura Stearns
My heart is full of words that I want to share about the value of growing your tribe as a military or veteran caregiver. The urban dictionary defines tribe as being, “close friends, (a) group of people who are loyal to you, (and) care for you like family.” Sometimes, as spouses of disabled veterans, we distance ourselves from others. Whether it is because we are busy taking care of our warrior, or because we feel like other people just do not understand the dynamics of our families, when we allow ourselves to think like this, we are missing out on the opportunity to belong to a community who truly understand our lives. That injury that sets our families apart from our peers (or what society views as normal) is also what unites us and brings us together with a community of Veteran caregivers like us. You are not alone.
There are various opportunities for building your tribe within the military and veteran caregiving community. This kind of support is available in several forms, starting with online resources, private social media support groups, online video group meetings, in-person support groups, and even on the personal level of meeting other caregivers in the local community for coffee! I recently recognized that if I was feeling lonely and worn out, there probably were other veteran spouses who were feeling the same way. When I started looking for veteran caregiver spouses in my area, I was so surprised! So far, I have been blessed to find two caregivers who live within 5 miles of where I live! We shop at the same grocery store! I had the blessing to meet one of them a few weeks ago, and I have plans to meet the other one later this week! Connecting with other caregivers is a win-win because it helps to create meaningful friendships with other people who “get it.” We get to cultivate peer relationships that develop into friendships. It is a kind of unity that creates a bond stronger than duct tape!
My plan to have coffee with a local veteran’s wife was the first thing I had done for myself in a while. It was turning over a new leaf. That morning was hectic at home. It felt like the household was on edge, probably because I had plans to step away for a little bit. I couldn’t even remember the last time I did anything like this and I was worried about my Hero feeling overwhelmed with the responsibility of watching the children. I thought about canceling my plans but pressed through because I knew that this was important for myself and the caregiver that I was going to meet. I like to try out new places, so I picked a quaint café not far from each of our houses. I must admit, I was a little bit nervous meeting up with someone that I only interacted with via social media. Yet over coffee and a dainty dessert, a friendship began. Even though we were just stranger’s 15 minutes ago, a bond was created, because we understand each other. Multitudes of needless explanations and apologies got to go unsaid because she gets it. She knows this life. When our kids get to meet each other, her child will be able to relate to my child. They’re family; they get it.
Scheduling time to visit with other caregivers means that I can meet others without having worry about them judging me. When you meet another caregiver for coffee, no one needs to apologize about their worry and concern about the veteran at home. Nothing needs to be said about us having our cell phones face up on the table or that we will randomly check them for text messages in case our veterans have a problem or reach out for calm reassurance. Neither of us mentions anything about the attention to detail that went into us being able to take an hour for ourselves, the planning started the night before, as we anticipated the veterans needs in our absence. Whether we talked about caregiver stuff, or about hobbies we look forward to enjoying when we have a free moment, just having the opportunity to talk and be heard is a valuable gift.
When I returned home, I found my husband and his mom playing Yahtzee and board games! My mother-in-law knew I made plans to go out and about the concerns I had regarding leaving my husband home with the children. But because I got out of my “box” and took care of myself, it provided the opportunity for someone else to step up. She did some cleaning and helped him get the kids settled. Then they spent some quality time together. They had the opportunity to nurture their mother/son relationship and have fun! Life at home, in my absence, turned out to be better than I expected. A dozen roses couldn’t make me feel better than that empowering hour I took to make myself a priority. The need for a tribe is there and it only took me being brave and willing to reach out.
One by one, near and far, my tribe community grows. I am so thankful for the opportunity to meet new people along the way. Inside and out, night and day, our spouses are warriors, we are their caregivers and together we are heroes.