Hope For The Warriors® has had the pleasure of working with caretaker Patti, who was first introduced to our organization last year in Florida at the Turkey Hunt. In this testimonial, Patti discusses how she finds “peace and wholeness” in her life as a caretaker, mother, and individual. Her path is a nice reminder of why we at Hope For The Warriors® continue the work we do every day for our service members and military families, including caretakers. Thank you to Mossy Oak, everyone at the Dee Dot Ranch, and The Turkey Thugs for making this trip possible for Patti and the other caregivers.
My husband, Ken, and I have been together for 19 years.  I met him just after his time of serving in 3rdForce Recon with the United States Marine Corps.  Ken had a ten-year break in service, then served as a police officer. Ken joined the Army after 9/11 because he wanted to again serve his country after we went to war, but was injured while serving in Iraq in May of 2007.  

Over the years, I have been able to get used to being Ken’s caregiver. I love my husband so much, but quite frankly there was a time last year I started to feel a little caregiver burn out.
Not only am I my husband’s caregiver, I am the mother to three beautiful children ages 14, 18, and 20.  I run the kids here and there and do the whole “mom thing.”  In my case, I am my husband’s caregiver, but I am also a mediator and educator between the kids and their dad.  I have to explain the whys and the ways of their dad.  Even though it’s been several years since Ken was injured, the kids still have questions and concerns that need to be addressed when it comes to why dad was injured and why he may do this or that.  We lost several friends in war, so I try to comfort my husband and the kids during anniversaries and special holidays.  I am pretty much the pillar of our family.  If I crumble, we all fall apart – so I cannot let myself crumble.
Before the war, I loved taking photographs, walks on the beach, the outdoors, hunting, fishing and participating in these activities with my best friend–my husband.  After Ken was injured, did my life die? No. I was not one to want to bury it completely and walk away from it because of some trials and bad circumstances. We have lost friends in the war, Ken has suffered physically and emotionally, and there are times I have cried and even questioned God.  It’s been hard to say the least and sometimes confusing if I try to figure it all out – but I am still here, and so is Ken.  The friends we lost in war would never want us to sit back and mourn so much that we forget to enjoy life, that we forget we have the gift of life, and that it is very precious. I know this and try to remember it on a daily basis.  
Last winter before I became involved with Hope For The Warriors®, I started to allow my thoughts to drag me down a little bit.  Ken was having a lot of nightmares and survivor’s guilt, our youngest daughter was having health issues and I had been given news my mom had about a year to live. The weather was horrid in Michigan and it had been quite a long time since I made time to do something for myself that I really enjoyed.  You heard that right: made time.  Everyone can make an excuse on why they cannot make time for themselves, but we need to make ourselves priority sometimes so we can lead happier, healthier lives which will enable us to better take care of our veterans and families. I really needed some time with another caregiver, or someone who understood my situation.

Caregiver and military friends are pretty much like family, but even closer.  They know your feelings, because they too have had those feelings.  They can sit and have coffee with you and never question the impact war has had on your family because they know it all too well. They are closer than blood and there’s a bond that cannot be broken.

Last winter, I received an email from my friend, Renee, who is also a caregiver.  Renee was a part of Hope For The Warriors®.  She told me there may be an opportunity for me to attend a turkey hunt in Jacksonville, Florida at the Dee Dot Ranch.  At first, I was a little unsure if I should go and I began thinking about all of the obligations I had at home.  She proceeded to tell me it was just a short trip, and I would only be gone a couple nights.  I decided to apply to go and found out my application was accepted.  I was excited because I knew in my heart that I needed this trip, this short getaway.  In all honesty, my kids are old enough to hold the fort down when I am gone.  They are responsible and two of the kids are adults now.  I made chore charts and a, “things to do” list before I left for the trip (I’m sure they loved that). 

Renee and I had never met in person, but we talked on Facebook in a caregiver support group.  I liked the way she thought; she was positive and encouraging to other caregivers, which is needed in the caregiver community.  I was excited that she was attending the trip and that I would be meeting her in person. 

Hope For The Warriors® arranged the entire turkey hunt.  They paid for transportation, food, and lodging which was a huge blessing because, as many of you can imagine, living on disability pay and caregiver pay, you can pay your bills but after you pay your bills there’s not a lot left over.  I was incredibly thankful this trip was entirely paid for by Hope For The Warriors®.  I wouldn’t have been able to attend if the trip had not been paid for.

The planning and itinerary of the trip was amazing.  Normally, I’m used to doing all of the work to make things run smoothly if I want to go on a trip and it really is not an easy task if you have to do it by yourself.  The great thing is, I did not have to do any of this–it was done for me! Hope For The Warriors® lined up the plane tickets, picked out my seat, provided transportation to/from the hotel from the airport and they even had a great itinerary sent to my email so I could print it off and give it to my family so that they would have all of the emergency contact numbers and would know where I was the entire time.  Hope For The Warriors® was on the ball and I really felt from the planning stages of the event to the event were stress free for me, and that in itself was a nice breath of fresh air!
I was so excited to finally meet Renee in person.  Upon our arrival to the Dee Dot Ranch, where we would be staying in Jacksonville, everyone was extremely friendly and greeted us with huge smiles and hugs. They were very sweet and it was such a privilege to meet all in attendance.  Robin, the President of Hope For The Warriors® was also in attendance.  Robin is a gem!  She made me feel so comfortable and I felt like she truly cared about me as a person and an individual. 
All meals at the lodge were homemade by an amazing staff at the Dee Dot Ranch.  I didn’t have to cook once.  My job while I was there was to relax, and hunt turkey! I felt like I was on an amazing adventure, being pampered yet out away from it all.  The lodge sat on thousands of acres and was simply gorgeous.  I was very surprised to see The Turkey Thugs from The Outdoor Channel were also there, along with their sponsor, the owner of Mossy Oak and his daughter, Lauren. The Turkey Thugs each took a guest out hunting until each of us shot a turkey.  Yes, you heard that right – each of us shot a turkey.
To make it more exciting, The Outdoor Channel videoed the hunt and aired it on their station.  My husband was able to watch the episode (more than once) and he loved it! He has a love for the outdoors I have never seen before.  He loves hunting and fishing, so he was very proud of me and told all of his friends about the show so they could tune in.

I personally find peace in the outdoors.  The warm sun kissing my cheeks, the breeze blowing on my face reminding me of the beautiful life we have; the ocean water splashing on my face and the hint taste of salt on my lips after a day at the beach; a swim with the manatees, reminding me I’m not so big after all; a hunting adventure where I know if I am patient enough, something will eventually come my way. I am a caregiver, but I am also an individual. Hope For The Warriors® reminded me that I can still be a caregiver and an individual.  Hope For The Warriors® has given me the opportunity to participate in something I once enjoyed before war, things that I can still participate in but just may take a little more planning or little more effort on my part…but I am worth it.  If it were not for organizations like Hope For The Warriors®, many caregivers and military veterans would feel alone and lost.  Participating in events with others who have, “been there” and “done that” is priceless. 
There are 22 military veteran suicides per day. This does not include numbers from military caregiver suicides or military spouse suicides.  Thankfully, I have not walked down a dark path of hopelessness because of terrific organizations like Hope For The Warriors®.  I have felt like there’s someone there for me, and thankful that I can be there for my fellow caregivers.  I encourage you to donate to Hope For The Warriors® so they can continue to reach out to give our veterans and their families HOPE.  A little hope goes a long way and can save a marriage, save a family, save a life. 

Sincerely,
Patti

A clip from Patti’s experience with the Women’s Turkey Hunt can be seen here.