I have been asked a few times this week, "What would you tell families just beginning this journey?" There's just so much to tell someone. I don't know where I would start. I am going to touch on a few things that others at the beginning need to know. These are not ranked in any order. I am just listing them as I think of them.
1. You cannot do this alone! Stop thinking you can do it all alone! You cannot clone yourself or split yourself into two. (Trust me I tried!) I am not trying to be mean, but if I couldn't do it alone you don't need to try to do it alone. People seriously want to help you. I have to thank my friend Kelly for raising her voice at me the day Chaz was hurt. She asked what can I do? And I seriously didn't know so I said I don't know. She then looked at me and in a very stern motherly tone said, "You have to let us help you." It was that moment that showed me I have to let others help because they love our family. I stubbornly tried to do it all, but it was all exhausting. I caved very early on and began letting people help. I am so glad I did!
I am blessed by an amazing group of friends and a great family so I had all the help I needed. As we have continued on this journey we have been blessed by so many other new people and organizations. Everyone does not have the incredible support system we have. But if you are military there is some type of support group right there and ready to help you. Take the help!!
2. Don't be afraid to breakdown and cry it out! I find my strength in tears. I have cried so many happy tears through this. Within days of Chaz's injuries I made a rule that only happy tears would be shed for us. We have had a ton of happy tears moments. They are great moments too. I cried when they said he was stable and coming to the US and when they saved his arm because to me those are happy moments not sad ones. I cried when Chaz stood up for the first time. I cried when he moved his fingers on his right hand for the first time. I cried when his online gaming buddies told me what they were planning. I cried when our girls got to see Chaz for the first time. I cried when I got off the plane with my family finally together in Tennessee. So are so many more of those moments that the happy tears just poured out and we laughed over them.
On the adverse if I get too ticked off I will cry. However, when I get so angry from crying that I channel that into something positive. My mom has always said I get some of my best ideas when I have an angry cry. But let me tell you if you make me so angry that I cry, you better watch out. I am not crying for nothing! Something will come out of those tears and it may be your job.
Regardless of the type of tears, don't bottle up those tears, let them out! No matter if they are happy or sad tears you will feel better if you let them out instead of keeping them trapped. Trust me on this. If you are a contact lens wearer you better stock up now. You'll be going through them quick.
3. Be thankful!!! Yes, your soldier was injured. Yes, that totally sucks. Yes, your lives have been turned upside down. Yes, your soldier has to change everything they ever done to make the world work for them. Yes, your kids and your families are hurt by it. Yes, you gave up everything to be by your soldier's side. But here's an important news flash for you, your soldier came home!
You can heal together. You could be alone in your healing journey. Chaz had a friend who also stepped on an IED and was amputated. The medics just didn't get him out fast enough so we lost that friend. Chaz's friend's IED was smaller than Chaz's. That has always been my point of reference. I could be a 32 year old widow. But you know what, I am not. My hubby now requires assembly to go anywhere, but we're getting really good at it and I bet that as time passes we'll get even better. I am just so glad to still have Chaz in our lives that I really don't care what I have to do for him. I'll do it!
If you can get up everyday and just be thankful that your soldier is with you for another day and stay focused on that fact alone you will see the rest will become a lot easier. Also you need to be thankful their injuries aren't worse than what they could be. You can find story after story of someone who is worse or better than your soldier. You should seek the incredible stories of survival and healing they will encourage you to hang on and keep going.
4. Use but do not take advantage of the non-profits. They are 526 non-profit organizations who associate themselves with the hospital. They really do want to help you, but if you use them celebrate what they did for your family and let others know about how awesome they are. Don't act like what they do for you isn't good enough and for goodness sake don't complain about it. And don't think that because you have an injured soldier, you are entitled.
We Americans have a problem. We think we are entitled to things. Let me tell this to you straight out you are not entitled to anything. No one owes you a thing. You soldier wanted to serve our incredible country. They were following orders when they were injured. You both should have realized the risks you take when serving in the military. Is it fair this happened to you? No, but it happened and you have to embrace the suck and move forward. Yes your soldier was injured in his line of work, but they could have received similar injuries from a car accident. Do not attack or blame the non-profits for your soldiers' injuries. The non-profits want to help you because they are proud of your soldier's service. They are also proud of you for staying beside them. So let them help you, but don't be a leech! And do not be ungrateful! If you dare try to be ungrateful in front of me, you will not enjoy the words that come out of my mouth. Ask some of the wives who dared to whine to me about not getting things. This is not a journey to see what you can get. This is a journey to healing where we celebrate the lives we've been given. Celebrate the gift of life, not the gifts of tangible objects.
5. Shut up and listen to the doctors. Don't yell at them non-stop, breathe and shut up. I know you are mad but remember, the military has some awesome doctors. First of all remember they saved your soldier and got him home to you. They did not plant the IED out there so don't talk to them like it's all their fault. Believe it or not they actually don't want to do all the surgeries and procedures that they are doing. They are doing all of them because they have had a lot of practice and they know what works. They are sitting at the cutting edge of technology. People from all over ask them questions. Grey's Anatomy even did a shout out to Walter Reed. We have some rock stars here. I can tell you all the stories of what they have done for Chaz. So be thankful for them and what they are doing to help you heal.
Listen to them, but if you don't understand what is going on, ask every question you can think of until you understand. You need to understand it all. The medical lingo is intimidating, so stop them and tell them to speak your language. They'll do it if you just ask. The doctors are on your team. They want to heal your soldier. They want to help you get to the happily ever after. Let them help! Help them, help you! Work together, not against each other. Also don't be afraid to suggest,"So what happens if we wait?" Also if you and your soldier aren't comfortable with what is going on you can request another doctor, nurse or whatever you need. Do what works for you. If you do nothing, then you cannot complain.
Please remember the doctors are all still practicing medicine. They are not God, they are just praying for his wisdom to help them through and you should do the same. Every human is different. What works for Chaz may not work for the next ten soldiers, but it may work for number eleven. The human body is a wild and crazy thing. The doctors have to sometimes go through trial and error to make everything work. You need to know now there is NO easy button with healing. You cannot throw a Z-pack and some steroids at your soldier and think it will magically heal them. Because it will not work in this situation. Pray for patience and use that patience. I know it's hard but you have too.
5. Everyday talk with your soldier and make sure you are both comfortable with everything going on. Make sure you are being their advocate. Don't be afraid to stand up for them. You need to know now this road is long, super bumpy and exhausting. It's like the worst ride at Disney World. Your happily ever after is just at the end, but you have to get flipped upside down more times than you can count and a couple of nauseating turns have to get tossed in there too before you can get off. The ride is so much easier if you stay in the same car on the ride. You will heal better if you reflect on the happy times and if you make plans for the future. Make lots of plans, it will bring a lot of happy into your life.
6. Remember you are human and you also have to take care of yourself. You have to get sleep, you have to eat, you have to take a break. There will be times when a break is impossible. Look for that break. Your break can be a 10 minute phone call to your best girlfriend, lunch out of the hospital or maybe even a massage or shopping trip. You need a break, not a forever break, but some type of a break! I know it's hard, but it's necessary. You will push yourself to the absolute point of exhaustion. If you don't care for you, you will not be able to take care for your soldier. I always say it's not about me, but then I realized if I don't take care of me, then I can't help my family either. You have to find just a few minutes to be all about you. This journey is about your family, but you are the cornerstone. If that cornerstone starts flaking away the rest will crumble and you will have to rebuild from scratch and it will be even harder.
7. Hope is there if you just look for it. I know you think there is little to no hope. I know you think it won't get better, but that's because you just got started. If you will look you will find that small little LED light of hope is there. If you let it, you will see that that little light will grow. If you let the hope take you over, this road you are on gets a lot easier. Hold on to that hope. Look at people like me and Chaz and all the others and see the next step that lies in front of you. If we can do it you can! We sought out hope through our faith and love and continued moving forward. The road is hard but not impossible!
8. This is just the beginning and it gets better. I promise it gets better. I have lived through this and can tell you it gets so much better! One magical day you get to leave the hospital and you get to get your independence, which is a little scary, but so awesome at the same time. You have you own little graduation party and step out into the future. Amazing opportunities will land in your lap and if you take time to enjoy them, you will have a blast!
To quote Hannah Montana, "Life is what you make it, so let's make it rock!" Oh yes I went there, we have two little girls who made us listen to that song again and again. But it's true, life is what you make it. You can make it rock or you can make it horrible. The path you take is your choice. Your choice, not somebody else, so pick the path you want to be on. Don't sit around and blame other people take control and go have some fun! Hang on and enjoy the ride (no matter how nauseated you get) and celebrate what you've been given! Life is too short to sit around and whine. There is too much awesomeness out there, go enjoy some of it!!