Months ago the path Chaz and I are on led us to 10 year old Luke Sliwinski. He's this adorable young man who is also a Young Marine. His hero, 1st LT Travis Manion, was killed April 27, 2007. Since this tragic loss of life occurred, this amazing young man has been not only sharing the story of Travis but also the stories of other service members who have inspired him. One of his new heroes happens to be my number one hero, bet you can guess who that is. I have always thought Luke was an amazing patriotic spirit that everyone needs to know. Luke's hero was known for saying "If not me, then who?" Travis was referring to his service in the Marines. 1st LT Manion felt if he didn't fight who would?! It wasn't until yesterday that I realized how much little cutie Luke has inspired me.
I have been working with several non-profits, officers (Navy & Army), friends and the list goes on and on to do so many things for the other wounded families. Don't worry details will come out once we're done. I don't want to jinx myself. Everything is going so well right now. Last time I was working on something I got too excited and told (what turned out to be) the wrong person and he almost ruined it. So I learned my lesson and mum is the word except for those I am working with.
Yesterday I was talking to another wounded warrior about us doing the Army Ten Miler together. He was talking about how much he wanted to run it. I told him I did too. I shared with him my personal health issues. I have some (what could be) very serious health issues, but I try to manage them so I can stay on my A game. I do not let these things get in my way at all, ask my doctors. They used to yell at me, but now just shake their heads and laugh at me. So this warrior and I agreed that if I could do it, he could and he could do it, I could. So he and I are training for it. Our WW friend and I are thinking that we can keep the same pace and still finish it. Chaz is going to hand bike it so he'll be at the finish line waiting for us to cross. Yes my hubby is a little proud of me for committing to the Army Ten Miler. I have never done anything like this.
A high ranking officer, who happened to be listening in looked at me and said, "Are you serious?" and I said yes. She then said, "Why are you fighting and working so hard for these families? You could get really sick." I told her that I have been in ICU before and every gray hair on my mother's head is more than likely caused by my health issues. But I refuse to be controlled by an illness or handicap. Then I told her that life is too short and too awesome to sit on the side lines. Then I finished with, "If not me, then who?!"
In our conversation, I told her these families are too tired to fight. To be honest why are they fighting?! Why are we fighting for their wounded warriors to be treated the way they deserve to be treated. I have heard stories that have made me cry and have shattered my heart. I am working to make it better because the families don't know where to start and they are too tired to get involved. I truly feel if I don't speak up and fight who will?! These families are in crisis and they need help now. Not when it's convenient.
Our average wounded warrior is male, in his early 20s, double amputee, married to his high school sweetheart and has at least one child under the age of 3. My biggest concern in my early twenties was what to wear to the next sorority function. I cannot imagine being a parent at their age and then healing a wounded warrior at the same time. So if you ask me the families deserve as many easy buttons as possible. They just started their lives and now those lives have been turned upside down. They are in what seems like purgatory sometimes just trying to move on and put their fragile lives together. Statistics show that when these average families assimilate back into main stream culture they inevitably get divorced and currently we have 18 veterans a day committing suicide. We can do better.
So what can we do about it? Well I think that it's time we champion the caregivers who are at the bedside with the warrior. I know I have written about my happy bubble before. Well I had another happy bubble moment the other day. When Chaz was an inpatient I lost count on how many times I was not even acknowledged when visitors came into the room. Several guests did not even ask, "Are you his wife?" Several times they would come in and not even look at me. Now this was NOT the medical staff. The medical staff kept me involved in every part of Chaz's care. These visitors were politicians, Army personnel, even celebrities.
Our caregivers are Moms, Dads, wives, girlfriends etc. We give up everything to be here with our wounded warrior. Many of them lose their jobs, their homes, friends (and the very long list goes on and on) just to be here to help a warrior heal. Now imagine if you gave up everything to be by someone's side and visitors came into their room and didn't even look at you. It would make Chaz mad and once he rudely said, "Um you forgot to say hi to my wife of over 10 years." I found out that all the caregivers in my circle have several stories of this occurring. To me this is total crap. I get it, you are here to see the warriors, but the caregivers are just as important. You can take two seconds to acknowledge them. The saying "If not me, then who?" applies not only to the soldier but also to the caregivers. If we don't give up everything to be here, then who will help our warriors get back to their new normal. There are too many wounded and not enough hands to help. If we don't sacrifice for them, I can assure you that 18 per day will go way up.
We need to really start championing these caregivers. They need to know that we all know that the wounded warriors cannot make it without them. Think about it if you are at work and your boss comes by and says keep up the good work, you're going to keep up the good work and perhaps work even harder to get additional praise, right?! The same theory applies here except it's a little different. These caregivers need to be patted on the back. The warriors are discharged to us. We have to take care of their PICC lines, open wounds, medications, some have colostomy bags, severe TBI and PTSD and the list goes on forever. These caregivers need to be reminded that they are important too. Too many feel like no one ever cares that they are even here. They have been put in the military industrial complex and are not dealing first hand with the aftermath of war. This burden is one of the heaviest burdens to carry. I have been told that other caregivers have been told, "Well you married into this?!" Here's my reply to that, I sure did and I am damn proud of my hubby and his service and sacrifice. Our families need your support, not your stupidity. If you can, please keep your ignorant comments like that to yourself. Just because we "married into this" doesn't mean we don't deserve a pat on the back or two to help make this road just a little easier.
One caregiver told me that one of her family members said that judging by her pictures on facebook her life as a wounded warrior wife doesn't look that bad. I have to ask what pictures do you want to see?! Do you want to see what they look like when we first get them from Germany? Or do you want to see them right after a surgery? Or do you want to see us at our best?! We share our favorite pictures with you. Those extremely specials moments that we get to treasure for a few minutes. We share them with you because we want you to see the high points of this crazy journey, not the lows.
You should feel honored you are our friend on facebook and that you get front row access to this journey. You should excited to see us smile. It should warm your heart. For some families that might be their first smile or their first happy stress free moment in a very long time. How incredibly selfish and jealous are you? I still can't believe some of the truly ignorant things people say. But I know that it comes from jealously. And seriously you are jealous?! You are jealous because you don't know how you would handle all of this. Let me tell you how you handle this. You handle it one day at a time just like any other tragic event that life throws at you.
Our caregivers are fighting an enormous war themselves and sometimes they feel all alone. We are attacked all the time. We are dealing with the physical, the mental and the military. Just one of those is enough but we get to go up against all three and then we have our own personal burdens to bare. The feeling that you are drowning comes often when you are on this road.
I am one blessed person. God has blessed me with so many people who constantly lift me up. I have Chaz and our girls, but then I have my awesome family and friends too. I know my little family is doing so well because of all of the support we've had. So how do we share that. Well for Chaz and I we just pay it forward and that is what I am trying to do. I am trying to create ways of championing these caregivers and helping them realize they are so special. They need to know how valuable they are. What can you do?! Go to the facebook pages of the wounded warriors and post a comment to the families telling them you appreciate their sacrifices too. It easy and free. All it will cost you is a few minutes of time. Most importantly pray for these families, we all need it. And don't ever think that you can't make an impact no instead think "If not me, then who?!"