Memorial Day always instills in me a deep gratitude for the dedication of our armed forces: a cooperation of volunteers who commit their lives to keeping our own lives safe. Amidst the hustle and bustle of our own daily to-dos, our everyday gripes, complaints and criticisms, it’s easy to forget the sacrifices that .5% of the population (http://fivethirtyeight.com) makes to ensure that the other 99.5% can live as comfortably as we do.
I write a lot about family caregivers and many times the focus is on adult children caring for an elderly parent. But as I have said before, caregiving comes in all shapes and sizes and an important group within this community are family caregivers caring for injured servicemen and women.
Imagine you are a young man or woman whose spouse is serving in our armed forces. In an instant, your world can change when you receive word that your significant other has been critically injured protecting our country. In that same instant, you are suddenly responsible for the life of another human being. You’re now expected to become a health advocate, expert and support system. Your financial future has just dramatically changed. Your employment status and work schedule need to be adjusted. Your family’s day-to-day routine has disintegrated. And none of the above accounts for the emotional shock and terror that comes with the news of such an injury.
Unlike many family caregivers who are in their late 40’s and older, the average military family caregiver is in their 20’s or 30’s, often with young children at home and a family life just getting underway. Unfortunately, this abrupt change in course comes knocking on the doors of tens of thousands of our armed forces’ families.
Let’s look at the stats: According to last year’s Congressional Research Service Report (https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RS22452.pdf), from 2001 to August 2015, nearly 52,000 troops suffered significant injuries, including moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injury and amputation of limbs. Also, during this same time, nearly 140,000 troops suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the serious health effects that ensue.
It’s easy to distance ourselves from this reality, to assume that the VA and the government are on top of it, to tell ourselves there’s nothing we can do to help. But the truth is, even simple gestures can help servicemen and women more than you’d ever imagine.
If there’s a vet in your neighborhood in this position, introduce yourself to the family; ask them how (not if) you can help; bring over food; offer to drive the kids to school or to bring them to physical therapy; simply listen to their story, without judgment. The key is to help these families understand that they are neither alone nor forgotten. They are part of a community that cares about them and thanks them for what they have done for us.
This year, President Obama’s Memorial Day Service included a passage that conveyed a spirit we should embrace in our efforts to help these special families. He said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the people it produces, but by those it remembers. We do so not just by hoisting a flag, but by lifting up our neighbors.”
Psychologists agree that the straightest path to achieving happiness is through helping others in need and cultivating a spirit of gratitude. Reaching out to our special neighbors will be a wonderful gift for all involved.
Help others. Help yourself.