This year the holidays are even more special to me. First I am so thankful that I have another holiday season with my husband. And I am thankful our girls have another holiday season with us together as a family. Having your family together during the holidays is truly the best gift of them all. Recently I have had a few wives and moms ask me to articulate what is it like to be a wounded family at Christmas. So here comes the soap box and me clearing my throat.
First let me state our soldiers are not your show ponies. Sadly some people do treat them like this. (Let me insert it is a minority that does this). However, we caregivers are the gate keepers. We know who cares and who doesn't. We know which of you are just here so you can take a picture showing you "support our troops." Chaz will tell you I sniff out BS faster than anyone. Politicians and other people out looking for political, monetary or any other type of gain here's my question for you, "What the heck has taken you so long?" We've been here off and on since January and so have you. Why do you only come around at the holidays? Do you only come around at the holidays? If so, to me that is unacceptable. (FYI I get a keep a card from every person that I meet (as long as they have one). I have them separated. Want to know if I met your representative? Just ask, I'll flip through our cards and let you know.)
Senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island is in the hospital all the time. He also has an aide whose job it to keep track of all of us. He keeps up with a ton of soldiers, including our family. The kicker is we can't vote for him! Bottom line is he cares and that's the way it should be. President Obama, VP-Biden and their wives have aides assigned to keep up with us too. They all do this to make sure we are taken care of. Before you assume this is for political gain, I will look you straight in the eye and call you out on it and tell you flat out, no it is there job. Making sure military families are taking care of should be a part of every elected officials job. We are their constituents. It is their job to make sure we are being taken care of. Next time you see your elected officials ask them for a name (better yet names) of a military member who has been wounded. Put them on the spot and see what happens.
We have a saying called "Pet the Vet." This is what our guys call it when someone comes through to see them and they feel they don't have the best of intentions. Our soldiers don't want to be petted. If you are here to say thanks, that is awesome. But don't forget to thank the families. The guys get mad (at least mine and all the ones I know do) when you don't acknowledge the families. I am not saying we deserve the same attention the guys do, but we do deserve a "thanks for being here" or "how are you doing?" It takes you five seconds to acknowledge us. And it shows the guys that you care about their families as well as them. A soldiers' number one concern is for their family, respect that.
As for pictures, ask politely. If you insist then that tells us you are only there for a photo op. We understand non-profits need pictures to show what they are doing with other people's money, but even they can be disrespectful. Some guys don't want their picture taken and you need to be respectful of them. Do not pressure them or their family. God help you if Chaz or I see you being disrespectful.
Now onto traveling and events. Yes it is the holidays. Yes a lot of people travel. Yes you all want to see us. We got that. But it's not about you and what you want and you need to remember that. If you have a wounded military member in your life, it is not about what you or anyone else wants. It is about what that injured person needs. There's a very, very big difference here so please don't get it confused.
Chaz made a rule in 2004 (after he spent the Christmas of 02 & 03 in Korea and we knew 05 would be in Iraq) that December 24 & 25 would be about our little family. We would not leave our home and nor do we expect anyone to leave their home for us. Chaz has a new rule for this Christmas this year, he is not traveling for more than 30 minutes to do anything. He said that he is flying to TN and has to climb those stairs everyday and that's his traveling. I'm sure we'll go out to eat, but that will be about it. Luckily his favorite restaurants are just around the corner. The man wants to stay home and I don't blame him. I will respect his wishes and so will everyone else.
Our families have been very respectful of our traveling wishes. But our families are just so happy Chaz and his girls will be home in their house for Christmas that they are all about to explode from joy. That's how it should be. You should be thankful for the small victories of a wounded warrior, hell any military family for that fact and you should listen to them and ask them what they want to do for the holidays. You shouldn't put pressure on them to go anywhere or do anything. Shame on you if you are.
We are very thankful for our families and their understanding, but I have talked to several families who are being pressured to go here and there because so and so wants to see their son or daughter. I am sorry, but if you want to see us you can come to us. Chaz is not up for all that long distance traveling. He'll be tired after our plane ride home. It will take days for him to be up to going anywhere. Chaz is not the only injured soldier with this problem. The holidays shouldn't be about you traveling everywhere to say hi and for people to come and say thank you. They should come to you. Let me explain why.
First let me explain some of these guys (like mine) stepped on a freaking IED and were blown up!!!! They have been through so much. They are recovering from amputations, nerve damage, wounds that will not heal and don't forget the invisible wounds. The bottom line is that you should make sure you respect their wishes and not pressure them to travel, but here are some additional reasons.
Their bodies are still getting used to all the changes. Did you know your body controls its temperature through its feet? Now lose both of those feet. You'll find out that your body will have a hard time adjusting to climate changes. Also remember an amputee's circulatory system has been rewired. The nerve endings have been cut off. Most of them have phantom pains. What's a phantom pain? Well those cute little nerves were connected to legs and feet for (in Chaz's case 32) years, now all the sudden the job they did for a long time has been redirected. Sometimes an amputee's nerves will tell their brain that they are having a cramp or even worse and the amputee has to control that pain. Some guys still have open wounds to care for. Chaz had two that took forever to close up and they were painful. Add these things to the list of why traveling may not be an option. By the way, this is the very, very, very short list of medical reasons traveling may not be an option. We discovered on our NYC trip Chaz's cut off is 3 hours and that was pushing it. We don't know when he'll be ready to travel longer. We'll just have to keep going through our trials and errors.
I'm not sure if you realize this, but not every place is handicap accessible, nor friendly. Our home is not handicap friendly and we just deal with it. Our guys needs to be in a place where they are as comfortable as possible. If the place you ask them to come to a place that is not handicap friendly then the guys feel guilty for inconveniencing you and your family. If you don't have every accommodation they will feel like they are a hassle. Of course this is not your intent, but it happens quickly and without warning. No one needs that guilt on them.
Next, please understand this may be their first break away from the hospital. The first trip away is hard. You have been in the safety net of the medical and military community for a while and now poof you are away and on your own and you have to figure it all out. The what ifs are overwhelming. We have so much planning to do before we so out to dinner. Now think about how much planning is involved for long distance traveling. It is overwhelming for the solider and the caregiver.
Remember this could be their first adventure back into the real world. Please know the real world isn't always so friendly. The real world can be scary and intimidating. Some of the guys don't like crowds. Some of them don't mind the crowds but just can't navigate through the crowds just yet. Some of them haven't even experimented with how to get around in the "leg walkers" world (Chaz's words here). They are now the minority and sometimes are not considered in planning. The world they knew before they deployed is not the same world to them anymore. They have to overcome that adversity at their own speed and do not need any pressure to do it.
Also please remember that by pressuring a warrior to go anywhere you are adding stress to that caregiver. We have enough on our plate and seriously don't need anyone to add to it. We are the ones caring for these guys. We are the ones making their travel arrangements. We are the ones making sure they have enough meds and medical supplies to go anywhere. We are the ones coordinating the deliveries of their medical equipment to wherever we are traveling too. This is all in addition to packing what you would normally take on a trip. Some of us have kids to take care of too. We always look for easy buttons, but hardly ever find them. Our journey is hard enough that we don't need people who are oblivious to our world telling us we need to add to our plates.
I listened to several families tell me they didn't know what they were going to do. Everyone wants to see their soldier. They didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I told them that we are going to our home in TN. You want to see us let us know and we'll do our best to work it out. I am so sorry, but I just don't have time to bend over backwards for anyone else right now. I really don't care about hurting your feelings. I care about healing my little family. If you don't understand that then best wishes and Happy Holidays to you. I think it is incredibly ridiculous and selfish for you to guilt any family into coming to see you. Please know I think your intentions are coming from the best place, but unless you have been in our shoes then you have no idea how difficult this all is. So please stop and listen to the families and help make their holidays merry and bright, not miserable and stressful.
To me Christmas is about thinking about others. So if you have a family in your circle of friends that needs a special blessing then think about how you could bless them this year. You can just send them an email or Facebook post telling them how happy you are that they are with their family this year. If you can, send them a card saying the same thing. If you can do more, do more. Christmas is not about you receiving, it is about giving. To me Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus by sharing his message of love, joy and giving. So think about how you can share that message.