Last month I ran – well, sort of ran – a virtual 5K. It was the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) Carry Forward 5K, delivered by CSX. I ran in honor of caregivers, those heroes who care for our wounded servicemen and women. A caregiver’s quiet contributions to our society and our country are too often overlooked. Fortunately, Wounded Warrior Project provides programs and services that support caregivers and assist and empower Wounded Warriors.
My husband is a Soldier. When we first met, he was a civilian just finishing college. After seven years of marriage and three children, we decided – together – that he should join the military. At that time, I felt that I was prepared for the sacrifices he and our family would make. I knew we would be separated for weeks, months, and sometimes more than a year at a time. I knew that we would uproot our family to move every one-to-four years. I knew that he would work early mornings and lots of late nights. I knew that he would go into combat and that his life would be in danger. I knew. Or at least I thought I did.
I vividly remember the day I sat down with our four young children (ages 1 to 9) to prepare them for the worst possibility. Their dad had deployed to a combat zone. I told them that Daddy was in a faraway place fighting dangerous people. I told them that Daddy was a good man and a brave man. I told them that God would protect their Dad unless… (sigh) …unless God needed him more than we did. And if God needed him in heaven, Dad would not come home. I did my best to prepare my kids for this – the worst possibility – without frightening them.
Our Soldier did come home. For that, I am so incredibly grateful. Others in his company and battalion did not. My heart aches for their families, for those who experienced what I imagined was the worst possible outcome.
A few years ago, I attended an expressive arts workshop designed for military spouses. It turned out to be a sort of group art therapy session. It was amazing! A diverse group of military spouses came together to share their experiences, trials, and advice. We learned from one another and bonded together. In our group of 12 or so military spouses, we had one newlywed, whose husband was at basic training. She knew nothing about military life. We had a handful of ladies whose husbands had retired years before. They spoke about their grandchildren and reflected on life as a military spouse before cell phones, internet, and other changes that I definitely take for granted. There were a few spouses, like me, who had several years of experience with the military and whose Soldiers were still actively serving.
Then there were the caregivers.
I’m talking about strong, independent women, who care full-time for their wounded Soldiers. Women who bravely sent their husbands off to war, just like I did. Women who told their children that their daddy may not return, just like I did. Women who did not anticipate that their Soldier could possibly return with life-altering wounds both seen and unseen.
I sat in awe of the caregivers in our workshop as they told their heart-wrenching, sacred stories of suffering, sacrifice, and love. Their stories changed me.
When I decided to sign-up for the Carry Forward 5K, I decided that I would run on behalf of these caregivers. I cannot share their stories. They are not mine to share. But I can remember their daily struggles and sacrifice, and I can encourage others to support an organization that will benefit these women and their families.
On the day of my virtual run, I carried a backpack filled with five-pound plates. I carried the weights to represent the burdens that caregivers carry every day. Some caregivers carry financial burdens, others carry emotional, physical, or even social burdens. The weights in my pack significantly slowed my pace and caused me to shuffle – and sometimes walk – rather than run.
As I slowly shuffled along my preplanned 5K route, I thought back to when my husband and I had decided – together – that he should change his career and join the military. As prepared as I had felt at that moment, I never considered the possibility that I could become a full-time caregiver to a wounded Soldier.
I pray that never happens, but if it does, I hope that I will be as brave and as selfless as the women I met that day in an art workshop. I also pray that my husband and I will have access to the type of support and services offered by Wounded Warrior Project.
Please consider donating to Wounded Warrior Project. You can do so by donating funds through our Pride & Grit Carry Forward event page, or by running your own virtual Carry Forward 5K. Both links are listed below.
Donate funds through Pride & Grit’s event page.
This post is made possible with support from the Wounded Warrior Project. All opinions are my own.
Tera is a military spouse of 12 years and a recurring Pride & Grit contributor. She has four kids, who won’t stop growing! She sent her oldest off to college this fall and attempted to fill the void – much to her husband’s dismay – by adopting two socially awkward kittens. Tera loves to travel and is impatiently waiting for the time that she and her family can explore outside of the military-mandated 180-mile travel restriction. Thanks a lot COVID!
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