Introducing the speakers from Panel 2: Andi (Moderator), AWTM, Joan d'Arc, and Shelly Hall from TAPS.
Andi is talking about the creation of SpouseBuzz, as a place to "vent" (as said on last panel) and talk to each other. These panelists are people who've gone through the Lows that AirForceWife talked about.
nAndi is talking about homecoming, how perfect it is on TV but really you've forgotten to do everything you had on your list for the deployent. You have readjustments that you're not ready for, and the homecoming isn't always perfect. AWTM has been a wife for 106 years (ha ha). She feels nervous on the panel because she's up there with a wife of an injured and a widow. How can reentegration be An Issue? We don't know how to relate to them, due to survivor's guilt.
When AWTM's husband came home, all the other wives were tanned and had whitened teeth, and AWTM had new kids and no time to brush her hair. She was nervous. For the beginning of their marriage, their house was always clean and she was afraid her husband would be disappointed when he got home. The unit had lost men and she considered her family lucky, but she was not sure how reintegration would go after 18 months. His unit had become his new family, and he was nervous about coming home too. She built all this pressure up, which seems ridiculous now. The house was sterile compared to Iraq! The worrying was for nothing.
At the first SpouseBUZZ Live, AWTM realized that everyone in the audience was nodding along with her for this story. And although she had not cried for two years, she let go and cried at the SpouseBUZZ Live. She was not alone with what she'd gone through.
Andi: Everyone is glad to know we're not weird. We need to talk about these things, that maybe we're nervous about homecoming.
Andi: Carren's husband was seriously injured in Iraq, and I saw Carren mentor young wives at Walter Reed. Please tell us about your experience.
Joan d'Arc: We all have different lives. People come to her to talk about their problems and then always say, "Oh, but your husband was injured so I shouldn't complain." I don't want people to compare themselves to me because life sucks in different ways at times. Despite what I might say about my husband's injury, I wouldn't change what I've learned from this experience. We're back and forth for surgeries and I wouldn't wish this on my enemy, but we've had an incredible life for the past two years. Don't feel bad about sharing the bad in your life with your friends.
The short version: My husband was hit by an IED while on foot. My son asked, "Why did Daddy get out of his tank?" and it was difficult for her son to understand since the tank was there to protect him. He has major nerve damage in his left hand. Last week he was putting in a garbage disposal in the house and he gets so frustrated because his mobility is limited. I have learned to let him ask for help when he needs it, but it's a learning process.
She met a general at Walter Reed who asked how things are going, and she opened the can of worms! She had to be the advocate for her husband and learn about his injuries and the medications, dosages, side effects. She had to press the issue and not give up until someone addressed her husband's problems. Plus she did an interview on MSNBC where she looked awful from crying. But the good thing that came from that interview was Valour-IT and the 1000 troops that now have computer access. (See Joan's previous post on Valour-IT for info.)
Andi: I used to never know any widows, but I do now. And I never know what to say to them and get a knot in my stomach. Shelly, please tell us about your husband.
Shelly: I can relate to everyone in here. It takes me back to Desert Storm. Kelly was the love of my life, and I hadn't thought about those days in a long time, his deployment. His homecoming was the happiest day of my life. We had it planned out perfectly; I would be farthest to the right, and I stood exactly where I said I'd be. I saw him and didn't move. He ran right towards me! I still remember it, from 1991.
In so many ways I can say I've gotten gyped, because I don't know if I'll find that again. But we had so much life in that time and five children. He'll never really die, he lives on through those kids. My children have learned from the experience -- my daughter sings a song called "My Daddy, My Hero" -- and we teach people about our life. I moved to be near a post because I wanted to be near people who understand. I love you guys and will always be near you. I get more support from you than from my family. I love them, but they won't truly understand my life. I can explain the military benefits today if you want me to, but the thing that got me through it was faith, love, and the support from my unit and the base I live by. And getting involved in TAPS.
Andi: Shelly brings up a good point, how we take care of our own. Joan? You lived a long time at Walter Reed.
Joan: Compared to others, we weren't there that long, but it was long enough. I practically lived in his room, and so many people -- spouses, parents, folks -- just stopped by to give us stuff, even people who don't represent an organization, just to make us feel good. My husband lived in Sew Much Comfort clothes, and they helped him so much. Soldiers' Angels, organizations that helped us. There are so many people who want to help that I had too many business cards!
We don't live in a military community now, but I really miss it. I thought it'd be nice to get away, but I miss it. Our community is so supportive though, and people pay for her husband's coffee all the time and thank him for his service. People reach out, and we need to accept the help. And offer it when you're able to. All you have to do is Google how to help the troops!
Andi: Shelly, can you tell us about TAPS?
Shelly: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. They offer free programs to any loved one or friend of someone killed in the military. Resources including stuff the military doesn't often tell you. TAPS lawyers have gathered everything you need to know. There's peer mentoring too, and my children have started talking to other children who've lost parents. It's amazing to see it help my children. They just want validation that they're still normal kids, because they have to change schools and lifestyle and friends, not only losing a parent. We had to move off the base in 30 days, but that's changing and people are being allowed to stay in the community. It used to feel like they just wanted to get us widows out of the way.
AWTM: I started doing research on how we can connect with our widows because . I went to the bookstore and found a ton of books about grieving a dog or cat but only ONE on grieving a military spouse. The main thing I've learned is to just ask. I met a Gold Star Father last week and he said he just wants us to ask, so his son isn't gone.
Shelly: There's a TAPS workshop similar to what we're doing now at SpouseBUZZ and there's a great program for kids. My youngest had the hardest time because he didn't remember his dad. He didn't want to talk about his dad and was so angry that he couldn't remember his dad. He didn't know how to grieve. I took him to TAPS and he could play with other kids and your own military guy to play with all weekend. TAPS volunteers give up their weekend to play with these kids, and their lives change. At TAPS he was able to start grieving and writing a journal of letters to his dad.
Everyone has grief and you can't put a tape measure on it. It is all your attitude and how you choose to deal with it.
Andi: Can you talk about SpouseBUZZ comments and emails and how much people value this blog?
AWTM: I started blogging when he got back from Iraq. He bought a motorcycle! I needed to blog as therapy. People started reading it and I got lots of mail from other wives who could relate. When Andi came up with SpouseBUZZ and this supportive environment, we get so many emails from people who know they're not alone. We learned about "anticipatory grief", the what-if plans that you have in your head for that dreaded event. If something happened, where would I go, what would I do? We all have that scenario in our heads, and we authors were amazed that there was a name for the feeling and support for it.
Joan: I don't get much email from other spouses, but sometimes I get questions about how we should approach a certain comment or email. We SpouseBUZZ authors discuss a lot of hard email topics like adultery, or spouses who seem to be giving up, and we just try to lead them to resources. Military One Source is a good one, because it's not our place to be therapists for email writers. We understand there's hurt and pain, but we can't always do much.
AWTM: I would love to hear follow-up from the people to let us know if our advice on professionals has ever been helpful.
Andi: Questions for the panel? I know this is a tough panel.
Question: Guard Wife asked the first panel what we wish we'd known before we became military spouses. I want to ask you what you wish you'd known before you became a widow.
Everything that could've dropped through the cracks for me did. We didn't get notification. His emergency form had gotten lost and no one could find me. My husband didn't show up and I was mad at him. I called the unit and they didn't know what to say to me; they dropped the ball. I found his car and didn't understand it. I knew something was up. Little did I know, everyone was gathered at the unit. I finally drove up to flight ops and as I walked up, I heard the guy on the phone asking for safety teams. That means there was a crash. His face drained of all color and I saw the flight screen that said my husband's flight was downed that morning. And this man became my casualty assistance officer! He had outdated info and was little help to me. I needed information on my situation and fired him!
So what was the question? (Laughter)
I was so controlling and punctual before, and now I fly by the seat of my pants. My life now is very relaxed. I do not have a regimented lifestyle like I tried to do in the military. People identify with me as a widow, and I don't always like that, because I'm a normal person. People call me "a widow"! But it gives me a platform to talk about it, to overcome it. I have five kids who are going to affect this world. They never say they get special treatment for what they've been through. I don't want anyone to ever feel sorry for me.
Question: We in the Navy are starting to have IA, individual deployments. I was wondering if TAPS addresses that?
There's an ombudsman in the audience...
Omsbudsman: For example, Navy pulled from shore duty to join an Army unit in Iraq.
Andi: What does that do to the support system?
Omsbudsman: The families can come to us for info and resources. We can support anything they're going through.
Andi: How is the flow of info from the Army to the Navy?
Omsbudsman: It's good. For example, there's a number the wives can call for an emergency and get contact for the unit.
Question: I know 60 guys on IA right now, and my husband says many of them love to go and want to be on that list. But make sure that if you're IA that you know the number to call to keep in the loop.
Question: I have two friends who are widows. What they say is people don't want to talk about their husbands so it's like they've disappeared. They say that the best thing is when people want to talk about their husbands, want to see photos or hear stories.
Shelly: I moved away because I thought it would be too hard to stay. But it was harder being around people who tiptoe around me. When the autopsy came in, I remember wishing his arms weren't broken. It was stupid. But I opened it, and my family thought I was crazy for wanting to read it. It was worse than finding out. At 50 G's your heart explodes: he was at 200 G's. Remember, everything that could've gone wrong, did!