My experiences with Thanksgiving and Christmas "before war" were wonderful. Christmas lights and decorations beautifully wrapped around our home dressed the holiday atmosphere, wonderful smells of delicious baked goods filled the air, holiday music tickled our ear drums and spending time with friends and family topped the cake. Holiday life as we knew it changed when my husband deployed to Iraq in August of 2006, progressing more difficult each day leading up to the 2006 holiday season.
On November 11, 2006 my best friends husband, "Jack Jackson" was killed while serving in Iraq. Three days later on November 15, 2006, my husbands friend and TC (Truck Commander), John Dennison was shot and killed. What we didn't realize is that this would be the first of many we would know who would be killed in war between 2006 and 2007 during my husbands fifteen month deployment.
When my husband came home for R & R in November of 2006, we spent what little time he had going to two funerals back to back at Arlington Cemetery to honor and remember Jack and John and to visit their families. That November began the change of events during the holiday season for our family. Life progressively presented challenges to our family. After my husband was injured, I became my husbands caregiver, something I never planned for. Through the days and years after my husbands injuries, I learned that Military Caregivers in particular face unique situations and challenges during the holidays.
Ever since 2006, we've had our share of trials, especially during the holiday season. We know that our friends who were killed in war would want us to enjoy time with our families, but sometimes for a veteran who has survived war, that task is easier said than done. Let's face it, many days throughout the year are difficult (the anniversaries of those killed and injured, the intrusive thoughts of war, survivors guilt and much more). Holidays seem to amplify the regular, every day problems during life after war in many veteran families across the United States.
Last night, I decided to ask caregivers in the Hope for the Warriors private/closed/secret Facebook group to share tips with one another on how they personally make things easier during the holiday season.
A few of the great tips that were posted include:
"If you are stressed than they will be also. Allow them to help with decisions, what to buy, how to decorate. Even when you are not a fan of the results." -Angie M
"Start holiday planning as early as you can. Delegate so not everything is on you. Talk to your vet about how these holidays effect him." -Shannon W
"Don't be upset when your veteran doesn't want to go to every event. Mine sits in the car until my son's band plays instead of through all the band concert too. All kids have performances right now. Shop on line instead of crowds- better selection too!" - F
"I LOVE to decorate for Christmas so that always makes me smile. Do not have high expectations for ANYTHING or any event. Just enjoy another year of life and whatever health we may have." Tanya L
"Start early. Delegate. We normally host the holidays so that way my veteran has an escape if things become overwhelming (he can go to our room). If for some reason we don't host, we keep outings short and sweet." -Shannon P
Personally, I've learned to pace myself. I've learned I do not have to say yes to every event or request during the holidays. I do what I can, when I can. I set aside time to relax and to reflect on holidays of past while enjoying holidays of present while looking forward to future holidays. When things start to become stressful I turn on holiday music, step back from the chaos to reorganize my thoughts, getting back to the root of the holiday season. I try to keep things as stress free as possible in my home during the holidays. Here we are seven years post injury. I've compiled a short list that has helped our family during the holidays, perhaps some of my tips will help you as well.
- Stay calm at all times, your attitude helps set the mood
- Don't rush
- Don't over extend yourself; know when to say no
- Start baking a couple days before the actual holiday
- Make sure your family understands your veterans needs
- If your veteran requires a "quite" get away to escape to for a while, make sure he/she has a room to enjoy that is a little more laid back away from all of the busyness
- Wrap presents as you go. I often shop Amazon, they will even wrap your presents! *Hint, if you shop Amazon, use the Smile Program and please choose Hope for the Warriors as the charity you support.
- Share the work by hosting a Thanksgiving or Christmas pot-luck
- Be satisfied with, "good enough." Bigger and better isn't always better!
- Don't hesitate to ask for help, and welcome help!
Don't forget to save a little "me" time during the holiday season and as always, make your health a priority. Here we are in 2014 and I am proud to say that we can again enjoy the holidays together as a family. I still decorate our home, cook baked goodies and invite friends and families over. We've just learned to adapt to our situation to allow us to continue to thrive as a family unit during life after war. Hopefully the tips posted will help you, and if you have tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you!
Have a wonderful and happy holiday season.