'Missing the Legs': An Inside Look Into One Caregiver's Life

(Jessica Allen)

This post was written by Jessica Allen:

Yesterday I spent my entire day at Fort Campbell helping their wounded, ill and injured with a variety of things. My day ended with me speaking at the WTB's Town Hall about our life and what I do with YRF. It went very well. I truly love being able to help the 101st. They have been so great to us and I just love being able to pay our blessings forward. While I was there, I couldn't help missing it all.

I was actually texting with my husband when my eyes caught sight of a lot of combat boots. I realized that I really miss those boots tracking mud into my home. I miss the stinky socks that come from them. I miss seeing my hubby in that uniform standing standing tall as an Infantry solider. I miss our Army life.

Trust me, no one wants to be a caregiver. It's exhausting. It's actually beyond exhausting, but I don't know the word for that feeling. It doesn't matter what we want because we are drafted into this.

I find caregivers to be an amazing group of people. I am inspired daily by the caregivers I meet and their stories. We are all so different, but we are all bound by one emotion - love.

We stay by our veteran's side because we love them. It is really that simple. The love of my family and knowing God wants me in this role is what gets me through everyday. I know so many feel the exact same way. We get up and are driven by love everyday. We get through all the drama that we cannot avoid, because love sees us through.

No matter how filled with love I am, I cannot help but miss the world I once knew. I miss Chaz's legs. I miss being able to go out to dinner and not worry about if Chaz can get in and out safely. I miss being able to go wherever we wanted without physical limitations. I miss my hubby being able to play sports in the yard with our kids. I miss standing hugs. I miss the simplicity of the life I took for granted.

Now before my friends freak out, I am fine. I tell people often you have to take the time to mourn what you've lost. Catastrophic injuries take a lot away from your life, but it never seems like you can have actual closure. It seems like you deal with it, but without any notice something stirs it all back up again so there you are dealing with it again. You cannot close the book on catastrophic injuries you have to welcome them into your daily life and you just deal with it.

Every once in a while you have to sit and acknowledge your losses so you can move on. This is my once in a while.

I have had too many caregivers ask me how so I stay so happy and positive. I have been told multiple times that I really don't have anything to smile about. So why do I smile so much? The truth is I can be the way I am because I have the faith that this is where I am supposed to be. The truth is the love of my family and friends enable me to be so happy and positive. I feel that I now have more than I did before Chaz was hurt. I had a pretty darn good life before Chaz's injuries, but now I know what unconditional love is and that is more valuable than anything you can buy. That unconditional love has made my life so much better.

I also am able to stay happy and positive because every so often I allow myself a little bit of pity. I allow myself to sit and cry - even get angry - that my life is now so difficult. And I allow myself to be angry that I didn't truly appreciate what I had before that IED blew up our the life we knew. I allow myself those moments, then I wipe my eyes, blow my nose and move on with my day. I acknowledge those thoughts, but I don't let them win. They get their five seconds of fame and then I tell them to shut the Hell up.

I know my methods may not work for every caregiver, but they work for me. I wish I didn't miss Chaz's legs. But I can't help it, I do. I will always miss them. And when I have these pity party moments I will try to recall the smell of the stinky socks from the feet that came out of those boots that were attached to those legs to help me get through the mourning a little faster.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Caffeine and Cruise Control

This has been a rough week, heck this has been a rough couple of years. But this week I was able to process and download the over past two years of my life. The results: Two friends got to watch me cry on two separate occasions and Chaz got to watch me go into the ugly cry. It's been one of those weeks that you realize you are thankful for daily disposable contacts, because regular ones would have had to have been destroyed. This week I realized that since January 22, 2011 I have been living on caffeine and cruise control. I did what I had to do to get my family through all of this, but somewhere along the way pieces of me have fallen off and I had lost them. This week I got a small glimpse of them and it made me reflect on my life before and since Chaz's injury.

The day Chaz was injured, I went into survival mode. Once I received the call he was stable, I immediately went into robot mode. Then somewhere after that I just put myself on cruise control and consumed a ton of caffeine so I could hang on during this roller coaster ride. (Starbucks' brand Tazo organic Chai, concentrate, not bags. That's a very important detail. And no I don't live off of Starbucks. I buy it from grocery store and make my own. That saves a lot of money.)

For over two dozen months now my life has been back and forth to DC, dealing with surgery after surgery. I have held Chaz's hand during the ups and downs with medical and personal highs and lows. I have been forced into listening to people literally bark orders at me and try tell me what I should be doing even through they have NO idea what this journey is like. Throughout all of this turmoil, I have been trying to keep my sanity, trying to heal my husband, attempting to heal our family, trying to parent our girls when my hubby couldn't or just didn't have the energy to and trying to manage two households. I've done all of this while working my butt off for other families, only to be attacked by a few who were jealous they couldn't get things done. It has been a non-stop ride of insanity. I realized the other day that it truly is amazing I am not an alcoholic.

Before Chaz was injured, I was running my small tax business. I was a girl scout leader and highly involved in the community. I was working towards my EA and AFC. I also loved to bake, craft, read, scrapbook and was very rarely at home. OK the rarely at home part hasn't really changed. However I now don't have time to read (things I want to) or scrapbook. I really don't have time for me. By the time I hit the bed at night, I just pass out for 6-8 hours to get up and start again.

What started all of the tears? I have been purging our home. Chaz's pants and shoes are now all gone. The memories of his actual legs are only left in our pictures. He only needs shorts and his new legs come with shoes. Closets have been cleaned out of things we don't need and cannot use and to be honest it all has made me a little sad. Needless to say though, we will have one heck of a crazy yard sale this summer. In the past two years, I have been just cruising right along and I never had time to purge. At times, I felt our home looked like an episode of hoarders. Everyone who has seen it has assured me otherwise. But I don't like clutter at all. I thrive for organization. Yes I am OCD and it should be CDO, alphabetical like it's meant to be. ;)

Here's a picture I took of the inside of a bag I found in one of our closets. My family all met in Disney for Christmas 2010. I set this bag in my closet when we returned with the intentions of scrap booking some of the memories in here and letting the girls enjoy our Disney finds. I finally cleaned out this bag this week. I have no problems confessing all of this. (Mainly because there was no food in the bag. That would just be gross.) I know that other caregivers of wounded heroes have encountered the same thing. We put our lives on hold while we are healing our Heroes. My bag is pure evidence that I let it all go in order to heal my family.

Pam Allen

See the adorable Mickey ears? They made me smile and then cry. That was such a fun trip. That was the last fun adventure the girls and I had (Chaz was deployed) before he was hurt. Then the phone rang days later and everything changed for us.

Now that the Army has released its control over our lives, I am finally finding time to get things organized and efficient again. Basically I am purging our house of some of our pre-injury life and it's hard. Some days I really miss the way it was. Some days I miss the Army, not the WTB, the Army, there's a very big difference. I miss the melting pot of friends that we were blessed to encounter over the years. Most of our Army friends have moved or will move away this year. Now we are retired and are now treated like "second class citizens" as Chaz puts it. It's the little things like the Mickey ears that keep reminding me, it is time to begin our new life. It's time to clean out the old, no matter how many tears come. It's time to get on with this new civilian adventure that we'll make just as fun and fabulous.

It will be a while before I get back to the books that I really want to read and the crafts I want to make. I am planning some adventures for us. I am going to make sure we have as much fun as possible. Our girls will be grown before we know it. We have to enjoy them while we can.

The most important part is that I have now turned the cruise control off. I have cut back on the caffeine. I guess just need to have a massive purge and a few tears to get myself there.

Jessica Allen is a full time caregiver to her husband, Chaz. They returned to Clarksville, Tenn., with their two daughters after Chaz medically retired from the Army in January 2013. Jessica is also the director of the Family Caregiver Program for the Yellow Ribbon Fund and an accredited financial counselor. Together Chaz and Jessica are homeschooling their daughters. They are hoping to build a home to suit Chaz's needs in McMinnville, Tenn., this year.

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