Army Spouse Balances Caregiving with Being a Spouse

Sierra’s heart sank when she learned of her husband’s injury. Now, years later, she shares her perspective on balancing her roles as a spouse and caregiver.

Sierra, would you share with us how long you and Jae have been married and tell us when you first met?

Jae and I married August 19, 2005. We met in college, at North Georgia, in 2002. Jae was just so witty, so outgoing, so funny. It was hard not to want to be around him. The fact that he was super cute didn’t hurt either!

How did you first hear about his injury?

I was 37 weeks pregnant with our first child and shopping for some clothes for Jae. His mom called and asked to speak to my mom, so she could prepare me for what I was going to find out. They got me home, got me on the phone, and she said, “I have three words for you: Jae is alive.”  I knew right then. My heart sank, I was sick to my stomach. I had never known burns were a possible injury.  Probably naive on my part, but I just assumed gunshots, amputations, etc. I was shocked and scared.

What’s the toughest part of being a caregiver?

Giving up your role as a spouse and fulfilling the role of a nurse. It is a completely different role, and is very hard to carry both at the same time.  Then, when they’re able to start doing things on their own, your position has to somehow revert to everything from before the injury, which proves to be very tough also. It is a complex position for sure.

What’s a typical caregiver’s day like?

At this point, years past the injury, there is no physical caregiving that Jae needs from me unless he has recently had a surgery. When he goes for reconstructive surgeries to fine tune things or to work on his hands to give them more mobility, we are back to wound care, changing bandages, pain control, etc.

How do you, as a caregiver, keep your own energy up?

It took me a long time to realize that in order for me to take the best care of Jae and our daughter, I also had to take care of myself. I was very dependent on my caregiver support group and the spouses that were in the same boat. They helped to recharge me often. Exercising also helped. When we were in the midst of the injury, during those first two years, we also had a newborn, who became a toddler while her dad was in and out of the hospital. Back then, my mother in law would say to me, “just put on your big girl pants and plow through.” That was how we got through most of that two years. That and I’m sure a lot of coffee. I was also fortunate because his mom helped us for the first six to eight months, and then we always had family we could count on to help out whenever we needed it, so we were very fortunate.

Do your kids participate in caregiving in any way?

My kids are 9, 7 and 4. They do not typically help out with any caregiving activities, but they do give plenty of TLC and cuddling.

What’s the best advice you’ve received as a caregiver?

In the beginning, at a caregiver support group, we would always remind each other: For now, we are caregivers, but find ways to still keep hold of the spouse inside us. Because it’s very easy to forget what that role feels like amidst the chaos of the injury and healing, and at some point you will go back to being a spouse.

Do you have any relationships with other spouse caregivers?

The caregivers that were in San Antonio with us, they are lifelong friends. They understand things that others could never comprehend.  We remain in contact even nine years later.

What would you tell someone about the Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund and the work they do?

Oh, gosh, where do I start? Amazing. In one word, amazing. So caring, well managed. A genuine nonprofit who is only out to help others, not themselves. Just amazing, and so selfless.  And has amazing people working for them who really care for the people they are helping. It just brings me to tears.

What has your experience as a caregiver taught you that the rest of us probably don’t know?

That you can make it through anything—day by day. Anything. That there are always people out there who understand you, you just have to find them. And that there really are amazing people in this world who want nothing other than to help. Lastly, I’ve learned that it’s okay to be sad, mad and frustrated, but don’t live in it. Make it better.

The TODAY Show recently featured a home makeover for U.S. Army Captain Jae Barclay, who suffered third-degree burns over 40% of his body in 2006 in Afghanistan (Read more about Jae’s story here and view the TODAY Show segment here). The makeover was made possible by the Semper Fi Fund and The Home Depot Foundation.