What is a Caregiver? “The First Line of Support”

Posted on May 4, 2016

“Special thanks to the incredible generosity of one very special family for helping to provide funding for this important program in memory of their brother who wished to remember those who serve.”

“I guess you don’t realize how strong you are until you’re put in this situation.”

For Khieda, “this situation” means having her husband return from his third combat deployment having stepped on an improvised explosive device and losing both his legs. Cedric (read his Hero Story here), had his right leg amputated above the knee and his left leg amputated below the knee.

“Being a military wife, I’m used to taking care of the house and the kids and the bills,” she says, “but I’m not used to all that and moving to a hospital and taking care of someone who is injured—and functioning myself.”

Indeed, the responsibilities of being a caregiver for a wounded, critically ill or injured service member can be significant—both emotionally and physically—and sometimes overwhelming. But help is available for those who seek it.

“There are many programs at Walter Reed that cater to caregivers,” Khieda says. “They really want to make sure that the caregivers get that recharge. After a full year I felt burnt out. I hadn’t been taking time out for me. I started going to the caregivers’ dinners that America’s Fund would put on, I’d do little things for myself—with time, the pressure went away.”

It’s common for caregivers to want to give everything they have—and then some—in looking after a wounded service member. They often feel that if they’re not doing something to take care of that person, they’re either slacking in their duties or they might miss providing something that the service member needs. Khieda’s advice to other caregivers helps put a wider perspective on things.

“Take a break,” she says. “Remember you. You’re not helping him if you’re not helping you. You have to learn to recharge and let go—and it’s okay to cry. I honestly did not cry in front of him for the first full month he was in the hospital. I thought I had to be tough in his presence. I left the hospital to go home and be with the kids and even though I knew I’d return, I hated knowing he would be left in that hospital bed without me for a period of time.”

Once the immediate dangers of the injury have passed and the service member starts settling into a new routine, the concerns of the caregiver don’t go away.

“It’s difficult to let him go and do all the things that he wants to do without worrying,” Khieda notes. “He travels a lot, and there are quite a few times when he travels by himself. His cousin, who is the manager for his speaking engagements, often travels with him, and that’s good. But I worry about scenarios that probably will never come to pass.”

“You’re constantly remembering how far they’ve come and where they actually were,” she continues. “Being he was so close to death, I think we hold on just a little bit tighter. I just don’t want to see him injure himself again.”

Even when Cedric reached the point of accomplishment and independence where he could run on his prostheses and began entering races, Khieda’s concerns continued.

“I did the Army 10-miler in October 2013 with him in Washington, DC,” she recalls. “I trained with him, I ran with him, but I was so protective—I was shouting at people to watch out for him. I was running a few feet in front to move people out of the way, I was in super-protection mode. A lot of people would try to come over to give him a fist bump. He was laughing at me after the run.”

After a while, though, the term “caregiver” doesn’t seem to be appropriate—at least for Khieda. “In the beginning, it seemed to fit so much more because there was so much to do,” she says. “I felt I was an extension of Cedric, I was doing all the things for him he couldn’t do for himself. You’re a support system, but it’s difficult when you’re a spouse. He’s so independent, and you don’t want to emasculate or baby him. An adult doesn’t want to be treated as a child. He’s come so far—but I still keep my eyes on him.”

“I truly appreciate the Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund for realizing that the caregivers need support as well,” Khieda adds. “A caregiver is the first line of support, and we are that front line for the service member. If we’re at the point where we’re breaking down, you can only imagine the effect that has on the service member.”

“It’s a sacrifice,” she adds, “but it’s one worth giving. It’s not easy, but I definitely wouldn’t change anything about it.”

Help more of our hidden heroes to recharge and connect with others.

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