Featured Military Caregiving Mini-Series: 444 Days in the First Year

By Tabitha McCoy, MS

OneOp Family Development is featuring a 6 part blog series titled, 444 Days in the First Year, written by  Tabitha McCoy. Tabitha is one of OneOp Family Development’s Anchored. podcast guest speakers. Tabitha originally wrote this blog series for the OneOp Military Caregiving team about her experience as a caregiver to her husband, Steve McCoy, Army SGT. Tabitha will be speaking more about her perspective of marriage from the stand point of a civilian married to an active duty military serviceman in Anchored. Episode 2| Married to the Military: Part 1. Be sure to check out her podcast being featured this summer on Anchored.

444 Days in the First Year Part 1

The Phone Call

Picture of Tabitha McCoy's husband, Steve McCoy
McCoy, Tabitha (2006). Former SGT Steve McCoy. Personal photo of Tabitha McCoy used with her permission.

“Mama, what happened to my daddy?”  My three-year-old son asks from the back seat.

It was Easter weekend and we were an hour into our three-hour drive back to my hometown to spend the weekend with my family.  I had just hung up the phone from yet another less than 5-minute phone conversation with my husband who six months prior had left for his second deployment to Iraq.

Fighting back the tears of frustration from not being able to remember the last “real” conversation I had with my Soldier, I slapped on my “brave, everything is great face”, looked at both my son and daughter through the rear view mirror and said, “Nothing has happened to your daddy buddy, he just had to go work, but he said to tell you both that he loves you, and he will try to call us back this weekend.”

Friday…no phone call, Saturday…no phone call, Easter Sunday…no phone call

It was beginning to feel like forever since I had heard my Soldiers voice and I was more than happy to be woken up before daylight to the sound of my phone ringing.  I was immediately wide-awake, over come with relief and anticipating the sweet sound of him saying, “Good morning baby.” However, as I reached for my phone my excitement quickly turned to dread as I read the number on the caller ID. It was not an “unknown” Iraqi pay-phone number that my husband would sometimes use to call me from, nor was it his satellite phone number.  No, this was a new number, one I had never seen before.

I looked at my two babies who were still asleep in the bed beside me, and all of sudden I was reminded of the question my son asked me just a few days before, and with a shaky voice I said “hello.”

Caregiver’s Advice to Professionals and Military Families

The time shortly following the injury of a service member is stressful for everyone involved, and as both professional and civilian caregivers it is easy to place our focus solely upon the wounded service member. We must remember however, that the service member is only a part of an entire family system: and while the majority of the focus should be placed on the service member and their recovery, the family members have also in a sense, been wounded.

The mental and physical health of the primary caregiver is such an important part in facilitating both recovery and health in the wounded service member, yet it is also something that can be easily overlooked; not only by the professionals who are being paid to take care of the service member but by the caregiver themselves.

As professionals, education is key in understanding how to treat not just the wounded service member but the wounded family, and while the suggestions I make may seem simple or insignificant, I am drawing from my own personal experience; the brokenness I felt, the roller coaster of emotions I experienced, and how lonely it felt even though I was in a room full of people.  As I remember the first few days and weeks following my Soldiers injuries, I am reminded that it’s the “little things” that truly mean the most.

  • Be genuine:  One of the first things that seemed to be the most noticeable was how genuine someone was being.  I never wanted to have someone’s pity, however it was extremely obvious when someone was being nice because they had to be.
  • Smile:  I remember looking forward to the smiles of the doctors, nurses and volunteers in the waiting room at Brooke Army Medical Center.  It made me feel safe, it always lifted my spirits, and above all it was typically contagious.
  • Journaling:  Offer this as an idea during conversation to the family member(s).  This may sound silly but there has been research done supporting the idea of keeping a daily journal, especially during times of stress. I kept one while I was with my wounded Soldier and I remember it becoming one of the most valuable tools I had.  A great stress reliever, and while it didn’t alleviate all stress; it did help, and it quickly became my release.  I didn’t write much, and I didn’t even write everyday, actually I didn’t always actually write, sometimes I would just “add a calendar event” on the particular day.  Either way, it helped and even now, 6 years later I will go back from time to time just to reread some of the thoughts.
  • Eating and nutrition:  This may seem like a “no brainer” for many, but nutrition plays such an important role in our stress and anxiety management.  I remember there being days that I wouldn’t eat, especially in the beginning when my Soldier was first hurt.  I didn’t intentionally skip meals I just had way too much on my mind to worry about food.  Lack of eating and nutrition can lead to a host of other mental and physical issues that can further hinder care-taking abilities.  It doesn’t take but a second to check in with the family, or to give a friendly reminder that they too need a “lunch break”.
  • Access to resources:  Make sure the family caregivers of the wounded service member have access or information regarding resources that may be helpful (i.e., Chaplin, therapist, counselors, gym, library, etc.).  Remember that a family may not be from the area of where their wounded service member is receiving care.   Some times just knowing where to go is reassuring enough for some, regardless of whether the information is ever utilized.

Tabitha McCoy and family
McCoy, Tabitha (2014). Tabitha McCoy and family. Used with permission.

The caregiving mini-series, 444 Days in the First Year, was written by Tabitha McCoy. Tabitha is a contributor to the OneOp Military Caregiving team and is a former military caregiver to her husband, SGT Steve McCoy. In it, Tabitha shares her personal story of caregiving, grieving, and transitioning, including insight and advice for professionals and family caregivers as she recounts the 444 days following her husband’s death in June of 2008.

Tabitha holds a Master of Science in Marriage & Family Therapy, is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in Marriage & Family Therapy with a concentration in Therapy with Military Families at Northcentral University, and is the Clinic Manager at FamilyWorks Therapy Clinic housed within Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Ga.

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