The face of a caregiver takes many forms. These faces are weathered and weary. Battered and often near broken. Hopeful, yet knowing. They live within a paradox, which is forever changing; the only constant is the expectation of change.
Just like military spouses that are dealing with the rollercoaster of deployment; the emotional turmoil of workups, and becoming adjusted to life within the walls of a new normal; so do caregivers face these tortuous emotions. However, deployments eventually end, the life of a caregiver remains.
There is a difference between these scenarios though, our Wounded Warriors, their loved ones have already returned home. The happy reunion that so many of us expect, were altered at some point by the tragedies of war.
The following is an example of one of those stories; rather voices, as you read through attach a voice. These are people, and their voices could have easily been our own.
Shannon Knower, the proud wife of retired SFC James Knower, shares her story. “We were both very social people. We loved to sing karaoke and go out with friends. We didn’t do a whole lot without each other. I loved to shop and vacation. Once a year I would go to Vegas with my mom and aunts.”
In July of 2012 Shannon and James lives would forever change; over the course of several days James was impacted by multiple IED blasts, though he had no visible wounds. Not wanting to let others know of what his body and mind was beginning to do, James toughed on. Two weeks later, in a meeting about an upcoming mission James knew he couldn’t continue faking his health, he couldn’t and wouldn’t put his soldiers at risk because his body and mind was failing. James was beginning to endure memory issues (so bad that later during a battery of tests he couldn’t list any five farm animals), he was beginning to lose feeling in his arms and face. James learned after being removed from his role in combat that he had suffered a brain injury and pinched nerves.
Subsequently, Shannon found herself quitting her dental assistant job; so she could care for James. Shannon continues sharing, “Being the wife of a wounded warrior is a lonely place to be. I gave up my 17 year career to stay home and take care of Jay. I have lived in the same town my entire life. My whole family is here, my kids were all born here, and my life is here. There are days I wish we could pack up and move as far away from here as possible. Some days being surrounded by family, I have never felt more alone in my entire life.”
As much as others try to understand, they don’t. They don’t wake up in the middle of the night with James as he experiences another PTSD episode, Shannon continues “PTSD is a scary word and a very scary world. It is confusing, its loud, its messy, its untrusting, its explosive, its ups and downs, it’s quiet and calculating, its happy and sad, its anger, its frustration, its sleepless nights, its pain, its tears, it’s never remembering, its blackouts and breakdowns, it’s throwing things and slamming doors, and it is our life. PTSD is real, these guys are not faking it to get out of their jobs and they aren’t doing it to live off the government or get free family retreats.”
Others don’t understand his memory struggles, or the pains both emotional and physical that Jay feels. All things that take an affect on Shannon, and their core family. It can be exhausting, emotionally, to always be the one- his one; but to Shannon, James is more than worth it.
Truly, one of Shannon’s biggest support systems was found in an unlikely place- her ex-husband. Because of his love for their shared kids, and the kids love for their step-dad Shannon’s ex-husband has spent many nights looking for James; after James took off out of anger or frustration. Sometimes, after finding James, walking for miles together; because of James’ refusal to get in the car. Other family members help when they can, but like most time hasn’t stood still for them- life carries on.
James lives with invisible wounds; wounds that are easily overlooked by outsiders to the Knower’s world, because they aren’t seen. Just like the wind, air, or a higher being (if you believe in such) just because you can’t see them with your eyes, doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Life certainly has changed for Shannon, and James since their marriage. Vacations alone are a thing of the past; being the social butterflies they once were, no more. Through all of the trials Shannon is still grateful. Grateful that James came home to her, maybe not who he was; but not so altered that accepting change isn’t worth continuing for.