Self Care

Author: Leslie McCaddon

Reconnecting…with myself

One of the things I heard early on at TAPS, as well as from my counselor at home, is the importance of self-care. I’m a mother of three young children. Whenever this term “self-care” is thrown around in my presence I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Photo Courtesy of Leslie McCaddon

Take care of myself?

Sure! I try to shower, most days. I eat well…well, at least when I eat the kid’s leftovers! I sleep. Sure, I sleep! I sleep a little bit each night at least.

There have been a few moments since Mike died that my body and mind gave me no choice except to take care of myself. I’d never had anything like it happen to me before in my life: my body and mind just chose to quit. All I could do was sleep. And cry. And hope that my brother was as okay as he seemed at picking up with my kids where I left off. Those moments were extremely difficult for a control freak like me. I did not like having to fall apart on a schedule that wasn’t my own.

I think I’ve become a little more self-aware in the past six months. I seem to sense when these times are coming and take steps to take care of myself (yes, really!) before my body decides for me. I’ve done things like limit our extra-curricular activities, order food out more often than not, and call my counselor even when it isn’t our day to meet.

One of the biggest areas of self-care I am still working on is learning to trust myself. Only I really know what I can handle and what I need. And I am also the best judge of that for my children. In a world that seems to produce a pseudo-psychology “expert” on every street corner, it can be scary to tell the world, “Thanks for your opinions, but since you’ve never actually walked in my shoes, I think I’ll take it from here.” Especially when the world includes well-meaning family and friends (and store clerks, teachers, nurses, and a host of others).

That is one thing I deeply appreciate about TAPS. Although there are many experts there, we are reminded that we are each in charge of taking care of ourselves and doing whatever it is that we need to process our own grief. I was reminded on Sunday morning (during the TAPS National Suicide Survivor Seminar) that if the best thing for me was to step back and take a nap, then by all means, I should do that.

While my kids bounced off to the USS Midway with their peers and mentors, I went back to my room and called my grandmother who lives minutes from the hotel. Before I knew it, I was wrapped up in her nurturing arms and crying into a plate full of pumpkin pecan pancakes.

Just what I needed: I was taking care of myself by letting my grandma take care of me. As we sorted through the layers of my emotions—being in San Diego was very hard because this is where my husband I and got married nearly 12 years ago—it became clear that my heart really knew what it needed right now, but I was afraid to do anything about it.

By the time I got back to my hotel, I was no longer fighting my heart. I was making arrangements to take care of myself by staying an extra week in California. The kids and I would drive up to hug my 92-year-old grandfather. We would be able to visit my other grandmother in the hospital after an unexpected surgery.

We would stand with our toes in the Pacific just like we did so many times with Mike. We would cry together—and it does seem that this weekend has unleashed a torrent of tears for our little family. These tears weren’t manufactured at TAPS, but they were accessed. Now we are taking a much-needed break to really feel these feelings, and heal a little more together.

Even with a resort full of other people who have lost a loved one to suicide, there is no one who can understand our particular grief. It is our own. We are the only people who can make our way through it. We seek out support and advice, but at the end of the day we can only really do our best. And since I’m the mom, it often just comes down to my best.

When we headed out to TAPS I was full of hope for healing and a desire to reconnect. What I didn’t see coming were a lot of the other specific emotions I’d have to deal with. To be honest, I wasn’t prepared for it at all. Still, because of the supportive atmosphere I was able to take the time to ask the important question, “What do we need right now?” and answer it with an honest and open heart. 

As difficult as facing our grief is right now, I’ve been reminded it is also brave. We aren’t charging forward, clinging to structure in the name of manufactured stability. Rather, we are dealing head on with a loss that is inescapable and, in so many ways, unspeakable.

This weekend has found me recommitting to the process, and courageously listening to my heart about what our family needs. The fruit of this weekend is even beyond reconnecting with others. It has also allowed me to reconnect with myself.

Many times during this first year of grief, I was amazed and deeply humbled by the loving support from friends and even strangers. And nothing compares to the support found from other survivors. Unfortunately, I’ve also encountered well-intentioned people who mean to support, but actually add confusion by offering opinions on just about everything I chose to do (or not do). When I listened to such “supporters” I was tempted to doubt myself and second-guess my choices.

The truth is, no one else has lived our lives, experienced our loss, or journeyed our particular grief. Whatever your beliefs, it seems we can all at least agree that this journey is uniquely and particularly our own. We can relate to one another, cry on each other’s shoulders, and certainly support each other in figuring out the slippery concept of self care.

Taking care of ourselves means different things to different people. It often includes a good counselor, exercise, and rest. For many of us we are lucky to include events with our TAPS family in the category of tending to our needs. No matter where we find our support, it is important that we remain committed to taking care of ourselves by staying connected to who we really are. As scary as it is for some of us to accept, our hearts really do know the way. Perhaps, it is time to start unapologetically trusting them again.  

By Leslie McCaddon, surviving spouse of CPT Mike McCaddon, MDLeslie McCaddon was one of two widows TIME Magazine featured in its July cover story on the surge in Army suicides. Her Army Captain husband, Dr. Michael McCaddon, died in March, 2012. Leslie wrote part of this article as a blog for TIME during our TAPS National Suicide Survivor Seminar in San Diego in October 2012. Reprinted with permission.