Saturday Morning Message: Month of the Military Caregiver
Author: Coleen Bowman
As we enter the month of May, as we do every day, TAPS will honor all who have served and died. We are also honoring our Military caregivers, as May is the Month of the Military Caregiver. During this time, we would like to pause for a moment and acknowledge your sacrifice as a caregiver. Being a caregiver to your loved one can take a toll on you. You are often taking care of others before yourself.
I was a caregiver to my husband, Army Sergeant Major Robert Bowman, who we lost eight years ago to a service-connected illness, so I and my family know firsthand the challenges that those of us who were once caregivers face. TAPS also understands that many illness loss survivors navigate a grief journey that may have begun before the death of our loved ones. And, they are mindful of the differences present when someone has been a caregiver before they have transitioned to a survivor.
TAPS has recognized the need to address the significant increase in our population of survivors that have previously been caregivers; and, I am so proud that we are creating programming to support the needs of these survivors, including myself and my family. This includes the recent launch of the Caregiver to Survivor Program, in partnership with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF), and American Red Cross Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN). We are also honored to be able to offer a new monthly video chat for those who were caregivers to their loved ones.
At TAPS, you will never walk this path alone. We will always be here for you.
Question for the Week
What resources do you wish you had as a caregiver? What are some things that would have helped you better prepare for your transition from a caregiver to a survivor?
Thank you for your willingness to share your thoughts with all of us in the Saturday Morning Message! As you lean into these questions with courage and transparency, you are growing the foundation of support that is TAPS - and we are so grateful for you.
TAPS Senior Advisor, Caregiver to Survivor
▶▶ We Welcome Your Reply
In order to have your response included, please send them by by Tuesday morning, May 11, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Saturday Morning Message (SMM) was created for survivors to share information with those who have subscribed with each other.
Response To Last Week’s Question:
As we look ahead to May, a month of remembrance, how will you share the love for your military loved one so that together we can remember and show our own reverent military appreciation?
From Fay, mother of Eric: A year ago, I discovered a digital artist whose work I found intriguing. I had been trying to figure out how I could make pictures of my son, Eric, special. This was it.
Eric was my only child. He died March 30, 2017. I went from planning his wedding to planning his funeral. It was gut-wrenching. While I am still grieving, I am grateful that I found a way to remember and honor my son. I gathered together several of my favorite pictures of Eric and sent them to the artist to work his magic. Then the pandemic hit and everything slowed down. Life seemed to be standing still, again.
Before I knew it, though, the pictures came. I was so happy when I opened the tube with Eric’s pictures. It was perfect! Funny though, as life would have it, another year passed before I could get the pictures framed. Little did I know that the timing would be perfect. As we approached Mother’s Day this year, I went to a frame shop and had the pictures framed - with red, white and blue mats. I couldn’t be happier. Mother’s Day was always tough for me, but now I am all smiles. I am able to honor my son and have his picture with his incredible smile hung in my bedroom.
From Thais, mother of Dwayne: During this month of May, I will be mindful and attentive about others that have loved ones serving at this time. I will put a candle by Dwayne's picture, say the rosary for him and keep in my mind and heart every person serving at this time. For Dwayne and for myself, I will purposely REMEMBER the DASH, all the good the things that happened between the two dates.
Our son died 3 days before Mothers' Day, so the month of May weighs heavy. I will purposely think of the joy Dwayne brought to our lives and think of the pride that others have from family members serving. My prayer: "May they ALL be lifted up and honored."
From Christine, wife of Dennis: Not only did my husband serve in the 82nd Airborne, he also ended his life in May too. So, there is a lot of significance to this month for me. I send out all my thoughts and prayers to everyone.
What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing. As I read and re-read your family’s story, all I could think about was the incredible strength that everyone had/has - you included.
I cried, but I honestly think they were tears of gratitude and thankfulness. You, too, show beauty and grace.
Fay, mother of Eric
Oh, Teresa! Your story so touched my heart. What strong stock you are from and, thus, James. My heart beat fast as you described all that you had to do...what courage. Your son is proud of you.
I, too, lost my only son in the Army by suicide, preceded 6 months prior by the death of Christopher’s 5 hour old baby boy whose 6th birthday is today.️ Thank you for all that you shared and for the grace to do so. You are a true hero along with your son AND your dad who lead the way.
Patricia, mother of Christopher
▶▶ We Welcome Your Comments
If you would like to send a note commenting on one or all of the responses in this week’s Saturday Morning Message, send it to email@example.com and your thoughts will be passed along to each contributor. You never know how your words may touch the heart of another.
SONG FOR THE WEEK
This week's song, 'I Drive Your Truck' by Lee Brice, was shared by Coleen, wife of Rob.
"Rob had a 2007 Chevy Silverado; it had been his dream for years. He had recently returned from a 15 month deployment in Iraq when we could finally afford to make the purchase in 2010. Rob spent hours and hours searching for the "perfect truck"; we drove hundreds of miles across Texas (where we were stationed at the time) in search of his "dream truck." It needed to have the right transmission, the right cab, the right color - the perfect everything; after all, he had earned it after 20 years of climbing his way through the ranks. Sergeant Major Academy was on the horizon; we had made it, and this reward was well earned!
The following year on June 14, 2011, Rob was diagnosed with stage 4 inoperable cancer. We would learn shortly after, his terminal cancer was caused from the toxins he was exposed to while on deployment to Iraq. Rob would only drive his dream truck for a short 2 1/2 years.
When he died on January 13, 2013, the thought of selling his truck was NOT an option. Year after year, the truck was in my driveway (which it barely fit due to the monster truck that he HAD to have). I remember him telling me before he died, "You have to drive my truck at least once a week. The truck is meant to be driven and, if it sits, it will just rot away, so drive it or sell it." I chose to drive it those first few years after he died. I would take it out and drive south on the George Washington Parkway to Mt Vernon about 2-3 times a month. I would drive it to Arlington Cemetery and visit him in Section 60. I would listen to his favorite songs and blast the radio with my girls who always loved his truck. You could still smell him in the cab of the truck. The change was still in the ashtray, the tools under the seat, along with that dirty baseball cap of his that should have been thrown out decades before he passed away!
I finally came to the reality that the truck was not practical - the narrow streets of Old Town Alexandria were very unforgiving in the truck. So, in 2016, 3 years after Rob died, I sold his truck. Before I sold it, I let our two youngest daughters drive it. While neither was of driving age, I wanted to let them have that precious memory of their Dad and his truck. So the last place we drove the truck was to visit him in Arlington; each of the girls were in the driver's seat for about 5 feet, just enough to feel like they had driven their Dad's truck. The next day, I sold it, but I insisted the license plates were coming with me; and those are the plates I kept on my jeep, until the day I moved from Virginia.
This song is so fitting, and I still cry every time I hear it. I cry tears of sadness because Rob never got to really enjoy his truck. But I also cry tears of joy, because for a moment in time he did have his dream truck, and the memories that we made as a family camping and going on road trips in it are priceless."
▶▶ Send Your Favorite Song, Poem or Recipe
We often publish songs, poems, or recipes that have special meaning for our survivors. If you have a favorite that you would like to share with the Saturday Morning Message community, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and include a note about why it is meaningful to you. These beautiful points of connection can offer hope and inspiration to others.