It was 2003 and assigned as lead personnel at Fort Meade. I arrived to work shortly after finishing PT. While implementing my daily duties, my office phone rang. It was my mother. She never called me at work, so I knew something was wrong. I listened to her voice, and it didn’t sound clear. It sounded muzzled. Immediately, my Army training kicked in, and I began asking her questions about how she was feeling? Can you move your right hand?
The very thing I was hoping she would reply with a “no” was “yes!” She could barely talk, but somehow, I could understand her. I knew she was having a stroke. The only problem was she was in South Carolina, and I was in Washington, DC. My phone number was the only one she knew to call. I had to act immediately. So, I called 911 and informed them of what was taking place. My mother had been lying on the hallway floor in her home for over an hour. She had a series of strokes.
This episode was the beginning of my journey as a caregiver. I was serving on active duty with 17 years of service and concerned about my aging parent. Although she was 62 years of age, her having a stroke was not on my radar. I was only three years away from retiring, and this was a gamechanger. I hadn’t prepared for a stroke, only for her to have life insurance coverage. Now, what was I to do (I thought)? I’m the youngest of three children, and caring for my mom was natural. I’ve fulfilled this mission since being the age of 13 years old. I was stuck. After taking two weeks of leave and nursing her back to health, I knew she couldn’t remain home by herself. She was in no condition to be self-sufficient. She returned home with me. I researched what services she would be eligible to receive (since she’d just begun an early retirement, she received social security). She then began seeing a primary physician, regular physical therapist visits at our home, and frequent visits with the local neurologist (some of the best in the country).
I was blessed to have a supervisor who understood my situation. My husband was deployed to Bosnia and not expected to return until another three months, tasked with caring for a 16 years old daughter and now my mother. My hours needed adjusting. Although our unit didn’t have any night shifts, my supervisor supported me and managed to change my work shift so I could work around the situation. For six months, I worked from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. If there was anything I thought would end my career, it was my having to care for my mother suddenly. The Army wasn’t known to have compassionate leaders, but this time there was one leader who went above and beyond to take care of her troops, and I was so grateful.
I learned that people do care. If we are authentic and share what’s on our hearts, they’re willing to help. I learned that I could do more than I imagined because I was open to possibilities through change. I engaged in many conversations and asked questions that would guide me in finding the right answers or point me to someone who could (and would be willing) help me provide the best caregiving solutions. I learned that by working with a team of specialist, we nourished her back to health, and in the process, I were able to care for myself. It felt less stressful and rewarding at the same time. If you’re a caregiver and you’re looking for resources. Contact your local Department of Aging and request information about your “state waiver programs, local senior centers, Mom’s Meals, and respite care providers.” You can also visit https://www.medicaid.gov. Veterans are eligible for additional services, such as long-term care. So, be sure to ask about these unique services. Having access to these programs can mean the difference between filing bankruptcy (because you’ve depleted all of your savings) and providing the best care in spite of financial your abilities. Caring for a loved one doesn’t have to be independent or deplete your finances to make sure they’re comfortable. Provided they meet the income requirements, the assistance you need is only an application away. Don’t allow frustrations to keep you from pursuing the best care for your loved one.
Sistah Soldier is an inspirational activist who helps veterans, women, and minorities step into their divine purpose for their lives. She’s the CEO, Host, and Producer of SHE VET iNSPIRES Television Show. She can be contacted at www.sistahsoldier.com