Originally Published on HuffingtonPost.com:
On Memorial Day, we’ll remember those who died in service to our country. What can you say? Theirs was the ultimate sacrifice. Their families will never be the same.
But this year, my thoughts are also with our injured service members and their families — the folks who carry the biggest burden when loved ones return, different, broken, hurting.
For most people, Memorial Day marks the start of summer, a time when families come together, hit the pool, and relax. Sure, there are parades, too, and picnics. But no matter how much bunting we drape, we can’t hide the rough patches lurking beneath the surface. These are the issues our families and caregivers see every day.
This weekend, I’ll think about the family of Justin, a Marine whose life was changed forever when an IED broke his leg and ripped into his brain. Justin suffered blindness in one eye, memory loss, and some paralysis, injuries made worse by a car accident here at home. Justin is making progress with the love and support of his doctors and caregivers, and his twin sisters. They’re smart and dedicated and have big hearts. One works for us. They know brain injuries are complex, often much harder to treat than physical injuries. Their brother has big and chronic problems, some of which won’t ever go away. For those who love him, it’s the personality changes that sting the deepest… a son and brother who remains slightly out of reach. This weekend, Justin’s nearest and dearest won’t be together. But they’re determined to keep fighting to make his life better, because, as his father so beautifully says, “he can still love and laugh.”
This weekend, I’ll think about my friend Shannon and her husband, Tim, who was on his sixth tour when he suffered severe brain damage from a mortar attack. Shannon was nurse, mother, and caregiver while her triathlete husband learned to walk and talk again. Today, she heads a group that helps others deal with injury, repair damaged relationships and make families whole again. Shannon’s tackling a sensitive and often overlooked casualty of war — sexual intimacy. Our foundation is helping Shannon’s group, SemperMax, fund a clinical team at Walter Reed to address the needs of those with TBI, PTS, and genitalia injury or loss. Couples attend workshops with professionals who teach them the tools to strengthen relationships strained by trauma. This isn’t a conversation people feel comfortable having, but Shannon is leading it and I’m proud of her. War can fracture relationships. Together, Shannon and her family are determined to mend them.
This weekend, I’ll think of all of the caregivers helping sick, injured or disabled loved ones for whom Memorial Day or any other day is no break at all. They are the incidental victims, ground down by the fatigue of caring for a loved one, often at the expense of their own health.
But we can help. There are programs out there for wounded veterans and caregivers in communities all across the country. Some are small, hidden in hospitals, growing out of someone’s cornfield, or kitchen table. Some were formed by families like Justin’s and Shannon’s. They’re helping the injured heal, find jobs, or just new meaning and purpose. Those are the organizations we love. Our job is to find them, fund them, make them stronger and help them work together.
The heroes and families I’ve met don’t talk about heroism at all. But they do talk about honor, sacrifice and duty. They know that, after we raise the flag, it’s our duty to raise awareness about the wounds of war, and to do what’s necessary for the injured to thrive again. Parades are pretty, and necessary, but the pomp can mask the ugly stuff. Our injured heroes still struggle, long after the blessed day they return to the loving embrace of their families and communities. The way we treat them matters, on Memorial Day, and every other day. After all, it’s the most honorable memorial we can have to those we lost.