What is a Caregiver?

As a caregiver and Elizabeth Dole Fellow, Melissa Comeau shares her thoughts on caregivers and our course, What is a Caregiver?

Why is it important for spouses and family members to take this course?

Knowledge is power.  This more you know about any subject, the better understanding you have.  I found the opportunity to educate myself on a variety of medical conditions and it has made me a better and more effective caregiver.  The knowledge from these courses can help direct you when times get tough.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a caregiver?

I’m a work in progress but I am still trying to learn to find balance in this role. I know that I am only one person and I can’t do it all.  Sometimes when life is overwhelming I forget that part. I need to protect my energy and then learn from and forgive myself quickly for errors I make along the way.

How has your work with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation shaped your outlook as a caregiver?

Being a Fellow with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation has changed my life.  Never have I been so empowered to effect real change in the military and veteran caregiver community.  I have met the some of the greatest caregivers on the planet and am inspired by them daily. I have had the honor of speaking on Capitol Hill and connecting with the greater Military and Veteran community.

What resources have you found most useful as a caregiver?

The VA has a wealth of resources.  I have been lucky to benefit from organizations like Wounded Warrior Project, Operation Homefront and The Military and Veteran Caregiver Network.

Why is it important for caregivers to seek support from organizations such as the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, MOAA, and the VA?

You are only one person trying to manage the care and recovery of someone who demands a lot of time and attention.  You absolutely need people who are willing to help you and will have your back as you navigate complex issues. You can’t do everything yourself. It is OK to ask for help.

How will proper education assist caregivers in using their benefits from these organizations?

It is important to know what is available. Caregivers need to take the time to learn about the benefits and resources that can truly assist them on their caregiving journey.

What advice do you have for new caregivers?

Be gentle with yourself. Make sure you find time to take care of yourself. When it comes to your care recipient, make sure you know all the medication they are on as well as the dosage. I hope that caregivers know that this role does not define them.

When did you first become aware of the divide between civilian and military populations? What was evident to you?

When my husband was deployed to Afghanistan, I had a civilian wife say that her husband went away on business a lot so she “understood” what it was like. I did manage to inform her that it was not the same situation as my husband was in combat and her husband was in a conference room. Then when my husband was medically retired at the age of 35 it was impossible for civilians to understand he was retired and I was his caregiver. We got a lot of comments about our age.

Why do you think the mission of PsychArmor is important?

Compassion starts with understanding.  I think the mission to bridge the military civilian divide is a 2 way bridge and the military has a lot to learn from civilians as well. PsychArmor is a catalyst not only for the conversation but employs real action to help these 2 groups get back to each other. This is the first real example of a resource that can help civilians interact with military populations. I am so grateful for the partnerships and engagement of PsychArmor. Every single person working with them has a heart of gold and a passion to serve.