Where are you located?
I am the mother, full-time caregiver and 14-year health care advocate for a 100% service-connected Navy veteran son. Ken and I reside in Jayess, Mississippi, a tranquil, rural area of Walthall County, where regardless of real or perceived adversities, we awaken each morning to the songs of joy espoused by numerous species of birds, the foreign murmuring of numerous insects and a “ribbit” or two from a lonely frog. I believe the “Fowl Choir” serves to encourage and substantiate that the universe is unfolding each day as it should. However, regardless of the songs attesting to our peaceful surroundings, the melodies have not dissipated the raging battle within my son’s mind. Ironically, Ken’s chronic isolation within such a tranquil environment can only be deemed the “chaos of peace.” Although I am honored to serve a prisoner of brokenness, I often reminisce on the difference in my son before he crumpled under the heavy weight of freedom. Then, the voices of the “Fowl Choir” remind me that “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” Thus, it is only about this minute, this hour and this day in Jayess that matters.
Where did your veteran receive the majority of his/her medical treatment?
Ken and I first entered the halls of the New Orleans V. A. Medical Center on November 26, 2002. While feeling intimidated by my lack of knowledge about the mental illness causing my son to speak to the dead, visualize maggots consuming blood and dead caucuses in his bed causing him to sleep on the hard floor, giving life to inanimate objects, intense paranoia and wearing earplugs to lessen the 24-hour-a-day plague of cruel voices in his head, I was certain that I was entering a military engagement on domestic soil that would not be won by the skilled hands of VA doctors alone. Thus, I enlisted the all-powerful hands of God to support my son and me, a strategic act that had worked for me for so many years while raising a son into manhood.
Further, after the winds of Hurricane Katrina forcefully dis-enrolled my son’s care in New Orleans in 2005, I sought quality health care for Ken at the G. V. “Sonny” Montgomery V. A. Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, a 4-hour round trip commute from the caring arms of our abode in Jayess. After recognizing that the ratings and benefits process utilized by the government were strategically designed to be prolonged in their issuance, I also enlisted the help of a private psychiatrist/medical doctor in Jackson. However, the value of a 100% rating was irrelevant to a son fighting each day for saneness; thus, in 2006 my son danced a second time with suicide.
Which branch of service is your family affiliated with?.
My career prior to Ken’s illness included being a judicial minute clerk and court crier for 15 years at Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans in New Orleans. During the same year that my son’s illness commenced, I graduated as an unconventional student from Tulane University with a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in the fields of Media Art and Paralegal Studies. During my studies at Tulane, I developed a firm grasp for writing in multiple genres. Little did I know, my world shadowed by mental illness would demand that I utilize screenwriting to build and create worlds that I could only dream. Of course, the heaviness of suffering and impairment caused by war renders disabled veterans unable to maneuver the benefits and compensation maze of a bureaucratic agency with entrenched, intrinsic disdain for those it has legally mistreated for decades. Thus, my 14-year tenure as health care advocate for my son includes filing briefs as long as 65 pages while trying to secure accurate and adequate benefits for him, for I know the quality of Ken’s life also impacts the quality of the lives of his two awesome teenage sons.
How has caregiving impacted your day to day routine and your personal life?
With the inception of Ken’s illness, my career goals of becoming a produced screenwriter were placed on hold. Although I have channeled the many stressful years of caregiving into completing several screenplays and treatments, I have not had the energy necessary to nurture or sustain several friendships endowed with 25-year investments. Further, I find that just as society does not try to understand mental illness, many times if one keeps a “problem” too long, friends cannot or are unwilling to support that caregiver friend for too long. Even relationships with close relatives are altered or obliterated because of one’s caregiving role. Oftentimes, other close relatives grow to resent the care and attention given to the debilitated veteran because their needs for a relationship cannot be honored the way it was before the caregiving role commenced. However, with the enlistment of prayer and meditation, I am determined to keep my peace, even if in the midst of “peaceful chaos.”
Besides caring for your veteran, what other interests/jobs/passions do you pursue now? What are your personal interests?
The topography of my life has been shaped by the heavy weight of freedom. As a mid-life occupation, caregiving has enabled me to find strength in struggles, opportunity in relentless opposition and justice in bureaucratic tyranny. However, my passion as a screenwriter has been resurrected. I am determined to become a produced screenwriter. I will have many choices of actors and actresses from the caregivers who are walking the runway and working in the trenches of life each day.
How has the QoLF helped you to renew your passion in your interests or to change something to improve your quality of life?
The Quality of Life Foundation is a loud voice for families who have become bodies of brokenness due to the heavy weight of freedom. The art of caregiving entails balancing a quality of life for the caregiver and the veteran. However, the role is so intense that the caregiver is often on the “short end of the stick” for any type of care for his/herself. After a hail storm and straight-line winds damaged the roof on my home in March of this year, the insurance proceeds were whittled down by the insurance company to the point that I almost didn’t have enough to put a tarp on my roof let alone replace the entire roof. That’s when I was referred to the Quality of Life Foundation, a compassionate and empathetic organization that enabled me to replace my damaged roof utilizing even more durable architectural shingles. The Quality of Life Foundation realizes that caregivers are battling each day for themselves and their veterans; thus, they seek to neutralize the enemies in our lives with one kind act at a time.
Do you have a favorite inspirational or motivational quote?
Because my journey has been filled with so much weight on my shoulders, I have often buckled to my knees. While there, I have learned to pray and take comfort in the Word of God that says, “…The righteous shall never be forsaken, nor his (her) seed begging bread.”
What advice would you give a new caregiver?
The dichotomy of war is not just the weight of freedom for which injured veterans succumb; it is the continued engagement on domestic soil fought by caregivers, as well. That domestic engagement is complicated by bureaucratic injustice. However, after 14 years, I have just come to the realization that the wonderful son I once knew has been replaced by the wonderful son I know now. To realize that, I had to buckle to my knees again and relinquish all of what I felt should be into what is. With that surrender, I know that I have to care for myself in order to provide adequate care for my son. Further, you can find your purpose in your pain if you remember to go outside and listen to the “Fowl Choir.”
What would you like to tell the average American?
Each soldier in the military carries the weight of freedom for over 300+ million Americans, along with promoting democracy in foreign countries, as well. When a soldier collapses from the weight of freedom, his/her injuries traumatically affect his/her entire family. Yet, the average American takes for granted the freedoms they enjoy each day. Stop! Your life is of no more value than the soldier who carries your freedom on his/her back each day. Now, his/her family is carrying the soldier injured by your heavy weight of freedom.