Vail Veterans Program caregivers session cares for those who care for our heroes | VailDaily.com

Vail Veterans Program caregivers session cares for those who care for our heroes

Editor's note: This Vail Veterans Program caregivers group preferred to be a quoted as a group, a request the Vail Daily was happy to oblige. That's why all the quotes are "they said" — because they all did.

VAIL — Because it takes one to know one, the Adorable Dozen were teary-eyed best friends before they left the lobby as they checked in at The Lodge at Vail recently.

"We can express ourselves to each other, because only we know each other," they said.

Fourteen women were in town last week with the Vail Veterans Program session — all caregivers for combat veterans who were injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as heroic as those soldiers are the people who take care of them.

For many of the women, it was their first time away from their families since their husbands were wounded in combat.

"You bring together this group of women who have these shared experiences and the relationships form almost instantly," said Cheryl Jensen, founder and CEO of the Vail Veterans Program. "Building this community and creating these friendships is so important. When things get hard at home and you need someone to talk to, you'll have someone."

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Most of these women are caring for husbands and living independently in communities, away from the hospital.

"When we left the safety of the hospital grounds and some of us moved away, it was incredibly traumatizing," they said. "Your support system is gone. You can call and text, but that physical interaction with someone who gets the crazy that you endure every day, it's valuable."

Push and pull

Some husbands pushed their caregivers to come to Vail. Others were reluctant and a little insecure.

Some of these women were also a little unsure about the trip. Getting away for even a few hours can be both wonderful and terrible. They deal with some social pressure when outsiders say things like, "What? You left him?!"

"You try these shoes for a day and seen how well they fit," they said.

The caregivers tell themselves things like: "I have to be back in two hours. … My husband needs his pain medications. … Someone has to take care of the kids. … I'm going to sit down with a bunch of catty women?"

But then they entered that hotel lobby and were among kindred spirits.

"We were all talking about the same things. Having life after tragedy," they said. "It wasn't until I reached the point of being self-destructive that professionals had to intervene basically give me permission to make my needs part of our daily life."

It's also good for the guys to be on their own for a while, they said, and to take care of the kids and the house. There's the two-year-old who needed some consistent attention. Father and daughter did fine, but mom had a little separation anxiety that first day in Vail. She texted her guy six times before lunch to make sure everything was OK.

He responded, "I love you, but you're not supposed to be texting me."

Occasional conflict

A modified law of physics applies. Any time two moveable objects occupy the same space — such as husbands and wives — they occasionally bang into each other and conflicts ensue.

"Do all husbands do this, or is he like this because he's injured?" they asked each other.

Yes to both, they decided.

"Yeah, your husband's injured but he can still be a jerk … or they won't pick up after themselves," they said.

"The first six months he wouldn't pick up his laundry and I sort of swooned, 'Oh, I'll get that. He's injured.' One of the other women said 'Uh uh, girl. He can pick that up himself.'"

Outsiders would gasp when they heard that, they said.

Returners

Some of these 14 caregivers have been here with the Vail Veterans Program before. Some haven't.

Some were at the Intrepid Center when Jensen reached out, breaking through that isolation.

"We were asking, 'What the hell did you just ask us to do? We're going snowboarding?!'" they said.

One woman went to Disneyland last month and her husband walked the whole thing. Their kids were with them and no one gave them any out-of-the-ordinary looks.

"I thought, 'What? That happens?! You can go places? You can do things?'"

Yes. Yes, you can.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

About the Vail Veterans Program

• The Vail Veterans Program provides rehabilitative sports programs to United States military personnel who have been severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the troops that support those efforts.

• The program is open to wounded warriors and their families, building confidence and hope through skiing, snowboarding and outdoor summer recreational activities.

• The Vail Veterans Program is a volunteer organization and hosts wounded military members and their families free of charge.

• Send donations or contact them at: P.O. Box 6473, Vail, Colorado 81658; 970-476-4906; email: vailveteransprogram@gmail.com

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