Your veteran is alive. Here’s how to celebrate
(Photo: US Army, Staff Sgt Anna Rutherford)

You have seen the post on Facebook certain times a year about a friend’s Alive Day. What is it? How should you approach it with your friends? How do you handle it if it’s your own spouse’s veteran Alive Day?

Alive Days are the anniversaries of the date a combat veteran almost died serving their country. Many have lost brothers and sisters in arms on those very same days. “I was blown up 8 years ago. The Taliban almost took me out. When doctors ask me about my accident, I tell them it was no accident, they were really trying to kill me,” said my husband.

Many veterans have been severely wounded and have had to learn how to cope with their injuries. I have heard doctors and counselors tell both my husband and me that we had to “adjust to the new normal.” I find that term to be one of the worst clichés ever. There is nothing normal about losing parts of your body or losing brain function or being unable to live a day without unrelenting physical pain. How is that normal?

They had to grieve their old way of life and adapt to their new life with physical and/or invisible wounds. A lot of fellow caregivers will post pictures of their veterans and congratulate them on their Alive Day. Most of the comments of happiness and positivity are from friends and family — most of them not really aware how much true suffering goes on in the mind of their veteran.

My husband was severely wounded on our 15 year wedding anniversary. Sadly, two of his friends were killed at the same time. The date itself has become a memorial for him. The first year after his injury, I told him that it was his Alive Day. He said he didn’t feel like celebrating that; all he could think about were his friends.

What can you do going forward? How can you help your spouse dealing with the loss? Encourage them to live in honor of their friends. Tell him you know his friends would want to see him taking steps forward to live the life he was given. Honor them by finding ways to enjoy life again. Get him around his unit buddies whenever possible as talking with peers who experienced the event have a bond that nothing else can come near to in closeness.

If you know during your friend’s injury they suffered casualties, just tell them you are thinking of them. It can be a really tough day. My husband doesn’t believe in celebrating his. However, his son and I are happy he is still alive even though he is no longer able to live his life the way he used to.

Grief and mourning all happen differently for everyone and surviving through an event when others die really can impact the survivor in a difficult way. It is called Survivor’s Guilt and can be dealt with counseling and time to heal from the trauma.

Amorphous grief is something many caregivers and families face. That same person you sent to combat is alive and returned home, but they no longer can act and function in that same way. It is tough to watch someone you love suffer with pain and the frustrations of living life with physical and/or mental health challenges. It can take a long time for them to come to terms with it. Many of us have had to reacquaint ourselves with the new version of our spouses.

What can you do going forward? Live in honor of your friends. You know your friends would want to see you taking steps forward to live the life you are given. Honor them by finding ways to enjoy life again. What is the correct way to go about this? Tell your veteran you are glad he or she is still in your life. Make a connection. Tell the caregiver you are grateful for him or her. An Alive Day is meant to be celebrated; help the veteran in your life do that by letting them know you are glad they are still here.

If you or someone you know is having a crisis, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.

By Tara Plybon,

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