By Melissa Comeau, Elizabeth Dole Fellow
In June 2014, The Elizabeth Dole Fellows from several states met at the Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania for a team building retreat sponsored by Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). What was sure to be a fun filled weekend with Military and Veteran Caregivers transcended into a very profound and meaningful opportunity to bond.
The RAND study commissioned by The Elizabeth Dole Foundation identified that only 47% of post 9/11 military and veteran caregivers have a caregiving network. More than half of the caregivers of military members and veterans don’t know other caregivers in their situation. When I became my husband’s caregiver, I found myself feeling very alone and thought no one would be able to understand what I was going through. I searched and searched for support and was lucky to have found online communities of military and veteran caregivers. Many of the support figures I found online are Elizabeth Dole Fellows and I treasure them for who they have been for me and continue to be as caregivers, friends, mentors, advocates and leaders. This retreat was a chance for me to meet face to face with the other Fellows and just hang out. Spending real time, having deep and meaningful conversations, laughing at the situations we have found ourselves in, tearing up as others shared such personal stories, just being together. For me, this made every second of the retreat valuable.
At the Seven Springs Resort, the Fellows were treated to education opportunities in the areas of communication and resiliency. We took full advantage of the professionals before us and asked many questions. The counsellors, Teri and Mike were also available for one on one attention and I know I was helped immensely with my concerns. Wounded Warrior Project also had Michael, a VA benefits liaison available for concerns about VA benefits. We were lucky to have such high quality support at this retreat.
The retreat also offered a chance for fun and relaxation. I signed up for Zip-lining because I wanted to try something new. I needed a little adventure. It was an honor to help the other Fellows overcoming the fear of heights and the unknown. Most of us will never forget our first Zip-line and the ladies we shared that experience with. I am proud we all survived. The retreat was also full of opportunities to relax and practice some self-care. The spa at the resort hosted ladies who wanted to be pampered. I admit I needed this as well so I treated myself to a massage and a pedicure. The chance to relax and feel special was precious to me. All too often, I put my caregiving duties, my motherly duties and the rest of our life ahead of myself. This gave me the time and place to take care of myself in a way that is near impossible at home.
The Fellows and I had fun at the team building exercises. We practiced problem-solving on a giant log, played triangle tag, sang songs and bonded as friends. We were lucky to have staff from The Elizabeth Dole Foundation with us on this journey. Both Carol and Lindi were there experiencing all of this with us. We had question and answer sessions, spoke about the goals of the foundation and got more of a sense of our role within the foundation. The retreat would not have been the same without them. I feel a more personal connection with everyone who attended this retreat and that was exactly the reason I wanted to attend.
Lastly, I have to thank Wounded Warrior Project for all of their support. The ladies running this retreat were exceptional. Andrea, Lisa and Angela are so wonderful and their involvement on the retreat made it second to none. All in all, I take away great memories, stronger friendships and a positive sense of wellbeing from this trip. I am so grateful to The Elizabeth Dole Foundation for this amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to see all the great things to come from the Foundation and its Fellows.