Although we are many years down the road of recovery from my husband’s severe 2006 war injury, we still think about the comments we received or have faced since then. There are just some things you should or shouldn’t say to a wounded warrior or his or her spouse. The truth is that sometimes when people try to offer advice or words that might help, it ends up being more hurtful than helpful.
If you are a part of the military community or close to many who are, you probably will come in contact with someone who has been injured or the family of an injured servicemember. Let me give you some advice on what shouldn’t and examples of what you can say istead to a wounded warrior or his family..
Don’t say: “At least he got to come home early!”
Do say: “I’m glad you get to see him – I’m so sorry that he has been hurt.”
I would have much rather had him stay in Iraq another six weeks than come home blown-up. We didn’t get the homecoming I was planning and excited for. I had to frantically fly to Walter Reed on military orders and see him broken and bruised lying in a hospital bed. It is not a great thing that he came home early. My husband always worried immensely about leaving his soldiers behind as he was medevaced out. He wanted to complete the tour with them and stand alongside them at their homecoming ceremony.
Don’t say: “Well he looks OK to me.”
Do say: “I hope he is doing better now.”
If a wounded warrior or his wife chooses to share their story with you listen to what is being said. They may share parts of their journey that are hard to recount. Don’t reply with “well he looks OK to me.” While the warrior may look OK because his clothing is covering his shredded leg, prosthetic or has invisible injuries, it doesn’t mean they are just fine.
Don’t say: “Well at least he has both his legs.”
Do say: “Wow, I am so glad that you were able to keep both of your legs, but I am sure you are still struggling with all the pain you go through daily.”
Despite his serious injury, my husband was lucky to be able to keep both of his legs through limb salvage. After learning that, we have had multiple people say to us “well at least he has both of his legs.” Yet while we are thankful every day that his legs were saved, those comments discount all the pain, surgeries and losses that he has experienced. Because he kept both of his legs he will never run again – if he was an amputee he might. A comment recognizing the pain and loss, but still noticing the fact that he was lucky enough to keep his legs would be appropriate and appreciated.
Don’t: Assume a warrior isn’t wounded.
Do: Include everyone. All wounded warriors – whether you can see their injury or not — might need the help or networking that you can offer.
We were hanging out with our amputee friends one day at the Soldier Family Assistance Center at Walter Reed. A Senator came in and was chatting with us. My husband was able to walk some at the time and the Senator looked at my husband and asked “are you relatives of one of the amputees?” I told the Senator that my husband was also a wounded warrior. He seemed shocked until he pulled up his shorts to show him his leg because my husband wasn’t missing a limb. The Senator continued to still to speak to our friends and not continue my husband is the conversation. When he started passing out his cards we had to request one.
Bottom line: be sensitive to the challenges wounded warriors and their caretakers have faced and are continuing to battle. Ask what you can do to make their journey easier. Are there any resources that you can share to help them in their recovery?
These families are going through the toughest times of their lives. A statement that is misspoken can really hurt the family during an already low point. We know that you mean well when you try to respond to our amazing stories of survival, but take a moment to think about your responses before you say them
Don’t know what to say? Just simply say “thank you for your service.” Simply saying “thank you” means a lot.
What would you add to this list?
Cheryl Ganser is the wife of a wounded soldier. In her words: “LIfe has been a series of ups and downs. I have waited on him to return from war, learned how to accept our new normal after injuries, processed grief, and made some of the most amazing friends because of our tragedy. Our story is one of love, loss, hope and perseverance.” Cheryl works for Operation Homefront’s Wounded Warrior Wives program.