Friday, April 26, 2019

Caregivers connect and heal with words during UTSA workshop

Caregivers connect and heal with words during UTSA workshop

(Jan. 8, 2019) -- Writing is bringing together strangers who have shared experiences as caregivers in a special series sponsored by the UTSA Center for Military Families.

The “Writing Back to You” Caregiver Writing sequence started in July 2018 and provides a safe space for participants to connect, express themselves and heal through the power of the written word.

Thomas Porter, the workshop’s writing director, said he got involved with the project because he wanted to hear the unique stories of military caregivers.

“I had recently experienced the death of my sister, who was a hairdresser in Bandera, Texas, and I needed a place to share and learn,” said Porter. “As caregivers share their stories, I enjoy the friendship. We discuss the rippling effects of heartbreak and loss. We also explore concrete plans, projects and possibilities that keep each of us moving forward.”

Porter said an unwritten rule of the program is that everyone can share the unvarnished truth about their lives without being judged.

“Although, we are a writing workshop and one purpose is to write, we also focus on intense listening. Sharing is intense, truthful and helpful,” said Porter. “After sharing, we write, using a prompt that has emerged from our discussion or from prior meetings. Our writing and sharing usually address how to cope with our past and use our present experiences to move forward with specific projects and plans for the future.”

Colleen Saffron, a fiction writer who drives from Killeen to participate in the program at the UTSA Downtown Campus, said she enjoys the camaraderie of sharing stories with each other.

“Writing allows us to express things that we are not always at liberty to say. Our feelings, our frustrations and our grief can be raw and overwhelming,” said Saffron. “It’s not comfortable for others and, to be honest, does not fit the narrative of ‘hero’ families, but it’s a difficult road we are on and this allows us to be a voice. Caregivers are often voiceless, everything is usually focused on the veteran. I often feel like an accessory to my husband’s wounds.”

When asked what some of the challenges military caregivers face that others might not know about, Saffron responded, “The hours of waiting. At appointments, for their medication to work. For a crisis. For an event or a need. It’s mind numbing at times, just waiting for whatever happens next. You develop a tension because you are always waiting for something.”

Another participant, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “It is not uncommon, for caregivers to not have anyone in their immediate family or circle of friends to share some of their most painful experiences from their journey. Many in the community honor and celebrate military members and their service, yet they cannot truly know the many hardships the caregivers experience.”

Another participant, Sabine Ward, a Special Engagement Representative with Mission 22, an organization that works to reduce the incredibly high number of veteran suicides, said that the workshops are filled with great conversation and deep admiration for each other.

“Life may have dealt us each challenging cards, but it is what we do and how we each deal with it, that sets us apart. Here, I find a safe, nurturing environment that empowers me, and I leave with a ‘full tank’ ready to face my world once again,” explained Ward.

The UTSA Center for Military Families is supported by the UTSA Institute for P-20 Initiatives. The Institute intends to use its contacts and resources to help grow the Center and offer more workshops like these in the future.

“This program exemplifies UTSA’s role as an urban serving university and the power of using research and practical means to better understand how to mediate challenging circumstances in the lives of military families,” said Carmen Fies, associate professor in the UTSA Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching.

- Kara Soria

 Learn more about UTSA’s Center for Military Families.

Learn more about UTSA Institute for P-20 Initiatives.

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