Shortly after Anthony returned home injured in May 2009, my eldest son was deployed: those next six months of his being away added to the already extremely high levels of stress that I was experiencing.
As a means of coping during that first year, I took on the role of supporting Liz and the children. I didn’t have time to ‘feel’ as we lurched from one hospital admission to another. It seemed that every time I put my head up over the parapet, another salvo hit, with news of a return of the infection and either another course of antibiotics or another admission to hospital for surgery. I dreaded the phone ringing.
In March 2010, with the infection creeping up the bone in his left leg, Anthony and Liz agreed to a below-knee amputation. This was a very low point for me, and I found it particularly hard to come to terms with. I had denied the possibility, and it was therefore another big shock.
It was hard not being involved in Anthony’s day-to-day care and not being there when decisions were made and meetings with doctors took place. I knew that supporting Liz and the children was helpful, and I also knew that I wanted desperately to be part of the team caring for Anthony. I appreciate how lucky I am to have a daughter-in-law who made sure, as much as possible, that I was kept in the loop. She was very understanding of my needs and fears, which helped me hugely, but I knew I could not lean on her as she too was suffering and adjusting to their new ‘normality’.
My role was very different from what it would have been had Anthony not been married. My understanding of the military is that any support provided through military channels would be for the spouse and children – the dependents. Whilst I believe that this is how it ought to be, I did feel very alone, and often scared, sad and angry. There was in fact no emotional support offered to Anthony’s dependents, nor to us, his parents and siblings. About 12 months after Anthony’s injury, I started to think about this lack of support and, upon looking into the options available to us, had difficulty in finding any organisations at all offering support to the families of injured servicemen and women.
When Anthony had first came back from Afghanistan, I would receive phone calls from family and friends asking me how he was, and how Liz and the children were… and then they would say goodbye. If people did ask how I was and I started to try and tell them, I would invariably be met with the response of ‘well, you must be so grateful he is alive.’ Of course I was, and I am, but I would have been even more grateful had he not been injured.
I began to believe that I ‘shouldn’t have feelings’ and so I stuffed them down. I stopped telling anyone who asked how I was. A year after Anthony’s injury, I found myself unable even to sit outside in our garden – I would find myself getting palpitations, I had to get up and go and ‘do something’. Why? Because that’s what I had been doing the previous summer, when I had received that initial phone call from Liz. I was, at that time, a psychotherapist and, with a counselling colleague, I was able to check-off a sufficient number of the criteria to see that I was heading for post-traumatic stress issues.
I reached out to national charities for support and, although they offered opportunities for family members to meet and socialise, I wanted to be in an environment that encouraged family members to be proactive in their own recovery, not dependent on others organising things for them where they would be passive recipients.
Because of my profession, I knew about the power of self-help and group-support, so I met up with two mothers in similar circumstances. I found great comfort from those meetings; at that point I knew that what was needed was local ‘self-help’ support for families and loved ones of those injured in service.
I decided that I wanted to develop my ideas and take this concept out into the community so in February 2012, I launched The Ripple Pond, with the two main aims:
• to take away isolation
• to foster independence, and autonomy in order to aid recovery from secondary trauma