(92) Speak Life

Molly, the service dog

Golly, Miss Molly

A Blog about a Service Dog and her Veteran with PTSD

(Supporting the Veteran and the Family Caregiver)

Have you seen the commercial that goes something like this?

“Did you know you can save 15 percent on car insurance?”

“Everyone knows that.”

“Yes, but did you know that words can hurt?”

They pan to a scene of a man on a horse talking to a woman, saying he is leaving to do manly things. As he rides away, the words, “the end,” appear on the screen. The “E” in “end” drops down and knocks the man off his horse.

Words Can Hurt

The more time I spend time with the wives of disabled Veterans, the more I hear about the emotional and verbal abuse many suffer from their spouses with PTSD. As well, I have talked with many older Veterans who live alone, abandoned by their spouses, children, and other relatives because of the Veteran’s verbal and emotional abuse.

I learned from personal experience that words can hurt. I am as guilty as my husband when it comes to inflicting pain by words. In my case, my husband also accuses me of raising my voice. He does not have to raise his voice because his voice already booms and his 6’4” frame does not require elevation of voice to make a point. Just his size intimidates.

What Comes from my Mouth

Christian music artist, TobyMac sings “Speak Life.” His song suggests that what we say can kill the one we speak to harshly or it can give life through encouraging, loving words. Speaking positive words to someone gives life.

Molly teaches us this lesson every day, as she ignores either one of us when we raise our voice in anger or yell a command at her in frustration. When William and I have an argument, she moves her girth between us and nudges the louder of the two of us into a corner. When we finish, she always goes to William and places her head in his lap.

Our Veterans put up with so much and experienced the unspeakable in their military service. For many, when they returned home, the nightmares of war surfaced in anger and hostile behavior. Those closest to them suffer. Even with therapy and medication, the anger lies just beneath the surface. Without provocation, words that hurt propel from their mouths as quickly as the blades of a Blackhawk rotate.

My Veteran never lifts a hand against me and has never threatened to harm me. His words of anger hurt, however, and cause me to either fight back or retreat. After a while, I look for a boulder to crawl under—one that is not inhabited by a squirrel family. Then I sob.

Options for Speaking Life 

I cannot erase the anger or experiences of my Veteran. Likely, I never will change him. Hopefully, I will spend the rest of my life with him so I best learn to deal with it without letting it tear me apart. As I see it, here are my options:

  1. Get counseling to help me cope
  2. Get my own service dog who will put his head in my lap after an argument
  3. Wear headphones and smile at everything my Veterans says
  4. Move a cot next to the granite boulder in the front yard and make peace with the squirrel family
  5. Eat more cookies

What I found that helps me is speaking life wherever I go. I love watching faces light up as I say something kind to a stranger. It might be a compliment about a scarf, hair color, or commenting on the voice of a young man who I believe would make an awesome radio personality one day. Calling these things out encourages and inspires. It sends me home feeling joy at the responses of strangers. The best speaking life words I know of I learned from my husband. By his example, I learned to say, “God bless you,” or “May you have a blessed day.” My husband even taught me to say both phrases in Spanish.

Sunshine for a Day

I wish there was a comforting word I could offer to make it easier to endure the hardships of caregiving. Keeping healthy and staying positive are the two things we must do for ourselves to continue caring for our Veteran. While you may not have a spouse who speaks life, you can speak life to him and others. In return, you will receive a blessing. You may even walk away with enough sunshine from the encounter to get you through another day.

Post your Comments: 

What do you do as a caregiver to cope when harsh words are spoken to you? Please reply below. 

About the blogger 

Dr. Penelope “Penny” Culbreth-Graft is a retired city manager and graduate professor. She lives with her disabled Vietnam Veteran husband, William, and his service dog, Molly, on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. She writes, paints, cares for her husband, and spends time with her granddaughter.