What I learned about love by working with veterans

I have always felt strongly about supporting our nation’s military. I respect those who are willing to defend our country and sign their name on that dotted line, knowing the sacrifice and risk that entails. While I was growing up, my experience with the military was pretty limited to news stories and movies.

But over the last few years I have been lucky enough to work closely with service members and their families in a series of different capacities, and the prior respect I had has grown tenfold. I have learned a great deal about the people who serve our country and what love and sacrifice truly means.

The veterans I work with are primarily severely wounded. They have lost limbs and suffered traumatic combat-related injuries. At first, I’ll admit, that was what I noticed about them. I noticed their wheelchairs. I noticed their prosthetics. I noticed their spouses and their kids and thought, “Wow, it is so horribly sad that this family has to go through this.”

Again, much has changed since. While I do still wish these families, many of whom I have come to consider family of my own, had never gone through all they have, I realize there is so much more to notice than the physical.

In my time with these veterans, I have learned what real love is from these families. It isn’t about how many likes your couple photo gets on Facebook. It isn’t bragging about your next family vacation. Love is being there by someone’s side in the hardest moments of their life. Love is about showing up and fighting right alongside them. Love is realizing that the life you thought you were going to have may have turned out entirely different, and a hell of a lot harder than you planned, but you are okay with it, because you are just happy to have the person you love alive and with you.

I know from the couples I have witnessed that honest, genuine, raw love exists. I know now that if you found the right person for you, love really can conquer even the most challenging of obstacles.

These veterans and their families have taught me it isn’t the circumstances in your life that define you; it is how you react to those circumstances that makes you the person you are. It is no secret that the veterans, spouses, and caregivers I have worked with have been through horrible circumstances. Not every day is a triumph, and no days are particularly “easy,” but they continue on. Yes, they deal with these injuries and yes, they will have to do so every day for the rest of their lives, but that is just one aspect of w ho they are.

They raise their children, they go to school, they build their homes, and they rebuild their lives. They create a “new normal” with their families, where they grow and thrive and continue to lead in their communities. They are out competing in marathons, climbing mountains, speaking to huge audiences, advocating, helping, and continuing to serve others every day.

I have learned countless invaluable lessons about life, living, and becoming the kind of person I want to be from these individuals, and for that I am forever grateful.

Ashley Twigg is an event planner who has spent the last few years working with military nonprofits. She is a lover of loud laughing, car singing, and Googling places she hopes to visit. After a spontaneous stint on the West Coast she is back home in Massachusetts wanderlusting and plotting her next adventure. 

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