Coronado resident Barbara McNally is a physical therapist who works with wounded warriors. For years she has seen firsthand the physical effects that war can take on the human body, but it was an alarming encounter on the Coronado Bridge that really brought to her attention the emotional side effects of war, how the human mind can be just as scarred from battle, if not more.
She recalls that heartbreaking day vividly saying, “When I was driving across the Coronado Bridge on my way home a year ago, just daydreaming, the car in front of me stopped. A man in his twenties, well dressed, good looking, got out. He looked right at me. I wasn’t alarmed. Then he jumped off the bridge in front of me.”
McNally continues sharing details about the somber event she witnessed that day. “I did some digging, and I found out he was a veteran, and he had children, and he had a wife. I didn’t notice that he was an amputee because I just saw his face. I didn’t notice his arm, that he was an amputee.”
As she learned more about the man with whom she locked eyes with her before he ended his life, McNally realized she wanted to do something to help wounded warriors and their families.
She had already published her first book, a memoir titled Unbridled, but witnessing a veteran’s suicide inspired her to write her second book, which will be released in October. Wounded Warrior Wounded Wife is McNally’s upcoming book, and it tells the stories of real wives who care for their wounded warrior husbands. McNally says, “Where there’s a wounded warrior, there’s a wounded wife. These women have inspirational stories, and they are positive stories. They help their husbands get the help that they need so they don’t go into dark depressions.” She interviewed hundreds of wounded warrior wives, and focused on telling the stories of the women who had “compelling stories, who had changes in their lives or turning points for the better.”
These wounded warrior wives are nothing like the superficial women you see on “reality” television shows such as The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Unlike the women on those drama packed shows, wounded warrior wives aren’t “on” for a season. If there actually was a reality show entitled The Real Housewives of Wounded Warriors, viewers wouldn’t see women obsessed with putting themselves first. Instead viewers would “meet” women who have been thrust into the roles of caregivers, women who have to put the needs of their families above all else as they learn to figure out what the “new normal” will be for their marriages, their families, and for themselves.
When a woman suddenly finds herself in the role of caregiver, life obviously changes, but it’s the subtle changes that are often the most surprising. People naturally will ask caregivers how their loved ones are doing. While caregivers understand the good intentions behind the questions, they begin to wonder, “Does anyone care how I’m doing?” The basic conversation starter, “How are you?” suddenly becomes a question that caregivers are rarely ever asked. “Silent heroes,” is what McNally calls these wounded warrior wives.
This is where Barbara McNally’s Mother, Lover, Fighter, Sage Foundation comes in, giving support to caregivers. McNally explains, “I started the foundation to help women through events and seminars to live out all their dimensions in positive ways.” What exactly does she mean when she makes reference to dimensions? McNally explains, “I think it is confusing and overwhelming at times because we don’t want to say, ‘Oh, we can have it all.’ We’ve all heard that. What I’m saying is a little different in approaching it that no, nobody gets it all. We can’t travel down every road in life, but we can choose how we want to individually live out our dimensions in positive ways.”
“The military is in our back yard. I’m a physical therapist working with the wounded warriors. I noticed a void in help for the wives of wounded warriors so I started a support group for them,” McNally says. She adds, “The Mother is the nurturer. Most women are wives, caring for their children, sometimes their parents, sometimes a wounded warrior. Sometimes the “Lover” gets buried. We forget about ourselves, and forget what made us excited about life and our own passions. I started S.P.A. Day so these women could come and just have fun. One day without worrying about taking care of anybody. I call it Nurturing the Nurturers.”
When most people hear spa day, they think, “Oooooh! I want to go to a spa day,” but S.P.A. Day is different than what most people envision. On April 24, 2016 thirty wounded warrior wives will be treated to a S.P.A. Day at the Hotel del Coronado. They will be pampered for sure, but that’s not all.
S.P.A. stands for “Support, Purpose, Appreciation”. According to the Mother, Lover, Fighter, Sage Foundation website, “S.P.A. Days are for the spouses of wounded warriors, offering caregivers a much-needed day of relaxation and self-care. S.P.A. Days are a day to honor and thank our unsung heroes, caregivers of wounded warriors. S.P.A. Day gives women the opportunity to enjoy being a woman, bond with other women going through similar transitions, focus on their own care, and refresh and recharge. S.P.A. Day includes massages, facials, swim and sauna, guest speakers and lunch by the pool.” McNally says, “It’s a day for them to come get the resources they need. It’s all for them.”
S.P.A. Day also focuses on helping the Fighter dimension of these wounded warrior wives. McNally says that the foundation helps women in setting goals and helping them with their challenges. Operation Family Caregiver (OFC) is co-sponsoring the S.P.A. Day at the Hotel del Coronado with the Mother, Lover, Fighter, Sage Foundation. OFC coaches families of active duty and veterans to manage the difficulties they face when their family member comes home from war, and teaches problem solving skills to military caregivers. “Operation Family Caregiver comes, and they have tools that help the women with whatever challenges they’re facing to overcome those challenges. They don’t do it at S.P.A. Day because that’s our fun day, but they have chance to make a connection with a counselor if they choose to work with her. There are tools they [OFC] teach all of us women to help us meet the challenges we’re facing, and overcome them or reach our goals,” she explains.
The Sage dimension is also addressed at the wounded warriors wives’ S.P.A. Day. “That is our inner wisdom. They [wounded warrior wives] have inspirational stories. They are the sages. Often we think of the sage as a wise, old woman, and I’m saying, ‘Let’s look at it not linear like we’re lovers when we’re young, and as we’re older, we’re wise women.’ I’m saying, ‘We can have all these dimensions within us,'” McNally says.
McNally believes wholeheartedly in the inner strength of these “multidimensional” wounded warrior wives, saying, “When we learn about their challenges, we think, ‘Yeah, I can overcome my challenges.” She compliments them saying, “They make me want to be a better version of myself.” According to McNally, these women understand the emotional cost of war, and have prevailed in inspirational ways as they help their wounded warriors recover.
For this upcoming S.P.A. Day 300 women applied, but McNally can only accept 30 at a time because of the finances. McNally’s hope is that as the Mother, Lover, Fighter, Sage Foundation grows, they can offer more S.P.A. Days to wounded warrior wives. She says, “I would love to have S.P.A. Days in every city. It is growing. We’re in L.A., and we’ll be in Georgia so my dream is coming true.”
How did McNally and her foundation decide which women would be selected for this upcoming S.P.A. Day? “I try to pick women who haven’t had the chance to come before,” she says, speaking of the previous S.P.A. Days her foundation has offered. Are the women who will be attending the S.P.A. Day from the San Diego area? “It started out just San Diego based,” McNally says, adding, “but now it’s growing to all over the United States.” Some of the women may have been stationed in the San Diego area with their husbands at one point, but after transitioning from the military, many of the wounded warrior families have moved, often returning to the places they originally called home.
Co-sponsor Lorie Van Tilburg of Southern Caregiver Resource Center will be the guest speaker at S.P.A. Day on April 24th. The SCRC is a nonprofit organization that provides free support services for family caregivers caring for adults with chronic and/or disabling conditions. A key program of SCRC is Operation Family Caregiver.
McNally is also looking for other people who are interested in helping make this upcoming S.P.A. Day a success. In addition to looking for motivational speakers, McNally is searching for people who are willing to share their skills such as teaching yoga or offering their professional financial advice. McNally encourages anyone who is interested in lending his or her skillsets to contact her at email@example.com. “If they’re too busy, and don’t have the time, they can go to my website, and sponsor one woman to have one S.P.A. Day so she can come and get the resources she needs,” McNally says.
In addition to the upcoming S.P.A. Day, McNally is also sponsored a table for wounded warriors and their spouses at the Coronado Salute to the Military Ball, which was held on April 16, 2016 at the Hotel del Coronado. “It’s a fun night to honor our heroes and unsung heroes,” McNally, who was in attendance at the ball, says.
McNally encourages people who are considering reaching out to wounded warriors and their families through the many support organizations, including recreational activities, to do so. She says, “We all want to follow our passions, and do what excites us. When people want to know how they can help, I ask them, ‘What excites you?’ I encourage them to help in that way.”
The Coronado community and the wounded warrior wives are so very fortunate that helping other women is what excites Barbara McNally. She and her foundation truly exemplify Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
We look forward to October of 2016, when Wounded Warrior Wounded Wife is released, and when McNally’s Mother, Lover, Fighter, Sage Foundation will offer its next S.P.A. Day at the Hotel del Coronado!
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The San Diego Foundation
2508 Historic Decatur Rd. #200
San Diego, CA 92106.
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