Michael Ditto’s admission that he needed help was a welcome relief for his wife, Theresia. That made it easier for her to deal with some difficult choices she had to make, such as leaving college to support him.
Michael was a Marine who served in combat in Iraq and had multiple classified deployments. In 2005, he was injured during a triple suicide bombing.
For the past six years, Theresia has been her husband’s caregiver, helping him cope with the effects of a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and injuries to his back and knees. When he awakens with nightmares, she reaches out to soothe him, reminding him that he’s home, not on a battlefield somewhere in some distant location.
Theresia has learned to be realistic about spreading herself too thin, to be patient, and to cherish the good, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. She wants to dispel any misconceptions people may have about caregivers who they perceive to be unusually strong, able to cope better than others and despite all the challenges, have it all together.
Theresia knows from first-hand experience that caregiving is difficult for anyone, and sometimes what is most needed is an ear to listen, a shoulder to lean on or a helping hand. One Christmas, a full holiday meal and presents for their children were left on their doorstep. It meant so much to her that their children would have Christmas that year.
Theresia sees being named a Dole Caregiver Fellow as a milestone, inspiring her to help bring attention to the needs of those who care for service members and veterans, even as she copes with the daily challenges of her own family’s life.