With organizations like The Telling ProjectThe Combat Paper Project and The Art of War Project, art has helped many veterans cope with returning to civilian life. But there’s another group that can struggle as much as vets: their caregivers. So a writing workshop program is offering classes and mentorship for military family members to turn their experience into poetry and prose as well.
The Helen Deutsch Writing Workshops, sponsored by the New York-based Writers Guild of America East Foundation, were initially offered to wounded veterans in 2008 and 2009, kicking off with meetings in Columbus, Ohio and San Francisco. Starting in 2011, the organization partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project to sponsor writing classes taught by professional writers (some of whom are veterans) for the caregivers of permanently injured veterans.
The workshops are not therapy — they’re focused on teaching the participants how to craft stories, essays and poems, but many participants find that the writing process helps ease their suffering and sense of isolation.
Sandra Hemenger, whose husband was injured in Iraq, attended a New York City caregivers workshop. “I began to write a book about everything that has happened to us in the past four years,” she tells the Writers Guild of America. “Although I still do not have a lot of time to write, I have a new found love for writing that I never knew existed. For some, they would say our story has taken a bad turn but to us it feels as if the bricks were taken off our chest and we can breathe again. My husband has sensed a change in me since I have been writing. I am no longer keeping everything bottled up inside and I have become a better person because of it.”
Andrea W. Doray of the Denver Post spoke to one of the mentors in the program, Seth Brady Tucker, an Iraq veteran and author of the memoir “Mormon Boy” and the poetry collection “We Deserve the Gods We Ask For.” Tucker led a workshop this month in Denver for participants from around the country, and for the next six months, he’ll continue to assist them with their writing projects.
Tucker tells Doray that as he worked with the caregivers, he struggled “not to break down and cry every 10 minutes,” but he’s hopeful that the writing process that’s helped him since serving as an airborne paratrooper will also enhance the lives of his students.
MORE: How Storytelling Can Bridge the Military-Civilian Divide