It’s a warm Summers evening and the sun is setting over the mountains. I look out the back screen door and take a deep breath of the fragrant air. I close my eyes and am taken back to the same smell in the air so many years ago.
It’s a warm evening in August 1996. I am sitting out on my front steps crying, wishing my children would just fall asleep. The smell of fresh cut grass lingers in the air. I hear my neighbors laughter from their back yard. The sound of a family playing outside late into the warm Summer night. I envy them.
It had been another long day of being a Navy wife and mom 24/7. Jeff had been deployed several months of his six-month deployment to the Persian Gulf. It was his third long deployment in our 8 years together. He had been gone so much before the deployment too, doing work ups and overnight duty section rotations. I missed him. Our children missed him. The days seemed eternal and the nights too short. I was tired and emotional.
In those early days of our Navy career it was easy to feel sorry for myself. Considering all that I had to do alone. Everything fell on me. Everyone relied on me. Some days were overwhelming. Sick children, broken down cars, not enough money in the bank, and not enough sleep. As they grew older, I tried to stay on top of homework deadlines, school activities and sports. Trying to meet the emotional and physical needs of three growing kids when my tank was on empty. Some days were easy and some days I wish I could do over. But I couldn’t have done it without the support of some great friends, my faith, and the extended family that would swoop in and save my sanity when I felt like running off to Antarctica…
Military spouses, we do it because we LOVE our husbands/wives and we LOVE our children. We do it because we are grateful for our nation. The responsibilities will either make your marriage stronger or it will tear it apart. It is never easy, never. It’s a choice. And with the hardships there is also great reward. Just show up to a homecoming. I wish all marriages could experience that longing. It’s part of the glue that binds military families together.
After almost 26 years as a Navy wife, it is still not easy to be away from the man that I love. In fact, in many ways it’s harder. Our children are grown; our house is empty of the demands. I have more time than ever to nurture myself, my husband and our relationship. This is our season to get to know our mid-life selves, find new hobbies and go places together. I long for his presence now, more than ever. Not because I need help around the house, or could use a break from demands. But because he is my best friend, has been since we were 21. The one who knows me better than anyone else, and yet has so much more to learn. We are getting older, we can’t help that, Lord knows. It’s evident every day. We have known many couples in recent years that’ve unexpectedly lost the love of their life. It’s heartbreaking. As much as we want forever, none of us are promised a long life together.
Stick with me here, I’m not trying to depress you all!
I had a “Ahh-ha” moment one day not too long ago as I was driving to Portland for a family event without Jeff. He was out to sea for a few weeks at the time. I had a brief twang of self-pity on I-5 South (in your most depressing voice…). “Here I am again, all alone, he’s always gone…blah blah blah”. But as fast as it came over me, it passed and I was brought to tears with the realization that my sweet husband has missed SO much more than I could ever dream of.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself!” I demanded.
In his almost 28 year career with the US Navy, he has been away nearly 11 full years. Add up all the long deployments, work ups, duty days and few years living apart. 11 years! 4015 days give or take a few. 4015 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Multiply that by 3 beautiful little children and he missed 12,045 precious hugs around his neck. 4015 bedtime stories and sounds of “goodnight daddy.” He missed his birthdays, kids birthdays, our anniversaries and holidays. Trips to the pumpkin patch, Christmas tree farm and Easter egg hunts. First steps, first foods, first days of school, first dates, first dance, first day of college, cross country trips, family vacations.
I was there; I was a part of all of those special moments. Yes, I was without my husband, but I was there. I felt those little arms and smelled those sweet necks. I have those moments in my memory. He only has the memories of being told and some photo’s to share in the excitement.
It’s my desire to never feel sorry for myself for being alone as a military wife again. It’s been my privilege to support this man as he served and did his job. His sacrifices have allowed me to be a stay home mom and wife for many years, so that I only worked when I needed to or desired to. He gave when I’m sure his tank was empty. He supported me when I went through depression and anxiety. Sure, sometimes he disconnected emotionally, because he HAD to, so that it wouldn’t hurt as much to say goodbye to his family. So that he could focus on the task of serving our Nation. So that he could do his job well. That could break a lot of men and women, even the toughest nuts. They have to learn to separate their emotions, and say good bye….over and over again. What a difficult responsibility!
I close the back door. I check all the locks. And I crawl into bed alone. As I pull his pillow close to me, I say a prayer of thanksgiving. I am thankful for all that I have been given. The easy and the hard. The good and the bad. The strengths and the weaknesses.
I lie in the dark thinking about our past, and our future. How the past 7 months have been a roller coaster ride of decision making. How the more I try to control what goes on around me, the more I realize each day has an agenda of its own. All that energy that I put into planning far into the future yesterday doesn’t matter today. It was a waste of precious time. We try to make our plans, but God directs our steps. Daily. Hourly. Moment by moment.
We planned to go to Hawaii, God redirected our steps. We planned to go to Washington DC, but God has redirected our steps once again. I hesitate to share that we are now planning to retire after 28 years. God may decide to redirect our paths once again. I don’t know for certain what tomorrow will bring. However, the letter has been sent, and we are waiting to make it official. It’s about as for sure as we can know.
As we wait, there are two things I am certain about…(1.)That Gods plan is always the one I want to be a part of. And (2) I don’t want to see my husband miss any more everyday moments in our life together.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him Forever in the next.
**This is my experience as a Navy wife, I know there are so many moms that have to do it alone every day who don't have the emotional or financial support of a spouse. You are so strong and courageous! Your children will look back and appreciate your sacrifices. I understand that tiredness and I want to thank you too, for putting one foot in front of the other, pressing on. You are appreciated!