Saturday, April 30, 2011

Life is crazy. I know. I'm pointing out the obvious. But, even when the husband's home, it's so easy to let life get in the way and take each other for granted. Children, housework, work, all get in the way. With my husband deployed, I knew I'd miss those "special moments" even more.

"Those Moments," where, suddenly your heart grows three times as big and the air catches in your chest. Where you're smiling from ear to ear, remembering precisely why you married him. Where you feel extra poignantly that overwhelming love for him. It happens for no reason--a particular jovial conversation, just "clicking" more than normal, support you desperately needed to hear.

I have felt "that moment" several times this week.

The first time was, after my husband had been out of his operation less than twelve hours in Landstuhl, when I mentioned my husband that it was my sister's birthday, he insisted we call her via Skype. Wow. This is why I married him--he's so selfless!

Even before that, as he was airlifted from base to base, in attempts to figure out what exactly was wrong, I felt it. He never complained. He was in pain. He was in foreign places. He had no idea what was going on. But, he comforted me in my panic, and told me how proud he was of me. Wow. I don't deserve him.

When, in the middle of the night he couldn't sleep because of the pain, he called me. I'd just gotten a grade back on my paper and was disappointed. Instead of telling me he had far more to complain about, he cheered me on to finish the semester. Wow. What a sweet man.

Even from so far away, I am reminded daily as to how committed this man is to me, to our family. He sacrifices daily his precious time (during 16-hour work days) to make sure we hear from him. He made sure that Mother's Day gifts went out in time so they would get here before next weekend. He had every right to forget, but that's not my husband. He says constantly, in the midst of pain, exhaustion, or stress, how proud he is of me. He thinks of others, not just me, always before himself both through his job as Soldier and as Richard himself.

I am truly blessed. I remember that, each time my heart swells, my breath catches in my chest, and I grin from ear to ear. What an incredible man to do all he does for his family, for his daughter, for his wife. He's an incredible man, and I am truly a blessed woman. He's still here, still committed to doing his best to serve us. I truly feel, because of this, that when he comes home for good, that we will be able to pick up like no time passed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Every Military Spouse dreads "that phone call;" we literally live in fear of it daily. We are gripped with fear each time the doorbell rings. When I see "Unknown Caller," or "Withheld" my stomach tightens. But I never, for one second, thought it would actually happen.

"Mrs S--? This is Sgt. P---. I want you to know your husband's okay. But, he's in the clinic here with...." I didn't hear anything else.

Then the text message: "Hey. I'm in the clinic. Lots of pain, blood in---" It was cut off.

Yes, I panicked. Yes, I sobbed. Yes, I ran back into the FRG event I'd just left because my "family"--the women who understood, who could tell me what to do, were just inside. They hugged me, they comforted me, they walked me through the steps...of waiting.

Horrible, horrible waiting.

What started on Saturday is still far from over. My darling Soldier, in so much pain, was airlifted to three different bases, finishing his travels on Tuesday in Landstuhl, Germany. He did a lot of waiting, and so did I. We waited together, though separated by miles and an ocean. I waited for updates, for his instant messages. I longed to see his face, hear his voice. Yesterday, I saw it on Skype. There was that face, the one I miss so much.

We had tough decisions to make--I had to put my selfish desires to run off to Germany second to his need to rest and was like tearing my heart out knowing I wouldn't see him when he needed me most. His health was most important, but their was a desperate yearning to be at his bedside, hold his hand, to pray with him. But, as a wife and military spouse, I must always put my Soldier first.

Now, I wait some more. Wait to hear how the surgery went, wait to see how long recovery will take. Wait. "Hurry up and Wait." And I hate waiting.

While, praise God, this could have been much worse, the whole ordeal was a little too close for comfort. It could have been a different scenario, a different reason for the phone call. Thank God. But, I have not felt the need for him to be home safe since he left, as I have felt the last four days. When he's home, in this house, at his work on post, I know he's fine. I see he's fine. I can touch him, hold his hand, and take care of him. But, this will come in time.

Now, I just wait. Wait for news. Wait for R&R. Wait for his homecoming.

Hurry up. Wait.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When he walked away that Sunday morning, when he boarded that bus, I had no idea. As I drove home through blinding tears as Elizabeth slept in the back, I had no idea. I had no idea when we came home to an empty house, with Army gear scattered around. I knew my heart ached, that my chest was tight, and that I felt lost. I had lost my husband for a year. But, much to our surprise, he left me with something very special.

Less than a week later: PREGNANT

I gasped. And gasped again. "Tell me! Tell me!" He breathed across the DSN line. "Adrienne, what does it say?" "We're pregnant!"

And then I bawled.

He thought I was upset. "I'm sorry! I know you didn't want to do this alone." He couldn't keep the excitement out of his voice. "No! I'm really happy!" Tears of absolute joy. Another child, another life. A mission of great importance, I was in charge of nourishing the life that Richard had left in his stead. I had been so terrified of losing connection with him, but the tangible proof of our love was growing in my middle without either one of us knowing.

So, over the last three months, I have fought fear of miscarriage, nausea, exhaustion, and instead continued mission. Continued caring for our beautiful daughter, desperately seeking adequate health care for her, spending time with her and enjoying the laughs, smiles, tears, and hugs. I have dutifully gone to my doctor's appointments, nervously waiting for the other shoe to fall. Like last time. But, it has not. I have, thus far, ensured mission success.

I have a child growing within my womb--what a privilege! My deployed Soldier's son or daughter. And I am humbled that he gave me the honor of nourishing this tiny life. What have I done in life to deserve the gift of my husband, of my daughter, of this new life? I smile with happiness, with joy. Because part of my husband never left. No, he left a piece of himself, a piece of us, in his stead. In my care. We have our little deployment baby. Thank you, Jesus.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Can I Say?

Recently, an interesting and legitimate question was posed to a group of military wives (including me) via Facebook. To note, this impromptu question-answer session followed an article regarding really insensitive questions and comments people make to spouses of deployed soldiers (most of which I've been asked/told). One of the women asked what one should say to a military wife when her husband is deployed. I think this is a totally legitimate question, and deserves an honest answer.

  • Offer small help. And mean it.
    When my daughter became terribly ill while my husband was off at deployment training and I suddenly and desperately needed some help one afternoon, all the people who'd offer to help were busy or could not come. You don't need to rope the moon, but making a dinner for the family or give them the gift of your company makes all the difference. The other night, a friend stopped by with a tub of ice cream. I nearly cried.
  • Put yourself in our shoes.
    If your husband were in a dangerous place for an extended period of time with severely limited communication, what wouldn't you want to hear? "Are you afraid of your husband dying?" "You are so blessed [to have Skype] or [that he's in Iraq]" (from a civilian). Not helpful. This should be common sense. No spouse of a deployed soldier wants to hear this form a civilian wife who has her husband at home in their bed every night. Think before you speak.
  • Pick up the phone.
    Simply calling and checking on us means the world. It's so easy for us to feel forgotten, like you are swimming against the stream alone. For someone to remember you in their busy lives is so reassuring and comforting. And you'd be surprised how easily people forget to do this.
  • If you life far away from a military spouse, send cards.
    When Richard left, I was overcome by all the mail from others that arrived in our mailbox. People who I was close with, and people I hadn't spoken to in years were offering prayers, Masses, thoughts. It was the nicest gesture.
  • Admit you don't know what to say.
    Military wives don't expect anyone to have the answers or magic words to make this lifestyle better. To tell the painful truth, we don't have all the answers. Each day is a guess, a gamble. If you don't know what to say, say that: "I am sorry. I can't imagine what you're going through." How comforting, how reassuring, oddly, that statement is. You aren't trying to tell us how good we have it, or how blessed we are. This lifestyle stinks, and it's nice to hear from others the same thing.
  • Pray.
    I firmly believe, at least for our little family, that the prayers have brought us thus far. The last two months have been difficult in moving forward through this deployment, and we've had a lot on our plate. I can feel the prayers when I start to get overwhelmed. It's also nice to hear someone is praying for you.
I can't imagine how tough it must be to respond or communicate to a military wives when coming from a totally different perspective. Our lives are so strange and, admittedly, abnormal. It's tough. But, the aforementioned suggestions might hopefully help others reach out. Because, though we are a proud and sometimes defiant group, we secretly long to have someone reach out to us. Oftentimes, that's the only thing that gets us through.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Most of the time, I'm moving so quickly, I hardly have time to notice it. I move through the days at ninety miles an hour. Cleaning, studying, changing diapers, bathing my girl, feeding her. Dinner time comes, and goes. Bedtime for her. Then time slows immensely. I throw myself into my studies. I keep running.

But, sometimes, the quick pace is overcome. The nagging pain surfaces. And I remember how much, how intensely I miss my Soldier. My husband.

I have been struggling with this the last few days, which is frustrating since I'd been doing really well the last few months. I missed him, yes. But, I kept moving. Quickly. The last few days, I've been stumbling a bit.

I stood outside the other night during intermission of a play. I stared into the sky, watching the thumbnail of the moon. He has the same sky, I tried to comfort myself. But, I wanted him to have the same square footage, the same piece of concrete, the same moment. Tonight, I looked at his pictures, the ones where he is sitting in our living room, our den. My mind is confused; was he here, it asks. It's odd how quickly it seems like eons. He was here, I tell myself. And, God willing, he'll be here again.

I know in a few days I will be back to my breakneck speed. I just have to acknowledge this. But not wallow. After that, I will be at the top of my game again. I just needed to reset, I guess.

So, I miss you. A lot.

Now, to finis that silly paper.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Sitting here writing a paper, I notice a light outside the window next to my desk. I look out, and realize it's the light my husband had put up to light up the American Flag that perpetually hangs outside our front door. As I stare out and look at the flag in the fading night, I watch it wave and dance proudly. My husband diligently goes outside daily to straighten it, and makes sure the light never goes out. He will take it down and place it respectfully in the closet when a nasty storm is heading our way. He gets upset each time he sees the flag disrespected or hanging tattered. He strapped his boots, packed his bags, and left his family to defend that same piece of cloth that hangs outside our house.

And now he might not get paid. This seems so unjust.

When he left, I knew I'd worry about how the deployment would impact my daughter. I knew I'd worry every second about his life and safety. I would worry about making sure all the tedious and important household tasks were done. I would worry about a lot. But I never thought I'd have to worry about whether or not he and I would get paid.

The same man, who treats the flag like a small child or aged person--so lovingly and respectfully--will likely be working without pay. The man who left his family behind to defend freedom, who said good-bye to his young daughter, who hugged his wife outside of a giant white bus, that man will not be paid.

But, he will still do his job.

He won't do it because he has to. He will do it for the same reason he make sure to unravel the tangled flag on the doorstep. He will do it for the same reason he bought the most expensive light at Wal-Mart for the flag. He will do it for the same reason he tied his boots, stuffed his bag, left his wife and daughter and walked tall with his head down towards that God awful bus.

He loves his country. He loves America. Despite the fact that his own country won't pay him, he'll still stand in defense of them. He stand tall and continue mission. Without one word of complaint or resentment, he'll fulfill his mission. Pay or no pay.

My husband will do this, because he's an American Soldier. It's in his blood.

Monday, April 04, 2011

I entered the waiting room, pushing her bright red stroller as she grasped her Daddy Doll. Stopping behind the red line, I noticed him. He sat, straight up, in his chair. A handsome, confident face laced with kindness. A high and tight haircut. Strong arms that occasionally reached up to adjust his baseball cap. A toned torso that seemed relaxed and also ready. And that was it. No legs. His wife, tough and vigilant sat next to him, holding his hand.

What if that were Richard?

The question came into my head so quickly, I hardly had time to process it when I glanced up at the TV screen. The words floated across the bottom:

Two killed and 20 injured in separate Iraq attacks.

My stomach fell to the floor, my heart stopped beating. I couldn't breathe, and my hands curled into desperate fists.

Please God. Let him call this afternoon. Don't let that be him.

The phone rang in the middle of lunch. My stomach lurched, heart started beating again. I could breathe and my body relaxed.

Thank you, Jesus.

They weren't at work, they weren't out banging down doors. The soldiers were supposed to be in a safe place, a place that was supposed to protect them. But, in a moment, two of them were gone. I prayed it wasn't Richard, and later felt guilty. Someone had to be behind those words, letters. Two persons had to be the reason that chaplains knocked on the doors of two spouses this week, telling them their Soldier was not coming home. Twenty families were told that their Soldiers were badly injured. I prayed it wasn't Richard. It wasn't. So, it had to be someone else.
I can proudly say that we are staying brave, that we are moving forward in this life confidently, happily. But it's such a different happy. A forced, strong happy. For him, my Soldier. For her, my daughter. For me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I am fine--I'm great. But moments like that, seeing the man who gave his legs for my freedom, reading that two people died and 20 more men and women lost limbs, sustained injuries. And you don't know if those numbers include your husband. You wait. You either hear the doorbell ring, or you get his phone call. You can only wait.

This is by far the scariest and most terrifying thing I've ever done. And only a military spouse can understand fully what it means to live a day at a time. Each day, each night, praying that the doorbell doesn't ring.

I'm sorry, ma'm. He's not coming home.

He's in a hospital....

What do you do? What do you say? How do you stay strong when fate takes a fatal stab at your soul? You can't plan for that.

I cannot prevent it. I cannot hold my arms about him to protect him from harm. All I can do is pray. That is simultaneously the most comforting and most frustrating thought.

God, I ask you to hold your mantle of protection around all of our deployed men and women. Be with the families left behind. Keep the doorbells from ringing, stop the numbers from climbing. Bring our Soldiers home safely. Soon. And protect my husband. Please keep him safe. Keep them all safe.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Recently, I was a guest poster on the blog To Love a Soldier. It's a truly wonderful blog, with great resources for military families and where I can empathize with the author's lifestyle and vice versa. I believe that this vocation is much easier when surrounded with people who can completely understand. But, that's a blog for another day. Below, is my posting.

As I stood on the brink, in the midst of the boxes, camo bags, groceries and general mess, the reality of it all would grab me in the gut. Fear of living without him, of losing him, of losing connection with him. Anger at him leaving, being so brave, and feeling so insecure. I was terrified at the prospect of not just surviving life without him for a year, but living life without him for a year. Of living life joyfully. Truly, this seemed impossible. Living life without my husband and enjoying it seemed impossible.

But, we are doing it! This morning, I sit here with my cup of coffee, not just content but truly happy. He's not home, but I have a fantastic husband fighting a fight that not many can. Though she missed her Daddy terribly, I have a beautiful daughter, with whom I've been given a chance to bond in a way I wouldn't have. Together, she and I fight together. Who knew a sixteen month old could bring me such comfort, love, and security? Though it takes longer to clean and keep up, I have a stable home full of fond memories with my husband and our child.

I have realized that happiness doesn't depend on someone else. Happiness is not my husband, not a clean house, not stability, structure, and schedule. Happiness lies not in a cooked meal set on the table, steaming hot. Happiness does not disappear when the husband leaves, when the daughter struggles to understand why her father vanished.

Happiness lies in you.

Every morning, when my alarm pierces the air, I have a decision to make. I can wallow in self-pity and remain in bed. I can pull the sheets over my head and cry about the empty space next to me. I can be miserable and mourn my husband's absence.

Or, I can decide to be happy. When my alarm pierces the air, I can choose to be giddy about waking my daughter, get excited about sharing precious and intimate moments shared with her while the early morning sun creeps into the kitchen. I can focus on the sound of the coffee brewing, the dates with friends, the Skype-calls with my husband. I can garner strength from the many prayers being said for our family. I can focus on the structure we've carefully and consciously constructed on the Homefront.

No, happiness, I have learned, does not lie in foreign things. We pull the happiness from ourselves, especially as military wives. We choose to reach deep down inside of ourselves, even in the dark moments when we miss the call, appliances begin shutting down, or the R&R gets pushed way back. We decide to reach down, and we pull out the happiness. We shift our perspectives, and force ourselves to focus on what we do have. Because, when we shift that perspective, though initially painful, we are winning our fight.

This morning, I choose to focus on the amazing and heroic courage my husband has in fighting a war far from his family. I choose to focus on how this incredibly difficult lifestyle has not destroyed our relationship but, thank God, has brought us closer. Taught me humility, patience, courage. I choose to focus on having learned incredible flexibility in life's twists and turns. I choose to revel in our beautiful family, my daughter, the laughs and intimate conversations shared over Skype. I choose to find joy in my daughter still loving her Daddy, even if he is not home right now.

Here, on this Homefront, we are not merely surviving. We are living. Living Joyfully. Because that is what we choose to do.