Arts & Culture

For Military Wives, “Goodbye” Never Gets Easier

Question: "Well, you knew what it meant when he enlisted, right?" My presence in a room usually produces two emotions from strangers: sympathy or irritation. Quite often, people feel compassion for me and want to hug my pain away. It … Read More

By / February 18, 2009

Question: "Well, you knew what it meant when he enlisted, right?"

My presence in a room usually produces two emotions from strangers: sympathy or irritation. Quite often, people feel compassion for me and want to hug my pain away. It is nice. Gentle. Sweet. And it helps. But, those arms around me aren’t his. So, sadly, they often fail to produce any sense of peace within me. No other hand feels like his on my back. No other hug makes my stomach fill with quivering jell-o.

Many people say "thank you" as we walk through the airport to see him off. They stand aside, feeling the pain of our goodbyes, allowing our agony to shoot and stab as we pass. They are quiet, respectful. They see the worn, dark circles. Our red and swollen eyes. Their words do not fall on deaf ears. We hear them. And appreciate them. And it does help to see their appreciation. It almost feels okay to allow them into our reunions. Our separations. Our children crying and throwing their arms around his neck. Our pain is on constant display. And those eyes, those weeping eyes that surround us, offer comfort and warm distant embraces.

The other response is often to put me in my place. I am the wife of a volunteer soldier. There is no room to complain. No force pushed him to ink his name. No outside presence made me stand beside him, my hand on his shoulders, urging him to do what felt right. They are correct. We didn’t walk into this lifestyle blindly. And for that reason, the military family often suffers in silence.

"Will your husband be deploying again?" A cashier asks while ringing up my groceries. "Yes," I say, waiting for either sympathy or irritation to appear. "Well, that’s military life for ya!" she quips, smirking. I smile. Nod. And urge myself to walk away.

Yes. It is military life. And there is no polite way to let her know that I am completely and firmly rooted in the military life. I am saturated with what his beret, boots, and uniform mean. I am the one to sew any holes. The one to wash the sand from his pants. The one to try to pull the smell of gun oil and powder from his shirt. That dreaded folded flag would be placed in my arms at his funeral. And I am the one that kisses him goodbye with no way of ever knowing if my lips can retain that feeling, should it be our last one. I need no reminders of military life.

Beyond the comments and beyond my fears and frustration, there are children trying to decipher the tears. The stares. The harsh words thrown around. There are small hands touching him for what could be the last time. There are tiny fingers moving over his uniform, his shaved head, and his trembling hand. Sweet tiny arms wrap around his letters at night, and precious lips kiss photographs of him on the wall. There are tiny shoulders that convulse and cry uncontrollably when he is gone. My son stands at the window, willing him to walk into the door.  "Why does Daddy always leave?" my five-year-old daughter asks. "I am the man of the house now," my three-year-old son says. Do they need to be reminded?

Sure, I knew what it meant. He did too. But the kids, the ones truly suffering, they have no way to understand. Of course, we did bring our children into this world. We, the military parents, are the ones creating more small hands to tear away from sand-stained necks. But, when I am faced with the possibility of a life without him, there is no way I would avoid having his babies.

So, if you happen to see me in the airport, crying and hugging my husband as he leaves or returns, please try to ignore me. It is just emotion that can’t be contained no matter how much I "know." But, if you happen to notice those tiny hands next to ours, the ones that only want to feel their daddy again, please, give them an extra smile. And an extra moment of allowance in their pain. They have truly earned it.

Answer: Yes. I knew. But it doesn’t make goodbye any easier.