A year ago today, Little Miss, Husband, and I climbed into a vehicle and drove to base.
A year ago today, only Little Miss and I returned home.
We arrived early, and spent a few minutes sitting in a picnic area near a beach that we like there. We were quiet. I was shell-shocked. A little over a month before my Mom had died… And this was the day that I would say good-bye to my husband for six, long months.
As a Navy family, we weep with our friends in the Army and National Guard community who leave for much longer stretches. We know that six months of separation is short in comparison to the 13 and 18 months stretches that these soldiers and their families have to endure. We try to keep that in perspective.
But even perspective doesn’t stop six months from being an agonizingly long time to be away from one’s spouse. Especially on the heels of five months of on-again, off-again (mostly on-again) separations for shorter “boat trips.”
We held one another… Little Miss cooed. I tried very hard not to cry, and succeeded for the most part.
And then it was time to go to the Air Terminal for Husband to board his plane… and for the “See you later” to really happen.
I couldn’t bring myself to go inside… so we said good-bye in the parking lot.
That was the gateway to… the continued remaking of me.
I drove home and was suprised that the day was easier than expected. I don’t think I cried much at all. Losing your Mom can put a six-month deployment into perspective in a hurry. But still it hurt. I had no idea how I was going to make it through six months without two of the pillars that held me tall. Mom was gone, and she wasn’t coming back… and before I could learn how to stand without her, my husband had to leave too. I found myself going about the business of coping. That would be my job for the next six months… To cope. To survive. To continue to handle the blows that came while also handling the raising of our daughter, the bills, and my side of the marriage by myself.
It was the gateway to days of quiet anguish. The grief over the loss of my Mom was still fresh enough that I related to it only in a state of numbness. I had really, really cried only a couple of times since the funeral, and when I did, I cried as much over Husband leaving as I did Mom dying. I cried over the meaning that “alone” would have for the next six months.
Without my husband I had only my pillow to soak when I cried for Mom… And I had only my pillow to soak when I cried for him. Missing Mom led to missing Husband–I couldn’t tell him about it and find refuge in his arms. Missing Husband led to missing Mom–I couldn’t talk through it with her, hear her perspective, hear her say something to make me laugh, or watch West Wing with her to forget about it for a while.
Those six months and the months that came before and after helped me to realize what I’m made of. I am not a paper-doll threatened by the smallest breeze. I am able to stand some pretty stiff storms.
I went back to ‘first’ home to try to be a help to my Dad and to have some semblance of support during the deployment… I’m not entirely sure that Dad needed me, but I was there, and I know Little Miss brought him great joy.
One of the hardest things, was knowing how much Husband was missing with Little Miss. He missed so many of her milestones. So many precious moments–her first Christmas, her first snow, sitting up, crawling, her first tooth. In the months that Husband was gone, Little Miss went from being a wiggly immobile infant, to a walking, independent mini-force to be reckoned with.
Six months and two weeks went by, and Husband came home… And was back in our arms.
The last five and a half months have been full of recalibrations. We have been learning how to be together once more, and how to lean on one another. Husband came back to thoughts of, “I went through all of that only to be treated this way?” with crazy-long hours and many weekends worked in an environment where morale was very low. A welcomed change of command has begun to change some things for the better.
With husband home, I was finally able to really feel my grief in the safe embrace of his arms. I began to cry, really cry without holding back, for the first time since losing Mom. Maybe for the first time ever. We’ve lost 2 friends to cancer since husband has been back. We’ve been through two seasons. We’ve purchased a new vehicle. And most importantly, we’ve watched our baby blossom into a beautiful little girl…. together.
And now we are learning to navigate life in relative calm… for the first time in a long time. It feels good. As I’ve said elsewhere it produces some anxiety as it is hard not to wonder when the other (or next) shoe is going to drop, but it is good.
A lot has happened in twelve months. I’m a different person than I was a year ago. A year ago I was only beginning to learn about my own grit and strength. A year ago I was only beginning to learn about grief. A year ago, I didn’t know how I could survive for that long without my husband (or Mom).
And I stand here a year later, standing taller, feeling deeper, and loving more fiercely than ever before.