The ‘D’ word can be a pretty dark subject among many military families, and I can’t say that ours is an exception. Deployment carries so many other things with it: separation, anxiety, loneliness, “danger”, etc. We worry about everything, from staying safe at home alone, to the many thing that could happen to our loved one. Whether it’s 6 months or a year, it’s hard to look past the days, weeks, and months as they build up before our eyes. It’s hard to accept that our lives together are on hold, while our lives as individuals continue on.
There are so many details that we miss, because our minds are so focused on the bigger picture: it’s happening, ready or not. We don’t think of the little things until the goodbyes have been said and the plane is in the air. Everyone says that the goodbye is the hardest part, and I can certainly attest to that. But the second hardest part is the wave of “little things” that creep into our mind afterward.
We think about all the family events we will attend, alone. We think about memories that we won’t share, firsts and lasts. We think about how the car needs an oil change and the person who usually does it is now 5,000 miles away. We think about how our home responsibilities have now doubled, and how all of our meals will now be eaten alone. We think of how “date night” or “family night” is incomplete now.
We become the “chef”, bill payer, homeowner, defender, mechanic, parent, and so much more. We adopt a routine that’s so far from what we used to have. And we learn to deal.
As time passes, we find it exceedingly harder to picture them around us like they once were. We can’t imagine them in the kitchen, laughing and making dinner. We can’t can’t hear them singing in the car, like my brother did just a few short months ago. We think back to the more vivid memories; the ones we swore we would hold on to. And it’s a scary feeling. Because those memories and those faces are so fuzzy to us now. We ask ourselves, “How can you forget these things?”
In the midst of all the chaos, it’s hard to even imagine a silver lining. It’s hard to picture a day where things will turn back to normal.
But the most important thing that I forgot about deployment is this: Eventually, it ends.
Weeks turn into months and countdowns become single digits, and the moment you’ve waited forever for has arrived. With the same suddenness that this journey began, it reaches a new destination. The distance that once seemed like it was a world away has been closed, and this wonderful person that you’ve missed more than words could ever express is standing in front of you.
And you cry harder this time. And later on, you’ll cry again when you look back on all the times you almost lost it at work, or at a family party. You’ll cry weeks later, long after you’ve settled in again, because you’ll wonder, “How did I make it here? How did I keep my sanity?”
Truth be told, there will be times when you feel like your sanity is the last thing you have left. And even that is on its way out the door most days. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of these little things, because they get to us. And I can’t sit here and say, “Don’t let them get to you.” because that would be asking you to do the impossible.
But I will say this. When you’re waiting in that airport or at that bus station and your eyes meet theirs for the first time in months, all of those doubts and worries may as well have never existed. Not to say that you won’t remember the time your car wouldn’t start and you had to wait 4 hours for AAA, or all the times you got home from work and were too tired to even make dinner. You’ll think back on all of it occasionally, but you won’t dwell on it anymore. Because this moment is what matters. And all the people watching will see a family reuniting, but what they won’t realize is that a family is becoming whole again.