I once was a military spouse.
Did you know that? Although I may not have a DD-214, nor is there a title for people like me, ex-spouses of military or veterans, I can tell you first hand, that it becomes a part of who you are, as if it was written into your DNA the moment you are handed your first Military ID card. Even after divorce, it still stays with you. I married my (now ex) husband just months before September 11th, and we had no idea what was ahead of us. We weren’t alone though, and our friends traveling the same paths as we, became like a second family. More than a decade later, I consider them some of the biggest blessings in my life. They each have enriched my life more than I could’ve ever imagined.
I forget, sometimes, that not everyone has an evenly split number of civilian and military friends like I do. I forget that not everyone has sent letters and care packages of snacks, coffee, and hand-warmers overseas. I forget, sometimes, that there are generations being raised that weren’t even alive when September 11th was just a day in between the 10th and 12th. And it surprises me, though it shouldn’t, that there are so many people that don’t even know one person serving today. I do.
On days like Memorial Day, they are especially at the forefront of my mind.
It is impossible for me to get through any patriotic holiday without a box of tissues. I remember hiding in a bathroom back in our hometown, sobbing and nearly hyperventilating, during the 4th of July fireworks. They were timed to a song that played during the pre-deployment slideshow months earlier for family and friends on post, but no one at the party I was attending knew that. No one there had the images of my friends playing over and over in their mind, knowing that they were in harm’s way. No one there had the image of a room full of spouses, children, and friends, all with a seed starting to take root, planting the unshakable fear of losing one another. No one there at the party carried with them the heavy, heavy, weight of not knowing if or when they will ever see their spouse again. Well, not in the way that I was experiencing in that moment. The song ended, the fireworks faded, and the deployment finally came to a close after more than a year. The feelings, though, linger much longer and they are important for everyone to understand if we are to bridge the gap between civilians and military.
Those years have stayed with me, and always will. In a way that I have trouble explaining, I’m grateful beyond words for the experiences I had. Those who have lived that life, know what it is like to love through the very real risk of losing what we value most of all in life. Daily.
- Loss of time with family and friends that we leave behind to embrace military life
- Loss of the ability to set roots
- Loss of friends living nearby, or even in the same time zone for that matter
- Loss of our prized possessions during yet another PCS move
- Loss of a steady and continuous career
- Loss of direction (literally)
The most precious thing that we fear to lose, the ones who have lived a military life, is the loss of our loved ones and friends. I’m finding it difficult to write the rest of this, because I can tell you that this is a loss that takes so many forms; death is just one of them.
We all come out of deployments changed. How could we not? We all lose something, and Memorial Day is a day set aside for us to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The images of simple white crosses, with tiny flags waving at their base, aren’t just “symbolic” images of the cost of freedom. To our service members, to our veterans and to those who love them, those crosses are friends, companions, and family; they are the images of heartbreaking loss. Remember that. Each one of those crosses that you will see splashed about on social media over the coming days, has a story, and those who carried the loss with them long after the marker placed.
Regardless of the which generation you choose to honor, one of the greatest things that you can do today and every day, is to find a way to support the ones that are here now. Active Duty. Veterans. Families. All of them. I don’t think I’m stepping out of line to say that the ones who have fallen, the ones who gave everything, would ask all of us to support the ones that they have left behind.
If you search through the thousands of organizations that support service members, veterans and military families, you will find that many of them are grass roots efforts that have been started by those who served or their loved ones. Rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands dirty and getting to work to solve a problem is just a military way of life- and they are doing what they can to help lift the burden for others. But there are countless ways for you to reach out and support the spouses, children, parents, and their comrades.
Are you passionate about something in particular? Music, art, writing, fishing, running, camping, business, teaching, etc.? There are organizations in every single field of interest. The men and women that serve are probably more like you than you think. If you don’t know where to start, look to the USO, Blue Star Families, Fisher House Foundation, InGear Career, and organizations such as the Bob Woodruff Foundation that provide grants to many efforts already in place.
Don’t just wear red, white, and blue this holiday weekend to honor the fallen.
Do something to honor them… and do it often.