In recognition of Independence Day, I am taking a break from my series about achieving goals to recognize all the men and women who are serving or have ever served our country. (If you want to read my posts about goals, you can go to Achieving Goals, Part I or Achieving Goals, Part II.) Those who take the oath and serve in one of the branches of the military deserve the highest honor, but there is another group that also serves our country – the families of those in uniform. Today, I want to say “thank you” to both groups!
Growing up, Independence Day was always special for my family. We would pack a picnic, pick up my dad from work and drive into downtown Indianapolis. After searching and searching for the perfect viewing spot, we would park our car on the side of the road where we would wait for several hours until the fireworks started. We would eat our dinner, play games, or stroll through the downtown vendors while we waited. They would shoot off a very loud boom every hour prior to the fireworks to get the crowd excited. After much anticipation, it would finally get dark and the fireworks show would start. We were always so close that we could feel the boom when the big ones went off; that was my favorite part! I even remember the first year that they tried to synchronize them to music; we thought it was amazing technology! Although I always enjoyed the fun of the day, I don’t think I truly understood its significance until two years ago.
Two years ago on Independence Day, my oldest son was in the process of enlisting in the Army. I fully supported his decision; it was a perfect match for his personality and passions. But, although my head was in agreement, my heart was still trying to understand it all. It wasn’t until dinner time that it hit me. I was in the kitchen making dinner when Bret started watching A Capital Fourth, the celebration concert in Washington DC. It is a very nice concert with the military band, honoring war heroes. I have always enjoyed watching it with him, but that year was different. I started hearing stories of young men who had been wounded or killed in action for their country. At first I was drawn to it, but by the time dinner was ready, tears were starting to form in my eyes. It wasn’t much longer until they were spilling onto my plate and I had to leave the room. As I listened to the stories and heard the parents talk about their sons, they all sounded like Derek. I saw young men who had made extreme sacrifices for their country, and they all looked like Derek. I started to feel the heartache that those moms must feel, and I prayed that I would never have to endure it for real. That was the first time that I started to understand the real price that must be paid for our freedom.
Last year, we had a large family party on the Fourth of July. We enjoyed swimming, cook-outs and fireworks, but inside my heart was breaking. All I could think about was that, in four days, Derek would leave for Basic Training. I wore my “Proud Army Mom” shirt all day and tried to look brave. Thankfully, Bret is a smart man and knew better than to watch A Capital Fourth, emotions were way too close to the surface for that again. Derek was excited and I was extremely proud of him; but my heart was still trying to figure out how to deal with it all.
When we talk about the “empty nest,”most parents have children gently fly timidly out. I joke that Derek boarded an Apache helicopter to leave our nest. The past year, as an Army Mom, has been extremely difficult at times. Basic Training was the worst because we could only communicate through letters for most of it. I wrote to him every single day that he was in Basic. It took almost a month to get an address to mail them to, so there was a very thick stack that got mailed that first day. I became a mailman stalker and could tell you the time range when he would arrive – and I usually met him at the mailbox. Derek graduated from Basic Training in the end of September and I remember sobbing into his shoulder the first time I got to hug him. The emotions of that time will always be a vivid memory for me.
One of the most surprising things that I experienced during the months that Derek was in Basic Training was the camaraderie that I experienced with the other parents and family members in Facebook groups. We were a group of people who didn’t know each other and would probably never meet, but we felt like we understood each other deeply. I remember several posts where a person would say something like “You are the only people who can relate to what I am going through right now. My closest friends don’t understand, but you know exactly how I feel. I couldn’t have made it through this without you.” Although I didn’t post very much, I monitored those sites like a hawk because I felt like these other people were my closest friends. I would never undermine the sacrifices that the military members make, but I want to acknowledge their families for the incredible sacrifices that they make also.
This year, my emotions have stabilized. Derek is out of training and, even though he is stationed on the other side of the continent, we communicate regularly. He loves what he is doing and I think my heart is good with it now.
Even as my emotions are stabilizing, I know there are many military families who are in the middle of the hardest times of their lives. Just a few days ago, I saw a post on Facebook by a young mom. It was a picture of a moving van picking up her husband’s belongings in preparation for his year-long deployment. I know there are young women right now having their first babies while their husbands are in Basic. There are young children having to say good-bye to their mommies as they leave for deployment. There are families being reunited with their loved ones when they visit in the hospital and see them missing limbs. There are husbands and wives trying to figure out the new normal after welcoming back a spouse who has been forever altered by the horrors of war. And worst of all are the families who welcome back their loved one in a flag draped coffin.
To those who wear the uniform and stand ready to defend our country, I say “thank you.” And to the family members who give sacrificially through love and support, I also say “thank you.” Most of the country can not understand what you are going through, but you are the unsung heroes who deserve love and praise also!
If you are a military family member, please tell me your story below. I would love to get to know you!