At first, there were hundreds of days ahead. Many weeks. 12 months.
All I could do initially was count the weeks we survived. Celebrate each Sunday that we’d made it through another week. Then, the weeks got easier. The months glided by. Calendars were filled and life was lived. Easter. Mother’s Day. R&R. Road Trips. A Birth. We struggled through Crosses and reveled in the joy. Through it all, one image remained constant in my mind: meeting him on that parade field.
And now, it’s practically here. I unpacked that footlocker. I am cleaning the house, buying groceries for everyone, putting together outfits, and waiting for that phone call.
Boots on the Ground.
Before long, I’ll be standing on that parade field, throwing my arms around him. I’ll watch him pick up his two girls. We’ll take him home. And we’ll live together again. As a family. The constant worry of the doorbell ringing will be over. The perpetual absence will be filled. We won’t live by the phone and computer anymore.
I’ve grown. I’m not that same woman who panicked when we got orders only four months shy of his brigade’s departure. Who wondered if she’d remember to take out the trash every week, how she would take care of a daughter alone, how she would live through each second of a year without her best friend. But, when I had to stand in a children’s cancer unit and demand answers for my daughter’s health, it happened. When I climbed into an empty bed each night, it happened. When I got up each morning, determined to finish the day with a smile, it happened. It happened when I celebrated Valentine’s day, our Anniversary, our daughter’s birthday without him. When I felt so low halfway through the deployment that it brought me to my knees. It happened each time I cared for our newborn daughter in the middle of the night alone.
I learned to live without him, by living for him.
But during those moments, something else happened, too.
Pictures of his departure were met with comments of encouragement and affirmation. A blog post about my daughter’s health caused a firestorm of promises of prayers. Friends purchased plane tickets. To come see me. My mother took my newborn daughter for two nights into the guest room so I could get some sleep before I started flying solo. My father became Mr. Fix It. My in-laws drove up on a regular basis to stay. Wives from Church made us dinner, threw me a baby shower. Many other acts of kindness occurred.
And people prayed.
I can stand proudly on that parade field because I survived. I can stand confidently because I allowed this year to improve me instead of destroy me. I cared for my child, which became children. I held down the homefront. Earned my title Military Wife. Gained that strength only those in this life have.
But, I would be a sham if I took all the credit.
The truth is this. I couldn’t have survived this year without my friends, my family, the strangers. They helped–cleaned fish tanks, baby sat, fixed panels on my car. They built bookshelves in my den, reinstalled the disposal in the kitchen. They sat with me in those oncology appointments. Bought plane tickets. They helped clean my house. Left words of encouragements on post it notes around my house, on my Facebook wall, and on my voicemail. A precious few answered the phone when I was so tired, so worn down, and listened to me cry and helped me stand back up. And everyone prayed.
We military wives like to say we are “alone.” And in some sense, we are. Our Soldiers are gone, which leaves a gaping hole in our lives few can comprehend. We learn by heartache not to take them for granted. We sleep alone, we wake alone, we live alone.
But we do not survive alone.
We survive because other military wives band around us, especially in our weakest moments. We survive because a friend takes a prayer request and makes it go viral on the internet. We survive because friends–true friends–don’t forget about us, don’t try to understand. They just listen. We survive because family steps in and does what our Soldier would have done. Fix things, clean things. We survive because we realize that our Soldier isn’t the only one who loves us. Loves me.
I have learned one thing this year: I am never alone. On the contrary: I am very, very loved.
For those of you who helped my family, helped me, this year: THANK YOU. You know who you are. The acts of kindness, the words of encouragement, the prayers. I am so moved by the love and support four people were shown this past year. There is still a “United” in our States, there is still a love in our country–for good. As I sprint across that parade field, I do not do it alone. Rather, I will sense the love all of you showed–I will feel you standing behind me, cheering me on.
Because I did not survive alone. I did not win alone. I did it with you–because of you.