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A Triumphant Return

15 Nov

I hadn’t planned on my first post being sappy or political in nature but life sometimes takes us places that we don’t expect to go.

I moved to Savannah in April and have made some really fantastic friends.  One of those friends has a husband who has been in Afghanistan for 12.5 months.  She has been raising a positively spirited 16 month old by herself while maintaining her composure, a household, her (amazing) figure, a social life, and life in general.  I was a single mom for 5 years and it was a difficult job, but one that I managed just like any other single parent.  Being the wife of a soldier and mother of a child whose parent is deployed is unfathomable to me.  I’ve often sympathized with my friend because I thought I had been where she was, but the truth is that I haven’t.  I have no idea where she’s been the past year and I feel so shallow for thinking that my experiences as a single parent even remotely compare to the loneliness, hardships, and special missions that military spouses have to endure.

The ceremony was simple but emotional.  I don’t believe I have ever felt so much emotion in one hangar in my life.  The excitement before the soldiers came in was insurmountable.  You could feel people vibrating with nervous anticipation of their loved ones coming home after a long year in a hot war.  As the hangar doors opened and the soldiers marched in, the anxiety levels rose noticeably and climaxed with exhaled breaths, appreciative clapping, enthusiastic cheers, and happy tears.  I had a difficult time containing the flood gates as these war-torn men and women entered the room, and I didn’t even have a loved one coming home.  The ceremony was simple but patriotic and proud.  I witnessed everyone around me searching the formation with delighted eyes, feverishly trying to find their loved ones, my friend and her young daughter no exception.  The soldiers were finally released to join their families.  The anticipated moment was finally upon them and instead of the tears of happiness that I expected, I saw many families joining in laughter with huge sighs of relief.  I felt like I was witnessing over a hundred people breathe for the first time ever.  My friend’s husband finally found her.  I saw him before she did (for which I feel slightly guilty).  He came up behind her and grabbed her waist.  It took my breath away and I almost forgot the reason I was there: to capture their first moments together after his long deployment.  I got some great photographs of their emotional embrace and I am SO thankful and completely humbled to have been part of this experience.  I didn’t stay to meet him or thank him properly for his service to our country.  I couldn’t even wish him an excited “welcome home” because I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I couldn’t properly articulate my feelings.  I snuck out the best I could without disturbing their precious moments in time, and as I left I was struck with the realization that my friend had been through way more in the past year than I had in 5 years as a single parent.

 

As a single parent, you know that you are alone.  Your focus is always on taking care of your little one and making ends meet.  You work, you go to school, you spend time with your child(ren), and you do it knowing that you are alone.  Some single parents are okay with that.  It takes others a while to figure it out and to truly accept it, but eventually you do and it just becomes who you are and how you live your life.  Military spouses not only have their homes and families to maintain, they also constantly have their spouse to worry about.  They know that they are not alone, yet they are.  Their support systems are worlds away and many families are not fortunate to be able to talk to their loved ones every day or even each week.  (I’m focusing on moms here because that’s what I am and what I know but this obviously applies to any single parent – mom or dad).  These moms of children of ALL ages live their lives for X-amount of time not knowing if they will ever even see their loved one again.  Aside from this worry, they have to try to maintain a stable life for their children and to hold it all together for their benefit.  I can only imagine many sleepless, tearful nights where these women let all of their emotions out into the pillows with no one to lean on, holding everything together in hopes of a reunion with their loved ones.  These women have to instill a sense of security and stability into their children that “normal” single moms don’t have to worry about.  I really don’t think I can even scratch the surface of the emotional hardships that these women face every single day for 12 full months, sometimes longer.  I am so emotional right now that I can’t even remember all of the feelings that flooded me tonight as I drove home from witnessing this triumphant return.  I can’t pretend to know what these women go through and I don’t know how they do it.

I think that the most important thing for me to take away from tonight, and for you to take away from reading this, is to remember that we have absolutely no say in what happens during war-time or during peace-time.  You may not agree with the war, you may not agree with many things that our government does, but the truth is you have no idea what happens over there.  We have absolutely no idea what the families of soldiers go through, unless you have been there yourself.  We need to keep these things in mind and support the families of soldiers and the soldiers themselves.  Your stance on war has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that there are selfless men and women fighting for their country in dangerous and uncomfortable situations.  I am a highly patriotic person and although I may despise policy or disagree with the things that our leaders do, I always get goosebumps when I hear the National Anthem and I always without fail, tear up when I see a soldier in uniform.  I am proud of my country and the men and women who serve it.  I am grateful for their service and I am grateful to live in a country where I can have a voice, an opinion, a gun, and the ability to pursue happiness as I see fit.  I am thankful for both of my grandfathers who served this great country, one in WWII and the other during peace times.  I am humbled to have been part of this ceremony tonight and excited to have been so overwhelmed with emotions that I couldn’t see straight.  I hope that this experience has softened my heart for good, not only for a moment.  I am forever in debt to the soldiers who have served and who are currently serving my country.

And a HUGE thank you to my friend who chose me to share this evening with her, and to capture those memories for her.

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