I always watched my husband leave until he was completely out of my site. Most of his departures were before the sun was up – at a time we referred to as “O’Dark Thirty”. While our babies slept I often watched the squadron mate or taxi company whisk my love away quietly as neighbors slept. I hated not to be the one to take him to the air terminal on base… but sleep was a rare commodity in our home with babies, so this was our agreed-upon arrangement. I can still picture myself in my mind… looking through a small bedroom window that faced the front street and seeing taillights pull away from our home in the dark.
I never knew if that was the last time I would see his face.
I always kept at least one of his voice messages on our answering machine. Some of them were short and so random – like a call from the grocery store to ask if we needed more milk, or a call asking me to measure something for him at home so he could grab an item at a hardware store, or just a quick call to see if I would pick up. They weren’t elaborate or meaningful or even for special occasions. But they were all in his voice… his incredible voice. And I always feared I would never hear his voice again…
I never knew if that was the last time I would hear his voice.
I always kept one of his T-shirts unwashed. Okay this started out as a way to appease our poor sweet, black Lab named Roxy who was incredibly attached to my husband. She would stop eating for DAYS after he would leave and I worried about her so much! So we started this new habit that he was leaving a shirt on the floor for Roxy to snuggle with when she felt so sad. But it really turned into something that I needed because I worried that if something happened to him, would I have a piece of clothing he had worn.
I never knew if that was the last time he would wear a shirt at home.
I didn’t start my military spouse years with all of these must-do behaviors in place, but rather I adopted them shortly after a groomsman from our wedding passed away suddenly one foggy morning up near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. Russ was one of my husband’s dear friends, had decided to get out of the Navy and had interviewed with the airlines to become a commercial pilot. He was just days away from leaving the Navy and starting his new Civilian lifestyle when he was tragically killed in a car accident on his way to the Naval base one morning. I was never able to attend his funeral and honestly that fact still bothers me and brings tears to my eyes as I write these words almost 20 years later. I held my babies in my arms as I stood out in our backyard in military housing and I watched the missing man formation of military jets as they flew over our house for his funeral. I knew I could not continue to be a brave military spouse and hold it all together with this lifestyle if I also had the mental memory of sitting in a military funeral where Russ’ children were handed folded American flags for their father’s death. I knew I could not hear the words “on behalf of a grateful Nation”… the words so poignantly spoken to surviving members at a military funeral.
As we walk through our life, we create these rituals to get through some of the hardest trials we face. We all have things we do that we don’t tell others… whether we knock on wood because we are superstitious… or we pray for people who never know we pray for them or maybe we pray prayers we never tell another soul… or we worry about people whose journeys weigh heavily on our heart. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I was even able to share these rituals of mine with another soul. But one thing I am discovering as I get older is that so often in life, it is the things we never speak about that are the very things others need to hear. ❤️ To all of my military friends… I know you get this. I still do all of these things now too.
xoxo ~ Sheri