Not too long ago I was having breakfast with a dear friend and the topic of military mourning came up. Now I know what you are thinking, we discussed the mourning over loss of life, but this is not the case. My wonderfully wise friend said that she came to realize that military spouses are often in and out of states of mourning. I listened intently while she explained.
She so eloquently spoke of how we are always losing something due to the many moves. That our families are usually living far away. Just when we develop a great friendship, one of us has to leave. We may be leaving a job that we love, a home that was just perfect, a church that felt like family, and so many other beloved things. We are constantly packing up our lives, familiar neighborhoods and routines and starting all over, forever leaving that life behind. It is a loss, and the heart always mourns a loss. What she laid out before me was the catalyst of a major epiphany.
For years, well, almost 19 now, I have always had to fight to be me. Some days it was so very easy, others I had to wear that happy mask and pray it didn't fall off. I can't even begin to tell you how many anti-depressants doctors have put me on over the years, and how they didn't help. Many times I have questioned God as to why I just can't be what I remember. Where did she go, and why did You let her go? I would blame so many outside factors, and get angry when doctors would tell me, 'Well, you are a busy mother of four, no wonder you feel the way you do.' As my friend continued to explain why military spouses are in and out of mourning, she mentioned the word grief. At that point I knew it was time to take to heart what she was saying.
Let me back up a little. Last June my DH deployed to a combat zone for the first time in our 18 years in the military. He has gone on TDY (temporary duty), or other training missions where he has been gone anywhere from two weeks to 4 months, but we have never experienced a time in our lives where we absolutely could not see each other, or be together for what would be an extended time; in this case six months. We also had never experienced a time when he was in combat zones. During the time he would be gone, I would experience yet another first, packing up children and moving them to college.
I remember clearly the day my DH told me he was going to volunteer to deploy. I heard all of his reasoning, and I tried to understand why he was volunteering, but an ache that I will never forget made its home in my chest. What I didn't realize is that everything in me, at that moment became numb. My mind started racing at everything that was about to change. We were on the downhill slope of our darling daughters last months of living at home, and I instantly realized that I would be moving them to college on my own. I went into auto-pilot.
The time passed quickly from the day I learned of my DH's pending deployment to the day he actually left us. We had many 'lasts' with the girls, last concerts, last awards, etc etc. I watched as many mothers broke down and cried. I teared up, but didn't break down. The last few days prior to my DH's leaving, I would tear up, but not break down, yet, the ache in my chest grew stronger, and sometimes would catch my breath. Dropping DH at the airport for the six month deployment again, tears, no real break down, but the chest became heavier. Then came the day to move to college; tears, no breakdown, but chest hurt more.
I thought my chest pain must be health related, so I buried my head and started trying to take off weight.
It was at my Wednesday morning Bible study that God first planted the seed my friend watered at that breakfast not too long ago. At the end of the study, another beautiful lady, who had been sitting next to me, and listening to everything going on, and watching me intently, stopped me and said, I need to share something with you. I sat down with her, and she put her hand ever so gently on my arm and said, 'sweet girl, I think you are grieving'. I was taken aback. This wonderful lady had just recently lost her wonderful husband. She shed tears in our study, and my heart ached for her, and I had been praying for her. When she told me she thought I was grieving, I was dumbfounded. She could see my surprise in my face, so she went on to explain how her doctors discovered that she was struggling with overwhelming grief. She had read up on the subject, and shared with me the various stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. She thought I might be somewhere between the first two stages. I went home and thought about it, but really took it no further. You see, at that point, not only did I have a husband who was deployed, had moved my twin darling daughters to college on my own, I was having to be nursemaid to my youngest son who had broken his ankle in a football game and required surgery to fix it. I didn't have time to grieve.
Flash forward a bit to Christmas Eve, my DH made it home early. What a beautiful and wonderful Christmas present right? Yes.. it was, but again... numb. I was numb. My older son was having health issues, which turned out to be mono and cytomegalavirus, AND my DH came home sick. No fairytale homecoming like I had hoped for. The long winter just kept making the numbness grow. I was but a zombie walking around, doing what needed to be done, and yet, thinking I was fooling everyone. I wasn't. My pastor, a new pastor, sensed a distance in me. His questioning started my own questioning, and my beautiful friend's explanation of military spouse mourning began unveiling what I have struggled with for all of these years.
That first lady was right, I was somewhere between denial and anger. I found myself so angry with my DH at times for leaving me with all of that to do. I found myself angry with the army for forcing us to a place where he felt like he needed to deploy, and yet, I was still so numb and would not allow myself to cry. Then came the bargaining: if I could just get all of the weight off, feel beautiful again, then all of this other stuff will be ok. Well, a good portion of the weight did come off, but my friends, the other stuff was not ok. Depression set in. That is where the pastor found me, in a dark depression. Thank you Lord for not leaving me there but a few months. Acceptance is where I am now.
It has been a long journey... almost 19 years to be exact, and this LONG post proves that. I got pretty good at faking it, and it hasn't been all mourning all 19 years. There have been some beautiful times that I remember and felt to their entirety. There is very little I would change because that would mean I would change where I am today. And yet, with every move and every change, mine or other's in my life, I have mourned without realizing. I know my friend will read this, and I want to thank her for being God's messenger, even though this is the first she will have heard of this! :)
You don't have to be a military spouse to be experiencing this. Mourning happens to all of us for various reasons. I hope that by my sharing this blog, if anyone reads it, that if you find yourself feeling a little out of sorts, maybe you too will realize that you are mourning something. It doesn't have to be the loss of a loved one, it can be the loss of something as simple as a wish.
The sun will come out tomorrow....