The Untold Rules for Military Goodbyes

by Lisa Douglas

We stood there together, our pride busting through our collective skin, excited for our children, feeling rather celebratory for their win today at the County Social Studies Fair. We joked around, as we normally do, our families are so very close to one another, and we always razz each other, pretend punches to the arm, picking on each other like brothers and sisters do. Except, he isn’t really my biological brother, he’s my brother from our military family.

They never tell you that you not only marry the military when you marry your spouse, that you become bonded in an unspeakable way to all the friends you make through the military, too. They become brothers and sisters you never knew you had you can’t ever live without.

Through his jokes, I could see it in his eyes in the silence that he was drinking it all in, as much as he could, living that moment as slowly and vividly as he could. Through his eyes I could see in it the countdown, the one that takes him away from his family, friends, and everything he knows for a year. The joy is marred by the “end” the countdown brings, and that countdown is ticking too loudly lately. In a couple weeks we won’t see his eyes before us, joking with us, again for a while.

They never tell you goodbyes are like daggers to your soul in the military.

I took home his son today, for a play date with my son, to celebrate their win over video games and giggles. The boys rambled on like two lost souls suddenly finding each other in the van on the way home, carrying on like schoolgirls with jokes and bodily functions and laughter. They are the best of friends. He mentions his upcoming birthday party next weekend, that it’s being held before his actual birthday, because they want to celebrate it before his father leaves. My heart quickens, my breathing slows, my eyes choke down tears while his words become quiet. They are soft, now, no longer loud and boisterous in celebration of a hard-fought school win, but in silence, pondering his father’s soon-to-be absence, how bittersweet his birthday will be.

They never tell you just how much harder it is to cope with war when you have children.

We talked on the phone, his wife and I, the night before. Sisters-in-arms, we are, with eighty-kajillion kids between us and parental war-stories that often keep us chatty forever. We jabber-jawed about the fair, their projects, our kids, while constantly interrupted by our numerous children. She’d mention something, then another thing, gabbing as we do, until she came across something she’d noticed she would have to do by herself when he goes. And then, just like that, the breath became sucked out of her, like the wind knocked out of your gut with a punch, except this punch keeps on coming, it doesn’t stop until the tour is over, he steps off the plane, and the signs and balloons and horns declare he’s safe and he can rush to you and hold you and not let you go.

They never tell you about the super-humanly-charged emotions you feel, borderline psychotic emotions, even for your friends, your second-family.

And the sadness. They never, ever, tell you about the sadness you feel when a family you love is hurting because of an impending year-long separation.

You never realize how precious life and time really is until you’re a military spouse, facing another deployment goodbye.

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