Entries in military wife & life (52)
first, a little story: two years ago, I hosted my first ever giveaway on tulips & flightsuits. it was exciting on a lot of levels, but it was especially exciting because someone I didn’t know won, a girl named claudia! (it has always been amazing to me that people other than my mom actually read this blog!) so, I emailed claudia to congratulate her. what happened next I could have never imagined: claudia wrote me the most enthusiastic, heartfelt, amazing email back. it felt like we were old friends. she said her husband, tommy, had been really confused when she started jumping around saying, “I won! I won!” (it’s hard to imagine how excited some of us get over calligraphy return address stamps!) she also said she was a new military wife & felt like we had a similar outlook on life. I couldn’t have agreed more.
& so began a cross-country email exchange. her husband was stationed in washington state, mine in virginia. we were pregnant around the same time, and welcomed brayden (her amazing son) and ellie into our lives. earlier this year, we learned our husbands would be deploying, and coming home, around the same time. claudia & tommy had already been through a few deployments. her perspective, honesty & strength completely inspired me. she was so consistent about emailing me & encouraging me through out the deployment. so many of her emails struck such a chord, at just the right moment, with what I was feeling. we talked honestly about how much our babies had change since tommy & ryan had deployed, how much we anticipated seeing brayden and ellie reunited with their dads, all the amazing people who had surrounded us & how excited we were to have the boys home.
then one night, a few days before claudia was anticipating tommy’s arrival and a few weeks before ryan was to get home, I received this email:
“Mary, I know we've never met in person but I feel that connection to you as a military wife, and as a mother. Yesterday afternoon I found out that our sweet Tommy was killed in action. I was told that it was instant and he was in no pain and for that I am grateful. Our escort, Brayden and I are on our way to see him back on US soil as he comes off the aircraft along with his chosen escort and dear friend Jacob. Tommy's parents will be meeting us there. We have had amazing support in WA and will likely continue on to CA from Delaware. I'll talk to you soon friend. xo Claudia”
the impact this email and my friendship with Claudia have had on my life, our family and my thoughts on being a military wife are hard to put into words. what was really interesting to me was how much I learned reading the incredible coverage of tommy’s life. the thing is, claudia and I talked like wives and mothers – we talked about tommy and ryan as devoted husbands, brayden and ellie as constantly changing, growing children – I didn’t know much about where tommy was deployed or what he did in the military. I certainly didn’t know he’d deployed five times and all the incredible accolades he’d earned as an army ranger (read more here, here & here).
what was also powerful to me is that as I processed this news in claudia’s life, I could only do so through imagining myself in her shoes. after I read her email, I spent the rest of the night trying to imagine how I would possibly fly with a 17 month old, across the country, to receive my husband’s body. the thing is, all military wives have filled out the forms with their husbands, the ones that go into incredible detail about what should happen should they die in the line of duty. we’ve all had to seriously consider this possibility. but now, this sweet friend of mine was living it. when ryan returned home a few weeks later, I was even more present, even more grateful, even more intentional – because it was so incredibly real to me that homecomings are not promised. not every wife who endures a deployment gets to welcome her husband home. to put it in stark numbers, over 6500 service members have been killed in iraq & afghanistan since 2001. they were husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, daughters, sons, dear friends.
I am so incredibly blessed to know the macpherson family – to know tommy’s story and to see claudia and braydens strength.
claudia & I have been emailing, and even spoke on the phone (it felt like old friends so quickly) over the past few weeks. I am so very moved by her devotion as a wife and mother. she has taken such incredible care of brayden, designed an incredibly intentional program for the memorial service and spoke beautifully with her son in her arms at the service for tommy. ryan & I have constantly thought of this family & are so honored to be a part of the team that plans on surrounding them with love for the long road ahead. I can hardly wait for brayden & ellie to meet. I am so excited to share many lattes with claudia.
I’ll leave you with part of an email I sent to claudia a few weeks ago that says so much of what I feel:
“…last night, I was spending time with one of my dear friends, a military wife, with two boys. we were talking about discussing with kids what really makes a superhero or a soldier really special is that he is brave AND kind. that bravery means nothing without kindness and kindness means nothing without bravery. there's no point in being super brave and strong if there's nothing to protect -- and to really protect something, you must really love it. similarly, you can't really love something unless you are willing to protect it. more often, if you have a son, you have to really talk with him about the kindness part -- the world tells boys to be strong/brave and that's what matters, so it takes more effort to show them kindness is just as important. & on the flip side, ellie is going to be told her whole life to be nice/kind, but she needs to know if she really loves something or cares about it, she must be willing to defend it in some way.
so this is all to say, we're both heartbroken for you and aching and wishing we could do more. but we were also were reflecting last night that tommy's life has already touched the next generation. it has because we can talk to our kids and about a man who was brave and kind. we don’t have to tell them about fictional superheroes – your husband’s story is way better. we can tell them about tommy because he clearly died being brave, and lived a life that required him to be brave on a daily basis in ways that most people are never asked to be. but when you emailed me, you didn't call him brave tommy, you called him “sweet tommy” -- because you and brayden are the ones he loved. you felt that love & kindness every day. you are so much of why he decided to serve -- the ones who he loved enough to be willing to protect.
i cannot wait to tell ellie about tommy. & i know brayden's whole life will be touched by his dad and how he lived. i have to confess i've been googling tommy's name & when i read the articles and what the men who knew him said about him in combat, i was just so moved. i'm not sure i've known a braver man (and you know what they say, behind every brave man is an even braver woman --- and you are my dear!).
we’re here for the long haul – a part of the enormous tribe that will see you & brayden through the days ahead. our guest room awaits, my phone is always on & if there is any role ryan can play in brayden’s life, at any point down the road, count him in. sending you so much love tonight – xo, mary”
and now for some truly stunning images.
claudia is so incredibly strong and thoughtful -- in the midst of all of this, she thought to have her friend and incredibly talented photographer, tegyn friedman, come and capture the day tommy was laid to rest. given brayden isn't old enough to really remember this & how much this day matters in the life of this family, these images are so incredibly important. they truly move me.
claudia, i can't thank you enough for allowing me to share your story. sweet readers, claudia has a blog of her own that you should wander over to. and tegyn, thank you so, so much for allowing me to share your stunning images. readers, you can see more images of claudia, brayden and a day to honor tommy right on her blog here. and if you're in southern california, look at more of tegyn's work.
finally readers, i hope this post has given you a chance to tell someone you know about a man who was brave & kind, and the incredible family who stood by his side. claudia is a sweet reader of this blog, so if you want to leave her & brayden some love in the comments section, i know she'd love to hear from you. xo
I thought these exact words many times over the course of this deployment. I thought about them in terms of our experience. I felt like our family was being asked a lot of during this season – at moments it felt like too much, like it was unbearable. But I also thought about this because I was struck by how I really hadn’t understood this truth before. I certainly didn’t understand this while I was growing up – I didn’t know a military family personally & while I surely felt a sense of patriotism and had a gut level respect for those willing to serve, I had no idea what military life really looked like.
And while these five years of knowing/falling in love with/being married to Ryan have increased my awareness and understanding significantly – deployments aren’t something that can be explained or observed.
I also thought about it in terms of knowing that this deployment our family just went through is an average deployment in terms of the military today. There are many that are much harder – Marine Corps and Army deployments are often 11 months or longer. Many service members are put in harms way many more times than Ryan was during this deployment. Many families are currently in their fifth or sixth deployment to Iraq & Afghanistan – and less than one percent of the country is serving right now in the military.
I say all of this not to make you feel guilty or be dramatic or to end this series with a cheesy one liner. I say it because if you leave this series with some new understanding or appreciation of military life, I don’t necessarily want it to be about our family. Because our stories aren’t really unique & while this deployment is now written about in the past tense for our family, as you are reading these words, military families are enduring. These families don’t want you to feel sorry for them or cast them as “others” who you couldn’t possibly understand. They just want what we all want: to be recognized, to be acknowledged. To give you a glimpse of the details of what they’re enduring, here are some tangible examples:
Today, a service member sat in Afghanistan, composing an email to his daughter whose fourth birthday is tomorrow. This will be the third birthday of hers he has missed. Today, a little boy played in his first basketball game ever, and wanted so much to look up and see his dad in the bleachers. Today a service member learned that the first Christmas he was supposed to be home for in four years will now be spent at sea.
Today, a military wife found out her husband has been extended, again, their family will face another two months of deployment, another holiday season with an empty seat at the table. Today, a deployed service member received notice that his wife filed for divorce – his marriage could not bear the weight and stress of the deployments any longer.
Tonight, a mom will put her three kids to bed, for the 195th night in a row, by herself. Tonight, a service member will sit on a boat, trying to find the words to tell his wife how much he loves her and wants to comfort her – unable to sit next to her at her grandfather’s funeral the next day. Today, a military wife will drag the trash cans up the driveway for the 35th week in a row, with a screaming baby in her arms, wishing so much her husband could do it just this week. Today, a service member came home and told his family he is deploying immediately and unexpectedly – they are furiously trying to get ready.
And most profoundly, today a wife answered the knock on the door all of us pray never comes. Her beloved will not be coming home. The homecoming she long anticipated will now be a casket received on American soil in Dover, Delaware, a graveside service with a flag presented to her.
Tomorrow, in the final post of this series, we’re going to learn more about that wife, her son & her amazing husband.
There are few things more important than taking care of yourself during a deployment. I know for Ryan, few things mattered more to him and gave him the peace of mind to be able to focus on the mission at hand, than knowing I was ok. This is something we struggle with in general as women – especially in seasons of life when a lot is being asked of us. I think having Ellie really clarified this for me – if I wore myself down, it wasn’t just me who was impacted – it hurt my ability to be able to care of her well. I certainly didn’t get this right all the time, but when I was trying to really care for myself, here are some things that helped me:
Honestly, the things that really made me feel taken care of or cheered me up were so small – running out to get a latte, lighting some candles, curling up under a blanket with an episode of Parenthood or Modern Family – the challenge was pausing long enough to figure out what might brighten my spirits and taking the time to find it.
WHERE TO SPEND YOUR TIME
One big question I know a lot of wives struggle with is whether to stay where you are stationed or go spend time closer to family & friends. Often times a deployment happens shortly after you get stationed somewhere, or in a place where you don’t have the same support system you would have at home. The only thing I want to say here is I think you have to be fiercely protective of doing what’s right for you. I’ve seen this decision made a ton of different ways & each time it was right, because it was right for that spouse.
For Ryan & I, we knew two things: we had really invested in building community here in Virginia. We’d spend a year and a half investing in a church, neighborhood, new friends we met by becoming parents around the same time as then & generally being really open to new friendships. I couldn’t imagine picking up and leaving those people for six months. We also knew I was going to have Ellie & with no family in the area, I was going to need some periods of sustained help with her. It made sense to us that I’d go home to Indiana two different times, each time for two weeks. We spaced the trips so they’d give me a respite at critical points during the deployment. We prayed about this, talked about it, sought advice, really tried to think about what would work best for our little family. And honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing. Our community here was so critical to our well being during this deployment, but so were those two weeks where the ratio of adults to baby was 3:1. When I got off the plane in Indiana, I was worn down and exhausted; two weeks later I would board a plane for Virginia refreshed & ready to tackle the next bit of deployment. I am beyond grateful to my parents who so generously welcomed us into their home for a month total, who also came to Virginia to pitch in here and who loved all three of us so well during this journey.