Military Spouses: Yes, We Miss Them When They’re Gone

My husband was in basic training on our first anniversary.  That was the first time I cried when he was gone for the military, but I think it was another dozen years before I cried that much again.

After basic, my husband’s first ‘deployment’ was just a two week trip to the Philippines. But we had just moved to Japan. We weren’t even unpacked yet. We hadn’t had time to get a lot of stuff done. Our moving in date was interrupted by a typhoon. I learned to drive on the left side of the road (with a stickshift I had to operate lefthanded) in a few minutes, passed the test and got my overseas driver’s license, and then had to drive myself and my children home, 45 minutes away through several unfamiliar towns and into our village with signs I couldn’t read, because my husband had to go to work and he was leaving the island shortly. I drove around the perimeter of the base a couple times first while I figured it out, and then drove off.

We were told by other guys in his squadron (and their wives) that he needed lots of money because TDY pay wouldn’t cover all his expenses. But we had no money, so we scraped what we could together, the kids and I reverted to baked potatoes, boxed mac n cheese, and ramen for meals.  We did not go anywhere because I didn’t want to use the gas in the car. We didn’t turn on the heat because I was afraid of the expense- while it was a tropical island, it still got cold in our house, just a block from the sea, with windows so poor that the curtains billowed in the breeze when the windows were shut.
We lived off base. Far off base. I had no English speaking neighbors (I would later, but I did not then). The phone system was confusing, and the operators we had to go through were notoriously, breathtakingly rude and routinely hung up on us.  I had yet to figure out the money system, and I never did learn to read the signs.

Over the next few years I stayed home with the kids while he went to the Philippines, Korea, London,  Australia, Saudi Arabia, Shemya, Las Vegas, and various technical schools.

He had to go because that’s what we signed up for, and I do mean we. He had to go even when the kids were sick, even when it was pneumonia. He had to go even when I was sick and bedridden with a high temp. He had to go even when I was pregnant and not allowed to be on my feet more than a few minutes at a time. He had to go even when the kids had chicken pox. He had to go when they had the flu, croup, asthma attacks, and more.  And his was an easy military job most of the time, with what was considered low travel.

He had to go whether or not the pipes were broken, the heat working, the car running, the dishwasher functioning, the bank account overdrawn, the house needed to be sold (actually, the house needed to be sold *because* he had to go), or the local EFMP officer was denying us the right to travel with him because of the Cherub.  He had to go whether or not I had just had a miscarriage and we were in the process of adopting two more kids (a process that was actually postponed for two months while he went to Saudi)

I have heard from women who aren’t military wives that they couldn’t do what we did because they would miss their husbands too much and I have heard the unspoken implication that they love theirs more than I love mine.  We have also heard hints of the reverse, that my husband maybe didn’t quite love his family the same way some other men loved theirs, since this was his career. They have absolutely no clue.

I have also heard that I was only a military spouse, not in the military, so I don’t deserve military spouse benefits.  I heard that once from a relative whose daughter is now a navy spouse, and I wonder if he feels the same.

That’s just a small part of what being a military spouse means. You get it if you have been one. You don’t if you haven’t, and there’s nothing I can do about that but know that many people who have no idea what it’s like think they know.

When my husband left, I helped him pack, I put love notes throughout his luggage, hidden in his socks, stuffed in his shavekit (and he hunted them all out immediately upon arrival, never waiting to discover them day by day as I planned).  I showed the kids where he was on the map, and we looked up stuff about the country while he was gone.  I made him snacks to eat on the way. I made sure his buttons were tight and he had pictures of us and his boxers and t-shirts were clean and plentiful enough (he ironed his own uniforms). I helped the kids draw pictures to hide in his suitcase.

The kids and I carried on- we had school, we had read alouds in bed, we had strange meals that my husband never would have approved when he was home, we went to visit friends for weeks at a time, we had slumber parties in the living room when the heat went out in the house, as it always did when he was gone.  We had friends over.  We did things we couldn’t easily do when my husband was home.

I did not cry and I did not count down the days because I personally do better by not counting.  I cannot think about it, or all is undone.

Once, when we’d been in the military for well over a dozen years already and I was long accustomed to the frequent absences, somebody at church said something to me like, “So, it’s another ten days until he gets back, are you missing him?”

Stupid, stupid question.  My face froze in horror as I realized if I so much as opened my mouth I was going to burst into tears (something I hate doing at any time, and I didn’t want the kids seeing me break down like that over their Dad’s trip to Saudi Arabia).  I couldn’t speak.

My questioner misinterpreted my expression and said, “Wow, I guess you don’t miss him at all. ”  And he moved on.

I couldn’t do or say anything.  I couldn’t even move.  It took everything I had to just sit in my seat and not burst into tears.  After about ten minutes, I could get up and go get in my car.  I think I cried myself to sleep that night, the first time in a long, long time, probably since basic training.  That person? He never knew what he had done, because I never was able to open my mouth to say those obvious words, “Yes, I miss my husband when he’s gone,”  without feeling like I was going to burst into tears.

It’s been ten years since he retired, and this post still made me cry.

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9 Comments

  1. Lanon
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    When I married, I knew my spouse intended a military career as a chaplain and I thought I was fully supportive of that choice. 20 months later, after the birth of our first child and a series of setbacks that decision was changed and we went no further down that career path. After almost twenty years for marriage, I realize what a difficult time I would have had as a military spouse and know that I really have no clue what I would have been in for. Here is a huge thanks to those who have and are continuing to support their spouse in his choice, including a mother-in-law whose husband retired as a full colonel from the Air Force and lived through several year long deployments and numerous other short term separations.

  2. DMartin
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Oh wow. That’s awful. My husband is in the oilfield. He’s not shiftwork, so his trips are sporadic and unpredictable. I have openly said I do not envy military wives or do not wish to be one. But it’s not because I think I love my husband more. I don’t want to have to be that tough.

    First trip away was within our first year. Made me appreciate the OT regulation dismissing husbands from military service the first year. Seven years and two kids later I don’t cry anymore.

    I recognize echoes. I don’t want to have to be any stronger. My hat’s off to you and your kind.

  3. Kara W.
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Oh Boy! My little post-deployment, pre-natal heart couldn’t take that this early in the morning!! :) I remember being the person that she describes at the beginning, and now I am the person that she describes at the end. You learn to send them off with a joke instead of tears. That doesn’t mean that there are no tears.

  4. MamaOlive
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    What is it with things breaking while he’s away?! It seemed to always be car trouble with us. One TDY to Las Vegas, I dropped him off and rolled down the window for one last goodbye. As I pulled away it stated to rain and the window wouldn’t roll up! Thankfully I got right in at the Auto Hobby Shop and the guy there fixed me up – even replaced the part – for no charge.
    Hubby tells me that TDYs used to be a money maker, but by the time I “joined” by marriage they’d gone to meal cards instead of expense accounts, but he was always on mid shift and the cafeteria wasn’t open for him. So I totally get what you’re saying about scrimping the whole time he’s away.
    People talk about the benefits package but don’t realise what the commitment is like.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      The church where we were members at his first permanent duty station had a weekend class for military couples. One of the things the older military wife there told us was that we should expect that when he was gone, three of four things would go wrong:
      Plumbing
      Car
      E.R. trip for one of the kids
      Broken appliances

      One memorable TDY, I had all of the above, and the broken appliances included the oven, dishwasher, furnace, and either the washer or dryer, I no longer remember which. We lived in the country and we could run the water, but couldn’t let anything drain, so no showers and no toilet for over a week. Six kids, including an infant. Such adventures.

  5. Laura
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Wow. Hello my twin, long lost! You wrote my heart. And now I’ll probably bawl, something I also rarely do. The things people say!!

    Dh has only been retired half a year now (32 yrs. in, the last 23 married to me :) ) and I’m going over to read that article you linked, but I might not get through it yet. Would not trade our life for anything in the world. Thanks so much for this post.

  6. Cindy Belcher
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I admire your family and all military families. So often we take for granted or don’t even realize the many sacrifices that are made to protect us and our freedoms. Blessings to all of you!

  7. Alicia
    Posted December 5, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    My husband travels a few times a year, but not nearly as often or for as long as many do. I have certainly been one who has said “I could never do that” to a wife whose husband’s travel share is larger and what I always, always meant–though I see now that it might not be heard that way–was “You are obviously far stronger than I am.”

    Perhaps I am not the only one whose hidden implication is kinder than the received one. In any case, I will be far more careful with my words in the future.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted December 5, 2013 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Most people do mean it kindly, and it comes across that way. Even those who meant, “because I love my husband more than you must,” did not mean to be unkind. It was a visceral sort of reaction. But I knew that’s what they meant because, frankly, sometimes that’s what they actually *said.* “I love my husband too much to…..” “My husband loves his family too much to…..”

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