Grief, Goodbyes and God

When my husband, Travis, deployed for Baghdad, we had been married 10 months to the day. As an active-duty Army infantryman, he'd spent several of those 10 months in the field or at out-of-state training camps preparing for war. It was his second deployment to "the sandbox" and third overseas, but as a newly-married couple this deployment was new territory for both of us.

Most civilians expect a couple facing deployment to simply "make the most" of their time together, but it's not that simple. As my husband prepared for war, he emotionally detached himself, a skill essential to survival and wellbeing in a war zone. I grieved our impending time apart. I needed more of him. It seemed he needed less of me. We argued some. I cried a lot. This made the task of enjoying our last few months together even more difficult.

Deployment is a painful dichotomy. I dreaded my husband's deployment and wished he didn't have to leave. Yet he had to, and the anticipation was painful. Part of me wanted to just get it over with — to say goodbye and have the pain disappear. But I knew that goodbye would only intensify the pain and leave me alone. And I didn't want to be alone. Looking back, I expected my husband to fill my every emotional need and heal my heart's every wound. Only God could do that.

Sleepless Last Night, Long Goodbye

My husband is never able to sleep the night before a departure; it was no different the night before he left for Iraq. I returned from work that evening, eyes red from crying at work that day — in the bathroom, at lunch and during the car ride home. Travis returned from work with a handful of comedy DVDs he'd rented for us. We ate dinner, then snuggled while watching movies. "You need your rest if you're going to have a chance of holding up tomorrow," he said after the last movie went to credits well after midnight. We needed to be out the door and headed to post by 5 a.m. He patted his lap and placed a pillow on top of it. I laid my head down and fell asleep for the last night I would have with my husband in 15 months. For the next several hours he reached over my head to his laptop, ripping CDs and readying himself for the mission ahead.

What we'd expected to be a painfully-quick goodbye turned into a six-hour wait. I relished every second with Travis, but the wait was visibly painful for many of the wives who'd gathered at company headquarters. During the last two hours we were funneled into a gym, emotionally and physically exhausted. Families clung to each other; never before had I seen so much pain in one room. When the time for goodbye finally arrived we formed a lengthy, fast-moving line. Seconds later, we were steps away from the bus that would take my husband away. He firmly grasped my shoulders, kissed me deeply, then walked into the bus.

It was what he'd been trained to do. He had no option to linger, even if I collapsed to the ground in tears. Though I had no formal training in coping with these situations, I found my body taking over in ways I hadn't expected. My body turned about-face and began walking back toward our truck, taking my screaming mind and heart with it. I looked blankly, yet empathetically at the other wives. Dazed and confused, we walked back to our vehicles as if we'd just left the scene of a tragedy. We had. Never again would we all be in the same room together alive.

Everything Goes Wrong When Your Husband Deploys

They say everything goes wrong when your husband deploys. Still sniffling, I chuckled to myself as I experienced minor computer problems at home the day Travis left. It was a Friday. Little did I know that by the end of the weekend I'd find my mother-in-law barely clinging to life, or that I'd leave my Kuwait-bound husband a voicemail telling him I was making decisions for his unconscious mom. She pulled through, thank God. But within three days of his departure I'd hit someone else's vehicle with my husband's truck (his "baby") and been stranded twice by a dead battery and flat tires.

No Way to Make a Year Go by Quickly

Just a few days before the half-way point of my husband's year-long deployment, the Army informed us of three-month extensions for most active-duty soldiers. Coming home from work, I literally threw my bags down and sobbed. We had been so close to the home stretch. Considering that it can be a battle to get through each day, three months was a big setback mentally. That evening, I pulled out the birthday presents I'd bought to give my husband in October, the month of his homecoming and 24th birthday. I ripped off the birthday wrapping paper and pulled out the Christmas wrapping paper, knowing full-well that this year's Christmas would be late, too.

Though this deployment is, by far, the hardest thing my husband and I have been through both in our marriage and in our personal lives, it's also had its benefits. We enjoy every precious second together, even if it's "just" on the phone or online. Our communication is amazing. We openly talk about our nightmares and the stress the deployment has imposed on both of us. We try our hardest to make each other laugh. We've thrown ourselves into eliminating all of our debt and looking at houses together online. We've become a true team, even better friends and a more loving couple.

I've tacked a piece of paper to our bedroom wall, next to letters and cards from my husband. It lists five important truths God has taught me through this deployment. Though the learning is sometimes painful, I know He's molding me through this deployment into the wife my husband needs me to be.

  1. Today isn't forever. Sometimes it seems like it, but in a few hours this day will be done. Even if it's a day apart from my husband, it's worth living.
  2. God won't give us more than we can handle. Sometimes I find it hard to believe, but I'm still alive and kicking, aren't I?
  3. To Him, a day is like a thousand years. (See 2 Peter 3:8.) Boy, I know the feeling! But the verse also says a thousand years are like a day to the Lord. I often pray the time away from my husband to pass that quickly!
  4. We're given grace for one day at a time. Matthew 6:34 says, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." No wonder I'm so often overwhelmed when I attempt to fathom how I'll make it through the rest of this deployment and readjustment phase. He'll give me grace for today and new mercies tomorrow morning — even more encouragement to take things one day at a time.
  5. God is always in control. Evil men, with their guns, suicide bombs and IEDs, can scheme and plot and feign control. But at the end of the day, every day, God is victorious. Victory is ours through Him. We should live like it.
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