My son spent Thanksgiving half a world away from his family. Make no mistake, he made a choice two years ago that determined he would spend a good portion of his holidays far away from his family. Make no mistake, I was not a huge fan of the choice. Like pretty much every mother on the planet, I want my children close and able to communicate with me at all times. My son's choice offered neither of those. But I am proud of him.
My son choice to serve his country. No one made him. He was raised that his life was about more than just day to day. He believed in something. He went for it. He joined the United States Marine Corps. He went through 13 weeks of some of the most strenuous training in the world. He went through more training. He was sent thousands of miles away...and then a few more thousand when he was sent on deployment. I miss him so,so much. His sister misses him so much. His niece hasn't met him yet. I carry my phone everywhere, at all times because he might have access to internet at some point. If my phone goes off at 1 AM, I check it. If it goes off at 5 AM, I check it.
It is important that you know that I know that my son made this choice. It is important that you know that I know that even though my son is serving his country...which-presumably-is your country (sidenote: if there are people outside the United States reading this, that is flipping awesome, but some of this might not apply to you!)...that you don't actually owe me anything. Or any other military family for that matter.
But can I ask that you at least see me...acknowledge me...try to understand? I had no idea how lonely being a military family was until my son joined the Marine Corps. And I don't think my situation is unique. I think it is the norm. In a country which prides itself on "supporting the troops", I am not sure the troops or their families are that supported.
And here is the thing, I get it. Before you think I'm being judgmental, I was not exactly super supportive either...I ate hotdogs on 4th of July and felt emotions stir as I watched the fireworks. I think at the beginning of the "war on terror" I had a flag and a yellow ribbon. When Trey decided to join, I didn't know that you don't call a Marine a Soldier and vice versa (PS I know now and am compelled to correct you. Sorry.) If my son had not joined the Marine Corps and I'd heard the stories I've heard the past two years, I would have been sad, said a quick prayer and gone about my business. So maybe my plea is born out of selfishness. But maybe it's born out of relationships, which is what usually changes my mind about things (see also, LGBTQ issues, Immigration and Refugee issues, etc). Because I understand the loneliness and I see others struggling with it...because I am aware of the suicide rate among veterans, because I now know that military family exhaustion is a thing.
I also know that supporting military families is sometimes as easy as saying "we see you". I was at a friend's house when Trey got online Thanksgiving Day. After I talked to him, I shared the picture he sent me and a status. My friend shared it with a post. He said "We see you." And it made me cry.
Later that week, that same sweet family went on their annual Christmas ornament shopping trip (they get a new ornament every year.) I'd shared the story of how my kids had gotten new nutcrackers every Christmas and while they were out, they saw this nutcracker. They bought it for me. The daughter told me I had to pick a good place to put it. I asked for her help...she went to my bedroom, asked me what side I slept on and placed the nutcracker on that bedside table so it was "the first thing I see when I wake up". She said that so Trey was the first thing I thought of, but I don't need a nutcracker for that.
Instead, when I see it, I think of the friends and family who think of my son, ask how he is (or where he is for that matter), send him messages on Facebook, or buy things to put in his care packages. I think of the friend who came to help me move and stayed until almost midnight. And while she is my friend, she did it because she recognized my son's service. It made her sacrifice mean even more to me. It reminds me that sometimes I am not as lonely as I feel. That people see...they don't owe me that...but they do it anyway.
I think if we all start doing that, if we see veterans and know they are in a hard place and let them know we know. If we see that Mom and her kids and know that their husband/dad is on deployment so we invite them to dinner or we take the kids so the Mom can go have coffee (or wine...no judgement!) If we make supporting our troops about more than fireworks and hating on athletes who take a knee in protest...if we turn it into positive action...then I think we are going to see less suicides, less divorce in military families, improved morale...
And whether or not we owe it to them...shouldn't we do it anyway?
This was a work in progress for a couple of weeks. I wrestled with it a lot. I'm still not sure I am happy with it. However, it needed to be published today for this reason...this addendum.
On December 7th, a pilot flying patrol was forced to eject when his F-18 went down off the coasts of Japan. On December 9th, the Marine Corps officially announced that Captain James Frederick, 32 years old, had not survived the crash. He leaves behind a young son and a baby on the way. The Wingman Foundation, a reputable organization, is taking donations on his family's behalf. The family will recieve 100% of what you give. You can give here: http://www.wingmanfoundation.org/frederick/