"I've missed nearly half his life, Megan." I hadn't thought about it like that. I hadn't seen it that way at all. But it was true.
He had emailed me back from my nightly email on what the boys had done. Eli was trying to walk, he was beginning to stand alone and he had done a full-on pull-up on the outside part of the pack n' play. He literally lifted his body inches off the ground. All still while being the size of the average 6 month old. He was struggling with hearing it all. He didn't want me to stop telling him, he wanted to know what was going on back here but it hurt him so badly to know how much he was missing. Eli was 5 months old when C left for Afghanistan - he is just over 9 months old now. He will miss his first birthday.
"I will have only been around for one of my kids' birthdays when this deployment is out." Another truth. He was here for Logan's first birthday - which we didn't throw a birthday party for. We had a welcome home get-together for our friends who had just returned from deployment and a private celebration with just us and C's parents later that night. He had missed his second birthday. He was at JRTC at Fort Polk. He will not be here for Eli's first birthday or for Logan's third. It broke my heart that he was thinking about this.
His plate is too full - he has too much responsibility on his shoulders - to worry about things he cannot change. But I cannot stop him from worrying, from feeling the pain of it. My husband knows how much I want to make everything okay and so often he has to remind me that some things are out of my hands.
I am a fixer. This can be a harmful thing as much as it can be a helpful thing. When there is a problem, I analyze it, I look at the options, and I fix it. It makes me a helpful resource for fellow spouses, it makes me a good problem-solver, it makes me a dedicated volunteer. I always want to help - which makes it oh-so-difficult when I cannot "fix" something.
I cannot tell you how much my chest tightened when I read his words. "I know it is part of it, but it doesn't make it any less difficult." I know how much he was missing his boys and there was nothing on this earth that I could do to change it. I was so frustrated, so defeated, so torn apart inside. To tell him what is going on here hurts him, to not tell him hurts him, and even with how much is jam-packed into his day, his mind cannot erase that reality.
It is such a heavy guilt that soldiers carry. And that does not mean for a moment that they regret what they do, as much as so many outside of this world seem to think so. Their hearts are heavy because they know what they are missing - because they know that they truly are missing pieces of their children's lives. I know that part of C feels like he is failing his family and it may be impossible for him not to feel that. I want so badly to take that pain from him, to keep his mind from going there, to stop him from taking everything upon himself. He has never failed us. By being where he is and by doing what he does, he does not fail us. It doesn't matter how many times I tell him how proud we are, how many times I say how much he is supported, how many times he hears that his boys are okay - he will not be able to erase that feeling. But I will continue to say those things because as much as they may not "fix" what he feels, they are important for him to know and to remember and to be reminded of.
I do not know what happens in the minds of other soldiers. I can only speak for what I know of my husband. They all process things differently, they all cope with the separation in different ways, much like how we who stay behind all cope in different ways. But it is difficult to know how to help him in this. He doesn't even know how to help him through it. Part of me wishes he could just shut us out if he needed to, to turn it off so that he didn't have to feel what he is feeling, but I know that that is not my husband. It isn't something I would truly want him to be able to do. Part of me finds so much comfort in how much I know he cares for our family, how much he does for us, how much he worries. I want nothing more than to make him feel the comfort I feel, how incredibly fulfilled I am by this family.
But when he comes home, his son who was only rolling will be walking. He will be beginning to speak. He will be trying to keep up with his older brother. His son who was saying a few words will be talking non-stop. He will be taller, he will be smarter, he will be older. His children will not be the same boys that he knew when he left. And I wish so badly that we had Skype. I wish he could see them as they grow. I cannot express how much it breaks my heart that he cannot see them, hear them, play with them.
I cannot fix this. I CAN NOT fix this and I cannot put into words how much that twists my brain and squeezes my heart. I can only pray that he keeps the strength, pray that his heart is comforted, pray that his mind is at ease. And I will continue to let him know that Logan can count to 15 and that Eli must be destined to be the smallest body builder in the world because as much as it hurts to know he is missing it, he wants to be part of it. He wants to be involved because of how deeply he loves his children.
He wants to be here, as much as he can be here. He wants them with him, in his heart, on his mind. He wants to close the gap between where he is and where we are ... a half-a-lifetime away.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.