"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.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Clinging to Pictures

In the last twenty-four hours two friends have brought events up that they are struggling with. These are two very different situations, two very different women, in two very different places on their journey but they both focus on the daily struggles stemming from a misunderstanding of the military life. Today I want to tell you about W.

W is one of the most experienced military spouses I know. She has walked this path for two decades, loving  a man who was first a marine and then became a soldier. A man who has been separated from her for five, year-long deployments, who has served honorably, who is right at the end, looking at retirement. She is a woman of dignity and goodness and full of good humor. She is just as addicted to Starbucks coffee as I but can appreciate a cup of Dunkin' Donuts as well. She makes me laugh. She has talked me through and made me smile during some difficult periods of my journey. She is a dear friend, my greatest mentor, an example I try to follow. 

And all those things make it all the more difficult for me to know that someone has hurt her. It shows that no matter how long we have been in this, there are some moments - some words - that still blindside us, knock us over. Bring angry tears to our eyes. A friend of hers, a friend she has known for twenty years - nearly her ENTIRE period in the military life, made a random, horrendous comment in a "catching up email" about the pictures taken of her husband's last day on American soil. I asked if I could share:

"...I have to say I got so tired of: D in the car going to the airport. D arriving at the airport. D walking into the airport, etc. It was overkill, W. I know you love the guy but we all have loved ones that have been deployed. Don't be mad."

I don't even know where to start here. 

I. have. no. idea.

This is her friend saying this - of twenty years. Randomly, in an email, talking about her new job and school and etc. etc. sectioned off, just to get her point across. Months, almost a YEAR, after this event took place. This event being her husband - of twenty years - leaving his wife and son on his fifth deployment to a war zone.

I get that maybe some people think it is strange to photograph that. I do. I know how hard that must be to understand. My best friend took pictures of C and I's last hour together before he deployed. She took pictures of us holding our children, took pictures from behind us, of our shoulders leaning into each other just sitting. Of Logan nestled into C's chest - knowing that "something sad" was taking place. She has pictures of C's last kiss to Logan, of his last kiss to Eli, and there is a photo - taken with a simple camera by a far from professional photographer - of C and I holding our children as he kissed my forehead for the very last time. My nose is red, my chin is fat, my lips are curled in as I try with ev-er-y-thing in me to hold back the tears. That photo may be one of the most beautiful pictures I own. 

Every single time I see it ... 

And yes, it is morbid, and yes, I am sure it doesn't make sense to most people, but I needed those moments documented. I needed to have them. If he didn't ... if the doorbell ... if that was my last moment with him I NEEDED TO HAVE IT. I needed to be able to look back at it. I needed my boys to have pictures of their daddy holding him, and loving them, and being with them, because if he didn't come home ... if he didn't come back to them ... they needed to have these pictures.

Because they would not remember.

Judge that however you need to. Hate me for it. Criticize that manner of thinking. I don't care. But do not - DO NOT - say it to me. Do not, for a moment, think you have any right to cross that line. 

You don't.

And not everyone has had someone deployed - that number just doesn't work. There are just over 500,000 soldiers - a number which will soon lessen - and so, no, not everyone has had a family member deployed. And when you get into what type of family member, and what type of deployment ... I should say that her son is in the air force and was deployed to a fob (which he never left) for three months at some point. Separation is separation, but ... 

Unless you know what it is to send the father of your child(ren), into a combat zone, as a combat soldier, you do not get to criticize - not to us - or put your ignorant thoughts into a casual email, or comment on our Facebook, or scan through our pictures and then hate us for posting them. 

Because people like this woman - who we think are our friends, our best friends - can hurt the strongest of military spouses. Even those with two decades of experience. We can brush it aside when it is strangers, people who can't possibly understand sometimes, but when it is our closest and dearest ... someone who has watched us struggle through, who has listened as we cried for them, who have acted as a sounding board ... 

It makes us question a lot.

Because that is what gets me, that people don't THINK anything of WHAT THEY SAY. She had NO IDEA that what she was saying would kill her friend's spirit - or else she just. didn't. care. No one has a right to take that from one of us. We fight too hard to reach that strength, to hold onto it, to KEEP it, and to say something so awful ... 

People just don't think.

They do NOT think. 

Oh how I wish I could change that.


  1. That is just awful. I think you are spot on. Photos are sometimes all you might have left at the end of the day if they dont come home. Memories can fade but photo's? They linger forever, for generations! They are an important part of life, of history. My husband deployed suddenly and after he left I realised we had hardly any photo's of him, him and the kids, us together and our last family photo was taken when our second son was 6mths old (2.5yrs before!) I felt physically ill that this was our reality and we might never have those photographic memories to hang on to should he not make it home. How do I explain that to the kids? I will never let it happen again, if its the one thing I change in my life from now on there will be photo's galore of all of us together.

  2. It makes me so mad that women say things like that to each other all the time. It doesn't matter that someone else has gone through it too, it doesn't make it hurt less for W, and those pictures are so important to have. Plus, it's freaking facebook, no one was forcing that woman to look at the pictures. Wench.

  3. OH, MY GOD. I sit here with tears rolling down my face. I don't want to curse a blue streak on your blog, but I could. I really could. What kind of "friend" would EVER, and I mean EVER say that???

    What a "c" word. Yeah. The C word. That's where I am taking it.

    God bless our troops, their families and even the small minded, ignorant fools who are guaranteed rights and freedoms by the blood and tears of the military member and their families.

  4. I always wished I had pictures closer to the time Sweet Boy left. On nights when I would miss him terribly, I would get on my computer and look at our pictures together. I even had a file of pictures that was specifically of him. You always need to look back on those times together. Sometimes people don't think of what they are saying to people. It wasn't her place to say that about the pictures. I get tired of looking at pictures of babies just sitting there, but I would never say that to the owner of those pictures, I just choose not to look at them. Everyone copes with things differently. Take as many pictures as you want! No one should get in your way.

  5. I have hundreds of photos, they map out my life, invoke memories and emotions that can sometimes get lost in our busy lives. We have photos on the walls of Hubby at 'play', my family don't get it, they don't try to, many of my friends don't get it, they though are trying. How do you explain the importance of that one photo of him pulling a silly face or standing with the dog, without explaining the worries and fears. But those words coming from one that knows the life we live, that's meant to understand and support, how shattered your friend must of been, my heart goes out to her. They say friends are there for a life time, a season or a reason....I think she was a season friend.

  6. It's because of the absurd amount of photos we take of my husband that his family doesn't have to ask, they can follow our every step through our last days together before we spend year or forever apart. Because of these pictures,our daughter (3yrs old) remembers what her Daddy looks like when he's been gone for over half her life. These pictures are all we have when there are no phone calls, email, or skype and the days and nights are just too long. Some just cannot comprehend.

  7. My baby girl was just 6 wks old when my husband left. She was 14 months when he returned. A picture of him, his voice recorded, was all she ever knew of that sweet man she now shouts "DaDa!" at. The truth is, without that picture by her rocking chair, taken of them just a few short weeks prior to him leaving, a picture she stared at every time she was nursed, a picture that we talked about endlessly, ad nauseum even, was the one thing that she got. Two days before he was due to return, we started to go through our evening ritual of who was who in the picture and I, for the first time, simply asked her who the man was holding the baby. With an absolute tremor in my heart I asked her that question and without pause, she said, "DaDa." When they "met" for the first time 2 days later, it wasn't a stranger she was seeing, she said "Dada" when he picked her up. THAT'S the power of a photo.

    Why can't we women just be supportive? I've seen friends post hundreds of photos of their wedding, their children, their lives, and if it gets to be too much, I stop looking. No need for hurtful words followed by the absolutely inane comment, "Don't be mad." How could he be anything but? Her friend just virtually slapped her. If you're tired of seeing all those photos, find something else to look at--like how to make your own heart in a better one.

    Those last minutes are absolutely precious and imprinted on our minds until our soldier returns.

  8. My husband and I take one last photo of the two of us before he goes away even for just a few weeks. He always jokes how I am ruining his career in the CIA by having so many pictures, but I need to document that last moment just in case. I have these pictures all over our house. People think I'm funny, but I have to remember and he hates having his picture and this is the one time he indulges my need to capture his face on film. No one has teh right to take that away from me, not even him. I couldn't be friends with anyone who tried, no matter how innocently.


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