I served as a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy from 1981-1987. Although it is a great honor to service our country there can be very lonely moments. Missing family events is a fact of life if you or someone you love chooses to serve.
I was transferred from Great Lakes, IL which is 1 hour from home to Yokosuka, Japan at the young age of 21. My first year there was difficult just being 10,000 miles from home so young and my niece being born. During 1985 my second year in Japan which still resonates as one of the hardest years of my life.
Many family events happened, including me having my first child. I knew I would have to pick which to attend, and which to miss, because of the expense to come home and the leave time needed.
My sister and soon to be brother in law were wonderful and planned their wedding day to be in my leave window. My dad was being ordained a deacon in the Catholic church on September 15th and my sister was getting married October 5th. We ordered my dress over the phone so I could be in her wedding party. Leave was requested by myself and my ex-husband and we were saving like crazy to come home for a celebratory 3 weeks. My son was born March 31st and we were preparing to travel with a 5-month-old infant. Through all the planning although I was stressed I was so excited to come home and celebrate with my family. I’d been missing them since the day we left.
Then the military lowered their boom and rescinded my then-husband’s leave and I would have to travel a 19-hour flight alone with an infant. We made the decision that it was too much for me to make that trip alone. I was missing yet another event. Now I had the task of calling my sister to tell her I couldn’t be in her wedding and calling my dad to tell him I couldn’t make his ordination. To this day two of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had.
As the summer creeped along and we got closer to September and October my depression of being so far from home became very real. My family did a fabulous job trying to keep me involved with monthly phone calls and always telling me how all the planning was going. I was so grateful for the updates but at the same time would hang up and cry because I was missing so much.
September and October came and as my family was celebrating these events I found myself crying missing everyone so much. My sister and parents purchased videos of the ordination and wedding and sent them to me so I could enjoy their day. I remember being so excited to watch them all while not realizing how much I would cry. I will forever be grateful my family included me as much as possible 10,000 miles away.
Fast forward 20 years and that infant son joined the Navy. My son has been gone all but 7-10 days of every year of his 11.5 years on active duty I find myself feeling a new level of sadness and emotions when he has missed major family events. This is a fact of life for all active duty service members but I know I’m not alone in thinking it is one of the loneliest and most difficult times for families and the service member.
Being someone who has experienced these feelings as a Sailor, mom and aunt I think about what we can do from our side of the experience. We can do many things to help our service member feel a part of family events: pictures, videos and texting details from the events. Facetime and Skype from family events may be a good idea, or it may make things more difficult on our service member. Have the conversation with your service member. It doesn’t replace them being here but I would hope it helps them with the loneliness during these times and the emotions of service their country doing a job they love and being far from home. Luckily with technology today there are more options than were available during my active duty time.
As for the family member, I’ve found a great deal of comfort in belonging to MilitaryMamaNetwork. The “mamas” get it. And I have found an extended family who speaks my language. On those difficult days, I know where I can go to share my thought and feelings.