Two weeks ago I received an email from a young wife and mother whose husband is serving a combat tour in Afghanistan. She was distraught over his absence and the possibility that he might never return.
“Dr. Joe, I’m missing my man, and worrying about his safety,” she wrote. “Can you write some thoughts that might alleviate the pain I feel?”
I spent days thinking about this, believing my thoughts would never be sufficient to help this young wife and mother. But I hit reply and said, “Dearest, read me on Sunday; I hope my words can give you hope.”
When I was a young Marine I thought going to war was one big adventure. I was far removed from the pain of the wives, lovers and families who lamented the absence of their loved ones and agonized over their tragic deaths. I didn’t want to be encumbered as I fought in the Vietnam War. Being an efficient soldier does not include anxiety for those at home. I’ve always felt guilty about that.
I remember the night we left the United States. Families and lovers held each other, children were crying, few words were spoken. Because I was the junior officer, I was placed in command of the men. I began to think that leaving for war is not the great romantic adventure that I had imagined.
I remember the sobs of one wife. “Come back to me,” she said to her husband.
I recall the words of an older woman: “Don’t let your Marine see you cry,” she said to a young wife who was holding a newborn.
“Let’s go,” I ordered. We boarded the plane and left for war.
Multiple deployments in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been devastating to those at home who wait. Have we done enough or said enough to mitigate their suffering? We stand on the periphery of such events, but what do we do as citizens to bring our soldiers home from this senseless war? Instead we go to the mall in little solidarity with those who bear the brunt of the war.
The women who say goodbye to their soldiers put their opinions aside, trying to understand that our defenders of freedom are fighting a bigger battle. Their battle goes beyond politics, beyond race or religion. They are the defenders for us all. They are the defenders of our differences.
As one soldier is taken away from us, another returns. There is balance in the universe, a natural system of order. Look beside soldiers and you will find the people who fight with them: the spouses, the sons, daughters and families. They serve too. They share in both victory and defeat. Together they fight for our freedom.
The women who wait strive to be the perfect wife and mother, trying to hold it together while their man’s away. Human life is not about perfection. It is about accepting the flawed, the misguided parts of ourselves. Keep trying, keep believing, keep loving, and remember the proud role that you play in maintaining peace in your country and in the world. Be proud to stand beside your man who willingly serves and whose integrity shines like a diamond in the dust. Be proud to call yourself a soldier’s wife.
My dear, love while you can and laugh while you can. All you can do is trust. You have to love your soldier, but you have to live your life; that’s how you stop your fear. And always remember there is a “her” in the word “hero.”
When I returned from Vietnam, the concern endured by those who wait at home finally hit me. I learned that during my 14-month tour, my mother went to the 6 o’clock Mass every day and lit every candle, praying for me.