The day was June 8, 2005. The time was 3:15 p.m. I was sitting in our den staring at the phone clutched in my fist. I couldn’t release my grasp; it was as if my fingers were super glued to my cell phone. I didn’t know what to do.
I had just heard the words that I had told myself I was ready to hear. “Mom, I have to say good-bye now, I have to shut off my phone. I love you.” I knew it was coming, so why did my heart skip a beat, why did I feel my world had just been altered? With tears running down my face unabashedly, I just kept hanging onto the phone, hoping he would call back, maybe he had forgotten to tell me something, maybe…but that call didn’t come.
There was nothing I could do. He was out of my reach, the invisible umbilical cord mothers have with their children to pull them in when necessary hadn’t merely been stretched, it had been severed when that phone call ended and I was numb. I didn’t know what I should be feeling. The only thing running through my head was “NOW WHAT?”
I continued clenching the phone my mind foggy and my body immobile. I realized I was at a place that no one I knew well had ever been before, and only those that had been through it would understand. NOW WHAT? I couldn’t answer that question, didn’t even know where to start.
I felt I was a ship without a rudder, lost in a fog, no lighthouse, or foghorn to rescue me, expecting to hit a sand bog I couldn’t see, because I didn’t even know which direction to go or my final destination.
Each day of his deployment continued to be an unsettled sea of emotions. In searching for guidance I found some places that helped, yet also receiving advice that confused me more. The main problem was that I was searching for answers, but I didn’t really know what the questions were. In the back of my mind, I kept asking “NOW WHAT?”
I wondered if it was normal when I slept with my cell phone, checked my email hourly just in case he had a chance to be at a computer, became almost obsessed with preparing packages, jumped when the doorbell rang, cried unexpectantly, or held my breath when I turned on my street hoping not to see a dark sedan in front of our house. I didn’t understand how I could want to watch the news, but didn’t really want to know what was going on. “NOW WHAT?” I searched online for any information about his battalion and I started to be impatient with others when they complained about what I now saw as the little things in life, because in my world, when you have a loved one at war, nothing else compares.
At that time, GPS’s were becoming popular. I even remember my son purchasing a high quality one to take with him because the military didn’t issue them to everyone. The thought came to me that it would be great if I had a top of the line GPS to give me directions on how to get from the beginning of this voyage through deployment to the end. Showing me where I could stop for an emotional fill up, a safe place to cry, or when I should turn around to smile at a military person, or direct me to where I could find the perfect item for a package. I imagined it saying to me “In thirty minutes you will need to call this person to get encouragement”, and when I didn’t follow its instructions it would tell me I needed to recalculate my movements.
Of course that never happened. Instead I soon came to understand that every parent with a child in the military needs others that understand the confusing emotions of fear and pride, to be a shoulder to cry on, a real person that can relate. We need others to walk beside us on the long journey of uncertainties military parents everywhere experience. To help answer questions about boot camp to post deployment and even the questions we don’t know we have yet.
Military parents need to be components of one another’s GPS’s giving direction when direction is needed. No one has all the answers, and obviously, every family situation is different, but we need to do whatever possible to embrace and support one another through the long days and longer nights.
Even though at times it was a rough ride, I did make it through our son’s enlistment, which included two deployments. However I couldn’t have done it without support of other military parents that rode the calm as well as the tumultuous waves with me. The hard part was finding other military parents in our area to connect with, but once I did it was worth the effort. The support group we formed will be a bond for life, just like the bond our children have with their fellow comrades.