From Deployment to Transition
Becoming a wife and mother was life-changing in the most challenging and beautiful ways. Becoming a grandmother was pure joy. But add the word, military, to any of these roles and it is a whole different experience that you can’t train for and you don’t see coming.
Basic training is the longest I went without seeing Elijah or hearing his voice. Deployment was painful. I would have welcomed anything, including an argument. I had asked him to call my voicemail and leave me a message so I could hear his voice. At least I would have control of hearing his voice.
“Hi, Mommy, it’s me. I am about to leave but don’t worry. I will be back. I’ll be fine…”
He is 6’1”, a soldier, and committed to protecting all of us, but hearing his voice, I see my baby who laughed all the time and loved everyone.
Elijah was in Afghanistan for his son’s first Christmas. We connected by way of a computer monitor. Then, something happened where he was. He reached for something and dropped the call. I looked at my husband and asked, “So what do we do with that?” He said, “We go on with Christmas. We don’t borrow trouble. We believe he knows how to stay safe. So, we kind of did but you can’t not worry.
Wonderful But Painful Visits
The longer he was deployed, the harder it was for him to be home. We couldn’t wait to see him but he was always different somehow. His wife couldn’t wait to have him home to help with kids but he was not a big help because he was so uneasy.
Elijah was scheduled to fly into Boston, an hour away. His wife and babies waited for him at home. My husband and I made arraignments to take him to dinner in Boston straight from the airport to give him a special welcome. The only thing he wanted was to get to his wife and babies. For a moment, it was ‘Wow, I raised him right’ and a second later, it was, ‘Blast! I raised him right!’ I wanted to be with my baby and he wanted to be with his.
It was hard to understand how he could actually want to go back. The longing to see him was just that, we wanted the jovial guy whose first choice would be to hang out with his family. Instead, we adjusted to whatever his current mood happened to be and dealt with the bickering that would ensue.
We would often find him alone, even when he was surrounded by all of us.
It’s hard to explain the look on his face. The one bright spot was that the kids loved being with him. It was beautiful. They had no expectations, they loved who he was then. There’s a lesson there.
Home Not-So-Sweet Home
When he finally came home for good, he was not comfortable for a number of reasons. The lack of structure and not having something to do every hour of the day seemed to drive him crazy. His friends were either still overseas or in other states. To his brother and sister, he was no longer the person they grew up with, but someone different, someone almost unrecognizable.
He was lonely. He couldn’t sleep. He had very little patience. The jobs he found were low-wage. His car broke down. He was separated from his family. I worried myself sick wondering what he would do. Would he go back to Afghanistan? Did he really miss it? Was he drinking too much?
I was Elijah’s mom. How could I have no clue how to help?! I began to search online to find him help but would end up getting tangled up in some of the sites. I read countless articles that gave different opinions. Drowning in information, I felt helpless.
How We Begin to Heal
Once my son started to level out and settle into his new normal, we all started to settle in as well. One morning, I woke up thinking, “What leaves me off the hook”? It was as if a light was turned on. From that point I shifted my energy towards finding ways to help us and other families. In doing so, we discovered so many wonderful organizations committed to helping families just like us.
During my family’s’ time of need why did we have such a hard time finding information or connecting to the right resources? I want to level these barriers for other veterans and their families. This is how I honor my son’s service and how we all begin to heal.