Friday, February 5, 2010
Maria, Army wife, with Gracie. The bullet hole from the bullet that went through her husband's head is nearby.
Army wives join the military. They are not commissioned, nor do they enlist. Their wedding dress is often their uniform. When they say “I do,” they most likely don’t realize how much they really will be doing. Four years, three moves, three deployments and then perhaps an injured husband with a traumatic brain injury, or post traumatic stress or the more visible injuries of amputations, or severe burns that will change their lives forever.
Anniversaries, births of children, and holidays are missed. They wait, struggling with keeping a marriage alive in a long distance relationship and combating loneliness.
The army wives tell me that they grow as they wait. Sometimes it is the 'Cheetos' they pig out on, on bad deployment days, or the comfort of ice cream. But they learn from each other. They learn that clear, concise communication with a deployed spouse is mandatory. They learn too that conversations with their spouse must be short and loving and direct. There is no body language, no make-up or no make-out sessions. Army wives support and encourage each other like other female friends can’t quite grasp. These are lifelong relationships that often last longer than some marriages.
It is my opinion that military spouses are among the most amazing creatures on the planet. They sign on because of love, they remain on board willingly. And they are keenly aware of the grenade or IED that could be around the corner.
These wives focus on each other and their children when their husbands are deployed or have been injured, facing months and months of tough recovery. They seem to form a sisterhood. Friendships with each other happen quickly, because moves are often frequent. Their often manic lives are to be applauded and honored and respected.
On weekends, injured soldiers, who have spent the week in therapy sessions or awaiting doctor appointments, sleep late. The wives gather in the living room or kitchens or on the patio of the Fisher Houses. Some of them are in their pajamas and the kids are in strollers, or playing in the courtyard. It is like a very large home. A home away from home, wherever that home might have been.
The soldiers have repeatedly told me that having little Gracie, or any of the other therapy dogs that visit, makes them happy. Not just because they enjoy the dogs, but because it brings a little bit of home to their children, some of whom have been removed from the only home they ever knew. They ask dad and mom for a pet, but obviously that is not a realistic possibility. So at least for a little while our Soldiers' Angels Support Dogs offer a sense of normalcy to some extraordinary children.
Most all of the kids love 'Gracie.' They form circles around her, squat and reach out their arms to pet her. Seldom do I have to ask them to give “gentle touches.” They seem to know. They also take pride in sharing with their friends and encouraging them and supporting them, very much like their mothers support each other. They are kind and courteous and a pleasure to be around. They have been subjected to things other children haven’t, nor ever will be. Their lives too will never be the same. They, like their mothers, have had to grow up all too quickly.
With flags, we honor freedom in our yards and in our homes and even in our wardrobe. But I wonder, do we acknowledge, appreciate or recognize the wives of our deployed military and their commitment and their staggering grace.
“We all have the extraordinary coded inside us, waiting to be released.”