My husband and I fell in love in college. He pursued me for months before I finally agreed to go on a date with him. He was worried that my hesitation was due to his involvement in ROTC and inevitable active duty service.
“Why would I care that you’re going into the military?” I was one of very few people to not bat an eye at his commitment to serving our nation. It gave him renewed confidence, and he hasn’t stopped pursuing my heart since.
The weekend we got married was a whirlwind. We knew it wasn’t a wise choice to marry while he was still in school, but if we waited too long after graduation there was no guarantee where he would be in the world. So he commissioned as an officer in the military on Saturday, and we were married the next afternoon.
A few weeks later we had moved 1,900 miles away and were unpacking for preliminary training. Everything was new. A new city, a new house, a new job, a new marriage, and don’t even get me started on all the new acronyms! My husband grew up in a military household, but I had no idea.
One of those first mornings he woke me up with urgent paperwork to fill out. It took me a minute to fully understand what I needed to do. I was still half-asleep and the other part of me was in shock.
“Who do you want to knock on our door if I die?”
My head swirled and staggered for comprehension.
“If I die, how do you want to find out?”
In that moment I had to decide who would notify me if my husband died. Not only that, but who would notify my parents, if I wanted a military chaplain or our pastor to accompany them, as well as a list of names, addresses, and numbers of my close friends and employers and a precise list of all the places I went during an average week and when. It was a lot to process, to say the least.
I kept asking my husband what all the options were. Clearly in a hurry, he kept pointing to the paper and telling me all the options were listed. But what I really wanted to know was what each situation would feel like. And I had no idea. I had never had anyone close to me pass away, and thus nothing to compare it to. And if I couldn’t imagine what a situation would feel like, how was I supposed to imagine what I would need in that moment? It was an impossible task. Because nothing can prepare you for that knock on the door.
I still have not experienced that situation, but I have filled out that same paper every time we’ve moved. It doesn’t get easier; I’ve just learned to think about it less.
Five Years Later
He has since graduated from training and has been active in his field for over three years. He doesn’t deploy to “dangerous places,” but the threat is still real. His job is erratic and risky, and he holds his life, and the lives of those on his crew, in his hand everyday.
Coping mechanisms come in all shapes and sizes. My husband’s first line of defense has always been humor. When he leaves the house, even on small errands, he sweetly says, “Bye forever.” It’s his way of desensitizing it all. Because when he leaves the house to deploy, it’s a weighty thought that we’re both thinking. But you can’t let that sit on your shoulders. I can’t let that sit on my shoulders and weigh me down. I have a house and a family to care for on my own every time he leaves. If I crumble, who will pick up the pieces?
But any military, police, or firefighter spouse will tell you that you can’t go there. I can’t let myself think “What if…” There’s a time and a place. You fill out those papers, think through those difficult thoughts and emotions, and you literally file it away and pray you never see it again. Some people cling to a higher power, some busy themselves with anything they can possibly do, some get lost in the bottom of a bottle, and some make light-hearted (yet morbid) jokes.
You can’t always change your situation, but you can change how you look at it.
My husband is willing to give his life not only for myself and our children, but for our nation, for you if the situation called for it. That’s just the type of man he is. That’s the man I fell in love with. For better or for worse, it’s my reality.
And I choose to love him everyday because of it.
I choose to not hang up the phone angry after an argument.
I choose to say I love you at every moment I get.
I choose to tell him to be safe at the end of every text, no matter how trite he thinks it is.
I choose to kiss him and playfully flirt with him on those rare occasions when he’s home.
I choose to look him in the eye and tell him, “Thank you. Thank you for being a caring and kind husband. Thank you for being a loving and fun dad. Thank you for being a really good man.”
Despite the chaos, I actively make the choice everyday to be his wife and the mother to our boys.
Do we fight and disagree? Oh yes. Does he drive me absolutely nuts? Most definitely. But when I step back and look at the big picture it helps me to put it all in perspective: life is short. Because ‘we’ are what really matters, and everyday I choose – and believe me when I say that sometimes it’s a seriously hard choice – I choose ‘us’ instead of getting swept up in petty arguments and the fear and unknowns.
I can’t control what may or may not happen tomorrow, but I can control how I choose to live today.
I don’t know when or if I’ll ever get that “knock on the door.” I pray so desperately that I never do. So I wake up every day and choose to find joy and laughter in the little things. I choose to love my husband and our kids well. Because life is too short to do anything less.
Life is not what happens to us, but rather a series of choices we make in response to our circumstances. What will you choose today?