My husband is an honorably discharged Marine. I would say that he’s a “former” Marine, but, as most Marines know, “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”. So when I say that he gets silent when he hears this particular “Les Miserables” song, it seems out of place. As Veteran’s Day nears us, I often pause to think about what that means for our family. There’s a bittersweetness of missed moments, friends departed from either moves or, more sadly, deaths, but there’s also immense pride in what it means for our family to have my husband and children’s father be a veteran. We started our family while he served active duty in the Marine Corps, so it is an integral part of our family history. But do we wish to be thanked? I would say no, but it means just a little bit more than that.
Phantom Faces and Phantom Shadows
When my husband came home from his deployment, all I could think about was this photograph. We missed so much together and now I wanted to catch up! I thought he wanted to spend every waking second with his 3 month old son, but it delved a little deeper than that. I never once stopped to think about the shock that would happen from living in the middle of a desert to sleeping in a bed with several comfortable pillows and blankets in Southern California. He counted himself lucky to hold his newborn son. Even though he held our new baby, he hadn’t come home yet. It took my husband a little while to adjust, but every so often, he longs for his lost brothers who would never sit at his table again. Once I understood this, I longed for the very same thing.
What the Sacrifice was for
I will never stop mourning the fact that my husband missed our first son’s birth. I’ll also never stop mourning my missed first anniversary or even little moments like our son’s first bath or our first trip to the store. These irreplaceable moments are empty chairs at empty tables in my memory. The worst part about this thought is that I know there are others like me, men and women who had to brave life as usual while their significant other was off protecting our inalienable rights and freedoms. The price is high and while it was worth it, there is definitely a “grief that can’t be spoken”.
We have only recently felt at home. After his discharge, we were in this odd limbo of what defined us after such a tumultuous beginning. They called it transition, but that word doesn’t fit the various ups and downs of settling into our new normal. And we’ve both been thanked for his service, but I would rather not. I would rather someone look at me and understand that behind pride, there was sacrifice and pain. May it be that if you know a veteran or a veteran’s family that you, too, may understand the empty chairs and empty tables they see.