Saying, “I do” to Someone in the Military

I married my best friend Scott who is in the Air Force. After we got engaged he jokingly said, “Hey, with all your volunteer work, you know what you signed up for.” He was both right and wrong. Before, I was one step removed. As it turns out, that’s a pretty big step. So I’m sharing some things I knew and some that took me by surprise.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned him before it’s because he’s a bit on the shy side.

husband-and-wife

This is us.

Redefining togetherness

I met my first adopted soldier and his wife after he returned from Afghanistan. Back then I thought deployments were the only times military couples were separated. Until she said, “We married right after high school and I figured out that between his deployments, training, various schools, and TDYs (temporary duty) we’ve spent 50% of the past 10 years apart.”

There’s also been a great deal of travel for most couples I know. Everyone seems to have a mix of beautiful places they’ve loved along with less thrilling locales. One of which I’m told held the promise of, “three years of bad hair” due to swamp-like humidity.

Most folks I’ve met have moved together, but not all of them and not all the time. Sometimes the spouse and kids stay in one place because of school or they have roots in the area and then the servicemember moves from base to base and comes home to visit. We would be in the latter category. So right now our wild fantasy is living in the same zip code full-time.

You had plans?

Again my thoughts go back to my first adopted soldier. The Army told him he could deploy two weeks after his unit so he could be there for this birth of his first child. Then the Army changed those plans and he wound up meeting baby Kyle on leave a few months later.

Yet somehow it still took me by surprise when Scott informed me that he might have to deploy before the wedding (you know, and miss it.). Then he almost had to go TDY (and miss the wedding). Then he said that he’d been asked, “Does Gina want to get married in Germany?” and my bridal stress rose higher.

HUSBAND: We’re lucky. Not every unit would even ask or try to work around our wedding. They would just send me.

ME: I’m planning this wedding from out-of-state and we’ve got people coming from far away with NON-REFUNDABLE plane tickets so, “lucky” does not describe my primary feeling right now.

HUSBAND: Yes, dear. I love you.

After that he decided not to tell me every time a potential change came up. I decided not to tell our guests unless I knew for sure we’d have to postpone. Finally, all things were set and I knew we’d have two weeks together after the wedding before he deployed. Then that changed to one week.

Can you hear me now?

Scott figured that since we were used to traveling to see each other, I was sort of prepared for being apart during deployment. What surprised me was how separated I still felt. I blame emojis—and texting in general. I never realized until he was gone and not easily reachable how often we reached out to each other.

HUSBAND: You’re lucky. Back in the day, there was no facetime and we could only call home once a week. But you and I get to talk a few minutes each day! And this is a shorter tour, it’s not like it’s a year.

ME: Okay, when I say I’m feeling sad and I miss you, I kinda don’t want to hear how lucky I am. I just want to know that you miss me too.

HUSBAND: Yes, dear. I miss you too.

Kindness

I’ve sent a lot of care packages. What could possibly surprise me here? I have always been grateful for any help folks gave me for, “my” troops. And I’ve often spoken about how much our troops appreciate any little thing—a cup of coffee, a postcard. But now I was even more deeply moved by all of this. Now I understood. Each act of kindness felt like a hug. It meant a great deal to me that people remembered my husband and his unit. It made me feel like I was not in this alone.

Heartbreak – part 1

Ten days before my husband was supposed to come home I got a call about my mother, Lalin. Beautiful and gracious—my first best friend, mentor and hero—Mom had had a catastrophic hemorrhage on the left side of her brain. I rushed to be by her side. And it was instantly clear to me that the tubes keeping her alive did not even remotely resemble the life force that she was.

Soon, doctors declared that there were no signs of brain activity. Lalin had triumphed over adversity many times, but she would not win this battle.

We were asked about organ donation. The thing about mom is that she was the single most giving and selfless person I have ever met. She would always tell me, “Do for others, do for others.” She was so proud and happy any time I followed this mantra. So even though we never discussed it before, I knew she would have wanted this.

It took two days to find a donor match. Those were two hard days. Finally, we escorted Lalin to the operating room. My brother and I held her hand on either side of the gurney surrounded by an entourage of doctors. You know how in old movies when royalty walks down the stairs and someone holds their hand on either side? That’s what it felt like to me. My mom was 4’10” and about 100lbs and so tiny in that big hospital bed, but such a large presence. We said our final goodbyes and the doctors looked at me for the signal to proceed and I announced, “Okay Mom, now you go change some lives just like you changed ours.”

Three hours later, the transplant coordinator called to tell me that Lalin had just saved the life a 56yr old woman.

momme

One of my favorite pictures of my mom and me.

Heartbreak – part 2

This is when I needed and wanted my husband most—and he was not here. It took me all day to even get him the news. I was hysterical by the time he reached me. We prayed for a miracle as I made arrangements for my daughter Sofia’s care and got myself a plane ticket to get to Mom.

Nine days before Scott was coming home we knew there would be no miracle. His commander asked him if he wanted Emergency Leave. You would think we’d jump at that, but there are things we paused to consider.

Lalin had made it clear many times that she did not want us to, “sit around being sad.” She wanted to be cremated and did not want a funeral. So even as we waited for the organ match, I knew we’d be doing memorial events for mom, which would not happen immediately.

I also knew that with one unit leaving and one coming in, this was an important time for Scott to be there. Could his unit do without him? Yes. But it was not ideal. Could we wait nine days so he could take care of his people there? My husband was torn. He wanted to be home for me and he loved my mom. But he also wanted to be there for his guys. He said he would do whatever I wanted. Then I heard Lalin’s mantra in my head, “do for others.”

We decided to wait and let him finish his tour. I admit that I underestimated just how long those days and nights would be. There were calls where I couldn’t even manage words. I just sobbed as he said reassuring and loving things. It was hard on him too because he felt helpless. And when he got off the plane and I ran into his arms, I felt like I had found home after being lost.

cominghome

Homecoming.

Strength

It’s easy to be impressed by the military spouses I’ve become friends with. I’ve seen one drive to the new state they’re moving to, do all the house hunting, then buy, and start to paint and repair the home, all while her husband was deployed. I’ve seen them support children through special moments, tough times, and the everydayness that is most of life, without their, “other half.” I’ve seen them start, delay, and restart education and careers because the reality is— they too serve and sacrifice. I’ve seen friendships withstand the rigors of time and distance because they are more than friends. With their shared experiences, they are more like family.

Gratitude

The Chaplain who married us called to check on me as I waited my husband’s return. Others in his unit and well as our civilian family and friends have been supportive in countless ways. And even though I haven’t been a military spouse for long, my experience thus far has made me even more deeply appreciative to everyone before me and after me who has chosen this path as they walk down the aisle.

wedding

Saying, “I do.”

© Gina left the mall, 2017

22 thoughts on “Saying, “I do” to Someone in the Military

  1. I don’t even know which emotion to acknowledge first! If in person, I would simply give you a giant hug. A hug of congratulations! How wonderful to marry your best friend, to have that depth of love that is nurturing and supportive even if it’s on the other side of the world at times! You are definitely “walking the walk” now. A hug of condolence and sympathy…even empathy. This may sound silly or it may ring true, but when my father died (leaving a huge gaping hole in the universe) many people offered kind words, however the truest, most memorable words came from a friend who had recently lost her mother. She looked me in the eyes (after hugging me) and said, “It sucks. It really, really sucks.” And she was right. Though the pain lessens, it doesn’t go away. But there would be no pain if there hadn’t been such enormous love. And when through the years, you see your mother in Sofia’s talents, personality, or actions, you may still get teary eyed (as I am now) but you will also smile. Best wishes, my friend.

    • Wendy,
      Thank you for you kind and empathetic words and giant hug (even if virtual!). I am lucky to have Scott. And I’m very sorry about your father and that you know this pain. Your friend was right. You are right too when you speak about the enormous love. I told my brother that it only hurts so much because she loved us so well. And it would be a beautiful legacy to my mom to continue to see her reflected in Sofia. I understand why you got teary writing this because I got that way reading it.

  2. Oh my god Gina, I am crying in my public library. Congrats on your marriage, may you two have many wonderful years! I can relate to your loss of you mom as my Dad died (Feb. 10th) at home under hospice care, it was THE hardest thing to do/watch that I have ever gone through, we are now planning the wake and burial mass. Thank you to your mom for the ultimate pay it forward with her organ donation, I pray someday you can perhaps meet the person who benefited from her gift. Take care.
    Paula K.

    • Paula, thank you for the warm wishes on my marriage. And please accept my heartfelt condolences on the loss of your father. I know the path ahead of you is not easy. There will be moments when you forget for a split second and reach for the phone to call him (as I did my mom). And I feel my mom’s love in the present tense (which is both beautiful and difficult) so how can she be gone? But please remember to accept the love and help around you as you plan for the wake, burial mass, and “new normal” beyond that. As Wendy mentioned above, “there would be no pain if there hadn’t been such enormous love.” I will keep you and your family in my prayers. And yes, I hope that one day I get to meet the woman mom helped.

  3. Gina, you’ve left me speechless. As I started this post I wanted scream Congratulations, but then I read on…. Saying that I am sorry for loss just doesn’t express what I feel. I know you and Scott will be strong for each other and you’ll make it all work out!!

  4. I am overwhelmed with emotion…Joy over the love you and Scott share, Sadness over the loss of your mother, Compassion over choosing the right thing to do in a difficult time…even though it meant you would be alone through most of it. Grateful that you were able to know and understand your mom’s wishes to help others and allow her to do so. It’s comforting to know that your mom lives on through the lives of people she saved.

    Death is a process, we each experience it similarly, yet differently. I hope that the continued support of family and friends will bring you through that grief…because beyond it, the memories live without the pain…and beautiful memories they will be.

    Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your life…and the similar struggles military wives face every day. Big hugs!

    • Mrs. P, you capture the emotions I felt and continue to feel. Thank you for your kind words, understanding and big hugs. As I process my loss and the joys and challenges of being a mil-spouse, I am comforted that I have good examples to follow. I have my mom whom I feel is still teaching me, cheering me on and guiding me forward (and through the most difficult time). And I have the other mil-spouses who are generous with advice and stand with me. I am grateful for it all.

  5. Congratulations, Gina. Brava for honoring your mom by sticking to her mantra during one of the most difficult times in a daughter’s life.

  6. Gina,

    Like everyone else I am so thrilled that you found your soulmate and equally devastated about the loss of your Mom. There are no words sometimes but I love that you were able to keep her alive through the organ donation program. So many lives will be blessed by that difficult decision.

    After multiple deployments and years of just little trips, my wife and I have discovered one thing. If it is going to happen, it will happen when he is gone. That is as much as fact as that the sun will come up in the morning. Stay strong because the roller coaster is just leaving the station.

    rob

    • Rob,
      There may be, “no words” but yours are kind and welcome. Thank you. I think you and your wife are 100% correct about when, “stuff” happens. And normally I’m not a fan of roller coasters, but Scott is worth it so I will take your advice there as well 🙂

  7. Gina, You are so good with words, and you always seem to find the right words. I sometimes have trouble expressing exactly what I want to say.Whenever I read “Gina left the Mall”,I always come away happy. Sometimes the stories are sad, but you are always doing things to make others happy.. I think you are very much like your Mom. I just know that your Mom is not just smiling. She is laughing and full of joy for you and Scott. She surely loves the beautiful woman you have become and very proud of the beautiful woman Sofia is becoming. You are in our prayers every night.

    • Delores, you have no idea how much your first sentence made me smile. My mom loved the way I wrote and she would often tell me, “I don’t have the words. You always have the right words.” The rest of your kind remarks make me smile as well. All I’ve ever wanted was to be like my mom. But taller 🙂 And when people remark that I am like her, it means a lot to me. Sofia’s middle name is Lalin and when I see Lalin reflected in her, I am very proud and think you’re right that Mom is too.

  8. It takes a strong women to be a military spouse! You have to be to get through the deployments… TDYs… long work hours… constantly having to change your plans because what you want to do isn’t important to the military! It’s always duty first! Let me just say… Gina you are an amazing military spouse!! You are a very strong women and an all around amazing person! Even when your going through the worst moments of your life you are thinking of how you can help others!! I am so happy we became friends!

    • Jen, you are one of the military spouses that inspires me. I am grateful for your example, friendship and support here on this page. The things I’ve seen you do, in good times and bad, help me understand both what’s necessary and possible. You are one of the reasons I don’t feel lost. Thank you ❤ !

      • I miss you Gina and I am so glad Scott had asked me to pick you up at the airport that day we met and became life long friends!! 💖 I’m glad I am able to inspire you! I wish I had had someone to help me navigate the life of a military spouse when Dan and I first got married. I felt lost many many times! Just know I will always be here for you!

  9. We are happy to have such a wonderful, generous woman joining our “ranks” of spouses. And I had to laugh because my husband responds the same exact way. “Yes dear, I love you.” He’s found a keeper – to a long and happy life together! ❤

    • Thank you so much for the happy wishes ❤ and warm welcome. It is an honor to join your "ranks!" My daughter is on school break and we are visiting Scott and she has started copying him and saying, "yes dear" to me…lol.

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