This was our hardest goodbye.
I didn’t expect it. Afterall, we’ve been here before. In fact, we were just here. We’ve done the deployment farewells, the countdowns, the epic homecomings. We’ve made paperchains and welcome home signs, we’ve Skyped on birthdays, ordered Daddy Dolls, and for a military family, to a degree, this deployment just felt like another little stepping stone in our journey.
After nearly ten years of marriage, four deployments and plenty of farewells, if I’m being honest, I was fairly apathetic about this one. I knew where he was going, knew there would be internet, and in the midst of two kids in school and work and life, I kept telling friends and family and even myself: “It is what it is. No big deal. We’ve done this before.”
But nothing I could have told myself would have prepared me for this one.
It was a mostly normal Wednesday.
The sun was shining, the kids went to school, my husband and I went to Costco for some last minute items, and then I folded laundry as I watched him pack for the better part of the next year.
We picked up our two kids early from school, and I think my five year old was more upset about missing his little basketball club than my husband leaving. During lunch together, we talked about how we’d spend our time apart and how we’d make sure we continued to grow together. We reminisced about the last few weekends and the “most funnest” things we’ve done, with hopes that the memories of times together would be enough to last until the summer.
And then we waited.
With a commercial flight not until 7:00 that evening, I was initially so thankful for “one more day” together. The truth is, it felt like it lasted a year; like we were belaboring the goodbye and dragging out the inevitable.
When it was finally time to leave for the airport, we drove slowly, hands intertwined, tears in our eyes. The irony of wanting the day to hurry up only to wish it would slow down wasn’t lost on me. Our six year old daughter had already started to cry, and our son sat quietly, not saying much.
There are times as a mom you look at your kids and marvel at how big they’ve become. And then there are times like these, in which you catch a glimpse in the rearview mirror and can’t help but feel like they look so small — too small to be saying goodbye to their dad, again.
We parked the car and headed inside, finding unfamiliar territory as our little family usually travels together. As a Navy family, saying goodbye at the pier is one thing. The pomp and circumstance don’t necessarily temper the difficulty of the farewell, but there’s strength in looking around and seeing countless families in the journey together. Strangers, united in sacrifice, experiencing the same roller coaster of emotions: Pride in the service and sadness in the separation.
But on a quiet Wednesday night in Virginia, save a curious onlooker sitting with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, we were the only ones outside Concourse B. We held each other tight and said our goodbyes through an unrelenting stream of tears. My heart was in my throat watching our daughter clutch him so tightly, softly saying to, “Go save the world, Daddy. Make it a better place.”
Our son, still somewhat aloof, gave him one more squeeze, and I gave him one more hug, one more “Be safe,” and one more kiss. As we wiped tears and held hands, we watched him walk away toward security. Finally understanding what was happening, our son took off running, wailing, “Daddy please don’t leave! Daddy NO! Daddy PLEASE!” He caught him just in time, and my husband turned around, bent over, and scooped our little boy into his arms. My daughter and I caught up to them, and the four of us stood outside TSA, sobbing.
My husband finally left.
And as I knelt on the floor of the airport holding my babies, I caught a glimpse of the stranger with his coffee. I noticed he was feverishly wiping his own tears, somehow understanding that this wasn’t just a quick business trip. Seventeen years into war, in a world where it often feels like the sacrifices of our military families is forgotten, holding his gaze somehow made me feel like this goodbye was appreciated, understood, and even respected.
With four little arms still wrapped around my neck, two little blonde heads buried on my shoulders, I whispered words of comfort, of strength, and of love, hoping I too would believe them. “We can do this. We will be strong together. We are brave.”