This quickly and easily became my most-used word during the first year of my marriage. My ‘Newlywed Dreams’ were continually dashed against the side of a 420’ white Coast Guard cutter as that first year, instead of being filled to the brim with making dinner together in our new home, giggling under the sheets, and snuggling in the dark drifting off to the sound of each other talk about kids and goals and our next vacation… it was filled with good-byes. Lots of them. Lots of good-byes and lots of tears and lots of emailing. Lots of distance. Lots of lonely nights. Lots of falling asleep alone, waking up alone, coming and going alone, eating dinner alone. Then, when he was in theater for weeks at a time and didn’t have any email, I swear it felt like the only connection we had was being in that photo on the wall together, and the fact that we put on the same uniform every day.
That’s right. At the time, both of us were Active Duty Coast Guard; it’s how we met.
So it should’ve been easier on me, right? Did you know I actually had people tell me that? “Oh, you’re in the Coast Guard, too, so at least that’s easier! Imagine if you weren’t!” I still laugh thinking about the things some people let come out of their mouths. The Coast Guard is generous in the fact that it tries very hard with dual-military couples to keep one spouse on Shore Duty while the other serves Sea Duty, so at least you have SOME hope of actually getting to see one another. Especially if you have children.
However, the only leg-up I had on a spouse not-in-the-Coast Guard was the capability to communicate with my husband via Coast Guard Instant Messenger. And that was IF we both happened to be on a computer at the same time and IF his ship was allowing that at all. Most of the time, however, we were ‘two ships passing in the night,’ for lack of a better phrase, and our marriage relied heavily on email.
For the 3 years he was Sea Duty, my husband deployed for up to 6 months at a time, with anywhere from two weeks to two months at home in between deployments. Three words to sum THAT up: it was hard. It was very hard. But we made the best of it that we could. Jesse deployed in February, and in March, 4 months into our marriage, I found myself standing alone in the bathroom staring at two pink lines. My first reaction was to rush out of the bathroom and go show my husband so we could hug and kiss and celebrate and do everything husbands and wives do when they find out they’re expecting their first child together. But… I had to settle for emailing a photo of the positive test instead. I had to wait for and then decipher his excitement through words on a screen. Had to chat names and dreams about our baby via email. Had to go to my first OB appointment, nervous out of my mind, alone. Had to stare at the first ultrasound of our baby alone. Had to stare at the second ultrasound alone… the one that was checking for miscarriage. The one that confirmed a miscarriage. Had to say goodbye to our baby alone. Had to cry many nights— you guessed it, alone. It naturally created a lot of resentment, disconnect, and added loneliness, and as much as I blamed him for it, the other part of me knew it wasn’t Jesse’s fault. He was just doing his job. That he was fulfilling his ‘devotion to duty.’
Fast forward a little bit, and you get to the time I spent most of my entire first pregnancy without Jesse, and naturally revisited those same feelings again. And then again, when he had to deploy only nine days after our daughter was born. It never, ever got easier. I just learned how to choose to be tougher. I learned how to choose to let the positivity of our love outweigh the constant heaviness of the loneliness and disappointment. And I learned how to choose to make the most of life, even when I was alone.
You see, whether you are in the service right along with your spouse or not, life still marches on, and you still have to do it even when the one person you love more than anything in the entire world can’t be there. You are still forced to fully experience what comes at you, whether they can be there or not, and you have to literally train yourself to face it, be okay with it, and remember that they would absolutely be there if they could—that they are just doing their job.
So, if there’s one thing I learned through it all, it’s that the strength of military spouses matches the strength of the service member. Not only because it has to, but because they choose for it to—daily, weekly, yearly.
Military spouses are truly the driving force behind the phrase ‘love conquers all,’ and military spouses will forever be America’s ‘unsung heroes;’ for, it is their ‘devotion to duty’ that fuels the hearts of our service members, and thereby, the heartbeat of our liberty.