The Ones Left Behind

On Veterans Day, I talked about service members’ courage. I could say similar things about other groups: firefighters, police, merchant sailors, guys who work offshore oil rigs.

But I left out a group that’s critical to success for all of them.

It takes courage to be a family member left at home. Maybe as much, in some ways, as to be the one who goes.

I don’t think any husband or wife who has married into the military since about 2002 can say they didn’t know what they were getting into. Pretty much every member of pretty much every service has been deployed since then, usually for extended periods, many of them multiple times. That’s a hell of a way to try to make a family.

And the life of a military spouse left at home isn’t easy. Suddenly, they’re a single parent, doing a two-person job by themselves. They’re running the household, taking care of the car, cutting the grass, calling the plumber when the sink doesn’t drain properly. They probably have a job outside the home, as well.

And on top of all that, there’s the constant fear: will my husband, my wife, this person who took a vow to spend their life with me, come home? Will today be the day I hear they’re not coming home? What sort of scars will they bear, inside or out, when they do? What will I tell our children?

A constant stream of sympathy and well-wishing and offers of help isn’t always helpful, either. Sometimes, you just wish they’d leave you alone, treat you like everybody else.

But whatever happens, regardless of scars or sympathy, whether their service member comes home or not, they have to get up every morning and face the day. And some days, just getting out of bed takes courage.

And what about the kids? Husbands and wives show their courage by marrying in, by accepting a life they know will be hard. But the kids don’t have a choice. They grow up courageous, disciplined, flexible, or their community rejects them. They learn courage and self-reliance quickly. It’s hard not to when one parent is on the other side of the world and the other already has all they can handle.

But sometimes you don’t want to be brave. Sometimes you want someone else to take care of something, put their arms around you and say “It’ll be okay. I’ve got this.” Sometimes you just want mom or dad to come home and make a complete family, with everybody in the same place, like you see on TV.

The fact that they keep going, that they keep getting up and trying, is testament to their courage.

Let’s remember our service members, but let’s not forget their families. Their courage is no less impressive.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Michael H.

    Great post Mr. Dalton! Keep them coming. I’ve enjoyed reading them. I sure do miss our Scouting days with our boys at Pack 290! – Michael H.

    • H. Scott Dalton

      Great to hear from you, Michael! Thanks for reading and commenting!