We Need You
Contributed by Melissa Seligman
Her War Her Voice
People often say, "Tell your husband we are thinking of him." Or "What can we do to support your husband?" Truly, being the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, there are no words for how much this support means. It is wonderful to know my husband's service is not forgotten.
But what of those left behind? The loved ones and children who wait?
Recently, more awareness has been shed on those who wait, but our plight remains an enigma unless we choose to tell our stories and raise awareness. I was asked by the American Legion Auxiliary to discuss the current needs and issues regarding the military family. While I know your connection and your awareness of those who serve brought you here to this site, I wanted to take a moment allow you into my own personal world by sharing my story. A story that isn’t unique. Nor is it extraordinary in our world.
This was my message to them. And by extension, my open letter to all who choose to stop for a moment, and hear it...
I was asked here today to discuss the current needs and issues regarding the military family. While I know you all are here because of your connection and your awareness of those who serve, I wanted to take a moment allow you into my own personal world by sharing my story. A story that isn’t unique. Nor is it extraordinary in our world.
Next month, my husband and I will have been married for 9 years. Of those 108 months, he has been gone for 56. Or, nearly 5 years.
It all began for us in 2003 when he decided to go from the Reserves to Active Duty. Just after he left to train, we found out we were going to have a baby. So, we entered this world knowing he would leave his new family. Our new life. And that I had better learn how to pull up my bootstraps.
And I did. With a newborn, dealing with post partum depression, I kissed him goodbye as he headed out to Afghanistan for his first deployment. All just after we celebrated our first anniversary.
He came home, we attempted to readjust, had our second child, and amidst the dreary sky of Fort Drum NY, I kissed him goodbye again, watching those wheels lift on the plane as he headed to Iraq. To Baghdad. Where I feared and cried through every IED he experienced. Every explosion. Every gun shot. This deployment was when I became intimately aware of secondary trauma and how it plagues and affects our community.
He came home, seemingly unscathed, to a wife who had no idea how to let her guard down. No clue how to move forward, and as he left for a year of school, we assumed our lives would be spent apart. And, true to form, as we moved to Kansas with our 3 and 4 year-old-children, we knew another deployment awaited us. Our third in six years.
Thankfully, he came home to us again. But this deployment brought new issues with it. New fears. As I blogged my way through this last deployment on my website, and as our six-year-old daughter battled with depression, and our four-year-old son began to feel the heavy weight of anxiety, I began to wonder how we are going to ever get past these nine years of continuous war. Continuous battles of survival.
And as he came home, this time wracked with PTSD and all the depression and anger that comes with it, I can’t help but wonder…where are we headed? And how will we move forward?
This is my story. And it certainly isn’t over.
But my story is only a small piece of the puzzle.
There are so many stories out there. Such as the woman who fought cancer while two of her four children battled through depression and a growth disorder. All during a deployment.
The mother who is somehow trying to prepare her children for a fourth deployment. All while trying to hold on until he retires. Knowing his body is aging. And her resolve is breaking.
The wife, who having volunteered all her energy and efforts in supporting her military support group, comes home, closes the garage, and sits in her car, inhaling the fumes until she is dead.
The wife who battling depression, shoots her two children because she can no longer handle them “mouthing off.”
There is the mother who pushes herself to be all that two parents should be: the chauffeur. The clown. The father who is away. The matriarch, patriarch, nurse, punching bag, and cheerleader of her family. Then there is the father who searched for his way while his wife laces her boots and walks toward war.
Usually, I attempt to find some way to say we are pushing through. Striving for a way to move beyond. But today, I stand before you to say: We need you now more than ever before. And I know you stand before me, ready to do all you can. And there is so much you can do.
I have witnessed the immeasurable impact you all have on our generation. As my father, a Vietnam veteran, has chosen to reach out to my husband while the two of them walk through their journey of PTSD. Together.
I have felt the steady hand of my neighbors, both VFW and American Legion members, as they stood beside me, holding me up while my children ran through their home. Smelling grandparents. And feeling the loving touch of someone who chooses to say, “We are here.”
The truth is, after nine years of continuous standing, I no longer have the strength to do this without you. And I speak for other military families in saying, “We need your help.”
We need you in the small moments. The ones that may not feel enough for you, but for us, they are everything.
We need your words of wisdom. We need your presence. Either in our homes. Our churches. Our synagogues. Our welcome home ceremonies.
We need you at our memorials. Our deepest moment of agony.
We need you to celebrate with us. Mourn for us. And to stand alongside us as we try to find the strength and resolve to steady ourselves again. We need you to hear our struggle. To validate it by your silent hug of support.
We need you to show us how to move past this. We need you to explain that this pain won’t last forever, that we can salvage our marriages, and that we stand a chance of having happy, healthy kids and grandchildren as we sit on our porches, hand in hand, remembering when.
We need you to not wait on us. Please don’t assume we know what we need. How to ask for it. Or how to reach out to you.
As an all-volunteer military, we have learned to walk this path away from the world at large. On our own path. And we have sequestered ourselves away to the point of complete alienation.
I’m asking you today, please don’t let us stay there a moment longer.
Because I need you. The mother who looks ragged at the soccer game, she needs you. The widow at the tombstone, the FRG leader who can’t handle another moment, the private’s wife who feels completely overlooked, and the general’s wife who thinks she must be perfect, we all need you.
Because you are the only ones we have who understand.
You understand this pride in our chest. The pang of service in our heart. And the inability to give up, even when we have nothing left to give.
I wouldn’t trade these nine years I have stood by him. Waited for him. And looked to the distant sand, praying for him.
The only thing I would ever change is assuming I can do this alone. And I hope you all can overlook that pride we as military spouses have been carrying for so long.
Because I need you now more than ever. We all do.
If you would like to learn more about how you can support and encourage the military community, please visit the home page of Operation We Are Here for practical suggestions in caring for the military community as well as tools to help you get involved.