She walks down the center aisle of the chapel – shoulders back, head held high, dog tags around her neck. She carries her six-month-old son in her arms. They are there to say goodbye to the daddy he never really got to know.
I sat there near the back in a simple black dress, my own eight-month-old in the nursery, next to our company commander’s wife, who was trying to keep her infant baby girl settled. While I didn’t know the fallen soldier, and had only a few days earlier been friended by his wife on Facebook, the event of his death rocked me. He was in the same company as my husband, and I was about the same age as his wife. It just hit so close to the four walls of my home.
Because it could have been me. Or the military wife sitting next to me.
But there we were – she the widow, we the humble observers.
The service passed in a blur as people shared wonderful things about this fallen soldier. Then I retrieved my son from the nursery, took him home, and tried to push it all from my mind – because I was fighting the homefront battle and had to focus on being there for my husband who was still in Afghanistan.
I imagine if you were to ask nearly any military wife or veteran’s wife, especially those whose husbands have served in these recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, each would have a story like mine. A friend or someone they knew of who was killed in action, the memorial services they attended, the widows they know that are their age, the children they know who are now growing up without a daddy or mommy.
My now three-year-old son, named after another fallen soldier, gets to welcome his daddy home every night. We have left the Army and two deployments in the past, but the war rages on within our hearts and minds as my husband struggles with a service-connected anxiety disorder. We are still trying to figure out how to live as a family after two years apart.
We are wounded but together – but so many people that we know or know of don’t have that luxury.
This Memorial Day, and every Memorial Day, military wives and veteran’s wives such as myself take hard strolls down memory lane, remembering the families we knew, the tears we cried, the memorial services we sat in. Knowing that it could have been us.
We feel gratefulness – for the gift of being together, being safe.
We feel guilt – because we are together and safe when so many others are not.
We feel fear – for the sisters who are celebrating this Memorial Day knowing that their husbands are still in danger on the other side of the world, knowing that they might be next.
We feel pride – for being a part of the few who have served our country.
So this Memorial Day, honor those who have fallen.
But don’t forget the ones that they left behind. Their widows, their children, and those who served with them who are forever changed by their sacrifice.