Friday, March 13, 2015

A Wife's Perspective

A Wife's Perspective
By Jamie Turner

On Friday March 14th 2014, as we were minutes away from Veteran’s Refuge Network’s first TV interview EVER, I had a small panic-filled identity crisis. During the question and answer prep, the reporter was walking Andrew, Laura, and I through the order in which we’d be talking to her, and the key points each would discuss. When she got to me, she asked me what perspective do I bring to the table, and I panicked. I stood there looking at her, my mind blank. My neurotic brain began firing a million thoughts a second; I wasn’t a combat veteran like Andrew, I didn’t have the training or education like Laura, what DID I bring to the table?
I managed to ramble out an answer, about how I was a digital marketing major in U of M’s College of Business, so I would talk about the social media aspect and our business plan for the future. BORING, right? I stood in the background of the studio while Andrew led us off, talking with such strength and emotion about his deployment experience and our plans for Veteran’s Refuge Network. Laura was next, and despite being nervous and afraid that she would giggle through the whole interview – her words, not mine – she was incredible! She fired off her answers with such poise and confidence, my jaw dropped multiple times during her nine minutes. Then, it was my turn.

While I stood there observing the two of them speak, my mind and my heart were going back and forth as to what contributions I could make, not only for this interview, but for Veteran’s Refuge as a whole. I began to realize that as a military spouse, I do have a unique perspective, one that perhaps even Andrew and Laura couldn’t actually identify with. My voice is important, because of the three of us; I’m the only one who has walked this particular path. So, before the camera rolled, I asked our interviewer if instead of simply discussing our social media campaign and business plan, if I could talk about the spouses, families, and support systems that stay behind as their veterans serve. I spoke from the heart and before I knew it, our interview was over.

Someone told us a few months ago that if you have a servant’s heart, then serve. Why it took me a month to realize that those words applied to me as well as Andrew and Laura, I don’t know. As active service members of the Michigan Army National Guard, each of them puts on the uniform and serves. I’m realizing that even though my service isn’t as visible, it’s no less important. Few have walked in my shoes, and experienced the up-and-down emotional roller coaster that comes with having a spouse in the military. It’s not easy being the one left behind; trying to keep it all together while they’re gone, then trying to readjust when they’re home. Just when you’re comfortable again, it’s off to more training. And round and round it goes.

I’ve also lived through not only my husband’s deployment to a war zone, but through the difficult readjustment years that followed, from navigating the complicated VA system, to relationship issues, and simply learning to share my living space again. Nowhere in the pre-deployment packet do they tell you just how hard it would be to readjust to be husband and wife again after the coming-home excitement wears off. But, as spouses, we do it. One day at a time, one separation at a time. For me, that meant getting to know my husband all over again, and falling in love with the same but drastically different man that came home from war.

For spouses, emotions range from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. From abject sadness when he’s gone, to immense pride when you see him in uniform. From to sweat-inducing, mind-numbing fear imagining what could go wrong while he’s away, to overwhelming relief when he’s finally home. Love, anger, hope, frustration, all these swirl around inside while we’re going through our days, often unnoticed by those around us. Family and friends can sympathize, but never truly understand how it feels.

As I stood there thinking of all of this, I realized that I serve too. For the past twelve years, it has been my honor to serve at my husband’s side while he serves our country. Does it make my service any less important? Not at all. Serving at his side has been an incredible honor, and holding it all together at home makes it so he can go out and do what he does best - be a soldier. So, I’ll walk this walk next to him, holding his hand when he needs me to, or simply standing quietly next to him when he doesn’t. I can give voice to the families who stay behind, because I’ve lived it. I live it every day.

War, PTSD, injuries, separations, suicides, and death don’t just affect the veterans; it affects the spouses, families, and those that love the veterans as well. Their service may be quieter and less obvious, but never forget they do just that – serve. So today, when you say a prayer for our veterans, say one for their families as well. They are often fighting battles no one knows about behind closed doors. Send a text, make a call, or check in on someone. Your simple act of caring could mean so much! Let’s lift them up today, so they can find the strength to continue serving alongside their veterans.

If you are a caregiver in need of support, there are a variety of options available to you. You can contact Veteran's Refuge Network, Give an Hour, or VA Caregiver Support. Just know you're not alone. We've been there. We are there.