On this Veterans Day 2013, I’m feeling grateful for all of the soldiers throughout our nation’s history — including my father and my father-in-law, both of whom fought in Vietnam, and my cousin who served in Iraq. But I’m also thinking about our troops whose boots are still on foreign soil, serving in the war in Afghanistan, and about their families who are holding down the home front until they return.
Recently I read a book written by a brave home front mom of three, whose family life was turned upside down when her husband was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months in 2011. Her memoir chronicles her fear and anxiety about her husband’s departure, the daily challenges and frustrations that come with suddenly becoming the sole responsible parent and her feelings of being largely alone, with no one around her who could truly say “I know what you are going through.”
The book is called Holding On: A Mom During War by Beth Jackson. Beth happens to be a dear member of our extended family whom we don’t see nearly often enough, but as I read her book, I felt as though I was catching up on a part of her life that I knew nothing about. Her honest, heartfelt depictions of her family’s life prior to and during the deployment are utterly compelling and completely drew me in. Once I picked up her book, I didn’t want to put it down, and I didn’t want it to end. Reading Beth’s book was like catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while over a glass of wine, and listening to her recount a recent and difficult period in her life.
Beth is totally, almost brutally, honest with her story, which is not written as a tale of woe but of hope — a beacon for other military spouses whose life partner must suddenly depart for a dangerous war on the other side of the world, and on top of that, a war that seems largely forgotten in the public consciousness.
I remember having a conversation with Beth at a family function, after her husband had returned but before she published the book. At the time, I thought it sounded very interesting to women whose spouses were serving overseas. Little did I know how much I would be drawn into her story — which in a broader sense is really about keeping one’s family afloat during a time of crisis. Her story brought back to my mind the biggest challenges that our family has faced over the years — how we have endured own times of crisis, and come out stronger on the other side.
Beth’s strength is clearly evident, and it’s inspiring to read. It reminds me that as a parent, my kids will be watching me in times of crisis, and I want to provide them with the best example that I can. Beth’s unspoken message to her kids, delivered by her daily actions, was that no matter how bad things seem, your family members are your teammates and cheerleaders, and that together you can handle anything life throws at you.
Throughout the book, Beth expresses a feeling of loneliness in her situation. Her family doesn’t live on a military base, where there may be other people who are experiencing the same thing, but in the suburbs, among civilians who have no idea what a military deployment entails for the entire family. Beth repeatedly expressed her desire for connection and community, but had to search very hard to find people who could truly empathize with what she was going through. This lack was particularly acute because many of her friends, family and neighbors (myself included) didn’t fully understand that her husband’s deployment was truly an extended crisis, and that they should check in with her from time to time to see how she and the family were doing.
Beth turns her experience into a positive message: “I learned about the importance of showing up… Beyond just weddings and funerals, I mean showing up via e-mail to say hello, or a phone call, or a playdate if you live in town. And when a close friend is in need, it means flying in town to spend one day during a chemo session, so my friend knew she was not alone. I only knew to do this because of the experience I had.”
I’m deeply impressed by Beth’s willingness to share her experiences, with the goal of helping others in the same situation. When I think about the serious challenges our family has faced, I can’t imagine exposing them to the world in such an open, honest way. I admire her candid revelations, which I’m sure will help other women handle their own times of crisis, as the result of a military deployment or some different challenge.
On this Veterans Day, I’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all our veterans, past and present — and to their families, who are all “holding on” until their loved ones return home safely.