Our family is a very close, demonstrative, and emotional family. We are prone to uncontrollable hugging, laughing, crying... usually in the appropriate circumstances, sometimes mixing the laughing, crying, hugging for the same event (funerals, weddings, comings and goings). Before airport security reacted badly to wild and loud noises, we could be found shrieking upon each others' arrivals at airports. If one of my sisters has experienced some emotional event, it is not uncommon that in telling the story, one or more of the other sisters will experience the same emotion upon the retelling -- even if we are retelling the story of some other sister's experience. You get the picture.
As my son's deployment approached, the contact with my sisters via phone became more frequent. And more emotional. It was virtually impossible not to become teary-eyed at some point during each of these conversations. Two of my four sisters and my brother and their families came to visit over the Christmas holidays because they wanted to be here for their nephew and cousin before he left. At times, my sisters were very emotional about my son deploying and I had to fight hard to control myself so that the situation didn't disintegrate to a slobber festival (we can do that, too.)
Beginning in the wee hours of the morning on the day my son was to deploy to Iraq, his friends and family began to call on his cell phone to say their farewells and to wish him a safe journey. He has a rather large and extended network of friends, so he spoke to people every few minutes for the better part of the day. I couldn't always hear the conversations, but I knew that most of the women that called tried to stay upbeat and my son was sweet and reassuring. It was not surprising to me that many of his best "civilian" buds became very emotional during their calls and it became harder for him to be unemotional, but he managed.
When he spoke with his aunts and uncles and cousins, I could judge what they were saying by my son's responses and it became harder for me as the hours wore on not to cry. When he spoke with his Dad and said, "I want to thank you, Dad... thank you for everything, Dad. I love you, Dad." The tears welled in my eyes and I couldn't help when they poured down my cheeks. "Don't cry, Mom. It's not that sad." And I fought to regain control because I didn't want my son to be upset. When I heard one of his brothers lose it on the phone, I had to leave the room. When a child cries in pain or sadness, no mother can NOT cry, too.
The hours passed, and many times during the day I could feel the emotion swell right up to my eyes as I helped pack those last few things, and he handed me things to take home, talked about last minute things, had a great dinner and then we headed for the staging area. Watching all the soldiers arrive with their families, the hugs from wives, children, siblings, mothers, fathers and even grandparents... pictures with families, pictures with buddies... Then it was time for me to leave. Over the month or so I had to "prepare" for my son's deployment, people told me -- and I told myself -- Mothers have been sending their sons to war for thousands of years. I thought it would steel me for his departure. It didn't.
I tried desperately not to break down when I put my arms around my son and kissed him for what I knew would be the last time for a very long time. It is the most counterintuitive thing a parent is called upon to do: you spend his whole life trying to be sure he isn't too hot, too cold, bugs aren't biting him and no one is shooting at him. Now I was sending him off to a place where it was always too hot, too cold, the bugs bite incessantly and people were going to be shooting at him! I hugged him as hard as I have ever hugged him and he hugged me back just as hard. I couldn't keep the tears from my face or my voice when I told him I loved him with all my heart. "I love you, too, Mommy. Don't cry. I'll be alright." I only cried harder when his buddies and I hugged and they each said, "Don't worry, Mom, we've got his back."
I knew I would cry when I said goodbye, I just didn't want the last image my son had of me as he left to be this blubbering blob. So I cried a little and fought back the BIG wave of tears that waited just under the surface. As soon as I got back to my car in the parking lot, I called his Dad and began to cry. Big heaving sobs. Felt like my heart being ripped from me. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life. As I drove to the hotel, I cried and begged God, His Mother and all the saints in Heaven to protect my son, and then implored my late Mother, Father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, brother to watch over him and his new brothers.
I still get emotional at times. I cried while I tied yellow ribbons on my trees. I tear up a lot when I read news that a soldier has died. I know I'll remain emotional the entire time my son is deployed. Yesterday, the emotions were really raw as I heard from my son that he had been under mortar fire during his day... Watching the salute to troops during the Super Bowl, and that Anheuser-Busch commercial where the folks in the airport applaud the soldiers coming home. Through my tears I told my husband, "I can't wait to be there to applaud when he comes home." He put his arms around me and just let me cry.