A DIFFERENT KIND OF WORRY
Just as I know about theirs, my friends at the shop know about my children, including Noah’s career and recent history. If any object to “the war”, they haven’t said so and most openly profess their support for the soldiers and their mission. On more than one occasion, someone just joining our little group will, upon learning that Noah is in the Army and that he has been in Iraq, stop whatever they are doing, open their eyes big as saucers and drop their jaw as they exclaim, “I have always wondered how you do it… I mean have a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. I don’t sleep at night and mine is only [pick one] at college – in another city – in their first apartment!”
I know that kind of worry, too. But trying to describe the worry of having a child at war is a measureless task and I’m not certain the words even exist that could encompass all such worry entails. It is where simple words fail. A parent's worry of a child at war is so intense and all consuming that I can think of nothing to compare.
I think of all the other worries of a child’s lifetime – the first time you leave them with a babysitter other than grandma; first illness or injury requiring a trip to the emergency room; first time without the training wheels; first day of school; every time up at bat in the bottom of the 9th with two on and two out down by a run with the playoffs at risk; first time behind the wheel and then first time behind the wheel without you there; the first time they are hours late past curfew and don’t call; the first time you send them somewhere that you can not get to in 15 minutes (a week at Boy Scout camp, an exchange student to France…); and sending them off to the next phase of their lives – whether basic training or college.
OK, put all those “little” worries in your head… now pack them all in just one heartbeat, multiply it 100-fold and live it every heartbeat of every day they are in harm’s way.
The worry is distracting, physically taxing, mentally exhausting, maddening, emotional, intense. It is numbing but you are never numb to it. It is not always just this side of paralyzing although it can be. The time they are away has ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and it’s never static. It really is like carrying a sack of anything on your shoulders around the clock. Sometimes it is a 5-pound sack but at other times ‑‑ depending on what’s happening where they are or how long it’s been since you last heard from them -- can be a much larger burden to carry… an invisible weight you carry day in and day out. It’s the first thing you’re aware of in the morning and the last thing at night. The worry and the thoughts about their safety occur a million times a day. You fantasize about what the moment will be like when they are out of the danger zone, but it is second to the fantasies you have of the time you will welcome them home and hold them again.
Throughout Noah’s deployment I tried to “manage” the worry and the fear -- trying to suppress it; talk myself through the mild anxiety attacks that would rise unexpectedly while sitting at a stoplight or while rolling my grocery cart; hold back tears that would suddenly spring to my eyes for no apparent reason; and sometimes just releasing the tears in the quiet of the morning or the darkness of the night.
How did we do it? With a lot of help. It would have been impossible to get through a deployment without the network of family and friends we are so privileged to enjoy.
For starters, I have the love, support and sensibilities of my husband who has the innate ability to know when to listen and when to make himself heard; when to stand to the side and when to throw strong arms around me and hold on tight… A man who said, “Let’s do it!” no matter what I suggested we should get or where we should go to support Our Guys. Of course, Noah’s brothers and sister that worried along with us and never wavered once in their support for him or us.
We have a large, close and supportive extended family – sisters, brother, brothers- and sisters-in-law and their families, nephews, nieces and cousins that stood together with us through the journey. Not all agree with our presence in Iraq, but they all put aside their own politics to show Noah their love and support before he left and through his deployment. My sisters and families and brother came at Christmas to spend time together just weeks before he left. They called him the day he deployed. They called and emailed us regularly to offer support. They sent packages to Noah and his unit. They sent cards and letters. They organized “stuff for the troops” collections at their work places and their churches. They sent love… lots of love to let Noah and his comrades know that they were appreciated and were in their hearts.
We also have a group of friends who never failed to ask how Noah and the Guys were doing. Many sent packages. They added Noah and his unit to the prayer lists at their places of worship. As my internet journal continued and grew, we added many friends to our list of those that stood with us during that stressful time – those that were serving, had served, families of those serving, and compatriots that support the troops and their families. And then there were also Noah’s friends – all “our kids” back in New York -- that called or sent messages just when it seemed we needed to hear from them most!
We were all connected to that different kind of worry by our love of Noah. And we never were more appreciative of this network than when Noah was wounded… it was a source of support, encouragement, love and prayers that helped get us through the dark hours.
So, to those with soldiers, sailors, marines or airmen deployed, we stand with you as you worry (for we know we cannot keep you from the worry.) We’re here for you, with you. Count us as part of your network.
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