You might have seen on Instagram and Snapchat that I flew up to Germany last week. I flew up with my friend, Amber, to see our friend, Emily, on her way home from serving as a doctor in Afghanistan for the past six months with the Air Force.
Emily and I became friends a couple of years ago. We both experienced big life shocks near the same time, and, as life has a funny way of doing, became friends as we muddled through the grief process. And when she was deployed to serve six months in the Middle East, requiring her to leave her husband and 16 month old daughter behind in Texas, she found herself facing another one of life's toughest challenges.
During her time overseas, there was a little WhatsApp chat between her, Amber, Amanda Marshall and myself. We're all moms, all Americans and were all connected to eachother through blogging over the past few years. Since we are in the closest timezones to where she was stationed, we got to chat throughout the days she was away from home. We'd chat about big stuff like parenting, little stuff like nursing bras and military food, and all the moments in-between.
Even though we got a first-hand account of the her life on a base in a war zone, I'm not sure that I still could ever fullywrap my head around the experience. But even though it may be hard to imagine life in the desert surrounded by soldiers and performing medical evacuations for wounded soldiers- I do know what it feels like to have days pass by without being with your daughter. That I do get. I know how it feels to walk around, looking like a normal person, but feeling confident that- somehow- a significantly large piece of your heart has, in fact, broken off.
So, after months of being stranded in the abyss of overseas duty, the end of her deployment came into sight- and we decided to meet her at the finish line. On her way home from Afghanistan to Texas, she stopped through Germany for a few days and we didn't want to miss it.
Amber & I flew out to Frankfurt early on Friday. We hopped on a train, devoured apple turnovers, and headed to Kaiserslautern.
An hour and a half later, we reached the tiny town near Ramstein Air Force base where we hopped out of the taxi, heard a friendly, "Hey!" and turned around to find Emily running towards us with the biggest smile.
We met at a tiny hotel and spent the next 24 hours in all the girly splendor you might imagine: giant meals, chocolate truffles, long talks over coffee, shopping in a flea market and the like.
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At dinner that night, we got to eat with the rest of the doctors that Emily had worked with in Afghanistan. They were all married, and (all but one) fathers of small children. Getting to sit at the table with them as they ate one of their first decent meals in six months was an honor. The smiles at that table as they cut into giant steaks, cheers-ed eachother with enormous steins of beer and talked of their familes back home was an incredible experience. There was so much JOY. The only way I can explain it is to the feeling you have at a wedding or when a baby is born. I, honestly, felt undeserving to be sitting with them at that table with them in that special moment.
I know there are so many things that I will remember from Emily's deployment. But I think that the most significant thing that I've taken from her experience is that each soldier that goes off to fight doesn't go alone. The sacrifice of military service doesn't stop at the soldier- but there is a huge ripple effect for deployment. Just leaving my kids for the night took a ton of planning, caused me a lot of angst and took hustle to pull off. What these families have to do- both logistically and emotionally- is a lot tougher than I ever expected.
As we said goodbye on Saturday, there were tears. Of relief that this was over. Of sadness for time lost. Of thankfulness. And yet, smiling through it all in anticipation. In the midst of it all, I clicked out my phone and took a picture. This last moment of sadness after such a long time deserved to be documented. Today was the last day of tears! Tomorrow, she would be home. (And she is! And the video she posted seeing Nick & Lyla gave me goosebumps and made me cry like a baby.)
Thank you Emily. And thank you to all the others who serve by quietly keep life together while your loved one is gone fighting. Your support is invaluable and, often, overlooked. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
*images original to Aspiring Kennedy