I awoke this morning cheerful and in an instant my mood and attitude changed when I heard about an accident at an Army base I know well, a day after a fire injured more than a dozen Marines, and two days after a soldier in a friend’s unit was killed in another training accident. After going down the list of friends who might have been immediately effected with this morning’s incident, calling wives and even a couple moms to make sure everyone was okay, I immediately felt sick with guilty relief:
Guilty Relief – the feeling of, “oh, thank God, it’s not my husband or my friends,” followed by, “oh God, someone else is getting that call right now!”
I know that feeling well. You can’t be on the home end of a job that includes deployment or another dangerous career (I’m thinking of my police and fire department friends here) without being acutely aware of that dichotomy. I don’t know how many times I’ve been thrilled to hear my husband’s voice breaking over the phone while he told me about how one of his friends was killed or injured. It’s like watching news about a hurricane or other natural disaster when loved ones are there, knowing they and their homes are okay, and realizing how many others didn’t fare as well, except that in the military community the guilty relief frequently comes with knowing the other guys too.
Today I felt that way again.
And I felt more.
One morning 5 years ago, at 9:16 AM eastern time, I got the phone call that it was MY husband that was blown up and clinging to life. Mine. It was MY turn to not feel guilty about being relieved but instead to feel the anguish of not knowing what was going to happen, if he would live, how would we go on, and what our life would look like if he survived… if WE survived.
It doesn’t matter that I don’t know anyone who was present at today’s accident or their loved ones. Being connected to the military community makes us a small percent of America’s population and despite the jokes, heckling, and rivalries, we are part of the same family.
I am profoundly saddened for those who lost someone despite the fact that this wasn’t our unit because they’re still a part of our family.
My heart hurts for those whose loved one was injured because I know what it was like when I got that call and when we had to learn about life after trauma.
I know how hard recovery can be and how long the road ahead might be. I know there are going to be times when they want to quit and how hard it is to just make it through the end of the day sometimes. I wish I could tell them the things I learned so they don’t have to learn them the hard way like I did. I hope they find themselves surrounded by others in the same place so they can experience the kind of kinship that comes from going through recovery hell together. I wish I could share with them what it took me longer to understand than it should have:
Injuries break us in ways we can’t predict or imagine, but it doesn’t mean we have to stay broken.
We can’t know how strong we are until being strong is our only choice, and choosing to be strong when we want to give up is… magical!
Trauma is awful, but it opens up opportunities for beauty beyond what we can imagine or plan for… if we let it.
Originally published 14 September 2017.