Guest Editorial, July 11-13, 2012
July 11, 2012
Eleven months or so ago I wrote about my husband leaving to spend a year in Afghanistan. I shaved my head as an act of outward protest to the inner struggle balancing the outward appearance. A failed attempted to defy the force of surrendering my husband’s life to the violence of war, surrendering him to a life we chose 20 years ago when we were just four years older than children and starting a new adventure. I found it impossible to appear composed, graceful and strong with my white gloves and hair piled nicely on my head. It was the violence of my war here at home where I made peace with it.
I spent the year taking my father, a Vietnam veteran, in and out of the hospital. Common to his war-related illness, he wore out his welcome with most of his friends and family, and so I was the last person standing and willing to help. Often, I drove him down the canyon to the VA Hospital emergency room with my five-year-old twins in tow because last-minute child care in that kind of crisis is difficult to find, especially late at night. These were the days, weeks and months I could not exert control when I felt my world was falling apart and I was border-lining "crazy" myself. I was alone, and that is one of the most powerless places one can dwell. If you allow yourself to become a prisoner of alone it will consume you.
I found my joy, refuge and exhaustion in caring for my children. No matter what was happening, I knew if they were well cared for and happy I would be OK. We would be OK and I willed it so. We went to school and lessons.
Single parenting is not for cowards. It was 24/7/365 with no break. I endured passing kidney stones and childhood illnesses common to the changing seasons, loving day and night, determined to manage the day-to-day and the fastness of each new challenge coming at me.
There were days where the kids would spend the whole day crying about missing their dad. I’d wake up praying that the phone would ring and it would be him. I watched the news late at night when my babies were asleep and there was always something happening where he was. I went to bed more nights with my heart in my throat than not.
At home, life did not halt. There was snow to plow, laundry to do, lessons and school. There was my dad and my husband. I learned where the invisible fences were in my neighborhood and not to count on anyone who lived around me. I learned the emotional violence of "friendship" and quickly learned that family had a price tag attached to the word "help."
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I learned that if I opened myself up to strangers, I would find real friendship and empathy from people who had no agenda. I met the most amazing strangers who opened up their homes, dinner tables and lives to us. I found those "no-notice friends" in strangers who were angels and answers to my prayers.
It was their love and kindness that helped me find peace in the war at home. I found that real strength has more to do with where it comes from than what it looks like on the outside.