As a family, we just celebrated one year since my husband has been home from deployment overseas. Boy, do I wish his year gone would have flown by as quick as his first year back. We love having him back. I don’t take for granted his support, help, and presence in our family and I don’t think I ever will. I hated many things about deployment, but the gratefulness for him that it instilled in me is a gift that keeps on giving.
Unique to our family is the fact that he came home early, under truly awful circumstances.
His father was critically ill. I had to call him home urgently a few weeks earlier than planned to attempt to be by his father’s side as he passed. Thankfully, he made it. He was able to spend time with his father for one week before he died.
My father-in-law’s immediate family was present with him as he passed. My husband literally held his hand as he left this world. My children, ages 3 and 6 at the time, were also there. That was unplanned, and frankly, I was afraid of how this would affect them. We knew the end was soon, but were ultimately surprised by the exact timing. That evening is seared into my mind, as I’m sure it is for all who were there.
I’m a hospital social worker.
My main assignments are the ICU and emergency rooms. I’ve seen and been near a lot of death. I’ve comforted a lot of shocked and heartbroken families. But, when it’s your very own family, it takes the breath out of in a way I can’t describe.
I had been fortunate enough to not experience death in an up-close-and-personal way until then. I haven’t had a family member of my own die at home. I’ve never been in the same room as someone I love has passed on. To be honest, it freaked me out. I certainly would not have wanted my children to be there, given a choice. They can’t handle something that I was barely handling myself, could they? Would they have nightmares or uncontrolled emotions? Would they need bereavement counseling?
Thankfully, they’ve handled it beautifully, and as usual, they have taught me so much along the way. I’m fairly certain they have a healthier outlook on the end of life than I do. While in the immediate moments afterwards, my mind was reeling with how I was going to help them cope with what they had witnessed, the days and weeks ahead unraveled fairly uneventfully. We talked about what happened and I made sure to let them know they could ask any questions they wanted. My husband had a lot to do with that. Although it was heartbreaking to see him deal with so many emotions around his father’s passing and adjusting to being home, he remained our steady rock. It was truly incredible.
Now, a year later, the emotions are so mixed. We didn’t celebrate the anniversary of him coming home because it’s so closely linked to a terrible anniversary, too. We can’t believe he’s been home for a year, but we also can’t believe we’ve been without the wonderful human that was my father-in-law for that amount of time either.
We continue to talk about our beloved Papaw often. The kids talk of only good things. If you ask our daughter what Papaw called her, she responds “precious” with the sweetest smile. He loved her immeasurably and I know she knows it. My sister-in-law made all the girls in the family a piece of jewelry that has beads made from the flowers at his funeral. Often, and without prompting, we hear my daughter in her room talking to her necklace. She believes she can speak to him through the necklace. We didnt tell her that, she came up with it all her own. She updates him on little stuff, like her newest Barbie, and big stuff, too, like our family’s new baby coming this winter. The baby, our son, will be named after him, and it feels exactly meant to be.
I think it’s so important in times like we are living through, to remember that beautiful, wonderful things can come from awful situations. I am so grateful to have been a witness to the love that surrounded my father-in-law in the end. What once felt horrifying and traumatizing, now feels peaceful in my mind. I don’t know exactly what he would say in these times, but I’m pretty sure he would say what he said on his last day of life, and what has become our family motto, “It’s all going to be alright.”