The Collective Military-Civilian Heartbeat

military civilian divide


Yesterday’s announcement that a Blackhawk helicopter crash in Southern Afghanistan killed 11 people made my heart quicken and stutter, just like it always does. Even though my husband was piloting a commercial flight somewhere over Japan, I still lost a moment in the gap between irrational fear and reality. As I read the details, I wondered if that feeling would ever really go away.

I thought about the day in 2010 when a helicopter crash in the same region killed nine coalition troops just a few days after my husband left for the desert. My reaction that day, at the outset of our year-long deployment, was to make a pact with myself to avoid the news completely.

Then I recalled that day in 2011 almost one year later when a Chinook helicopter crash marked what is still the biggest single loss of U.S. Special Operations personnel in history. My husband was still deployed, and though my initial distress flicker was the same, my reaction was very different. I slammed my coffee cup on the kitchen counter just before being overtaken by a wave of helplessness that caused me to sob into my own sweaty hands.

But yesterday, after the sadness for the families sank in, I debated the ratio of what was asked as compared to what was gained, and found that it was too unbalanced for my liking. Perhaps the time since my husband returned dampened my patriotism for a moment. Maybe knowing he was is in a position of relative safety changed my intermittent perspective. Either way, I didn’t feel as grateful as I had been before, during the deployment. I felt lost and distant.

I tapped the virtual world for help. This war has dragged on so long that I wasn’t even sure where news like this stood, anymore. Americans have become numb to the repeat stories of maimed veterans and fatherless children and unemployed heroes. I knew people were passionate about Chick-fil-A, Paul Ryan’s ability to both polarize and motivate voters, and Prince Phillip’s bladder infection. But I wasn’t sure whether this horrible war news was even on the rest of the world’s radar. I wasn’t sure whether war was personal any more.

I chose to share that moment on Twitter, plinking out my thoughts in 180 characters. It was worthy of so many more, but I just wasn’t sure what to say about it. The only reply came from a member of the media I know and respect who covers military-related issues, and who knows the depth of military family struggle and sacrifice:

journalist twitter


There were no more messages after that – from anyone. I sat staring at my response for a while. I ran through scenarios in my mind. What other experiences might compare? Which situations cause that same constricting wheeze in my lungs, that same vein-gurgling pop and flush that surges through me whenever there is breaking war news? I wanted to find the non-military version. I wanted to give it a label or a feeling or an understanding. I wanted the gap between me and “the civilian world” to be infinitesimally smaller.

The problem with statements like “I don’t know how you do it” and “I can’t even imagine” and “those of us in the civilian world” is that they begin with the assumption that we are somehow intrinsically different. We aren’t. You’ve had this feeling that we talk about – fear of “the knock.” You’ve experienced it through a combination of events:

It’s partly the feeling you have in that moment that you’ve seen a human body damaged in an unnatural way. It’s partly the confusion you get when you first hear a serious diagnosis for someone very close. It’s partly the guilt of being thankful for your own child’s health when another is dying. It’s partly the moment of relief when a group of friends rally around you to help you dump a boyfriend or study for your hardest final or talk you through an upcoming biopsy. It’s all of these at once; a swirl of the uncomfortable and unpredictable that is completely out of your control together with an undampened human rationalization commonly labeled “hope.” And it involves life and death. It is such a strong imprint that once you feel it, similar news becomes the trigger for the same series of physical and emotional responses. The feeling doesn’t change just because you’ve anticipated it, or considered it, or talked about it. It’s new and yet familiar each time.

This time, I don’t want to cry or ignore the news or slam my coffee cup onto the counter. Instead, I want to do something; I want to say something. I want to find a way to make this news familiar and sticky, not slick and cold. I’m exhausted by what stands between those who say they could never understand and those who think their experiences are too unique to be understood. The so-called “military-civilian divide” is my responsibility. Not the media’s. Not Hollywood’s.

It’s mine.


35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bill
    Oct 25, 2013 @ 07:46:33

    My little war was Vietnam, which also seemed to go on forever. I spent 5 tours there – three in-country, one on a ship cruising around it, and another in war zone Thailand. Whenever I was on R&R, travel being what is was, I rarely got home [make that never got home]. I cannot imagine how hard it was for my wife to watch the evening news and not think of me. You have Skype, the Internet, and all that entails; all we had was the good ole US Postal service. Even regular phone service was rarely available to me. Every time I got a phone patch home using the Amateur Radio Service’s fantastic civilian volunteers (including Barry Goldwater’s huge station in Arizona) I was truly grateful. So, speaking from “the other end” of the pipeline, I am very happy that there is now a far superior force of support coming from her to there than there was in ‘my’ war. In mine, all there was was hate and vitriolic prose wherever one looked – or listened. Thank you all for your support.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Oct 25, 2013 @ 08:13:53

      Thanks for your comment. I too remember the days when there were no family comms. I wrote letters to my dad and we numbered them because they would come all at once. On both ends we savored their delivery, opening each number a week apart in an attempt to tide us over to the next delivery.

      But even today, I’ve discovered that what comes with Skype is an eerie realization on the part of families that the disconnect that comes from our servicemembers having to compartmentalize family life from war is ever-present. Now, we see it happening before our eyes on a video feed.


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  3. Karen
    Aug 23, 2012 @ 12:00:30

    During my husband’s first deployment, our unit lost many men in a Chinook helicopter crash including our BC – Lt. Col. Joseph Fenty ( I blogged throughout that deployment and subsequent deployments and it has helped me sort through the wide-range of emotions that come with the military lifestyle. I agree with you – people care about things that impact them personally. I have a different reaction to events when my husband is sitting beside me rather than 6000 miles across the world.


  4. Matt Meyer
    Aug 19, 2012 @ 17:16:53

    Our son is serving on his third deployment on an aircraft carrier in the Middle East. I think of him and his shipmates, and all of our military service members everyday. I am proud of them, and grateful to them for their personal sacrifices, and willingness to stand up for those who are in danger. I teach school, and many of my former students have served in our armed forces. I thank each one of them when I see them. Many stop by to see me when home on leave. When we read the novel, The Bridges at Toko Ri, I discuss with my students the personal sacrifice that serving members of our military endure: long deployments away from home and family, hard work, danger, anxiety, injuries and loss of life. These men and women are heroic, and very deserving of our gratitude, respect and support. We also have been doing a Veterans Day project since 1995. We have written letters to soldiers overseas, and Christmas cards to VA hospitals. My wife sent several care packages to soldiers in the second gulf war, and now we send magazines to our son to share on the ship. Three years ago, my wife and I were able to go on Tiger Cruise from Mayport to Norfolk on CVN 69, and I can attest that the people I met who crewed the ship were outstanding and professional in their work, and very kind to us. I know the same kind of people serve in the Army, USAF, USMC and Coast Guard. I believe that people do care about our military, and appreciate them. I also believe that we can do things to help the public keep our servicemen and servicewomen in their thoughts.


  5. Beth
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:35:16

    Reservist husband is on his fourth deployment at the moment. This post made me want to bawl, slam MY coffee cup through the window, hug somebody, kill somebody, then really did make me bawl. Regardless, a beautifully thoughtful piece of writing that I’ll probably come back to many times in the future. Thanks Lori.


  6. Fer
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:27:16

    I hear you, Lori.

    My lack of response to your tweet isn’t a measurement of my response to what happened,though I am reflecting on the fact I saw your tweet and instead of reaching out, reached inward. In the immediate aftermath of discovering what happened and gulping my sunken heart back from my stomach, I scoured the news for more details. Then I reflected on how it hadn’t made the front page of our local paper’s website in what I considered appropriate time (and for an appropriate length), shared thoughts with my husband, and made mental connections between Afghanistan and Syria, and then with South Africa and with Texas and Wisconsin and all the other places where there have been deaths, albeit for differing reasons/origins. I try to connect my fear of death of my loved ones by traffic accident and tragic accident and cancer with the constant underlying fear of death felt by families of deployed personnel.

    I can’t imagine anyone isn’t reflecting on what the news is telling us right now: death can happen in war or in a movie theater. What the news does is make those potential deaths seem statistically equal, however…and we know better. Those of us without loved ones fighting wars might reassure ourselves that crossing the street is more dangerous seeing a movie…and remind ourselves we’ll stop doing neither. There’s no such reassurance for those on the front lines and their families behind. There’s no such reassurance for someone hanging on to cancer remission. The shadow is always there (I imagine, of course).

    I agree with you that until photos and stories of the fallen heroes are published, our abilities to connect with the event are compromised. That’s where the press has a responsibility to me and to all of us, I believe.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 16:46:06

      And you are there, in Coronado, at the heart of so much. Imagine what it’s like in Portland, Oregon. We are actually called a “remote” military location. I’m not disheartened, just unwilling to let the enemy win a race of endurance by fostering complacency.


  7. Erin
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:03:13

    Wow… I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes reading this. It is remarkable to me how truly self absorbed people have become and how very quickly they forget. We seem to live in a world of sound bites and headlines, but never really touch the area beneath the surface where things get really difficult. The unexpected loss of a loved one is so incredibly painful and people come together in the moment to do what they can to try to help. The unfortunate part of loss is that as quicklly as they arrive, they are often gone. So often people pick up a peice of the tragedy and try it on as their own. They relish in the “knowing” of the experience, but they don’t really stick around for the hard parts.

    The hard parts happen nearly every day. At first it’s going somewhere in publc and an acquaintance sees you and your children and they burst into tears, hug you, tell you how sorry they feel, or worse yet, they say nothing, because seeing you and your children is too much, it’s too close, it’s too raw. Odd how people who called you friend will walk away to avoid the pain and emotion they are feeling, regardless of how you are feeling. There are people who expect you to somehow provide them comfort when you don’t have the words or the emotional capacity to do anything but get through each day. Time passes and it should get easier, but it doesn’t.

    The hard parts continue when you least expect it, the little questions like “why doesn’t your dad ever pick you up?” Questions that the children don’t have the words to answer. Little things like being handed a pre-printed form for baseball signups that has your deceased spouses information printed out on it. When you try to explain and ask for a blank form, they just line out the information that’s there rather than deal with the issue, not recognizing their own insensitivity. LIne them out as if they aren’t there, well, because they aren’t. I can tell you how it feels to stand there helpless amongst people who are “friends” but who have no idea what message they have just sent to you.

    Life does go on and as a surviving spouse (although in fairness my loss was not due to a military action, but rather a disasterous sort of brain tumor), I think there is an enormous responsibility to continue to move and live and grow so that children see that while bad things happen, life is not bad…I have lived a range of emotions I never thought possible and yet I get up each day, determined to live and experience life fully… to give back, to be a good example, and to help remind people that it’s better to say “I’m sorry, or I care or what do you need” then to say nothing at all.

    Thank you Lori for giving voice to those who don’t feel like they have a voice or the courage to speak. Reminding people that there are families and real people on the other end of the news story is what so frequently is lost in the clip. The fact that those families endure in spite of the adversity they have faced only makes it more important to try to understand. I am blessed and honored to have you as my friend.


  8. John Erickson
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:37:10

    In a way, you are different from most civilian wives, but not from those in other self-sacrificing professions – the firefighter, the cop, the Coast Guard PJ. Most wives (and husbands) expect to see their spouse at the end of the day, while your life is filled with that gnawing dread.
    And yes, those of us without family in the military don’t have that immediate tie into such events as the Blackhawk crash or the “green on blue” incidents. And that does rob us of the sensation of that “always on knife-edge” feeling. I must admit, I’ve never had to worry about someone important to me coming home, until I met a Lt. Colonel through his blog. Just that, that casual “I know you though I never met you” familiarity, has brought home what all my years of being a military “fan” never could. I’ve always check, but I used to do it just to see if any member of one of my adoptive units had been killed. It would cause a minor sadness, I’m sorry to say, like seeing a favourite old actor pass away. But not now. Now, I hear of something going in his the LtC’s area, and I feel something different. Infinitely smaller than what you go through, immensely less emotional, incredibly less personal.
    But I get something. And maybe that’s what we need – a program to get civilians to “adopt” a specific fighting man or woman, to make those “annoying little interruptions” on the news carry the weight they should.
    I wouldn’t wish the loss on anyone. But I’d sure as heck like to see people FEEL again. When you get a political speech on a WW2 battleship and NO mention of the Afghanistan war – something is dreadfully wrong.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:41:12

      I had the same feeling, John. Like you’re standing on a US Battleship you crazy people! Yep … adoption. What about adopting the families? This is kind of what the Joining Forces Initiative encourages. There is something.

      I’m up for adoption, by the way! Especially if you are a wife who can pick up kids and get gas and buy groceries and cook meals and …


      • John Erickson
        Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:06:10

        Sorry, can’t cook, and I’m not allowed to drive with the meds I’m on. Though I would SERIOUSLY have to call your mothering instinct into question, if you’d trust your kids with ME driving! (I just don’t understand why people have such problems when I take corners on two wheels – and that was BEFORE the drugs….) 😀


  9. Ann Marie (@Household6Diva)
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 13:27:26

    This emotion of frustration and confusion is much what inspired my blog post yesterday. I don’t think the issue isn’t so much about the military-civilian divide – but more of an issue with American society: We are not aware of our neighbors. We are not considerate of others. We are entitled to benefits and tax cuts and government aid and the list goes on and on. The values that once made us a great nation? Integrity. Morality. Justice. Compassion for each other. These seem to be lacking – which has then evolved into a modern society who is technologically connected, but personally inconsiderate.


  10. Sharon McCameron Whyte, MFA
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 10:06:08

    The common denominator is that we are human…and even if our experiences are different, we all suffer pain. Pain and fear are pain and fear. We all know what it feels like. Coming from a military family my view might be skewed. There were times during his 26 year career that I thought no one else could possibly feel the fear and the pain like I did. But in the 22 years since retirement, I’ve experienced other fear and other pain. Like a son-in-law in harm’s way, and my daughter and gkids who have to suffer through it too. There are plenty of triggers. My triggers may be different from your triggers, but we all feel them. If we are human, we can relate to other people’s fear and pain. We all have a reason to care what happens to another human being. Our generations’ issue was not much different. People were fighting and dying in Viet Nam, and people back home didn’t seem to care much or even notice much. We thought they couldn’t relate. But soon there were body counts daily on TV and scenes of Monks setting themselves on fire and motherless children crying in the street. Lots of planes went down. Some with friends of ours in them, and to this day every time I hear the Navy Hymn (Eternal Father, Strong to Save) I cry remembering how many military funerals I attended where they played that song. 911 families, first responders, and our current service men and women may have different triggers, but the feelings are the same. The parents who lost their child to cancer still feel it everytime they drive by the hospital. The girlfriend who wishes her guy had been more careful on his motorcycle still feels it everytime something goes vroom vroom. I am hoping that after all the division of the elections are over we can start to remember again that we are UNITED…not just states, but in humanity and we are in it together. No one is immune.


  11. Mel
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 09:00:38

    I don’t know why, but this article (which is fantastic, by the way!) triggered an underlying feeling I’ve had on military life recently. I’m going to be brutally honest and share it and then probably write a longer version on my blog.

    I am sick of military spouses acting like our lives are exceptionally different. That we are the only ones who could possibly understand pain, or missing someone, or intense fear for your loved one’s lives. Humans, no matter their background or their life experiences, ALL experience these fears and concerns. We all go through huge hardships, and we all, hopefully, find a group of people who can commiserate to get us through those times.

    I am immensely proud of my husband and the numerous other service members who sacrifice for our country. But I am also so proud of the police men and women, the teachers who face difficult classrooms in inner-city schools, the churches and organizations that house the homeless and the burdened. I am proud of the construction workers who build our roads and buildings. They ALL sacrifice for our country – and many of those groups sacrifice with their lives and health.

    The human race needs to band together to support, love, and help one another and stop trying to be “special.” Pain is pain and love is love, no matter how you color it!


  12. Marie Wilson
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 08:12:02

    and almost daily, I hear another story on what is being called “green on Blue” attacks…where the Afghani soldiers that we are training turn on our service members killing them…it happened again today…and the coverage was about 20 seconds…the story involving a wealthy woman who disappeared while snorkeling near an expensive resort got almost 3 minutes….I am not immune…but my opportunity for full blown panic comes in a few months, when my son is deployed for the 3rd time to Afghanistan…and while I react now with a huge awareness of sadness and anger that we are still engaged in such a wasteful endeavor, I know that come next April, these stories will paralyze me each and every time I hear them..until I hear from him that it wasn’t him….please, we need to get out of there..we need to understand that this little nation of Afghanistan will fight to the very last person to have “their country”, “their customs”…just like we would if anyone came to our country.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:50:41

      Ha, on the day that our national news program aired to discuss the “silent costs” of war for returning warriors, we got 2:30. That slot was then bumped online by the most viewed video of the day: Michelle Obama’s description on late night television of her undercover trip to Target. I guess there has to be a personal connection for there to be attention.


  13. Heather
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 08:05:49

    I do think if people try they can understand and make it personal. My husband is both a civilian and a police officer so no matter what job he is doing I dread the knock. I used to feel that this was a unique situation, but it’s not. My wonderful neighbor died a few months ago in a motorcycle accident. He was the safest driver I knew and ALWAYS wore a helmet. But it didn’t matter and his sweet wife got the knock from highway patrol telling her that he husband had died. At the moment I could not imagine what she was going through. I think that people don’t always think before they open their mouths…


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:51:53

      No joke. I just read the status update of a friend on Facebook who reported that when a woman announced that her husband had been injured in Afghanistan someone responded with “well at least now he gets to come home.” We’re missing opportunities somewhere to explain this.


  14. doggirlknits
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 07:58:32

    Thank you for working so hard to bridge that military-civilian divide. It has forever changed my perspective.


  15. The Dad
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 07:46:02

    Mixed emotions. Very mixed. I heard it on the radio. Then I handed out brochures on child safety at the Fair & Rodeo and watched kids scale the National Guard fake rock cliff. I was numb. Then I read your blog. I was still numb. Then I read the details in our small-town paper and the emotions came flowing back, slowly at first, then faster. The memories were there but they were still “compartmentalized.” That’s the term – the concept – the way young warriors are taught to deal with issues ‘back home’ that might cause them to miss a vital cue, a spurious blip on the radar, a momentary glint of something metallic on a far away hill that could end their life in a flash. I thought about the emotional compartmentalization those young warriors in that helicopter must have been going through as they made their way toward their objective – their mission. Something went terribly wrong. We may never know exactly what happened but they are no longer in this existence. I thought about that same compartmentalization and how it affected my own return from numerious deployments and considered that many – perhaps even myself – carried it away from the conflict and unknowingly allowed it to permeate our return to “the world.” It’s hard to reintegrate because of it. It’s not the same as a long-haul trucker coming home after ten days on the road. This DOES make us different and this is something that DOES create a gap between civilian and military families. My recent squardon reunion in Pensacola was the gathering of a band of brothers who shared a very unique experience and the squadron wives club formed bonds that also continue to this day. Emotional compartmentalization for the warrior is absolutely necessary in the field but we were never taught how to get rid of it upon return home. War not only affects those who find themselves in its midst – whether in the battle or those back home battling their own emotions and daemons without the taught/learned ability to compartmentalized because of their loved ones are somewhere far away – in harms way. War leaves its mark on everyone it touches. Mixed emotions.

    In less than two weeks I will have been out of the Navy for as long as I was in it – 21 years – but the memories are still as fresh as if they happened yesterday. I was lucky. I came home. Not so for those eleven brave warriors. And then came THE QUESTION; did their death hold meaning? Again – mixed emotions. There are those who would say that we can’t be the world’s policeman – the cost is too high, both economically to the nation and to the young people whose lives are lost in the conflict. Then we consider what might have happened if we intervened sooner in WWII when Hitler was attempting to exterminate the Jews. Asians have a saying; “The tears of a stranger are just water.” Americans see injustice and rush to defend – regardless of the cost. Where’s the balance?

    My emotions about the issues surrounding this war in the Mid-East are no longer numb; now – just confused – trying to find an answer. But for those dear fathers, mothers, wives, sons and daughters who will never again see the love in the eyes of those killed so far away – I’m no longer compartmentalized. I’m crying with them. Such a waste. Mixed emotions.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:52:28

      Love you, Daddy. That’s all I can say right now.


    • Gail
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 20:37:31

      Wow. The apple truly DOESN’T fall far from the tree! Phenomenal thoughts, words and feelings. Father and Daughter – You both made me cry,… and think.

      I have to confess that since my (-ex)spouse returned from Afghanistan a year ago, “it” is not my focus as it was when he was deployed. And yet, when I hear these stories it comes back in a flash. I can imagine, I can commiserate, I can fear and feel and cry for those still “affected” – and then realize that it IS still me affected, it IS still “us”, as Americans and humans, affected. I agree that, as a country, we seem to be numbed to the sting and impact of this war when we are not directly in its path or wrath. It is sad that apathy, disassociation and complacency seem to have taken the place of true THOUGHTfulness, compassion and love. We, as a community, need to return to that mindset. And need these reminders every now and again to wake-us-up, to bring us back to what is real and true.

      I thank you ALL for your service to our country and to “human-kind”. Thank you for sharing your Understanding. God Bless.


      • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
        Aug 18, 2012 @ 06:55:59

        Ha ha, I know Gail. I keep telling him to get his OWN blog and quit using mine! You’ve been down an awfully rough road this year – which just underscores my point that everyone has their own self-focused struggles/interests. The military can’t engage the American public unless there’s a shared experience.


  16. Allie L
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 07:10:18

    Even though my husband is home I get so shaken up whenever I hear those reports. People also send them to me to read (well meaning I suppose but it bothers me) thinking I need to read it. Maybe it’s knowing wounded warrior wives and gold star wives, maybe it’s knowing it could happen to my husband or any of his friends but most people just glance over the stories and cannot even let themselves try to relate. It’s too hard.

    How do you make someone never in that situation understand? It may not be possible but some people just don’t want their minds to go there. Any married person can think, “What if that was my husband? What if I had I receive that phone call or that knock on my door?” accidents and things can happen anywhere at anytime. More than just military spouses worry when their spouse has a dangerous job.

    I guess in my rambling what I mean to say is that people could find a way I relate but choose not to sometimes. It is too hard. I can’t blame them really but it still makes my heart stop in my chest regardless.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 14:53:13

      Me too. Obviously. How can we provide an incentive to make them want to care? This is the gap.


      • John Erickson
        Aug 17, 2012 @ 15:10:15

        I remember back during the Vietnam War (yep, dating myself again), there was a program that handed out metal bracelets with the name of a POW or MIA on it. You were supposed to wear it as a daily reminder, and when they came home, you were supposed to mail it to them with a letter. Sort of an Adopt-A-POW program. I don’t remember whatever happened to the one I had (I had one in the late 60s, when I was in single-digit ages), but maybe something like that for currently serving soldiers? If Lance Armstrong and Stephen Colbert can launch rubber-wristband campaigns, how hard can it be?


  17. Tiffany
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 06:18:52

    I appreciate you trying to put words around an experience that is so hard to describe to people. I agree somewhat with Angie in that what makes this different is the prolonged nature of our experience. Even after we welcome them home, while we don’t talk about, we are already mentally preparing for the next deployment. My husband was injured on his 2nd deployment and luckliy had a full recovery. But I know what it’s like to get a phone call that rocks you to the core. I am absolutely not the same person I was before my husband’s 4 deployments. I am stronger, angrier, and sadder……and it feels that I will always be this way, forever changed. I’m lucky in that I haven’t suffered other personal tragedies in my life yet, so I don’t think I know how to compare to civilian concerns. At the end of the day – it’s anyone’s (military or civilian) worst fear to lose a spouse, child, parent, or sibling.


    • Lori Volkman @ Witty Little Secret
      Aug 17, 2012 @ 06:58:23

      Perhaps some of my experience comes from age; a close friend of mine died of cancer and I watched his family and the community respond. When people had the “that could have been me” response, they reached out to help. A non-military family can’t have a pure “that could have been me” experience, but relating to them on the things that are common across the human experience might make it just relatable enough to motivate more people to reach out to help.


  18. Angie Martinez
    Aug 17, 2012 @ 05:15:20

    Very soon after my husband got back from Iraq, a local soldier lost his life there. I had the strongest and strangest reaction to something that didn’t directly affect me that I had ever had. When I hear of Servicemembers who have been wounded and especially when I hear of those who have lost their lives, it hurts me – I feel it in a strong way for those who are left without. For some reason this one punched me right in the chest and I lost it, I was bawling like a baby even as the words “He’s on US soil!!” was my Facebook status and the word “Yaaaaay” was still swirling around my house.

    I didn’t know then why I felt so strongly, but now I think I must have felt guilty on top of the usual emotions at this news; here we were high-fiving on Facebook that ours had just survived the gauntlet, when just across the county a family was forever crushed. Even now I’m crying. (There’s your other blog topic some day – will we ever stop crying?)

    Lori, I know you want to help create an arch between the divide, but I really feel that, even though the elements you’ve listed in the civilian world are comparable, this entire ‘experience’ or existence is too unique to try to explain it. It’s ongoing, it is deep, and I think that we feel happy and thankful when they return to the US, but we can’t really celebrate until they are all back. Even then I think our celebration will be cautious because we will have in mind that families will still struggle. I also wonder if, instead of wanting them to understand what it feels like, we really want them to just pay attention and care a little bit?


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