No matter what your spouse’s experience in war is – no matter how simple or how harrowing – he is going to come home different in some way. Time equals change. And time apart is change apart.
For some, catching up to those changes is a short process, and pretty soon they are right back where they were, taking the differences in stride and learning to walk in harmony once again.
But for others there is no going back, no taking it in stride. The changes -- whether emotional, mental or physical – are too much. And both parties have to change yet again to figure out how to deal with them.
When I read the book “Learning to Stay,” a novel by Erin Celello, I found a story about changes. National Guard spouse Elise had changed when her husband was gone, and when he returned with severe post traumatic stress disorder, they both had to change again as they learned to deal with it.
The story explores how Elise handles those changes. And while it was written by a civilian with no military experience beyond the research she did while putting together the story, it beautifully communicates some of the emotions military spouses feel when they take on the changes of war in their marriages.
One moment in the story specifically struck home with me as I thought of my friends whose husbands deal with severe combat injuries both seen and unseen.
“I am not a wife, and I am not a widow. And I’m not sure how to play the role in between.”
If you are your husband’s caregiver this quote may strike the nerve of “yes, that’s exactly it.”
But for those of us who are the observer, this little quote can communicate something profound about our fellow spouses who take on the caregiver role every single day. These are people who are learning a new job, waking up in a world that they don’t know how to define in a position they may not want or understand.
These are people who don’t need our sympathy – they need our support. They need a helping hand, someone to count on and a friend who has their back when times get hard. Because while they may not understand how to play the role in between wife and widow, it is our job to be there while they figure it out.