What I Remember on My Hardest Military Day


If you've been in the military community for even a little bit, you've probably encountered at least one day that has changed you in an irreversible way. It's a day of heartbreak, a day of tragedy, a day you mark every year whether you really want to or not.

It's the anniversary of a friend's combat death or a suicide. It's the time you witnessed your next door neighbor learning that she's a widow. It's the day your service member was almost killed but then didn't die after all. It's the moment he was injured or the day she came home changed forever.

It's the moment you realized that, no, you didn't actually know what you were getting yourself into and that, although you wouldn't have made any other choice, this choice has turned out to be so, so much harder than you expected.

It might be your hardest military day. And it might reappear every year on its anniversary.

The military community is really into anniversaries. I like that. It helps us remember and honor. And without those moments, what do the sacrifices really even mean? We don't want to forget. We want to give meaning to those moments, to know that they served a higher purpose and that they weren't for nothing.

But the flip side is that we also get to shoulder the burden of remembering forever when sometimes you really do just want to forget. You want to go back to when this day didn't mean that, when the grief of your loss or the weight of someone else's hurt didn't sit on your chest making it so hard to breathe.

My life is full of those days. Today is one of them -- the hardest one, actually.

In the short six years that I've been carrying this I've learned to remind myself of a few things when the load of remembrance seems like it is just too much to haul any more. This is what works for me. Maybe it will work for you, too.

What I Remember on My Hardest Military Day

I am sad and that's OK. Grief, anger, exhaustion -- whatever it is you are feeling on this day is OK. It's normal. It's natural. Don't ignore it, dwell in it long enough to know that it's there.

I don't compare losses. I have lost in my own way. Others have experienced losses that can make mine seem small. But this isn't a contest. Feelings are just feelings, they are neither right nor wrong. I respect the feelings I have for the losses I feel. I respect and grieve and honor the losses of others. We are all in this together.

I am not carrying this alone. And neither are you. This burden we feel for ourselves and our community is felt by others. This might be someone else's hardest day, too. Tell someone you are sad, even if you feel it's silly. Let someone walk beside you.

I can stop and remember. Forgetting is not the answer. Giving purpose to what I'm feeling helps me know that all of this loss (whether it's loss of life, loss of how things were before -- whatever) is not empty.

I can move through it. This is not the first time I've felt this way and it won't be the last. I know how to move through things that make me feel this way because I've been here before. For me that means getting out and doing some kind of physical fitness in remembrance of whatever the loss is. For you that might be some other ritual like a glass of wine in their honor or a walk in the woods. Whatever it is, don't skip it. Do it.

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