Sunday, October 2, 2011
An open letter to the man I love... a man who is never defined in my heart by PTSD and TBI...
I'm sharing this with the world... and especially those who struggle beside us each day in "PTSD & TBI world" in the hopes that maybe you'll write the same sort of letter to the one you love. It's hard sometimes in our lives to remember our love stories... to remember the thousands of little moments that add up to a lifetime of love. But, it is especially important for us to do so as we fight and labor to keep that love alive in the face of hardship and challenges. So, here is my love letter...
You often ask me now "why?" I still love you. It's not a question often considered in "normal" marriages... marriages not challenged by the things we now face... a life lived together with PTSD, TBI, and other injuries in its midst. Well, dear one, here is my answer... an answer I share openly because I want the world to hear and for others who face this struggle to maybe find comfort and strength in my answer and our story.
This time of year, as the weather starts to turn colder and the leaves get ready to change, always reminds me of that first night I met you. I was sixteen, you were nineteen, and we found ourselves together at meeting for "young adults" who wanted to make a difference in their community. I was new to the group, you were not... you stood up to speak and as your words poured out through the room, I thought "here is someone worthwhile... someone with integrity and presence... someone I would like to get to know."
And then, as we began to get to know each other, and I heard your laughter... a laughter that didn't just fill a room, but defined it... a laughter that was contagious and especially loud and full when playing with the children you helped and those you knew... I thought "here is someone who lives life and loves the people in it."
You are still that dear new friend to me.
As we began to date, you became my loudest and most active supporter. School project? You helped. Hair brained idea to change the world (or at least our community)? You were right there with me. Crazy dreams that seemed impossible to reach? You were there encouraging and reassuring and participating. And, I thought, "my heart is his."
You are still that first love to me.
You are still that bridegroom to me.
And as our first two years of marriage began to pass, and we found out happily that we were pregnant... but then a little over four months later lost those first two sweet children... I remember the days and nights of your never leaving my side. Of you holding me, and comforting me, and shielding me from the world that suddenly seemed too harsh and cruel to face. I remember your gentle words and strong touch and your unbelievable strength.
You are still that rock to me.
And then, came September 11, 2001, and your resolute determination to protect your homeland and your family no matter the personal cost. I remember the pride I felt at your decision... the awe I felt at your patriotism... the agony I felt as I drove away the day you left for basic. You were mine, but we were also now part of something bigger than ourselves, something we each knew would be hard but chose to do together.
You are still that soldier to me.
And then, in a blink it seemed, you were headed to Iraq. My days became a mix of "soldiering up" and learning to live my new life as a military wife and of waiting for any word from you. The phone would ring... or I would find a letter in the mailbox... and my heart would beat as if it would storm out of my chest. As the call ended... or the letter was done... my heart would break a little then. You, though, despite firefights, RPG's, IED's, death and destruction, still responded to the need I tried my best to hide from you. Just when I thought I couldn't possibly handle another day, I would get a hand drawn bouquet in a card from you (better than any fresh flowers I've ever received)... or a little trinket that you'd managed to pick up somewhere. You met my needs when your own pressures were too much for most to bare.
You are still that lifeline to me.
And then, you were back... distant but trying so hard to return to me. You patiently waited for me to readjust to our life together and reached in and drew out the worries and heartaches I'd tried to hide while you were gone. And then, finally, we were pregnant again and the sweet little girl growing inside was too stubborn to be lost. And you spent nights laying beside me, talking softly to her when you thought I was sleeping... patting my belly and telling her how much she meant to you... and how much you loved her "just in case" as you got ready to deploy again.
You are still that blossoming father to me.
You are still that new daddy to me.
And then, you were gone... back to Iraq... back to a war zone that was heating up again. Those last months in Iraq were so hard and so dangerous... I knew what was happening via others... but you, dear one, still were protecting me. The calls we could manage were about our daughter and me and how you wanted me to take care of myself. They were you talking about our little one... wanting to know every detail of what was happening with her... wanting to be a part of the little moments and milestones you were missing. They were you reminding me how much you loved me and how thankful you were that I was the mother of your child. They were tenderness and comfort in the midst of the hell you were facing.
You are still that kind comfort to me.
And then you were back... in pain... and struggling vehemently against what we would later discover was PTSD and TBI. It was you trying to stuff down and push away the things that were torturing you so that you could be there for us. It was a time of confusion and upheaval as we prepared to leave the military life we'd come to love. But, there you were, fighting for us... for our new little family... and fighting against the things that were beginning to try to destroy us from within.
You are still that determined ally to me.
And then we were in "civilian" world. You intent on providing for us. You trying with everything in you to control the chaos inside of your head in order to keep pushing. It was a time of hurt and heartache for all of us. A time when we could have quit... a time when you could have let your injuries tear us apart... but you didn't. You kept fighting... and pushing. You sought treatment for PTSD even when you didn't want to, because you wanted to do right by us. You put yourself through uncomfortable counseling sessions and too many medication changes to count, because you were determined to save us. You thought you were weak... I was amazed by your strength.
You are still that hero to me.
And now, still, you are here with me... helping me forge on and change our world and the world of other heroes and families like ours. You made the decision with me to open our lives... the good, the bad, and the really ugly... to the world in order to help others like us. You've taken on PTSD... you've taken on TBI... you've taken on days of pain. When days are hard, we may falter, but then you help me pick us up again. You've kept going and fighting and pushing. You haven't given up and neither will I.
You are everything to me.
So, my love, that is "why". It's why I still love you, why I still fight for you, why I still (and will always) stand by you. I'm here because you will never be defined in my heart or mind by your injuries. But, you will always be defined by my steadfast knowledge of you... of who you are... of the boy you once were... and of the man, hero, husband, and father you now are. You, husband, are mine... and I am yours.
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!