Christmas was always special in our family: big family dinners, friends stopping by. The kids and I would go to Christmas Eve services when they were younger. When my son went to Iraq, Christmas was full of hope and prayer and faith that he would come home again. My younger kids had repeatedly tried to get me to admit there was no Santa or Easter Bunny but to this day I have never agreed to.
During Christmas one year, my older son was deployed. The only thing I wanted and didn’t want at the same time that day was a phone call. I wanted one from him. I did not want one from the unit saying he was injured. I got both wishes that day.
I told my younger kids I wanted their brother home for Christmas. When he didn’t come home, my daughter told me to admit there was no Santa. I said no.
On January 2, I had just gotten home for my lunch break from the church I worked in as a secretary. I heard a knock on the door and looked out to see a soldier standing there. My heart nearly exploded. I was scared to open the door. I was thankful my daughter was with her grandmother on a road trip heading home and my younger son was out playing with high school friends at the basketball court.
Suddenly, I heard a voice inside telling me “It’s okay. Open the door.” I opened it and there was my son, home as a surprise for his two week break from deployment. I was literally in shock and so relieved and grateful. I’m crying as I remember that moment even now, years later.
I was so nervous that my son had to drive us to the school basketball court so he could see his brother. As my younger son walked across the school yard, I could see first the curiosity and then the happiness as he recognized his brother.
I called my mom and daughter and asked if they could pull over for a moment and talk on the phone. I did not my mom driving while I told her the news. They did so and I told them that a beloved member of our family had come home on leave. They were so excited and only a few hours away but knew the rest of their trip would be filled with happy anticipation at seeing their brother and grandson.
Christmas has changed for me in the last few years but I have never forgotten that special time. I still look at it as one of my best Christmas presents ever. My daughter reminds me that he didn’t actually get home in time for Christmas but that’s ok. I just tell her Santa had so many special requests from other families with their loved ones deployed that he got to ours as soon as he could.
My new Christmas request is also going to take some time but I still have faith. As they are coming home, more and more of our veterans are dealing with brain injuries and PTSD. My wish this holiday season, as it’s been for the past several years and will continue to be each year, is that we don’t forget them just because they are home. They didn’t come home alone and their families deal with the new “members” of their household as best they can. They didn’t hesitate to go for those they love.
If you are part of a veteran’s family experiencing this, we want you to know that you are not alone. We understand and we are here to support you just as we have found support in each other.
Christmas Day was yesterday but Santa isn’t done delivering the gifts we want the most. This mom of a combat veteran has deep faith in that.