Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Happy Anniversary

I've been waiting this year for "the moment"... that instance when I suddenly got the perfect inspiration to write my love letter. Honestly, this is one of my favorite projects we do at Family Of a Vet each year. I believe with everything in me in the sheer power behind the love stories that live in our homes.

I know that's a funny thing to say... when you think about the challenges our relationships face. The divorce rate in PTSD/TBI households is much higher than the national average. As spouses (and caregivers) of veterans we have been proven to have a much higher level of stress and mental illness. Our homes are often caught in broken places - and yet, I still maintain (and will always) that there is power in the love that is alive in our families and relationships.

Why am I so sure? Because I see it every single day. I see it in heroes as the choose to enter treatment for PTSD in order to do the best they can for their families. I see it as spouses weather sleepless, difficult seasons to keep their hero and family going until a bit of light returns. I see it over and over again. People (and hearts) that CHOOSE to continue walking, side by side, through circumstances that are unbelievably hard. The choose each other, not when its easy, but when it takes everything they have... when it takes a heart/mind/body effort of epic proportions. They choose each other. They CHOOSE each other.

The last year has brought unbelievable challenges to our household. I am "dual" caregiving for a close family member who is battling several types of cancer at once. My husband had a nasty fall a few weeks ago, has had surgery on his "good" leg and is in a hospital doing inpatient physical therapy rehab. And, as always (or at least always in the last 6+ years) we continue to battle PTSD and TBI. Life, at the moment and over the past months has been "interesting" to say the least. But, it is in the middle of this interesting (exhausting, often mind numbing) current state that this morning I found my inspiration.

I was sitting with my dear hubby in our VA Medical Center in a therapy appointment and there with us sat a Korean War Veteran. Since we all had time to spend waiting, he and my hubby started exchanging stories. He told us about his time at war, about loss, about the struggles he had endured since combat, and then about his wife, about meeting her and then marrying her just 10 days later, and with teary eyes said, "You know, we could have quit lots of times, but this year we will be celebrating 60 years together. I guess we just decided we were both stuck and we had much rather be stuck together."

In that moment, almost in unison, my husband and I answered with what has basically become our household mantra, "Yep, I guess we are also just too stubborn to quit".

Since he came home from his last deployment in 2006, we've had lots of times to face the choice between quitting and continuing to walk forward. We've had days where we neither one liked each other much. There have been sleepless nights (and weeks and months). There have been "discussions" and, oh boy, have there been arguments.

There have been times when PTSD in all its glory has torn at the fabric of "us" with everything it has.

There have been times where one or the other of us has given up, but the other has been to stubborn to let go.

We have warred, we have fought, we have had times where we are snippy and sarcastic with each other. We have hurt each other. We have hurt our marriage.

And, yet, we are still here.

Not only are we still here, but I can honestly say that today I love my husband more than I did when I married him at the ripe old age of 19. I can honestly say, with all these trials and all of these tests, that what has emerged is a love that simply IS... that doesn't at its core waiver on the bad days (even though I may not "like" him much), that doesn't want to run away, that not only stays, but stays willingly and reaches out to him with everything I can even when he is in a dark place.

What remains is simply (and amazingly) true love. A love that forgives, a love that continues, a love that sees his heart even when his injuries try to hide it away.

In January an article will be coming out in Mother Jones about our family, and Family Of a Vet, and many of the families involved. It's a hard piece to read because its a raw look at both our dark and happy places and a few months ago I called the reporter (the incredible Mac McClelland) in a panic about what showing the inside of our "crazy" life to the world was going to look like. Her answer, simple and wise as always, was that it was going to look like what it is... It was going to look like a LOVE story.

Our families are true love stories. They are stories about fighting, persevering, and continuing. They are stories about dark places that we don't allow to rip us apart. They are stories about making daily choices to work with everything we have (sometimes with one or the other spouse doing a lot of the "heavy lifting" on their own) to find each other again. They are stories about *choosing* each other, over and over again, when we could make the choice to fall. Of course they aren't Hollywood - they are far too inspiring for that.

So, here is my 2013 letter to my own dear hero:

My love,

On December 18th, we celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary and 16 years since our first date. We will be celebrating in a hospital. We will be celebrating in the midst of the current chaos in our life. But, honey, I can't think of a time I've been more proud to celebrate an anniversary with you.

I'm proud and humbled, that we continue to fight toward one another. I proud and grateful, that we are still standing. And, I am so incredibly proud to be your wife.

I am the wife of a man who has not only fought for his country, but has also fought for his family. A man, who while at times because of injuries languishes in dark places, always at the places where the rubber meets the road, refuses to give up on us. A man who continues to fight with me for "us." An incredible, beautiful, inspiring man whom I am so blessed to call my husband.

I don't know what the road ahead has in store, but I know that's okay because I will face it with you. I know in you and in my life with you I will continue to find shelter when the world is scary, a place to cuddle and cling on to when I'm overwhelmed, and a place where, even though its rocky at times, my heart, dreams, secrets, and worries are safe.

I will be here - on the good days, on the bad days. I will be here - still and quiet when you need space, arms and heart open when I can offer comfort. I will be here - to fight by your side, to fight for you, to simply stand for us when I need to do it on my own.

You, my love, continue to be not only WORTH the fight, but my inspiration and drive to keep stepping forward. I love you. Pure and simple, husband, I love you.


This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

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