When I was active duty, every time I heard that the spouse had the hardest job of all, I would roll my eyes. After all, in my view, the spouse wasn’t the one showing up on the flight line at 0330 for a 15-hour mission. The spouse didn’t have to don full chem warfare gear in 100-degree weather and stay in it for hours at a time. The spouse wasn’t the one who had to deploy.
And then came last January. We had lived in Utah for a whole six weeks, and my husband left for a TDY that was going to be between four and eight weeks. The dusting of snow that was supposed to be maybe an inch turned to six inches. I was nearly eight months pregnant, with a 21-month old who seemed determined to never sleep and to prove to me why having a second child was such a big mistake. I had a sick 40-pound Husky that couldn’t climb up or down the stairs. I knew two people in the local area, could find the mall and Target, and was taking six hours of graduate school.
The life of a military spouse is not an easy one — but it was never promised to be. You fall in love with a person, knowing that they can leave you, knowing that there will be times they are gone for months at a time, and knowing that there will be bad days.
But there is always a difference between knowing something and living it. I like to compare it to buying a house —you know when you buy a house that it could catch on fire, but when it actually happens, it’s not going to be easy to deal with. Through the 4.5 years my husband and I have been married, he has been absent well over a year, and we’re one of the luckier couples.
I say all this not to say, oh, woe is me, or to ask for any applause. To me, I am just doing the job I signed on for. There are days I wish my husband had a different career. There are days I wish I had married an accountant or an engineer or a lawyer, or just someone who could come home every night at five, so I could lament on Facebook when he left for A WHOLE FIVE DAYS A YEAR (ZOMG!!).
But through his TDYs and deployments, I have learned I am stronger than I think I am. I have learned my limits (like, not attempting to shovel snow when you’re nearly eight months pregnant!). And I have learned who my friends are and where to go when I need help.
So it was with great distress that I learned a military spouse — an Air Force wife, even — had allowed her three daughters to suffer such great neglect that one died and two are in intensive care. I actually went and picked my five month old up from his nap to hold him, like I could somehow send a hug to her deceased 22 month old and tell her, “I’m sorry. You were important, and we failed you.” I won’t lie; when my husband has been deployed or on long TDYs, I have been angry before — angry at him, angry at myself, angry at Big Blue — but never at our children. To me, they were the one innocent party in it all.
And so, for the next few days, there will be the vilifying of the mother. The deployed airman’s home squadron will — and rightfully so — look to find out where they failed, but you can only make so many phone calls and offer to help so many times, and if people don’t want to ask for help, they won’t.
The friends of the mother (who had lived in the area for two years!) will share the blame with the mother. Evidently, the mother had tried to commit suicide a week before, but a friend stopped her — and then did not report the suicide attempt up the chain to the First Sergeant or check to see whether the children were safe or cared for.
The airman himself will be brought home from the deployed location and will simultaneously have to deal with his grief and the lingering questions of could he have known, could he have done something, and what should he have told his chain of command, for the rest of his life. I am sure that there will be questions and concerns relayed all the way up to General Welsh (again, rightfully so!).
The sad part is that this didn’t have to happen. There are resources out there for any military spouse just begging to be used, such as Military OneSource or your local Airmen & Family Readiness Center. There are support groups and people who are ready to help. At times when we are asking more and more of our military, and facing possible taskings in Syria, we are asking even more of our military spouses and the children of the deployers.
While the temptation is there, to make this political or to rail on our current foreign policy (especially during an election year), let us not forget the true tragedy of this story is that a little girl is dead who didn’t have to die. A family is perhaps quite irreparably broken and two other little girls will grow up with the knowledge that their mother couldn’t take care of them because she couldn’t take care of herself while their father was off fighting a war.
It didn’t have to end this way.
Image: Cemetary Statue courtesy of dogmadic