I’m having trouble sleeping, even though Quinn is lying here next to me in bed. Normally his soft breathing and his little arm across me as he sleeps makes the nights without Ian here better, but not tonight. For some reason I’m having more trouble than usual quieting my fears enough to shut my eyes. Rather than ignore them tonight I feel like laying them out like change on a table, and sorting through them for a little while. Maybe listing them will make them look ordinary and dull and then I’ll sleep.
The obvious fear that everyone can understand is that I worry my husband will be killed in Iraq.
But since I live with that fear over an extended period, it grows and
fractures and that particular fear gets broken down into parts. I fear
the initial shock of the idea of soldiers coming to my door to tell
me. If I let my mind linger there too long I wonder if I would be
polite and let them in, or in such denial and distress that I bar the
door and hide inside. I don’t want to think about the funeral I’d have
to be responsible for. I recoil at the thought of what it would do to
But there are other fears about what could happen to Ian that scare
me about as much. I worry about him becoming a different person because
of this experience–a person who scares me or that I couldn’t live with
anymore, I fear what would happen to him if he were responsible for the
death of someone else, or if someone under his command were hurt or
killed because of decisions he made or failed to make. What if the
person who comes back to me from the war is someone who hates himself
now? At what point do the unspoken vows to my children override the
vows we made to each other at our wedding if his mental state makes him
unsafe to our family?
I fear injuries that change everything. Brain damage that robs me of
the man I loved but will continue to care for for the rest of my life.
I fear missing limbs and destroyed skin and blindness. I fear PTSD.
I fear that decisions that I had to make on my own while he’s been
gone will have been wrong. That he’ll be disappointed in me somehow, or
that I’ve neglected important things that make his life harder when he
comes home and he resents me for it. I fear that adjusting to this life
after the war will be dull. I fear that after having so much
responsibility and respect, that the drudgery of caring for small
children will be frustrating and leave Ian feeling undervalued.
Okay, it feels good to lay those out. Fears always look larger when
trapped inside my head, and now I can be more rational. Ian came back
from the last deployment still the guy I knew. He still sounded like my
same Ian last I talked to him, so I’m crossing my fingers that the next
few weeks don’t throw any dangerous surprises his way. I don’t really
think he’ll be disappointed in me for anything, but his opinion matters
and I haven’t lived with him in what seems like forever so I don’t know
if the husband in my imagination is accurate anymore, and it makes me
The thing I remind myself about the fears of injury and death is that
it’s not all that different from regular life. I’m haunted by stories I
hear on the news from time to time about soldiers who return safely
from Iraq or Afghanistan only to be killed in a car accident on the way
home, or something similar. I remember very clearly a cold morning in
February when I was still commuting 40 miles every day to violin making
school hearing a news report of a man who had been killed in his car on
I43. He was in between two trucks, and when the one in front of him
stopped the one behind him didn’t and he was crushed. For some reason
my first thought was that there was food in his refrigerator that he had
expected to eat and never would. There were a million details of his
life waiting for him at home and he would never go back there. None of
us knows when our last day will be.
When Ian was deployed the first time and we had only six days to
prepare, one of the things we had to do was sit down and go through all
his important papers including his will. He skimmed it for me and
said, “It says here if I die then everything goes to you….” etc. I
didn’t pay too much attention until I heard the words, “And if you die
while I’m gone….” and my jaw dropped because it had never crossed my
mind that I could die while he was at war. All I could think was, “What
do you mean if I die?! I can’t die! I have to take care of these
kids!” But it was a good reality check. I could be driving along
between two trucks and never get to eat that lunch waiting for me in my
So my circumstance may seem extreme to someone else just living a
regular life, but it’s not that much different really. All of us are
here temporarily and none of us knows how long we have. It’s important
to connect with the people we care about as often as we are able and to
appreciate the time we have and use it well.
A quote that occurs to me often is, “It is a fearful thing to love
what death can touch.” It’s easy to focus on the fear. That’s primal.
What takes courage is to get past that and to focus on the love. I
can’t stop the fact that things will end, but the days I’m most proud of
myself are the ones where I really stop and enjoy how glorious the love
I have is. Even if it’s just for a moment, like when my kids are
showing me a caterpillar and the pure delight on their faces makes any
of the mundane things I’m preoccupied with most of the time disappear. I
make a point every day to hold each of my kids and consciously
appreciate how glad I am they are in the world. Even when they are
driving me crazy.
Quinn is nuzzling up next to me. He’s able to pat around and find my
arm to wrap around himself even in his sleep. I’m the luckiest person I
know. I’m tired of fear. I’m tired period. I’m ready to close my
laptop now. I think I’m okay to sleep.