Last week our cat passed away suddenly from congestive heart failure. Her loss was the icing on the cake of what has been a difficult move for me. I grieved not only because her death was unexpected and she was a beloved member of our family, but also because she was part of a chapter in our lives that has since closed.
We got Tweet (our cat) and bottle-raised her when we were young and newly married and my husband was in pilot training. We were living in our first house and could never imagine feeling as tired as we felt those four weeks we had to feed her around the clock.
When she died, another small part of that old life died too.
The military forces us to live our lives in chapters, but this move in particular has felt like one giant chapter after another closing. In the past year, my husband and I became parents; he essentially started a new job, transitioning from Active Duty to full-time with the Air National Guard; we bought a house; and we moved halfway across the country to Texas.
While we are both from Texas, it has not been “home” for many years. We are adjusting to the idea of living in one place for at least the next 6 to 8 years after having 9 moves during our 12 years of marriage.
Though I have moved many times with the military, this one seems more monumental. This one hurts.
This move has been unusual in many ways.
It is our first move off of Active Duty and on the Guard side of the equation. We thankfully have some friends in San Antonio and in our new squadron but not the large built-in (and instantaneous) support system I have come to rely on. While I’ve always joked about the “mandatory fun” of squadron events in the past, I realize I was spoiled by how close knit our community is. While our squadron here is supportive, and I have no doubt they would step in to help if we needed it, the bottom line is that everyone is spread out across the city and in different stages of life.
This move is our first move with a baby and it has been a little lonely. Previously, I would have thrown myself into volunteering, finding a job, or exploring our new area. While I hope to do all of the above, it’s much more challenging with a 1-year-old. This is also the first move where we are really putting down roots without one foot out the door. We are taking more time setting up our home because we know we will be here for a while. We are looking for places and opportunities where we can really invest in-and-of ourselves over the next several years.
It is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another with our son as well. It was sad to leave Las Vegas and the home we brought him home to, a home where we shared many firsts with him. When we left Vegas, he was still a baby. Now, every day he is becoming much more of a toddler. This is bittersweet in the way that only raising children can be. With his new independence comes much more freedom, not only for him but also for me. While I would never consider myself a sentimental person, a small part of me mourns the loss of the intimate closeness we shared, even while I celebrate and enjoy all the new fun we are having.
Military spouses are a special breed: Often all by ourselves, we evacuate for hurricanes, birth babies, and run households. The world could be burning down around us, and we would tell you we were fine.
I pride myself on being tough and being able to handle the moves, the absences, and the general chaos that accompanies military life.
This is why I found myself telling the clerk at the grocery store the morning after our cat died that I was “doing well” when he asked how my day was going. I had been up all night at the emergency vet and at the pediatrician all morning dealing with shots for my son. I was in fact not doing well: I was sad, and I was mentally and physically exhausted. When I got to the car, I started to cry.
I cried for Tweet, and I finally allowed myself to cry for me.
Thankfully, I am my mother’s child. She was a teacher in our small town for 40 years and knows everyone. This also means she knows all of their sad stories. Whenever my brother or I would come to her with a problem, she would listen and then tell us how lucky and blessed we really were. If we thought we had it bad, she could list about five or 10 people off the top of her head that have it much worse. If we were feeling bad about our own lot in life, she would encourage us to volunteer with those less fortunate. This has raised me with a healthy dose of perspective. So I had my good cry in the parking lot and acknowledged that the past few months have been hard.
Then I dried my tears and finally felt ready to embrace the new chapter before me.
So often we condition ourselves to say we are fine even when we are not.
We downplay our struggles and assume we are the only one who feels this way. It is OK for me to admit the move has been harder than I thought it would be, even though I consider myself a seasoned military spouse. I wasn’t prepared to feel this lonely and out of sync. I wasn’t prepared to miss our old life so much even while loving so much about this new chapter.
We finally have a home of our own, we are near family for the first time in over 10 years, and my husband is definitely home more (and more consistently) than he ever was before. I imagine most people, military spouses or not, have felt this way. Perhaps we can all be a little more honest with each other and admit that sometimes this life is hard. It is reassuring to know you are not alone in how you feel.
I know things will continue to get better. The house is getting situated, and we are settling into our new routine. My son and I have joined a MOPS group, and I have joined a book club. We have friends and are making new ones. I know we will continue to find our people and niche in this assignment.
In this life of moves and constant change, allow yourself to not be OK. Remember, too, that countless others have felt the exact same way.
Be scared or overwhelmed as a new life chapter begins and be sad when another one ends. It is hard to start over, but one day, sooner than you think, you will find your groove. The middle place—that sweet spot between beginnings and endings—that is the good stuff, the small joys in every day life.
To quote the movie Hope Floats, “beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will, too…”
This is my hope for me and for you, too.