A year and a half ago, my husband retired after 24 years of service to the US Navy. We’ve been together about 9 years now, so I’ve certainly had plenty of separation from him during this time. At his retirement ceremony, though, I was honored too. It felt strange for me to be honored. The day was about him and his sacrifices for our country.
As I read the letter that evening, I immediately thought… I should not be the one receiving this letter. It should be given to… her.
Oh this woman and I have some bad blood between us. The story of my husband and I becoming husband and wife did not come without extreme trash talk from her. The worst part was that she did it with my colleagues and with my (now) husband’s children… and often.
Still… he was taken from HER when his presence in the home was really needed. She had three kiddos at home from ages 5-13 at the time and was a student part of the time he was deployed. A lot of crap she dealt with on her own that her husband should’ve been there for.
We both work for the same employer and even do the same exact job at different work locations. We do see each other professionally. We know a lot of the same people. Time has passed, though, and we can now be in the same room together without her scowling (too much) at me. Their oldest daughter’s wedding was last summer and she wasn’t, by any means ‘friendly’ toward me, but she knew her daughter wanted me there (for her bridal shower and the wedding) and she was cordial.
As I said, when I received that honor at my husband’s military retirement, it didn’t feel right. I didn’t deserve the recognition. Most people in attendance- those sailors in his charge- didn’t know that, but I did… our family (who was present) did. His second to oldest child was there… and he knew it too.
I’ve wondered over the last year if that boy- 20 at the time- thought about that. Like… “WTF?!? MY mom’s the one who took care of his kids while he was gone for almost two years.” Now, this boy and I have a great relationship and he wouldn’t think that because of any bad feelings, but still… me being honored and not his mom… I’ve wondered about that. Did he notice? Did he care?
About 6 months ago, I couldn’t stand the guilt any longer and I contacted a good friend who is still with the same command my husband retired from. I asked if it’d be possible to get some sort of certificate for my husband’s ex. It wouldn’t say the same thing because it’s definitely different, but I needed to give her something. It was a big ask and honestly something that’s never been done (as far as this command knows of). I wasn’t given a lot of hope, but at least I had gotten off my chest that it was something I wanted to do. This friend is just as crazy busy as everyone else AND has been working out of state away from family. I felt bad for even burdening him with some little favor for me.
A bit of time passed and I saw that Military Spouse Appreciation would be happening the Friday before Mother’s Day (Friday, April 6th). I emailed my friend again early in the week and asked if there was any chance he’d had success with getting some sort of certificate. He said he had not, but that he’d ask someone else. Yesterday, the day before Mother’s Day, he emailed saying he had it and would email it in the morning!
Oh my gosh! This was going to happen.
Up until this point, I had never shared with my husband any of this– how it made me feel nor what I had been hoping to do. When I got the email, though , and knew it was going to be happening, I shared with him. He was happy to look at the revisions to the letter and make a couple suggestions. We found a Navy document folder, printed the letter on nice paper, and inserted it. It looked just like mine– even nicer maybe.
I asked if we could try to get it to her today, which we weren’t sure would work out, but it did. He said we had something for her and she told him (via text) that it would be okay for us to come by. For about an hour, I had all of the symptoms of nervousness you could imagine– sick to stomach, tears, sweating, heavy breathing, and more. Yes… I think the urge to poop too.
When we were close, I told him a few things I wanted to say and to please remind me if I left anything out. When we arrived, he got out of the car quickly, but I just couldn’t. I could see her walking down the sidewalk toward the driveway. I didn’t think I could do it. I prayed for courage and got out of the car.
I headed to her and, standing a step above me, looked at me with a slight scowl. I was scared. I don’t remember precisely what I said, but I told her about how guilty I felt being honored when it was she who had done the hard stuff. I told her how hard I know it must’ve been to need him here and he couldn’t be and how I had wanted to give her something. I told her that I had been in communication with The Command and handed her the folder.
By the authority vested in me, it is my pleasure to express the grateful appreciation of the United States Navy, to you, for your unselfish, patriotic and devoted service as a military spouse. Your unfailing support, understanding, and flexibility with respect to his Navy commitments helped immeasurably to make possible his lasting contribution to the nation. To those who say a single man cannot make a difference, I say wrong. Chief Schmidt did! He made our Navy stronger and kept our nation safe. With his service to the Navy now complete, he will be able to spend more time with your children in the future. The United States Navy thanks you and I thank you.
By this time, she and I were both shaking, and I could see her soften a bit and even saw tears well up in her eyes as she took the folder. She started to read it and after a few seconds, she knew what it was and she closed the folder and walked toward me and… omgoodness I can hardly write this… she hugged me, “Thank you so much.” Neither of us really said anything for a minute. In fact, there was a little more that was said after a longer than expected embrace.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” my husband said. With that, she hugged him too.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” I said too, and she hugged me again and turned to walk up the stairs.
Trembling, I walked to the car. I don’t know if I breathed for that entire 5-minute interlude nor for the first minute or so I sat in the car as we drove away. My husband grabbed my hand and said, “I’m really proud of you.”
I know that God is pleased with me stepping aside and putting aside my own feelings after such slander. I thought to myself about this morning’s scripture in church. We were studying in Ephesians chapter 3, but my Bible was open to Ephesians 4, in particular a verse that I’ve tried to be better with over time…