GTPulse: Coming Home
On March 17th, 2020, as the world turned its focus on the massive changes caused by a newly named global pandemic, my world focused only on my child. I thought I had prepared myself for this day, but on the day my son Trey left for deployment, my emotion flooded through like pools of water into a world of uncertainty. As a parent, I felt like I was constantly preparing myself for these moments. I celebrated the achievements, the milestones, the firsts. But somewhere, deep down, I knew that each turning point was a landmark along the journey to adulthood. And, above all else, I didn’t want that particular trip to end.
And yet, there we were. The world was shutting down as I watched my oldest child leave.
The rest of the year was a blur to me. Each day brought new headlines, new conversations and closures. My son’s orders had changed due to the pandemic and that added to my nervousness, but ultimately, I knew there was really nothing I could do about it. Except pray and count my blessings for every day I was able to talk to him or pick up the phone and read a text. His new orders left his homecoming date a mystery, and I found myself dreaming that he would pop out from behind the curtain to surprise me on Halloween. Maybe, Thanksgiving. I doubly hoped and prayed it might be Christmas, but all of those holidays came and went, and I still felt blessed to get a phone call or a text. As the one-year anniversary of the last time I hugged him came and went, I shifted my focus to “not getting my hopes up.” After all, Trey was fine. He was doing hard work, but he was safe. He was well trained, and he was with people who had his back. And, he had theirs. That’s when I realized that I had somehow moved from being worried about him to being worried about myself. I had muffled the worry and quelled the tears for too long. I told myself that I was being strong for Trey, and, my younger son, Logan. But the truth was, I didn’t want to let it out—because I didn’t know if it would ever stop. Other military Moms told me this was understandable—normal even—but that it couldn’t go on forever.
So, when my son told me he would be coming home within two weeks, I was overjoyed. I scanned flights and texted him several times a day, each time hoping he would know more about his arrival. The first week came and went and finally he told me he would be coming home within 24 hours. I was absolutely giddy and couldn’t sleep a wink. Somehow, the time passed, and I went to a meeting after work thinking I would be seeing my son in a few hours. Right before my meeting started, he texted me that he would be delayed—again—and my heart sank. Crying in my car, I hurriedly pulled myself together and walked into my meeting.
A few hours later, I was talking to my best friend on the phone on my way home. I was giving her the update about Trey, sitting in my car in the garage just chatting for another 20 minutes before making my way in the house. I wasn’t in a rush, so I took my time. Then, it happened.
I opened the door—still on the phone—when my son walked into the room. I was in shock as I started screaming into the phone, “Trey’s here, Trey’s here,” before hanging up.
It was the first time I had hugged him in 391 days. The first time I could cup my hands around his face and look into his eyes without having a screen between us. I couldn’t stop myself from crying as it felt like an entire year of worry, grief, pride and love cascaded from somewhere deep inside. He was home. He was home and, just like that, the world seemed right.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. I know there are many families who will understand these emotions as men and women are returning from deployment and from military life every day.
I asked Veterans Service Officer Lucas Clark from the Grand Traverse County Veterans Affairs Agency to share some advice for men and women coming home for a weekend or for the rest of their lives.
From Lucas Clark:
When you’re coming home for a weekend or a week:
– Accept that your visit will be planned for you…so recognize that while this may be your vacation, your family has made plans for you. Let them do that.
-Go check out the old haunts but be ready to face the fact that those places have changed, and the people who hang out there won’t be the people you know any more.
-Allow your friends and family to ask the awkward questions and answer them tactfully. They will need the reassurance of your well-being and your safety–even if they are white lies–they will help your loved ones.
-EAT HOME COOKED MEALS!!!! If your family asks what you want to eat while you are home be honest. I know anything sounds better than MRE’s and DFAC food but be honest. They are willing to do it, and you will be thankful.
-Make time to spend with your family doing what you guys did when you were not in the military. It will help them feel better–like they have not lost you. And you may enjoy the simple things just as much as they do.
When you’re a veteran looking for benefits:
– Your duty station should be filing a Before Discharge Date Claim (BDD). If they do not, call your County Veterans Service Office (CVSO) nine months before you’re set to return. If they do a claim, make sure you claim EVERYTHING. You do not know what will affect you 20 years from now so lose the EGO!
– When you go to your Compensation and Pension Evaluations for your claimed disabilities remember, they are grading you on your worst day, not your best day. Do not exaggerate your symptoms, but again, get rid of your EGO and be honest about every aspect. Oddly enough, it’s the things that people give you weird looks for that are actually typical symptoms.
-Your claims are never done until you decide they are done. Do not let anyone tell you that the answer you get is the one you have to take. Appeals are possible most of the time and Veteran Service Officers (VSO’s, like me) are human. We make mistakes, and so does the VA.
-Work with a CVSO or a VSO that you get along with. Too many times we (VSO’s) hear think like “I didn’t like my VSO from 20 years ago, so I never went back.” If you don’t get along with your VSO, or they give you “bad Vibes” call a different one! THAT IS YOUR RIGHT!!!!
-It is the VSO’s job to help you Navigate the VA systems and help you apply for benefits. We are not medical professionals, so we do not diagnose. That is the job of a medical professional. So, don’t depend on us for that and don’t allow us to do that. Make sure communication is open. If something doesn’t make sense, let us know.
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