At the beginning of the first Gulf War, I had an opportunity to spend every penny I had to my name in order to fly to Singapore to see my husband who had been on deployment with the US Navy for five and one-half months. The reality of war meant that his current trip home would temporarily port in Singapore for five days and then turn around and head straight back to where he had left; the Gulf War region of the world.
In the life of a military wife, the possibility that I would not see my husband for another five and one-half months was now a reality, the possibility that I would never see him again was now a threat with a great big red exclamation point behind it. I was terrified.
I was very nervous to scrape up every penny that we had, but I was determined to see my husband before he went off to war. I needed to express my dedication to him and my absolute dependence for him to return to my side. He needed to know that without him I would be unable to breathe, that my heart would stop beating, and that my life would immediately end. He needed to know that our sweet baby needed him to come home because she loved her daddy so deeply that growing up without him would not be possible. He needed to know that our prayers of protection would pour out to heaven every moment of the day and that angels would surround him when he was in danger.
Unfortunately, the airlines found out what was going on and instantly air tickets jumped from $500.00 to $5,000.00. Five hundred dollars for a poor military family living in San Diego CA during that time was an astronomical fee, five thousand dollars was impossible. But, I was determined that not even the airlines would keep me from what might possibly be my last chance to see my husband alive. I pulled every penny we had out of the bank, dug for change through coat pockets and the couch, and purchased my airfare.
I was teaching art classes at the time so it was necessary for me to rearrange my commitments to my students. One of my students was a wife of a Retired Combat Veteran. She pulled me to the side and shared her great wisdom with me. She advised me that the first two days with my husband would be wonderful, but the third day together would be sad. I was so confused. I had no idea what she was telling me. She continued. The third day would be our “Hump Day”. She cautioned me not to think about it, not to let the fact that we were on our downhill slide of having to separate, destroy the final few days that we would have together. She said to push it out of my mind anyway possible and to enjoy every moment we had. Her advice was worth more than I paid for that blasted airline ticket. In fact, her advice was invaluable.
On the third day together, I woke up and immediately realized that we were beginning the end of our time together. Just a quickly as I thought that I also remembered what my wise student had told me. I wiped the worries away and I enjoyed every moment I had with my husband in Singapore. We painted that town green, let me tell you. We shopped, toured, ate out, and enjoyed every green dollar that we spent. Thank goodness, the American dollar had value there because we only had what my husband had in his pocket to spend.
I think about this experience and the advice my student gave me often in life. She must have seen something in my personality that motivated her to share this priceless advice with me when it was critical for my survival. She said that if worry took over, regret would fill my life if my husband were lost during battle. Regret that our last few days together on earth had been ruined with sadness and worry rather than happiness and blissful expressions of love. She was right – and to this day, I remain grateful to my art student for teaching me, her teacher, something I did not know.
Now that 2018 is here, I find myself thinking, wow, 2020 is just around the corner. For my husband and me, 2020 marks a milestone in our lives. Although my husband has been retired from the military for over 20 years, in 2020, he and I will hit the customary age of retirement in America. I do not know if it is because I labor in the field of death or what, but I think about the day that death will hit either my husband or me quite often. I bury decedents younger than myself regularly, and I wonder if my time is near. Sometimes it motivates me to arrange my life so that those I leave behind will not be burdened with my affairs. Other times worry lets sadness touch my heart and I cannot bear the thoughts that fill my soul.
On days that worry overtakes me, I remember my wise art student’s advice. If death were to strike me tomorrow, I would not want to have given up even one second of happiness with my family over worrying. And so, I push worry and sadness aside, as I did in Singapore, and I fill my heart with all of the glorious blessings that God has given me. I call my children and my grandchildren. I express my love for them and the joy that each of them brings me, and I walk over to my husband, embrace him, and whisper in his ear that I love him. Privately, I offer thanks to God for the priceless gift of love and the joy it has given me.
Recently, my husband and I were approached by a marketing group about filming a YouTube show. Primarily it would focus on highlighting our marriage, our intense devotion, and our love for each other. My husband and I are concerned because we both wonder how our daily life together could fill a YouTube channel with enough interest to engage a faithful audience. I was discussing it with one of our daughters recently and she said the sweetest thing to me. “Just being around you and daddy is a gift. Your marriage is something that people dream about and yearn for. You should share it.”
When I die, I hope that whoever delivers my eulogy will know me well enough to pass along my art student’s cherished advice. “Never let worry rob from you the gift of joy; embrace every blissful moment of love afforded to you, and appreciate your time together.” And, I hope that everyone in the room shares my daughter’s sentiments: that my life with my husband has been a wonderful gift and that our marriage has been a dream come true. I hope these things for you too.
Tracy Renee Lee,Managing Funeral Director of Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City, Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and Certified Grief Counselor. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery.
It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.
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