Saying Good-Bye

Saying Good-Bye

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Saying Good-Bye

Peace on the outside comes from peace on the inside; peace on the inside comes from understanding we are all God.

Shirley MacLaine

In 1997, my husband, a U.S. Marine, packed up and prepared to leave for Okinawa, Japan, for one year. We had three small children at the time and had just completed three years of recruiting duty in Austin, Texas. We were now facing a twelve-month unaccompanied tour—two hardship duties back-to-back. My family was in San Antonio, so the kids and I moved the eighty miles south of Austin to live near family while my husband was gone. We spent the last few days before his departure spending time as a family, and making sure finances and important documents were all in order.

Charles’s departure day finally arrived. It was a Sunday in early January, and we woke up that morning to cold gray skies. The weather seemed to be reflecting what I was feeling on the inside, but I had three little children to consider, and I knew my attitude would set the stage for the way we would handle the coming months.

That Saturday night, we had a special family night. Family night was usually on Monday evenings, but the next Monday would be without my husband. Treats always followed a fun activity, value lesson or family council. This particular night, we talked about why we were such a special family.

Our family is a Marine Corps family. That meant there were certain things we would have to do.One was to move around when they needed our marine in different units, and, sometimes, it meant not having him home for long periods of time while he did his job. We talked to the children about patriotism, serving our country and serving God. We talked about how our family would be blessed because of our service. We also discussed that God would watch over us a little closer and give us the strength and protection we would need while our daddy went to work across the Pacific Ocean. We then had yummy treats, lots of hugs and giggles and bedtime prayers.

When Sunday dawned, we attended church as usual. It seemed important to keep the day as normal as possible, but my heart was heavy, and I wanted the day to be over. I really believed all we had told the children, but the next twelve months loomed ahead of me as dark as the gray sky we had woken up to. That evening we loaded up our marine’s gear and headed for the airport.

As the time grew closer for Charles to board the airplane, we gathered the kids from the windows looking out over the tarmac. Charles held our sixteen-month-old baby girl in his arms while he pulled our three-year-old son and six-year-old daughter into a group hug. The kids giggled and rubbed his chin for luck where the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow felt nice and scratchy, something they wouldn’t feel for a long time. Something I hoped they wouldn’t forget.

We found a somewhat empty corner of the boarding area, and the two older children stood at attention while I knelt down beside them. They had decided on a going-away song for their dad, and to show him they were ready to do their part in serving our country. My husband stood tall and strong in front of them, looking every inch a marine, even in civilian clothes. They serenaded him with the first verse of the “Marines Corps Hymn.”

“From the halls of Mont-e-zu-u-ma, to the shores of Tripol-e-e-e-e.” We sang low, but loud enough for him to hear, not really wanting to call attention to ourselves. I don’t think that anthem ever touched Charles more than it did in those final moments in the airport waiting area.

He handed me our baby, gave one last round of hugs and kisses, and then picked up his backpack and turned and walked away.

There was no war he was going to fight, no humanitarian mission at stake. There was no parade or media attention. There was just one man, all alone, turning and walking away from the one thing that meant more to him than anything else in this world: his family.

As he walked away, it was evident that our family moment had not gone unnoticed by other passengers in the terminal waiting area. They knew, even though Charles was not in uniform, that he was a U.S. Marine leaving for duty and leaving his family.

As Charles approached the door leading to the gangway, he turned one last time and we exchanged smiles and waves. Then he was gone.

There was not a dry eye in the house, except ours. Dad was leaving for work as usual. But it would be a little longer than usual before we would be together again.

Kelli Kirwan

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