Thursday, December 22, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Someone's guilty of praying for us.
Thank you.
The deployment "goodbyes" evolved as peacefully as possible.
Can I say it again? Thank you! Oh, and thank you, Jesus.

We began in a "holding" room with all the other families of deploying people.
Build-a-bears were passed out to every child---my littlest were glad at that moment daddy was leaving. They got a build-a-bear out of the deal. Bags of stationary journeyed around the room and the Air Force personnel made themselves available for any thing deploying families might need.
How about an extra day? Can you give us an extra day?
Actually by this point, we're ready to just get this thing started.
Let's not postpone this goodbye one more day.

I spied on fellow deploying families. Some tears, lots of hugs, plenty of laughter. It was a fairly small group. The main body is not deploying for another week. Just a handful of the "lucky" get to leave before Christmas.

It's a brave group, these military families.
One other pilot was deploying at the same time and I only knew his family. All these other airmen deploying and I only knew one. That sort of made me sad. These other men and women are the core of this deployment--they maintain the airplanes, load the weapons, brief intelligence, and provide support. I hope my husband knows every single one of their names by the time he gets back...maybe he already knows their names. I hope he does. He can only do what he loves to do because of their competence. I sort of wanted to go meet them and thank their families. Not the right time for that. It's not the time for introductions.

The time ticks as you wait for the final call. The last hugs seem to drag on forever. Finally we watched him disappear into a secure room. Whew. At the last minute...wiggly Noah yells out, "Gooodbye, Daaadddy!" The little guy has no idea. Blessed innocence.

Is it harder to stay or harder to leave? I think both kinda stink, but I'd much rather hold down the fort at home than head out to the great unknown. I'm not that adventurous or courageous. I'll stick with what I know.

We watched the big military transport starting its engines on the runway. We waited for the bus to pull up to load our men and women. As the bus appeared, dozens of family members strolled out the aircraft.
Oh. No. Not another goodbye. Maybe the kids won't see. Maybe they won't notice.
Hey, Kids, look up at that formation of birds flying through the sky. Too late. They saw.

"Mom--we gotta go on to the flight line. All those other families are out there. We gotta go see Daddy."
"Run, Mom! Run, Mom!" (I am running by the way, Kids. This is my run!)
"We gotta meet the bus before they load passengers. We can't miss this last goodbye."
Goodbye Number Two begins.

This was classic military goodbye. Family members lining the path to the airplane. Last minute hugs...last minute kisses...last minute words...each person that walks by gets a handshake and a pat on the shoulder. I loved every single one of those airmen and women at that moment.

My husband was last to board the plane. Mostly because untangling from our hugs takes him ten minutes. I made sure I got the last kiss.
He was mine first, Kids. I get the last kiss.
Walking towards the plane, he keeps glancing back at us.
The last handshakes are from the important people on base. The commanders. The leaders. They stand proud wishing their people well.
Secretly they are probably wishing they were going along on the mission.

Our family knows to wait until he turns away for the last time. We'll watch him until we can't watch him any longer. I don't want him turning around for one last look to find that his family has already turned away.
One last look and smile as he boards. We watch him disappear into the windowless plane.
Exhale. I think I've been holding my breath for three hours.
I bend down to pick up Noah as the two older boys watch the door close.

"Mom--did you see? Did you see? Daddy looked out the door one more time and waved. We just saw him wave."
You have got to be kidding. Now I really could cry. I thought I had watched long enough. I wanted to see that wave.
I guess it has to be enough that my boys saw the wave. I had no tears up until this point. Now I want to cry.
Once the plane started taxiing down the runway, I gave up hope that the door would open one more time for me to see that wave.
I learn something new every time.
Next time, I'll know to watch until the plane actually starts to taxi.

I've never asked my husband what happens inside the plane once the door shuts. Is there sadness? Is there joyful whoops and hollers? Is there relief?
I'm betting they feel relief.
The dreaded goodbyes are done.
The mission now begins.
The training becomes reality and their readiness and skill tested.
I bet adrenalin flows on that plane.

As the plane takes off, I find that I'm sharing this life experience with a bunch of people that I don't know. Standing on the flight line, we're all on the same team.
All longing to get this thing started, yet not really wanting to say goodbye.

We're ready.
Sometime in the last days before he left, we made the transition.
The transition that allows him to go off and do his job.
He can leave knowing that we need him, we want him, we love him.
But we're going to be okay for a while without him.
I'll do what needs to be done at home, so he can do what needs to be done over "there."

The next time we'll be standing on that flight line it will be to welcome him home.
I can't wait for that day.
Until then, we press on.

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