Our son-in-law sent us a text this morning at 3:00AM to let us know our daughter Katie had gone into labor and our grand-daughter should be born in the next few hours. Their doula would keep us informed as the birth proceeded, the text assured us.
Sleep was the last thing on our minds with the news, so we prayed for our kids then Pam picked up a book to occupy herself while waiting for further developments. I went to my desk and started the day’s work. Since they’re 3,000 miles away we had to settle for texts and phone calls until we can travel to their home in a few days.
We would much rather have been at Vic and Katie’s side during the birth, but Vic’s in the Navy and his career has been spent as far away from us as you can get. He was first assigned to Japan for a three-year stint. Then he was sent to the West Coast—closer but still not near enough. Military families aren’t unique in dealing with long distances, but their vocation includes a peculiar pressure. Because our men and women in uniform are the front line of defense in a dangerous world, the frequent and lengthy separations their families endure are more intense than other kinds of family pressure. Every military family carries in the back of their mind the thought that their temporary separation could become permanent at a moment’s notice.
Pam and I are happy that our kids (our son is also in the military and even though he and his family are stationed nearer to us, the pressures are much the same) are doing what they love to do. More than that, they have remarkable spouses, and have established in their families the same foundation of faith they grew up with. Still, the separation is tough and there are many times—having a baby may be the most visible but it’s far from the only one—we would give anything to be nearer to them.
During Katie’s pregnancy there were lots of phone calls, growing more frequent as time went on. Text messages that were hilarious in direct proportion to her increasing girth, a trend that was obvious but could be pointed out only at risk of bodily harm. FaceTime was a blessing because we could actually see the changes going on with her as well as all the other things that accompany the birth of a child, like decorating the nursery and baby showers with friends. And longer emails filled with observations, questions, random facts and occasional rants that kept us not only informed but also entertained. Katie’s a professional writer and communicates better than almost anyone else I know.
I can’t imagine how tough this kind of thing was for earlier generations of military families without modern communication. But even with all the new technology it’s not the same as being there. I’m especially grieved for Pam because she wasn’t able to share in Katie’s nine months of pregnancy like most moms.
Somehow, we made it through. And in a few short days we’ll see Vic and Katie and little Lydia. The plan is for me to stay three days. Katie then wants Pam to stay for an additional ten days as Vic goes back to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pam tried to stay longer, say until next Christmas.
In the meantime here’s what I’m learning about military families in times of separation:
- The debt our nation owes to military families is greater than many people realize. The last decades of war have impacted hundreds of thousands of families, not just because of the rigors of military service itself but also because of the emotional toll exacted on the families of our people in uniform by their long separations.
- Small things matter. Every conversation, text, email and photo makes a difference and helps keep us connected. Military families that pay special attention to this principle stand a greater chance of staying together than those that do not.
- Faith makes a difference. When families are bound together by a common faith, their cohesiveness and love aren’t diminished by distance.
- Prayer reduces the distance between families. When we pray for those we love the miles between us don’t matter as much.
Postscript: Vic just let us know that Lydia was born this morning at 7:45AM. Mother and daughter are both healthy and doing well.