#MilitaryMonday: Anything but Cliché
Unfortunately, my life is anything but cliché. Sometimes I wish I could just easily fit into that predictable pattern that a stereotype would offer. But no, that’s not me.
I grew up in a broken home as the oldest of 6 children with a variety of stepfathers that were less than qualified for the job of raising children. In fact, even amongst my mother’s 7 siblings, I still never really saw marriage or parenting done particularly well. So as I was contemplating the full academic scholarship I had been awarded to college when I was just 17 years old, I figured I would avoid marriage for a while and focus on getting a doctorate degree by the time I was 25. Good plan, right?
But then it hit me . . . in the head . . . literally. My future husband elbowed me in the head doing a break dance move at a party. (I know, stop and take a moment to picture it). We became enthralled with one another immediately and before I knew it, I was in love with a military man. He was a year older than me, still a teenager himself, but had opted for the Air Force instead of college. Although initially I had no idea about the military life, I was on a pretty quick learning curve because soon we were unexpectedly expecting our first child. My master plan had totally been thwarted . . . or at least my original timeline was.
Although I managed to finish my Bachelor’s degree on schedule, our family kept growing and deployment after deployment came and went. My husband’s operational tempo seemed to keep increasing and the unique demands of his special operations career grew year after year with his progressing rank and his evolving mission. I started to fully embrace what it meant to be a military wife, appreciate the benefits that military life has to offer, learn to endure the separations that are unavoidable, and even accept some of the inevitable sacrifices that I would have to make.
Together we somehow managed to balance it all. He kept moving forward in the military and I steadily continued to pursue my education by earning a Master’s degree in Professional Counseling while having babies number 4 through 6. (Yes, you read that correctly). My desire to continue to carve out my own identity as a student, a professional, a counselor and a leader in addition to being a dedicated military wife and mother of 6, drove me to never abandon the passions and pursuits that I felt grounded me in who I am – no matter how much longer they may have taken me to achieve.
Fast-forward 15 years later. After growing together through our shared trials and triumphs, we had a strong and satisfying marriage, 6 amazing and well-adjusted children, and several homes and investments. We had come through a long special operations military career, 10 deployments, countless time apart, and multiple transitions but it felt like we had done more than just survive it - we were actually thriving. It was that sweet spot in life where my husband’s career was going to slow down as he progressed towards retirement. We would finally have more coveted family time, we could decide where to put down roots for our children, and I could start that doctorate degree I had always dreamed of.
Yet at the last minute something happened, and again my plans for the future were completely thwarted when my husband died in a parachute training accident on February 21st, 2014. Instantly, I became a 33-year-old military widow with 6 children ranging from ages 15 years to 15 months old. As if that wasn’t enough, just as the heaviness of that tragedy started to become a little more bearable, I lost the youngest of our 6 children in a drowning accident a year later. Shockingly, this was followed in close succession by losing one of my brothers to suicide and another to homicide in no less than 17 months. It was unequivocally the hardest 2 and a half years of my life.
As my world seemed to be dissolving in front of me at every turn, I was forced to reevaluate the new trajectory that I would follow. In the midst of my grief, I tried to hold on to my steadfast notion of who I was and to my deep desire to live out my unique purpose in this world. I am thankful beyond words to those pivotal people who would never hesitate to remind me of those two things when doubts tried to creep in. In fact, when I questioned whether or not to continue pursuing my doctorate degree knowing that it may take several more years, someone much wiser than me said, “Well, Alyssa, those years will pass whether or not you are getting a doctorate degree.” I knew the moment he said it that he was right.
Time will inevitably pass, transitions will perpetually come, and sometimes unexpected losses may even surprise you. Yet I now realize that if you remain dedicated to balancing your invaluable role as a wife and mother with pursuing the passions in your life that make you who you are and give you a deep sense of fulfillment, you will never regret a moment invested. So as I continue to try to heal from my overwhelming grief, I will also continue to counsel my clients, pursue that doctorate degree, attend my own therapy, participate in grief groups, lead in my church, build new relationships, embrace love again, and still be a devoted mom to my children. This is how I am proactively striving to be so much more than just a military widow with 5 surviving children. Like I said, my life is anything but cliché.