Two-and-a-half years ago, after celebrating a beautiful Christmas day, I received a phone call from my niece in California. My sister had experienced a sudden heart attack and was gone. Say what?
Getting the news of her passing really stopped me in my tracks, and after the initial shock and sadness came a great deal of reflection and, yes, guilt.
My thirty-plus years of military life had kept me far away from my California roots. Duty stations on the East Coast or overseas meant that there were many times I did not participate fully in family get-togethers or celebrations.
My life became more and more separated from those I grew up with and I became comfortable with that. My kids grew up hearing about their aunts, uncles, and cousins, but not really knowing them. I made excuses to myself about how even if we did visit, what would we talk about? I mean, I was a military spouse. How could my family of origin or civilian friends possibly understand what it meant to live a military lifestyle or relate to what I was going through?
I felt closer to my military family than my family of origin and I relied on my military sisters to get me through any situation. Slowly, I allowed the geographical distance to also become an emotional one and occasional phone calls and visits were awkward.
What a mistake. Our different life paths might not be mutually understood, but they were certainly not a barrier to closeness. We had so much more in common than not, and I should have seen that. But sometimes hindsight is 20/20 and it comes at a price.
It’s easy to be absorbed in our every-day lives, and for military spouses, our every-day consists of long duty days, deployments, and going it alone. But even military life doesn’t last forever. One day your soldier leaves the Army. It’s inevitable.
Once out, you somehow begin to reconnect again, with friends, with family, with your beginnings. Unfortunately, and this is the hard lesson I learned, you don’t always have the gift of time. Time is precious, you never, ever get it back. You only lose it.
My sister passed the day after Christmas and my military sisterhood offered amazing support and condolences as I knew they would. Those friendships forged over trying times and years of shared experiences never fade. But you know what? Neither do the connections to my youth.
Now I don’t take phone calls or texts with my remaining siblings for granted. I work hard to keep them close. Time is a gift and should not be wasted. My older sister taught me that.
Patty Barron is director of family readiness at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA). Previously, she served as the director of outreach, Military Family Projects, at ZERO TO THREE and also worked as the director of youth initiatives at the National Military Family Association where she oversaw the Association’s Operation Purple Camp program. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of San Francisco and her Master of Science degree from Long Island University. She has an Executive Certification in Non-profit Management from Georgetown University and a certificate from the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University in leadership. She is married to COL Michael Barron, USA Ret, and has three amazing grown kids, one of whom is a veteran and a military spouse. Her heart currently belongs to her two granddaughters stationed in Hawaii with their parents.
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