Take It From a Military Wife, You Can Survive This
We all have our version of a "this" we’re trying to survive. This terrible twos toddler phase, this chronic pain in my back, this new and challenging work project, this divorce …
As a military wife, you live with the anxiety of what your next "this" might be. While I’ve experienced my share of tragedies and overwhelming challenges, I hope my story helps others feel inspired and see that, at least in one instance, happiness can be found in new realities.
My husband Mark grew up in Maryville, Illinois, a small town in the southern part of the state. To hear stories from his friends and family, Mark was an awesome kid, very happy and always taking care of everyone around him.
He joined the Marine Corps in 2004 at 21 years of age and knew right from the start that he wanted to be a K-9 handler. After being selected and completing training school, Mark was sent to his first duty station in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. He then went on his first deployment to Iraq in 2006, and his second in 2008. We met when he returned from his second deployment.
I thought Mark was such an amazing guy - handsome, funny, caring - we definitely fell in love fast!
In April 2009, tragedy struck our family for the first time when our son Jaxon was born at just 22 weeks and didn't survive. Losing Jaxon absolutely broke me. I didn't want to function, I didn't feel I deserved to be loved when I couldn't even keep my own child healthy and safe. While grappling with that loss and my own insecurities, I convinced myself that this experience would be the end of us. I was sure that Mark would walk away from the relationship we had built.
But as he often does, Mark proved me wrong.
Instead of pulling us apart, we dealt with the loss of our son together, and like every trial, we have been through since, we are stronger for having been through it together.
We decided to move forward with our plans to get married and set a date: my upcoming birthday. It ended up not being much of a wedding because we honestly didn't feel like we needed one. We had each other, our life together, and even though we were still healing, we were happy.
In 2010, Mark got orders to go to North Carolina. We packed up ourselves and our pups ready for this new journey. What we didn't realize was that life was getting ready to test us once again.
While we were there our two daughters were born prematurely. Aurora (Rory Jane) came at 27 weeks, weighing 1 pound, 11 ounces, and a year later our youngest, Annalily (Nilly Beth), was born at 28 weeks weighing 2 pounds, 9 ounces. We spent months in the NICU waiting for them to be big enough to come home. I will never forget being rolled out the day I was discharged, absolutely in tears because both times because I was leaving without my baby. Once again, I was broken.
The same year Nilly Beth was born, we found out that Mark would be deploying to Afghanistan. I was so nervous. We had lost several very good friends in the years prior and I just couldn't get that aching feeling out of my gut.
Mark left in March, and everything was fine for the first few months. I heard from him at least every few days, and we were just counting down the days until he arrived home.
In June, Nilly Beth had to have a coil procedure to close a small hole in her heart that she had since birth. While I was staying at the Ronald McDonald House, I was awakened by the night manager who said, "There has been an explosion, your husband is on the phone." It took a good minute for the "Your husband is on the phone" part to sink in.
I couldn't move.
I couldn't breathe.
Mark, his Military Working Dog Aura, and five other Marines were injured that day.
Mark was helicoptered home with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) along with neck and spinal issues.
When he first arrived home, he needed help with everything - eating his food, brushing his teeth, moving around. He had such a long road ahead of him. It was heartbreaking to see my strong, happy husband so vulnerable.
The doctors told us they weren't sure how long his treatment and recovery would take, or if he would ever be able to serve the military in full capacity again.
But Mark loves the Marine Corps, and he put his all into his recovery and into being reunited with Aura, eventually getting released to full duty.
During his treatment, we talked a lot about our life together, things we wanted for our future, and things we wished we had done.
One thing that we realized was that we wanted to renew our vows. We wanted the chance to celebrate our life, old and new, with all the people we loved. We wanted to celebrate the second chance at life we were given.
Hope For The Warriors granted our Warrior's Wish to have the wedding of our dreams. The nonprofit organization provides comprehensive support programs for service members, veterans, and military families that are focused on transition, health and wellness, peer engagement, and connections to community resources.
The wedding happened last summer at a beautiful Lodge in Missouri near Mark's hometown. Mark's Marine brothers and his actual brother were part of the ceremony, as well as Aura, who survived the attack alongside Mark and is now a full-fledged member of our family!
The event allowed us to gather with loved ones who have been with us throughout our entire journey. It was an opportunity to celebrate "this" moment of happiness, of love, of hope for the future.
It is my greatest wish that our story can help inspire others ... other military families who are working through their own recovery after a loved one returned home from war injured; families who have lost a child; or people who suddenly find that their everyday realities have somehow been forever altered.
Our long journey has taught me that when the worst is staring you in the face, you can fight for the outcome you want. And while your life might not look the same as it once did, with the love and support of those around you, surviving "this" next thing is possible.