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Like many of us, I watched the Fort Hood memorial service. I did fine through Obama’s speech and the singing of "Amazing Grace and the Benediction.  But when they fired the volleys and "Taps" was played, I lost it. I sobbed like a child. And my hart went out to the families because I know what they are going through. You see, I have been both a widow and a military wife.

I didn’t lose my first husband to a war. At 29, he died suddenly of an undiagnosed heart condition. I wasn’t there with him when he died, but I knew he was gone because I felt it. I sent a friend to look for him—he’d gone out on an errand—and he found him and told me what I already knew.  

His death was like being stabbed in the heart. It was made all the worse because of its suddenness.  I imagine the widows and family members of the Fort Hood slain felt something like that: that unbelievable shock when you learn that someone you love, someone you need like the very air you breathe, is gone forever. You will never hold them again. Never hear their voice. Never see their face. They are gone, and they are gone for good. That realization feels like an amputation, because you have truly lost a part of yourself in losing them.

When I remarried, I wed a sailor, and I became a member of that vast sorority  of military wives. I may well have been the Worst Navy Wife in the History of the Navy.  I did NOTHING with unit spouses.  I wasn’t part of the squadron’s Wives club, although I did attend one meeting. I avoided squadron functions because they all seemed to be aimed at families with kids, and I really don’t enjoy spending three hours with a horde of kids screaming at the top of their lungs (I like kids, but in smaller groups or when I am in control of the situation as a teacher or children’s librarian) at a Christmas party.  I didn’t fit in very well because I was 15-20 years older than most of the E spouses, a published author, a professional woman, a Wiccan and a liberal feminist who was childless by choice.  The only thing we had in common was living in base housing and our husbands’ employer.  His second squadron was much better, but we lived off base and didn’t have a lot to do with folks

But I did share a common bond with them, and that was driven home after 9/11 when I attended a spouse’s briefing. Every one of us there knew that VPU-1 would be deploying.  Families were never told where they would deploy, and we had no phone numbers where we could check in with them, and there was no email contact. We would get a call once a week from a Chief telling us our beloved was alive and in one piece. Letters became our lifeline, and you checked the mail every day hoping for an envelope with his scrawl on it. I have a boxful of love letters from my husband’s deployments, some written to me, some to my  SCA personae by his counterpart. They saved my sanity.

Even in peacetime, people die during deployments.  Accidents and mistakes happen. In wartime, you  go through every day praying that you won’t hear your doorbell ring and see an officer and a chaplain standing outside. That is every spouse’s nightmare, because it means the one you love is either injured or dead. .  Unless you’ve been a military spouse, you can’t know what  that means.

And thirteen families had that happen to them after the Fort Hood shootings.  Over thirty others were told their loved one was wounded, and many were too far away to hold a vigil in a waiting room, praying that they’d hear good news.  They had to fly or drive to be with the wounded, a journey which undoubtedly seemed endless because they really didn’t know what was going on back in Texas.

Maybe because I’ve been a widow and a Navy  wife, that service hit me particularly hard. It was so easy to put myself in the place of the wives who will never be kissed by their husbands ever again. I lived with that possibility every time my husband deployed.  The tension and the feat don’t leave you until they are safe in your arms again. That this tragedy happened when they were in a place which should have been safe, makes it even harder to accept.  When your spouse leaves you and goes to work on base, you expect him to come home that night/. Thirteen soldiers didn’t come home.

I’ll leave you with words to "Taps". We are all familiar with the bugle call, but most of us don’t know the beautiful words to this most mournful of all songs.

Day is done ...
Gone the sun ...
From the lakes ...
From the hills ...
From the sky ...
All is well ...
Safely rest ...
God is nigh...

Fading light ...
Dims the sight ...
And a star ...
Gems the sky...
Gleaming bright ...
From afar...
Drawing nigh ...
Falls the night ..

Thanks and praise ...
For our days ...
Neath the sun ...
Neath the stars ...
Neath the sky ...
As we go ...
This we know ...
God is nigh ...

My husband retired in 2003, just before we invaded Iraq, though he already had PTSD from viewing Saddam's handiwork up close and personal. But it could have been him so easily. For that reason, I share the grief of those families who have lost members. And for that reason, "Taps" will always make me cry.

NOTE: I haven’t been around much these past few weeks.  My husband and I spent most of them flat on our backs in bed with what was most likely swine flu (my doctor didn’t do a test because the treatment is the same whether it’s H1N1 or seasonal flu). It was a very nasty virus, and we were down for three weeks. GET THE SHOT. And we, being over 50, had been exposed to H1N1 already so we had some immunity already.

Originally posted to irishwitch on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 01:59 PM PST.

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