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It’s OK to Cry

By Liz Brown

Someone on my recent Twitter feed asked, "What's the best thing someone said to you during deployment?"

My answer: It's OK to cry.

I struggled mightily when Rob deployed. At worst, my soulmate was doing incredibly dangerous work on a distant continent. At best, he was just not around. To my mind, even the best was bad.

But I fought to keep the fear bottled up.

There are military spouses out there who handle deployment with courage, grace, and aplomb. I used to look at their smooth faces and bright smiles and think I had to be just like them. It didn't help that I read countless blogs and articles outlining commandments for deployment: If you cry, you're selfish; if you tell him you need him, you're melodramatic; if you don't join the wives club, you're antisocial; if you don't take classes to better yourself, you're lazy.

With all of that buzzing in my brain, I was confused about how best to support Rob. Should I tell him how much his absence hurt? Or should I be perky and positive, whether I feel it or not?

Some days were nearly easy. I'd wake up, power through a busy workday, go for a long walk afterward, make dinner, read or watch TV, and crawl into bed. I didn't need to know he was safe, I just believed he was safe. I'd fall asleep without care.

On other days, the earth dropped out from beneath my feet.

"I know this isn't easy…" he said once, after a month of being gone. His acknowledgement of the truth, the truth I'd tried to ignore, hit home.

'He's not here and I'm not OK.'

I had known it would be hard, but anticipating a lack of something doesn't prepare you for what you do get. Knowledge of a lack of security doesn't create understanding for the pain that will replace it. And that pain struck me down and fit a collar to my throat. 

'He's not here and I'm not OK.'

I hung up the phone and sobbed like a child. I wailed. I opened my mouth wide and wrapped my arms around myself to keep my frantic heart in my chest. For the first time since he left, I didn't try to push off the worry. I cried and cried. I wailed his name. My knees buckled and I sank to the floor.

Later, I told Rob what had happened. I apologized for what I thought was weakness.

"Don't you dare apologize," he warned. "I love you and how deeply you feel things. I love that you miss me." That's when his voice softened. "It's OK to cry, Liz."

Such a simple, powerful statement; the words that freed me.

I let go of the guilt I had for not being stronger, for not obeying those who told me to "never bring anything negative to my deployed sailor's doorstep." I accepted that I am a sensitive, emotional person. I also shut out all the noise from strangers trying to fit one standard to all military spouses.

Did the change make deployment easy? No; it made our relationship better by clarifying expectations. Rob didn't need me to fake a smile when my heart hurt, he needed me to be myself.

And that will always be the best thing.