When I became a military spouse, I realized a part of it meant building a life away from where home had been for me growing up. A lesser known reality back then was what I would miss – and what I could never get back, like time. The truth of how precious of a commodity time is came recently when I ran out of it with my grandmother who passed away this month.
Let me start by saying, I am extremely grateful for the life we live. I’ve been with my husband, an active duty Coast Guardsman, for 14 of his 18 years of service including nine moves. I’ve never regretted a moment of this military spouse journey, mostly because it has allowed me to grow in ways I never fathomed possible. But with all that good comes extraordinary sacrifice, one in particular doesn’t get a lot of focus: leaving your family behind.
My family’s story
I grew up in a family that is closeknit – by physical proximity and through the strength of our relationships. Originally from the north, my grandfather rallied everyone south in 1973 when he got sick of cold weather. Soon after, my grandmother’s family followed and we were blessed to share one location. Growing up, I lived with my grandparents often so our bond was much closer than normal.
The history book of our family reads like an American dream. My grandmother’s parents were children of Italian immigrants who came to the U.S. in search of a better life. My grandmother, herself, would be born in 1935 with the name Marie Francis, after her two Italian grandmothers. She loved pasta, pastries and believed eating bread without butter was a sin. Talking to people was her favorite pastime and she could turn a stranger into a friend anywhere we went.
She was also my shoulder to cry on, voice of reason and never-ending support system. She instilled in me the importance of always being kind, respectful and remembering where you came from. She also passed down her love of strong Italian coffee that others gag on.
Embarking on a life away from ‘home’
During the first few years when I moved away, I called my grandmother every day. As I became a mom, it became harder to keep up those daily calls, but I still made sure to talk with her a few times a week.
Once my grandmother turned 80, she began to forget. At first it was just little things, nothing alarming. Then, in 2017, as I was pregnant with my second child, she kept forgetting her name. When we were finally able to visit a year later, I was shocked at her decline. In August 2018, she was officially diagnosed with late-onset Alzheimer’s. I went home to be with her and by the end of my weekend she forgot who I was.
I want to tell you I was able to fly down often after that to make more memories with her, but that’s not how our story went. After Christmas the government shutdown led to my husband not receiving pay for 35 days. That time was fraught with stress as I did what I could to help Coast Guard families, while putting my own family on the back burner.
Months later we received orders, had a house to close on and set up. At the same time, my grandmother continued to decline. During one of our conversations on a June morning, a voice told me I needed to go home. I listened.
The last memories to hold onto
During that week home, we shared coffee and pastries just like we used to – though, this time, I had to feed it all to her. I bathed her, did her nails and advocated for her care. After a tumor was discovered and she survived the surgery to remove it, I was so hopeful. She was so alert afterwards, even yelling at me to calm down when I was getting worked up about her care.
I was also gifted with a moment of clarity from her. She remembered me once during this time and when I asked who she was to me she replied, “your favorite grandmother.” I told her often how much I loved her and what she meant to me. I planned all the visits I would make as we prepared for the end of her life since we couldn’t treat her cancer. Four days after I went back home, she went home to God.
I was so angry and devastated when I got the call that she had died. How could I be out of time? I wanted more; I wasn’t ready. Then, guilt set in. I had spent the last decade moving around the country to watch my husband serve the country and missed out on time I could have had with her.
However, I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head immediately telling me to knock it off. She was so proud my husband’s service and the life I built as a military spouse, so I won’t waste another moment on regrets.
Although she’s not here, her spirit lives on in my children as I teach them everything she taught me. I feel her with everything I do and always will. The lesson to be learned from my story is to take the time, when you can. Steal the time, even when it seems impossible. Time for yourself, time for your marriage, your kids, your friends, your family. Those last days I grabbed to be with her with remain invaluable for the rest of my life.Read comments