By Jade Stone
As I listened to the news of the horrific earthquakes in Haiti and watched as the death toll climbed, I thought about the people whose loved ones were lost to the tragedy and how hard it must have been for them to find out something like that.
Conversely, I think of the people who had loved ones they could not reach for several days who certainly feared the worst, only to find out that their loved ones were safe and sound. I can see the expression of relief through the tears washing over their faces only to be quickly replaced with a twinge of guilt for finding joy in the idea that “at least their loved one is alive”, while so many others lost so much. I have known this feeling all too well and fully understand the meaning of guilty thankfulness. Let me explain.
I was folding laundry one evening while Jay was deployed and had turned on the television just to have noise. I barely noticed that the news was on. At the time, I tried not to watch the news because often times it didn’t tell all of the real stories or the whole truth about the situation over there. But this particular evening I happened to hear the anchor person reporting a massive helicopter crash in the same area that my husband was stationed in. It immediately grabbed my attention. Jay happened to be a crew chief and Blackhawk mechanic and was known to go on several “outings” or missions for different tasks ranging from dignitary transport, and helicopter retrievals to carefully picking up and carrying the fallen soldiers to the home base or to the location of their “final ride home”.
So when the information registered that it was a helicopter from his unit carrying dignitaries, the words hung in the air like sharp icicles hanging from a cliff, dangling dangerously close to shearing off and seriously impaling anything in their path.
As you can imagine, my heart hung in my throat as I tried to recount the timing of our last conversation to see if there was a chance he was accounted for during the incident but alas, he was not. I ran straight to the computer to see if he had left any messages or sent any emails but again, the inbox was empty. My heart sank as I desperately began writing an email begging him to call me ASAP hoping I would hear from him in the next 12 hours. But the 12 hours passed, and no call. 24 hours passed, no email, no call. 48 hours went by and still no word. I found myself cautiously watching the streets for any unknown vehicles and gingerly answering the phone praying it was no one but him and yet, all I could do was wait and agonize about the “what if”.
I had just enough information to convince myself that he must have been on board since he hadn’t contacted me yet. Finally, on the 3rd day, my cell phone rang and it was a number I absolutely did not recognize….part of me didn’t want to answer it, didn’t want to hear the horrible news that might be lurking on the other end, and yet, another part of me couldn’t stand not knowing. After the 4th ring I answered the phone only to find that it was our FRG leader and all she said to me was “someone will call you with information on your husband tomorrow so please keep your phone handy. That’s all I can say at this point”. Then she hung up. I was stunned. I felt as though my worst fear had been confirmed. The names of the crew members had not been released until all family members had been contacted. What were they waiting for???
Just as she promised, the phone rang at about the same time the following day. The world stopped turning, and I felt completely numb. This was the moment of truth and it was now or never. I pressed the “answer” key on the phone, took a deep breath, and said hello. It was the FRG leader again. “They have found your husband” she said. Oh dear Lord, my worst fear was confirmed. My voice quivered as I tried to ask what had happened but she interrupted me to say, “He’s fine and will be able to call in a few days. The communication on the base has been locked down. He was not on the flight.”
I thanked God out loud and rejoiced that the man I loved was still alive and well when she cut in again to say “My best friend’s husband had taken his place on the flight”. I have never felt such extreme emotion at opposite ends of the spectrum in such a short time as I did in those 5 seconds. The guilt was nearly instantaneous. Here I was, rejoicing that my husband’s life had been spared only to realize that this happiness was at the expense of someone else’s husband’s life.
I will never forget that day for as long as I live and the lesson I learned. No matter how happy I will always be that he is safe and sound, there will always be others whose ending is not so happy and that while I am thankful for his life, I must still be cognizant of those whose lives were lost, and the fact that their loved ones will never get it back. I also realized that we are all here for a reason and that God must have a plan! It’s hard to imagine the complexity of those emotions until you have experienced them for yourself, but believe me when you do, it will be truly sobering.
Jade is a new mom blogger at nwaMotherlode who welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone [AT] yahoo [DOT] com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.