The other day my Husband’s unit had a send-off here in town. I will say, the ceremony was wonderful and the venue chosen was beautiful. At this point, we have done send-offs in about any venue you can imagine; ball diamonds, football stadiums, you name it… This time the sendoff was indoors, with velvet padded seating (which helped, these ceremonies can be LONG) the band played, dignitaries spoke and for the first time, many of our family members were able to attend. We have always been geographically separated from family, so this was the first time our extended family was there to say “see you soon”.
We had to arrive two hours in advance because my DH had to be there early. The morning at the house was spent watching my DH pack his final items, round up paperwork, and final photos were taken. I fed people that had no appetites, and then I just sort of wandered through the house. Smelling the bathroom after he showered, and looking at the bathroom countertop knowing it would be half empty soon.
When we arrived at the venue, the people seating us wanted to make sure the front rows were filled first, (this always makes me nervous because of my sons Asperger’s. We are never quite sure how he might react to a band, or sound system, or a crowd, so we typically hide in the back, just in case we need to make an emergency exit. However, my Son was in good form that day, and we went ahead and sat where we were instructed). After sitting for about 10 minutes, I noted about 4-5 media outlets to my left. I am unsure why they were there so early, as cameras and microphones were not rolling. All were standing relaxed. For two hours, our party sat quietly, chatted with one another, mingled with a few friends. No media stopped us during that two hour time period to ask a question. I have a love/hate relationship with the media. I have been interviewed enough to know words get taken out of context, a two hour interview can be condensed to a sentence. I am also not a fan of the portrayal that gets painted of military and military families (most of the time). However, I know far too many people who feel such a disconnect with our troops, so I was glad they were informing our community that men and women are engaged in many operations all over the World, and they continue to go with chins up even when leaving family, and these brave men and women leave comfortable lives to go where their country calls.
As I noted earlier, the media stood by our family and asked nothing when we sat for two hours. However, when my DH came down to say his goodbye to our family, I found our family surrounded by cameras and spotlights. My DH came to say goodbye to his 7 year-old daughter and knelt to hug her as she sobbed. He had a few words and a hug to convey his feelings. That is when I saw bright lights behind my tears. The camera man actually kneeled and had the camera within 12 inches of this private moment. The news outlets then shined a bright light in my sons face and asked him, “how do you feel?” My son looked at them puzzled and said “emotional, but opptimistic”. My son kept asking me why there were tears in my eyes off and on through the ceremony. His Asperger’s can make emotional interactions with people puzzling, and he does not always understand facial expressions or personal expressions of emotion.
I will say the entire time I saw the media invading our family’s goodbye, (because they did), I was tempted to take cameras away, and sit and lecture them about RESPECT, but was afraid of the impression I might leave them with. I wanted the media, and our family, to see a gracious group of people who serve. I did not think me ripping a camera away and a lecture should take place at that moment. Frankly, it took a wild pack of dogs to keep me from throwing a fit.
My Husband finally got to me, and I got my hug, and many kisses, and all of the sweet words to go with them, and when I opened my tear-stained eyes, the media stood there with a spotlight on us. DH and I said our final goodbye and he left for a year. Three media outlets surrounded me. I was full of tears, running mascara, and a level of general anger I usually try and tamp down…and I had three separate reporters ask for my name, and my feelings about the deployment. I asked them if they could wait until I got myself straightened up. I wanted to be a good ambassador, I wanted to think about what I might say. I then decided against speaking with them, and tried and sneak out the back. I rounded up the 16 members of my family (akin to herding feral cats), and found a back door so I could leave with my head held high, and a saturated handkerchief my Husband had given me. I was stopped four feet away from my escape hatch.
They asked the usual questions “how do you feel?” “I imagine this is really an emotional time for you”. Instead of asking them why in the hell they did not talk to us for the two hours we sat with no tears, or why in the hell they felt it was okay to talk to my children without my permission, or why they liked exploiting such a personal moment….I stood tear-stained and thanked the community for coming to send our brave men and women off, and told them how proud I was of my Husband’s military service.
Goodbyes are never easy, and the local news media and my personal reaction to them spoiled this send-off for me. This is not a zoo, a production of Wicked, or a sporting event. This was our last minutes together as a family for a very long time. I did not think I would have to explain this to grown men. Next time, I will take your camera from you.