I don’t ever want to get used to this.

The sight of you walking away, gear in tow.

The way it leaves me breathless. Standing, watching with what feels the weight of the entire world on my shoulders. The weight that is my entire world.

My knees threaten to buckle at any minute. But I swallow hard, choking back the tears, refusing to let them fall. Readjust my stance into one of strength and confidence.

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I’ve caught my breath long enough to realize little hands have now released my own. My gaze turns toward our children as they wipe away the tears they have lost the courage to fight. Because of this sight, their eyes fixed on that green bag. As the familiarity of this sight sets in once again. 

Quickly I look back to catch one more sight, longing for closure that I know will never come until you’re in my arms again. Alive, well, and whole.

I despise this sight because I know it is the source of what is to come. I’ve seen it before, like a movie memorized word for word. The setting may have changed, the characters have developed and grown, but the plot is always painfully the same, and all too familiar. And what’s worse, it comes without the guarantee of a happy ending.

This sight brings sleepless nights, worry, and heartache. Because we’ve seen the way the movie has ended for those who have stood to the left and right of us as we gaze on. It has played out before us heartbreakingly in our living rooms, chapels, and communities. 

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In brilliant colors of red, white, and blue that shake us to the very core. We’ve watched as these ravishingly exquisite colors lined the highway overpasses in our hometowns, as a final welcome home. Cried as the signature colors of Lady Liberty adorned Harley Davidsons in a thunderous roar. Borne witness as they are eventually folded with unimaginable care to rest upon a bewildered lap. This sight makes us shutter, beg, plead, and pray that we will never be the one playing this lead, featured in this ending. The one of inconceivable sacrifice. 

I never want to get used to this sight. I never want it to feel easy or normal.

I never want to discount the magnitude of this sight, the one where you walk away from us, into danger.

Freely, Bravely, Strongly with such heartbreak and pride.

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May we never take the plethora of pain, wonder, terror, grit, and dignity of this sight for granted.

Because we remember those for whom it was the last one. 

From a grateful nation, and the heart of this military spouse to all of our Gold Star families, “thank you” will never be enough. May you be comforted on this day as we honor your ultimate sacrifice. As we strive to carry the weight and responsibility of it well, as individuals, as a community, as a nation. 

Erika Bradley

Hope is a military wife, advocate, volunteer, and non-profit founder of Dependa Strong. She encourages military spouses to be unapologetically transparent about their struggles while using kindness, self-care, and community involvement as a coping mechanism. She believes raising awareness, telling her community's stories, combined with kindness and compassion for one another can help bridge the gap between our service members and civilians.