There are certain things that we just know. It comes from how we were raised, what experiences we had in those formative years from two to twenty.
These things can span the length and width of the sum of human knowledge, every person is different. I was raised to be an officer’s wife first and then a pastor or missionary’s wife. There is a terrifying amount of knowledge that was crammed into me at an very early age because from a family that until my generation was almost completely comprised of retired, reserves, and actively serving members of the armed forces (all branches), you know the value of being prepared. So you start young, in the hopes that once you get to be older and life throws curveballs at you, that they will have prepared you to handle what gets tossed your way. That you will be able to deal with whatever situation arises in a way that does not bring shame on you, your husband/spouse, or your family. You sacrifice a lot when you do this, but the trade offs are thought to be worth it.
A common point in these two professions is that grief and uncertainty come hand in hand with the daily paper and breakfast. When you are an officer’s wife or the wife of a pastor/missionary. Everything under your spouse’s purview is also yours. The spouses and families of those serving under your spouse’s command or in their church are yours to care for, to handle when they need handled.
As we say in my household, you are the “adultier adult” for everyone. It is not a light burden to shoulder. In some ways, it can be infinitely harder to deal with. You are the point person that everyone comes to, because you know everything and everyone. So if there is an event that needs to be hosted or a food train arranged or someone to go and sit with the family as they make arrangements, that is on you to make sure that even if it cannot be you yourself there with them, that you have then arranged for a suitable backup person to be there as your deputy.
You are the quartermaster, the logistics, the human resources, the confidant, and so much more. Life is uncertain enough on its own, without adding the extra factor of a job that most certainly will put your spouse and possibly you yourself in harm’s way. That goes for both professions – the major difference being that more often than not, pastors and missionaries walk straight into all kinds of possible danger unarmed. Uncertainty you can learn to roll with. You learn to always keep food on hand, wherever you are. To always make sure that whatever house or home you have, no matter how big or small, there’s always space for someone to stay there. The extra linens and towels that you keep washed and fresh even if you never touch them yourself. That there’s always 20 dollars in the emergency fund or tucked into that one family bible that you keep but never use (you have other, non heirloom holy books for study and reflection).
Grief is more slippery. You cannot control grief or how it manifests in people. All you can do is listen and pay attention. After a while, you develop a sense for who needs a box of tissues, and who needs to dig a new trench in the backyard or remodel a kitchen. You are always calm and sympathetic, you are always upright, appearing clearheaded, even if the reality is different. Appearances matter. No one after all sees the commander cry.
This has been on my mind recently, as I have, in the last few months, had to handle some very trying curveballs that life has pitched my way. It is even more present today, knowing that on Saturday, I am losing my little brother. He has chosen to go back to Brazil for work and college. He is going to a city where the closest blood relative will be a two day drive/bus ride away. He’s 18 and this is his prerogative, but having been in those shoes before, it’s hard to deal with. Especially after knowing that the only reason I didn’t starve or run myself further into the ground that I already had been doing was because of my wonderful family who gave me shelter, food, crash course lessons on everything from driving to budgeting to how to write papers while also making dinner. Who supported me in ways I hadn’t been aware of until much, much later on. It would have been so much harder to do all of that and still be as successful as I was without them there. I had a safety net and he does not. Not really.
And that is tearing at my soul in ways that make it harder to keep my composure. To be able to be the person handling all the little things that have been forgotten in the chaos and drama of this exodus. Because for a child that I raised for a significant portion of his and my life, it’s exceedingly hard to let him go, especially when it feels like I had just gotten him back. I also worry for the effect that this will have on my parents. He’s the last child, the baby of the family, and so there is a big house that will seem even bigger now. I worry for their mental and emotional health and also their physical health. I worry about what happens if my brother falls on his face and they bail him out. I worry, in part, because it feels like no one else is. Realistically I know this is not true, from all the myriad of conversations that I have had with seemingly everyone, but sometimes it feels like it is. The only way that I have been able to keep myself functioning, especially in the wake of having just come home (and what a wonderful thing, having a home that is mine that does not move) from a trip for the other side of family that was harder than I had expected. But I was trained for this and I know what to do, even if it feels like there’s a widening gap inside of me that is going to swallow everything whole. I swallow back the waves and carefully move through the next thing on my to-do list – I can fall apart later when it’s Sunday and I have a spare hour or two where I don’t have to adult.
I wish he wasn’t going like this. I wish I could have gotten him to listen more. I wish he wasn’t going to have to learn some of the same lessons I had to, the hard way. I wish this was easier.