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Soldiers, Spouses Talk About Death to Embrace Life

Last February, I had the privilege of spending a weekend with hundreds of members of Fort Campbell’s 101st Airborne Division and their spouses for a PAIRS Valentine’s Weekend Marriage Retreat just weeks before their deployment to Afghanistan.

PAIRS for Military Couples

PAIRS for Military Couples

One of the most powerful moments of the weekend was watching the deploying soldiers and their spouses participate in a solemn reflection on death and loss led by PAIRS Trainer Seth Eisenberg.

For many, the suggestion that couples facing the imminent deployment of a beloved spouse to a dangerous war zone talk about death and loss was a welcome invitation to have a conversation for which they’d long struggled to find words and structure. Others choose not to participate.

The goal of the PAIRS Essentials retreat was to strengthen the bonds of these valiant military couples — many of them in the earliest years of adulthood — to help them cope with deployment as they faced a nearly 12 month separation, the reality that beloved husbands, wives, sons and daughters would be directly in harm’s way, and the emotional, physical and spiritual adjustments each made in their own way to prepare for the distance, uncertainty, and, for many, anguish as they considered their approaching goodbyes.

PAIRS for Military Couples

PAIRS for Military Couples

Laying, sitting or cuddling together quietly in the large banquet hall, with the eyes of the Listener closed, hundreds did confide in each other, completing each of the sentences the PAIRS Trainer offered as the beginning:

  • What I will miss about you…
  • The good times I’ll remember…
  • What I wish I had told you…
  • The regrets I have…
  • The plans I had for us…
  • The puzzles I am left with…
  • What I forgive you for …
  • What I ask you to forgive me for …

The exercise ended with renewed recognition of the gift of each day, each moment. Many of the soldiers and their spouses shared profound appreciation for the experience and the inspiration it offered to more fully embrace one another.

I’ve closely followed news of the 101st each day since leaving the retreat, including their deployment to Afghanistan and published stories of every death as I’ve kept these courageous warriors and their families in my prayers.

Thirty eight soldiers from the 101st have died in Afghanistan since March, leaving behind dozens of grieving spouses, children and parents.

PAIRS for Military Couples

PAIRS for Military Couples

With each notice, I again recall the words of a veteran Navy chaplain who confided the surge of emotions and thoughts experienced as his helicopter landed amidst fierce enemy fire years earlier. “My thoughts immediately turned to loved ones far away. Had I told them everything that needed to be said? Had I let them know how much they meant to me? Were we complete with each other?”

You can learn more about the soldiers of the 101st who have given their lives in Afghanistan on Fort Campbell’s Eagle Honors Home page.

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Categorised in: Education, Marriage Education, Military Families, News, RelationTIPS

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August 2010
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