The Separate Lives We Live

The Separate Lives We Live
Written by Megan Sham
Photography by Annie Louise Wilkins @annielouisewilkins


My nose was stuffy. It hurt to breathe through the sobs as we embraced in the garage at my parent's house. In Myrtle Beach, the summers can be so suffocatingly humid you feel as though you’re breathing through a hot, wet blanket. This day was no different.

“I’m going to miss you so much,” I said as my voice cracked and my arms squeezed tighter around him. 

He embraced me for a few moments before he pulled back to look into my eyes. He pushed back the hair that was clinging to my face, and I could see that he too had tears streaming down his cheeks. His deep brown eyes said it all. 

Saying goodbye to the person I love has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do in my seven years as a Navy wife. Tony is not just my husband, but my friend, my confidante, and most importantly my partner. I look to him for support when I need it most. We’ve never been apart for more than two weeks, and this time, it was for the long haul.

Looking into his misty eyes, he whispered back, “I’m going to miss you too babe. I love you.” 

We walked to the truck arm-in-arm, our bodies touching at the sides, our strides in sync. Tony loaded his olive-green sea bag that was packed so tightly it looked as if the seams might split in two. The bag itself is so large, it nearly pulls me over. It has a tag hanging from the side handle that says “Sham.” Tape is wrapped around the bottom in order to help identify it more easily when he has to pull the massive duffel out of a heap of sailors’ belongings in the hangar of the ship. That rough canvas bag is the signal for military spouses worldwide that our beloved sailor, soldier, or airman is about to embark on a duty that will inevitably put distance between us. 

The physical distance is easily identified and is often the only constant during a deployment. What we can never be prepared for is the distance that separates our hearts for a time. Even in the strongest marriages (which I like to think Tony and I have), the separate lives we live for many months give way to unshared experiences and cause divergence.  

As I watched him pull away in my dad’s bright red truck, I couldn’t help but feel a piece of my heart had gone with him. I wanted to take him to the airport, but our daughter was already hysterical from having to say “goodbye” to her daddy. I needed to stay with her and try to comfort her. I think I needed to stay for myself too. It would be harder to say goodbye at the airport.  

We tried to prepare our children for the deployment and the physical separation, but time and distance just don’t make sense at that age. A few days before Tony left, we took our two children to Build-a-Bear Workshop so that they would have a special bear from daddy to hug when they got lonely at night. Our son chose a soft white bear with a red, white, and blue soccer uniform. Our daughter chose a fuzzy brown bear with Harry Potter robes and a wand since her daddy was reading the first book to her. They both had a special message from him they would hear when they pressed the paws of their bears. 

Even this sweet gesture by my husband wasn’t enough to make the moment less painful. In her 5-year-old mind, she was unsure how to cope with the fact that her best friend was going to be gone for a long time. Our daughter hugged him so tightly, I didn’t think he was ever going to free himself from her surprisingly strong grip. Tony’s shoulder was damp with her tears, and probably a little snotty too. He only managed to whisper through his own tears “Be good for mommy” and “I promise I will be home soon.” My mom was finally able to pull her away so that we could say goodbye as well. My 2-year-old was unfazed by the whole scene. He just continued playing with his train set, waving Tony away after he received his hugs. 

Tony has been gone for over a month now. We are finally settled into a groove and able to pass the time as best we can, knowing there are months left. The realization of his absence is most felt in the loneliness at night when he would be snuggled by my side, my cold toes being warmed by his. The longing for the ability to talk to my other half envelops my days. My soul aches and my anxiety takes over not knowing where he is and if he is safe. We can go days at a time without an email because his communication off the ship is restricted.  

By far, the hardest part of deployment and the separation has been the disconnect I feel from Tony. We are given pre-deployment briefs about the grief and pain we will likely experience. But none of it prepared me for the feelings I’ve felt. When our lives are being lived in harmony with one another, it is easy to feel loved and love one another. During deployment, feeling loved is difficult when our lives are moving forward. Separately. 

The lack of communication is a daily reminder of the separateness that feels as vast as the ocean between us. I’ve never been known to have a loss of words, but finding something to write about that is not, “our daughter ate mac n’ cheese for dinner. Again.,” is often challenging. Most days I sit at the computer ready to write, but not every day apart contains moments worthy of photos and stories. Some days are just so busy with keeping two young children alive, healthy, and mostly happy, that I completely forget to write to him before I crash into my bed. Most of Tony’s moments are classified. He couldn’t tell me, even if he wanted to. 

Exhaustion from being a single parent for our months apart sets in early. The daily chores and rhythms of life become overwhelming when one person is doing them all. My mind cannot fathom doing this permanently as a single parent. Tasks like giving baths, cooking meals, cleaning house, and washing laundry become more daunting when not shared. After the mundane tasks are completed each day, that leaves hours of entertaining my children, and trying to make our days feel more exciting than they are. 

Before my husband left, we talked about all the things we wanted to accomplish in our time apart. Small personal goals, larger financial goals, and even ones for our kids. Mostly, we talked about wanting our time apart to be worth the separation. At our reunion in a few months, we want to look back and see that we lived our lives the best we could in spite of the challenges we faced. 

We decided the best thing we can do when we miss each other is make the most of every day we are apart. So, each day when we leave the house, we give daddy a “high five” on his handprint on the door and remember that he will be home soon, so we better make every moment count.


About the Author: Megan Sham is a Navy wife, mom of three (two humans and a canine), and aspiring writer. Her joy is volunteering for various organizations, most currently, as the community coordinator for the Girl Scouts in Stuttgart. When not writing, reading historical fiction, or volunteering, Megan loves to craft, sew, and enjoy the outdoors. Connect with Megan on Instagram

This piece was originally crafted in The Work of Words writing workshop. Within the course, you'll discover how to string words together with creativity and discernment in a creative non-fiction framework.

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  • Thank you, Megan!
    We have been active duty for a short period of time and have already experienced several periods of separation. It definitely doesn’t get any easier but it’s nice to know that we aren’t the only ones who experience all of these feelings and emotions in anticipation of separation and during separation. It’s often so hard to put into words all that I experience during these times and I love that you were able to capture some of what I feel. I also love the idea of giving daddy a “high-five” everyday, thanks for sharing!

  • No one can feel this experience unless they have gone through it themselves. Your story articulates this event very clearly and with feeling. Thank you for sharing your experiences and know that this veteran appreciates the service to our country that your family provides.

    Fred Tomasello

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