Yesterday morning I got a call that Greg had landed safely at a nearby Airforce base, and was on a bus headed for our post here in Southern Germany. (We had expected him later on in the month, but he managed to make it back with the ADVON/advanced party.) The Welcome Home Ceremony was scheduled for 11:15 in the morning, so I packed the children up (along with backpacks full of little toys and sandwiches in case things ran long). The children were more fussy and wild than usual -- excited and emotional all at once. I felt the same. We arrived at the location just early enough to get seats, and then waited.
A little after the supposed start time (these things never actually start on time, so this was expected), a woman went to the front, grabbed an echo-ey mic, and began to rev up the crowd. Elijah was none-too-pleased; after every group chant of "OPEN THE DOORS!!!", he would turn to me and say "OK, so where's Daddy?"
The waiting was hard on me too. After all of this time, all of the waiting, the struggles, the constant effort to keep our family connected across the miles, and the life we'd lived alone, we were now seated with a huge crowd, waiting together for our men and women to be returned to us.
I felt, to an extent, resentful that I had to share the moment with so many. I feared that the raucous chanting, the waving hand-made signs, the hundreds of other people waiting would cheapen or detract from the tender, joyful celebration of our family becoming whole again.
I needn't have worried. When the doors finally swung open, and we saw one single fist pumping in the air -- that of the first soldier through the entryway -- the entire crowd erupted in wild, deafening applause. It was a roar of voices and a thunder of pounding feet; unbridled joy, completely unmasked, like that of a child's, unrestrained.
In that moment, there was no thought to the people around us, the 13 months we've been apart, the 45 minutes we'd sat in the gym waiting. There were only tears, and screams, and a release of overflowing thankfulness.
I couldn't hold back my tears as I scanned each face of the returned soldiers, searching for the one most precious to me, to us.
After a remarkably brief prayer by the chaplain, they released our soldiers from formation, and the crowd exploded again -- the two groups of people rushing at each other, loved ones falling into each others arms.
I stood high in the bleachers, waiting for Greg to find us, and at last, through the scattered crowds, saw him making his way towards us.
I cannot describe our first kiss, and I won't try. Even now, the memory of holding his face in my hands in that moment makes my heart feel full to bursting, and my face once again salty with tears.
Andrew, upon seeing Greg at last, began to cry as well. He was so overwhelmed with emotion, that it took about an hour before he could really talk with Greg without breaking all to pieces.
Lavella immediately climbed into Greg's arms, and we gathered close together; our family, whole again.
To each dear family member and friend who have stood beside our family from near or far: for your thoughts and prayers, for your emails and phone calls, your online companionship. Your support has meant so much to me. Thank you for all of the love you've shared with us, and for just being there though times both peaceful and full of hope, as well as the darker times of loneliness we've lived through in this past year. With your help and God's strength, we not only survived it, but we've thrived.
Together again, we now face the new challenge of reintegrating as a family; I am confidant, hopeful, excited.
The woman who took this picture for us handed me back my camera and said "It's over. It's really over. You did it. You made it through this entire deployment, and it's all over." As her words sunk in, I could hardly compose myself. Even now, it seems impossible that it really is over. That I only have to play the part of "Mommy" now, and I no longer have to make things work on my own. After more than a year of being strong, of managing my world, of trying to guard my heart against the pain of separation and trying not to feel too much, of staying on top of things and trying not to dream of the end or count the days, it is now All Over. I can let go. He's back. I can breathe now. Thank God, he's home.
Welcome home, my love.