Tis the season to be jolly, thankful and blessed, but for some the blessings are more than a new home or car. It’s more than finally getting that promotion. For some it’s simply being able to see the ones they love and for some it’s knowing they are safe and alive.
As the holidays quickly approach many families are preparing their homes for gifts and feasts. But what of those families who’s loved ones are serving a greater cause? What of those families who’s children can’t be home for the holidays?
“It is hard for all the holidays that he misses,” explains Rebecca Braden, mother of Matthew Braden who is currently serving in the U.S. Military. “We have missed his birthday now two years in a row, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and several others. But we have also been so incredibly blessed.”
According to Rebecca, things have a way of working them selves out, as they will be able to spend Christmas with Matthew. But that’s not the case for everyone. Reagan Skaggs, who’s son Addric DeRoy will not be home for Christmas, said it’s hard for her and her other son Michael, not just because it’s a holiday, but because his absence leaves an almost unfillable void in their lives.
“He missed Thanksgiving and he’ll miss Christmas this year and it’s sad,” said Reagan. “We tried going about our Thanksgiving as we normally would, but it was hard. I sent him a letter telling him Happy Thanksgiving and did good on not crying until everyone else started to, but it just wasn’t the same without him there.”
Although Rebecca said she is lucky in the fact that she will be able to spend the holiday with Matthew, she fully knows that not all families are as fortunate.
“I was remembering last week, that last Thanksgiving he was in the middle of SOI infantry school and couldn’t come home, which was very hard for me,” said Rebecca. “It was his first holiday away from home and I was a wreck. I don’t think most people know it but there are family’s that adopt service men/women for the holidays, they bring them into their homes and share the day. Matthew spent Thanksgiving with a family in California, the Bergs.”
Rebecca said she remembers feeling a little jealous that they had him and she couldn’t, but more than that she was immensely thankful that they were there for her son and opened their doors for him and two other Marines, who couldn’t be home for the holiday’s.
“Christmas is going to be even rougher for us this year,” said Reagan. “Not only because Addric won’t be there, but we have other family members in service who wont make it either.”
According to Reagan, it’s hard to be away from someone and act like nothing is different.
“When he’s not here, all I can do is think about him and it’s hard,” said Reagan. “What makes it even worse is the fact that all we can do is send him letters letting him know we are thinking about him.”
Rebecca said it is hard, because most mothers can influence (guilt) their children to come home and visit, especially at 19-years-old, but for kids like Matthew and Addric, they have no control over when that can happen.
“I have to be careful, there is a very thin line between letting Matthew know he is loved and missed and making it harder on him to be away,” said Rebecca. “I want his focus to be on doing his job, staying safe and coming home to us, I don’t want him to be distracted or guilty about not being here.”
Reagan added by saying, there is nothing anyone can do to prepare a parent for the absence they feel when their kids are away. In fact she said she has only received maybe three letters over his leave and one was a list of things he needed.
“I like knowing that he still needs us,” said Reagan. “It gives me that motherly feeling and something to hope and hold on to, but at the end of the day he is not just mine anymore.”
But it’s not just the mothers and fathers that suffer the feelings of absence. It’s the brothers and sisters as well. Rebecca said when Matthew surprised them by coming home this past Thanksgiving, his sister Emily just crumpled in his arms and sobbed. “Jacob, [Matthew’s brother], really misses him, more than I think he would ever let me know,” said Rebecca. “I think it surprises Matthew how much older his brother and sisters are every time he comes home. I do think that being apart has made the four of them closer. They have to cram so much into such a short period of time, they don’t take each other for granted and they enjoy each other so much. Sometimes I just sit and watch the four of them interact, amazed at how they are such good friends and how much they truly enjoy each other.”
Reagan said she understands that same feeling, as her other son Michael is trying to take on the role as man of the house, with much pride, as that is what Addric told him to do.
“He misses his brother a lot,” said Reagan. “It meant so much to him when Addric told him to be the man of the house that he may be letting it go to his head a little bit, but that’s the kind of respect and love he has for Addric. As a mother I couldn’t be happier and sadder then I am.”
Although being away from their children during the holiday’s is something they don’t want to go through, Reagan and Rebecca both said it is their sacrifice to hold, as their sons become men.
“I don’t think it is that much different from families that have children far away at college,” said Rebecca. “I just don’t get to see him as often and he doesn’t have the freedom to come home when he wants. But I miss him, worry about him and pray that he will be safe just like most of the mothers I know. We all want our children safe, loved and happy. That is the most we can ask for and what we all share.“
So what are their plans for the holidays? What will they do to show their love and commitment towards their sons?
“Hopefully we can spend a couple of days watching old family movies, playing games and just hanging out, eating and laughing,” said Rebecca. “I think those times make the warmest memories, just being together and being a family not doing anything particular, just making memories. And I am sure I will have kids in and out of the house the whole time he is home.”
Reagan said they plan on leaving their Christmas tree up until he comes home in either January or February so he can enjoy a family Christmas.
“We miss him terribly,” said Reagan. “But he has always wanted to be involved in something great and if I have to shed a few tears of missing him, then so be it. I am proud of the person he has become and the man he is becoming.”
Both Reagan and Rebecca said the hardest thing for them, besides missing them, is saying goodbye after they’ve been home for a few days or weeks.
“There is such a void when he leaves for us and for him, when he calls a day or so after he leaves he sounds so sad and lonely and it breaks my heart,” said Rebecca. “He usually rebounds fairly quickly and things are better, but it isn’t ever easy to say goodbye. I just pray that God will keep him safe until I see him again.”