On Days Like This
12:45 a.m. — Hubby enters the bedroom to come to bed. I was awake for some reason, although I had been asleep. I think I had gotten up to turn the lights off, because I had fallen asleep unintentionally. I watch him for a minute, fidgeting with items on his nightstand. His face is far from relaxed. His body is tense. His movements are not fluid.
Me: Are you okay?
Hubby: mumbles something I can’t hear
Me: Are you okay?
Hubby: Anxious. I’m anxious.
Me: I know, sweetie. I’m sorry.
I nestle in next to him, trying to provide a comfort that only a loving spouse can. The warmth and heaviness of a loving spouse can do more than any words.
Why was he anxious? Because, for whatever reason, he has been chosen to be a chaplain at the executions in our state’s prison system each month. It is never easy. The burden is always great. Yes, crimes are committed, and the due must be paid. But it is always hard for my husband and for the many others that are involved: The person that will be stepping into that eternal threshold today, the warden, the officers that have to physically place the offender in the chamber, the doctor that has to confirm the death, the families of both parties, and others that I don’t even know about.
7:00 a.m. — He sits drinking coffee in the quiet of the kitchen, playing with Sweet Gigi’s spirograph, letting his mind gather itself, designing multi-colored hypotrochoids, claiming a bit of peace before the day is officially begun.
This is my husband, and I love him so much.
These are not the days that I choose to talk about bills or water leaks or disobedient children. These are days where I choose to be silent, knowing that he is internally processing the day’s events, wanting to keep me safe from any bad thing. He knows that my mind is prone to wander and assign faces and feelings and deep, deep emotion to an event that I wasn’t even present for. But he looks out for me. He guards my mind, my heart. Ever the protector.
Which is why days like these devastate him. He can provide no physical protection for the day’s events that must be played out. He is utterly powerless to stop them. He weeps for these lost men and women. He shows himself strong and loving to their families. He shows himself capable to the State.
What do I do for him in return?
This is an objective question. It’s not a test. It’s reflection time for me. Walk with me.
What do I do for him? Do I really do enough? Can a spouse ever really do enough on days like this? I feel so inadequate. He has watched someone cross over into eternity because of terrible crimes that they chose to commit. I have been in the comfort and peace of my home all day. There is no comparison. As the great poet Robert Frost penned in “Home Burial”:
The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
He is never hungry when he comes home, so I don’t prepare dinner. I do try to make sure that there is sweet tea for him to drink if he wants any. Sometimes.
There has never been a more loved superhero than this man is to our children. They wait impatiently for him to come home every day. Gigi demands a “fly hug” daily. This entails her launching off of the bed or couch and into his arms. He always catches her. There is no doubt in her mind.
Our man-child rushes in with a hug of his own, seeking the love and affirmation that every 12-year-old boy longs for from his dad. He is never turned away.
I normally stand back and allow the children to soak up his love. I hug him from across the room with my eyes, with my concerned smile, wondering at how he fared in the battle against the raging demons today. They never sleep. Their walk is incessant and with purpose.
But I have preempted the children on days like this. They know what their father has had to open himself up to. They have been given the time for hugs and then they are to go to to their rooms and let him finally become undone in the quiet comfort of my presence.
I don’t necessarily clean the house. He is not interested in that so much. I don’t primp and preen in front of the mirror. I am beautiful to him in all of my many states of crazed or combed hair.
In the dark, crazed hair is not a concern.
In the dark, I welcome him into my arms.
In the dark, I share that most intimate bond with my husband.
On days like this, it is not a physical need.
On days like this, it is the deepest of emotional bonding that is needed. My body is a safety net for him. I catch him when he is on the brink of falling. I restore him. I bring his mind back into focus.
On days like this, my love and my silence are what’s needed most. Although my thoughts spin and collide, expand and contract, days like this are not when I need to satisfy that burning desire to talk, to ramble.
Days like this require me to put my husband’s emotional needs first.
I know that my husband’s job is not normal, but I want to encourage you to get to a place in your marriage where you can just be quiet. If you have children, teach them that sometimes Daddy needs to have time to adapt to coming home. Allow him time when he comes home to shed the worries of the day before you heap any more on him. Allow him to find in you what the world can’t give him.
Be his safe place.
Melinda Martin is bad at writing about herself in third person. She has invested many hours worth of mistakes into building The Helpy Helper, where she offers independent publishing services, graphic design, and a myriad of other services on request. But her first love has always been writing, and she still finds time to contribute to the blogosphere at Musings of a Ministers Wife.