It gets easier.
Is there any more toxic phrase in the English language?
Let me start by giving examples of when this sentence is offered. Deployments, friends moving away, children moving on to different grades, children moving out, losing pets, each day after a loss…
“It gets easier” is what military spouses are told, often by someone who should know better, when they are facing deployment or field time. Easier than what, exactly? If, by chance, the well-meaning person means that it gets easier because we know what we are doing, or we know whom to call in case of emergency, or we know that we can handle waking up morning after morning without so much as a hello-there hug – sure, it gets easier.
“It gets easier” as we watch our children race ahead of us, growing so fast we cannot catch our breaths. Kindergarten, then suddenly middle school, then one is almost halfway through high school and the other has flown the nest. We are supposed to become more comfortable, not less, with each milestone that draws them away from us. It is natural, sure. But easier?
“It gets easier” as our friends move away, as their boxes get packed and the signs go up at their homes and we give those goodbye hugs amidst tears. I suppose one might think it gets easier because we know, thanks to Army experience, that the odds are fairly good we will see these friends again. The Army is a truly small world. Perhaps it gets easier because we have Facebook and instant messaging, where before all we had were letters and sparse phone calls to touch base with friends who have moved.
Dear readers, I have had friends move away from me my entire life. I grew up in one city, in one house on one street, and never left until I married. I had a God-given knack for making the very best of friends among the most itinerant of children. I have literally lost track of how many times I have said goodbye. I have also lost track of the times when goodbye, for whatever reason, has not meant “see you later”. Because sometimes it doesn’t. It does not get easier.
“Easier” is said by those who mean well, who mistake “strong coping skills acquired through time” to mean “easy acceptance or management of difficult situations and emotions”.
“Easier” is a lie we tell ourselves, too. And then we wonder, in the darkness of night or the loneliness of a moment, what it is about ourselves that makes this still so very difficult. Are we failures because it doesn’t feel easier? Is the lack in us, that it instead feels…harder?
Easier is a lie.
The truth is, each deployment and each loss and each lonely moment builds on the one before. When we deal with one, we are also dealing with the accumulation of layers of loss. Deployments build on each other, field time builds on each one before. When we miss our Soldiers, sometimes we are also grieving for all the time that was lost before, or the struggles we faced those times before. When our friends move, we mourn their physical absence in our lives, but we also pay tribute to other lonely times.
It does not, ever, become “easier”.
The sooner we accept that there is no such thing as “easy” when it comes to loss or change, the easier a time we will have when those transitions occur. We will be more experienced. We will be more sure of ourselves, because we have “done this before”. And we will, in the end, be better off because we are honest with ourselves in the frank acknowledgement that there is no such thing as “easier”.