It’s that day again.  It’s that day when the hurt comes back worse than usual.  It’s that day when instead of a cookout on the beach, I sit alone and wonder why you left us.  You were my dad, and now you’re gone.  Who is going to give me ‘the talk?’  Who will be the best man when I marry?  Who will teach me how to change this tire, and pick me up when I fall down?

You left to go fight and you are never coming back.  Sure, I feel pride that they celebrate you, but I would trade it all today to have you back, to hear you one more time get onto me for missing my curfew.  You were mine, and they took you.  I deserve more than a shadowbox and a folded flag.

It’s that day again.  The one when I am reminded that I don’t have you to take me to the Daddy-Daughter dance.  Grandpa does his best, but it’s not the same.  He can never be you.  I was your little girl and you went away to fight.  They say you “died for our freedom,” but I don’t care about freedom.  I don’t care that you were brave.  I did not need you to be brave, I needed you to be here.  I needed you to be my dad.

Who is going to try and fail to put a pony tail in my hair in the morning, when mommy is at work?  Who is going to treat me like a princess and show me how a good man treats a woman?  I begged you not to go, and you told me everything would be okay.  I knew that was a lie.  How can I do this without you here to help me?

It’s that day again.  It’s the day when I am reminded once again that a mother should never outlive her baby.  I have no right to be alive and safe, while you are put in the ground, dressed up in your best uniform.  Why couldn’t I protect you?  Why couldn’t I convince you not to join?  A part of me always knew you were in danger. 

Why did you have to go?  You didn’t need to prove anything to anyone.  You should’ve let someone else fight.  It didn’t have to be you, my only baby.  They took you, and they left me here broken.  They had no right to demand that of me.

The warrior's dilemma: My biggest parenting challenge has been renegotiating my relationship with death

Read Next: The warrior's dilemma: My biggest parenting challenge has been renegotiating my relationship with death

It’s that day again.  The one when I can hardly leave the house because I no longer have my boy.  How can a father lose his son, and keep from falling off this world?  Why couldn’t it have been me, instead of you?  I should never have taken you to that recruiter, against your mama’s wishes.  She was right.  I was wrong.

I will forever be proud of you, and what you did for all of us.  The town will never forget you.  They’ll name a stretch of road after you, and maybe a park.  None of that will take away the hurt I feel every day.  You were my only son, and I am not strong enough to endure having given you over in sacrifice.  I would trade any other boy in this town right this minute to have you back.  It shames me to think it, but it is true all the same.

It’s that day again.  One more year and I am reminded that you are gone.  You called the men you served with “brothers,” but you only had one brother, and it was me.  Why did you feel like your unit “brothers” were more important than me?  You might have saved them, but you abandoned me here.

How can I endure the look in mama’s eyes on this day?  How can I be strong enough to prop up our dad at yet another memorial ceremony?  It’s not fair that you are gone.  I never did feel like I could keep up with you, and now I will never measure up.  You are the one who gave all.  I am the one left behind who sacrificed nothing, except his brother, who was brave enough to go and fight.  I never knew how much I would miss you when you were gone.

It’s that day again.  I wake up alone in bed like I have every day since you left.  How can I comfort our children, who ask me everyday why daddy had to go to war?  What do I say when they ask me why you left them?  How do I raise these kids alone?  A part of me — a part I despise — hates you for leaving me like this.

You were my husband and I knew what you were when I married you.  I always hoped you would give up that life, though, before it got the best of you and us.  I never thought it would be me hearing that knock at the door late at night.  Impossible.  It is impossible that you are gone.  I keep waiting for you to show back up, and hug me, and tell our kids that ‘daddy is home.’

But I know you won’t, and every year, on this day, I am reminded of that.

It’s that day again.  Deployment day.  I am off for one last tour, doing my time in the war zone.  I owe it to the country, to my family, and most of all, to my brothers with whom I fight.  I know my son will understand when I get home.  My daughter cries as I leave, but she will be so happy to see me when I get back.  I will take them for ice cream and buy them a toy and make sure they know daddy loves them when I get home.

My wife puts on a brave face, but I know she is hurt and angry that I have to leave again.  I only hope she understands that it’ll soon be done.  I can’t live this life forever.  It’s time to hang up my rifle, and turn in my gear.  I have served my time for the country, and now I will dedicate the rest of the time I have left to those I love.  My parents are older, and need me around.  My kids are growing up, and need a father there to guide them.

I look forward to the day I come home, when I can say, “it’s that day again, I’m home, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Featured image courtesy of DoD