Waiting for your ship to come in

Deke

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for all those heartwarming, tear jerking, military homecoming commercials. You know the ones; the dad who returns home from deployment in time to surprise his unsuspecting daughter on stage at her high school graduation, or the soldier sitting in the dentist chair as his mom unwittingly rounds the corner and enters the room.

I know I'm not alone here. One only has to visit YouTube and type in "Military Homecomings" to see a never ending selection of videos.

In fact, the Surprise Military homecoming during the USC football game has more than 3 million views.

For me, my reaction is always the same, I get a lump in my throat and my eyes fill with tears.

When we watch these reunions, we don't think much about the time leading up to these touching moments, instead we are treated to the best possible scene - the return.

Unfortunately, there is no escaping the one commonality of each of these scenarios. Before every heartwarming homecoming, there must first be a heart-wrenching goodbye. This realization hit home for me last February.

My heartbreaking goodbye took place standing on the pier at the Norfolk Navy Base. My middle son, along with the other sailors attached to the George H.W. Bush, was deploying.

The weather matched the somber mood. Cold and dreary, the rain started to fall around mid-morning turning first to sleet then snow by early afternoon.

A few news stations were present early on, talking to family members, and filming some footage for the local news. However, as word spread of the delayed departure, the cameras disappeared as did many of the families.

By the time the ship pulled out, only a small group of us remained. Even though I was there by myself, I wasn't alone. I now stood with my new family, my military family, and watched, with pride and gratitude, as these men and women who serve our country departed.

Standing in silence, still gripping the American flag someone had given me, I felt the lump grow in my throat and the warm tears run down my frozen face. Later, I thought about this scene. No wonder we don't think about events prior to a homecoming or see many videos of families saying their good-byes. It's too painful.

With the goodbye behind me, the waiting began. The realization that I could not pick up the phone and call my son whenever I wanted was difficult.

When we did have that rare opportunity to talk, more often than not we were disconnected just a few minutes into the conversation. And no, I could not *69 the ship.

Nine months is a long time but the wonderful thing about time is that it passes, and at some point, the waiting ends. Slowly conversations turned toward homecoming, and while we knew what day the ship would arrive, for security reasons, they would not disclose the exact time until the day before. The night before was brutal; just like a child on Christmas Eve, I didn't sleep a wink. Time could not have moved any slower.

Saturday finally arrived and this time the scene was totally different.

It was cold, but, thankfully, the sun was shining down on the enormous crowd of more than 20,000 people. The atmosphere was festive. And just when I thought the level of excitement couldn't possibly build any higher, the ship came into view. Seeing the sailors man the rails as the ship maneuvers back into port is an amazing sight.

As I reveled in the moment, it occurred to me that this was now the second time I had waited nine months for the arrival of this child. Through this firsthand experience, I gained a better understanding of what those families in those videos had been through.

For months, I anticipated the moment when I would first catch a glimpse of my boy as he made his way through the crowd.

Finally that moment arrived, and it was our turn for our heartwarming, tear-jerking military homecoming. The lump in my throat and the tears in my eyes said it all: My boy was home. And yes, it was caught on video.

Tanya G. Deke of James Island is a mother of three adult sons and a travel enthusiast. She enjoys studying French, learning about other cultures, playing golf and bridge.