There comes a time in every Marine’s career when they are ready to get off the ride—and I had every reason to believe for the past year that this was it for our family. We’ve spent a lot of time contemplating what’s best for the three of us, what we are to learn from losing our first-born, and what our future looks like without Noah by our side. Early on, I thought about what life would be like if Dan continued. After all, shortly before Noah died we were all-in and ready to see where the road would take us.
Could I handle another deployment after so much loss? Could Gavin? Could Dan? Would he have the energy and focus for leading Marines again after such a fundamental shift in perspective? Could I be a supportive mentor to families or a good military friend after so much change in my world? Could we handle picking up and starting over in a new place for an 8th Permanent Change of Station? And what if Gav becomes a Marine like his dad (because that’s all he ever talks about)? What do I do then if they are both deployed, or if something happened to either one of them? It hit home one afternoon in the laundry room of our big house. I was overwhelmed by all of it when I heard on the news that a recruiting station in Tennessee was attacked. I remember curling up on the floor by the dryer not able to breathe as I thought about some Marine knocking on my door in uniform.
After many difficult conversations and a lot of prayers, we decided as a family to hang it up. The collective body of the Grainger Traveling Road Show had been through enough. The pace of recruiting duty, the pain of child/sibling loss, and a lack of connectedness we felt to the world had us clinging desperately to the idea that we needed stability—and rest. Over the years, we’d talked about settling in Northern California, and could think of no better place than Roseville to get started planning the rest of our lives.
As time went on, we made some pretty significant decisions. I found a local job with growth potential, one that would get us through Dan’s transition. He had decided on his next steps. We talked about staying local to see Gavin through college so that he could come home to the same house every time he would visit–an idea that seemed a foreign but welcome change. I would breathe a sigh of relief when we hung something on the wall, knowing it would be there for more than three years.
I allowed myself to fall in love with the idea that we were staying here. We had every intention of making friends, joining a church, and living in NorCal for the long haul. I started to lose my sense of belonging when I talked to my military friends, all still eager to see where the Marine Corps would take them next–still fully engrossed in the ride. I couldn’t relate to the typical trials of Marine Corps life. So, I shut down and relied heavily on Dan and Gavin and the few local friends to see me through.
Ask any of my closest friends and they will tell you that I could say with 99 percent certainty that Dan was done–I’d never seen him so sure. There were even a few points this year when I wasn’t sure if he would come home and tell me he’d dropped papers that day. I kept waiting for “the talks.” Words of wisdom from the trusted advisors who would dangle the carrot for him to stay “just a few more years” because “the Marines would be losing a great leader.” I watched him for months try to convince himself that he was ready to leave it all behind. His friends. This lifestyle. His Marines. And I really thought this was it.
There’s a rule among seasoned military spouses: If your Marine has a hint of reservation in his voice, he’s staying in, and it’s your job give him your blessing. Some people may disagree with that statement, but I don’t know many spouses who would want to be the reason their Marine gave up the brotherhood. Our moment came in a phone call home after a “good day” at Camp Pendleton, our second home. I knew when he said, “I forgot how much I enjoy being with the young Marines out in the operating forces,” that we were done talking about retirement. One conversation turned into two, which turned into four, and then a pros and cons list, conversations with Gavin, and ultimately the Grainger family decision to press on.
For us, the sacrifices are obvious. Dan will deploy again. Gavin will move to yet another school in what surely ranks high on the shittiest high school experience ever list. I will leave that local job and our brand-new home with our custom countertops, perfectly selected paint colors, and the plantation shutters we’ve always wanted. We will say goodbye to NorCal. And most difficult, we will have to leave the last place we were last a family of four.
It’s just geography.
The other day, my dad asked if Dan was thinking about staying in and I told him yes. He put it into words better than I can:
“You know, when I look at your pictures on Facebook and see the places you’ve been and the friends you have, it’s obvious that the Marine Corps is your home just as much as California.”
In the end, what compelled all of us to keep going is the people. Our people. It’s the community of Marines that stood by our side as we said goodbye to our son. It’s the friends who have called us, sent cards and memorials, and who have visited when they can, closing the distance and surrounding us in love even from afar. It’s the military families we haven’t yet met, and the adventures we haven’t yet experienced. It’s the pride I’ll feel when Gav and Dan stand side by side in uniform–if that’s the path that’s meant to be. And Noah will always be with us, even if we aren’t in the last place he lived at home.
It’s true. We need stability right now. We need to feel a part of our community. We need to feel safe. I just don’t think we ever thought that the stability we are craving is the instability of the Marine Corps. So–here we go again!
Disclaimer: If the Marine Corps comes back with crazy-ass orders to some God-forsaken place that none of us can handle, I reserve the right to recant this entire post just as quickly as it was written.