The phrase "Death by a thousand cuts" was originally literally a form of execution, wherein the condemned would be given small, normally mostly harmless wounds, until the sheer volume of them overcame their body's ability to deal with the pain and blood loss and they would die.
So too, the life of a military spouse.
Not everything is huge. It's mostly small things.
How have we lasted this long?
Over the last 4 years to say my husband has been gone frequently is an understatement. It is
safe to say that he has been gone more than home for the last 48 months, even with a brief
reprieve of him working stay back crew during a recent 3-month deployment.
The thing is, by and large during these last few years, the length of of his detachments, work
ups, and deployments have been short if you look at them one at a time. Each has lasted
anywhere from 3 weeks to 5 months. In the vernacular of military separations they’ve been
“short ones.” I refer to them as “short ones” myself when telling others about them.
What you miss when you take them one at a time, though, is their rapid succession. My
husband’s command has literally, done 3 deployments in the last 3 years with several lengthier
exercises in between in addition to maintaining a constant readiness status with work ups and
I keep thinking about how I feel about all of these “short ones.” I keep thinking about how tired I
am. How frustrated I am. How normal it feels. And also how many feelings I still have each
and every time, whether I want to or not, whether it feels “worthy” of feeling or not.
I have come to the conclusion that the best way to describe what it is like to have so many
“short” trips happen so close together is that it is Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts.
When he goes for a short time it *isn’t* that vacuum of emptiness that sucks the breath out of
you like a 7 or 9 or 12 month deployment does. I acknowledge the particular blackness that
comes when facing down a separation of that length. That is a different category all it’s own.
Instead, when he goes for a short time over and over and over again the emptiness sneaks up
on you. It compounds. It catches you unaware as you come around a corner and find yourself
wondering what it would be like to have a partner to do life with you. Yes, you saw him just a
month ago, but he wasn’t even home long enough to catch him up on this season of The
Handmaid’s Tale, let alone, the changes that happen in the evolution of children growing so fast
you miss things when you blink.
The leavings are so frequent that it begins to feel like a war of attrition. Smaller-scale attacks on
our hearts and souls that are so constant that there is no time to replenish our resources, to
shore up the places we’ve fallen apart. It’s not shock and awe… It’s a drip, drip, drip of our
collective family resilience.
Then, add in the words… I know rationally that people are trying to be supportive. Just the
same, sometimes the words and the comments that we get feel like salvos of papercuts cutting
in to my family over and over.
“At least it’s only X amount of time.” (Yes. It is. Also, what you can’t see are the literal years
we’ve missed having together prior to that amount of time.)
“That’s so much better than 7 or 9 or 12 months.” (Yes it is. But simple addition of the weeks
and months that we will be spending or have spent in recent years with him away from home
quickly surpasses that amount).
“He’s been home for a while now.” (Yes. Relatively speaking. 2 months is longer than 2
weeks. I am grateful for all of those times--short, long, and otherwise--that he is home. Still, I
positively long for an “a while” that lasts more than a year or 2 years… At this point I long for
one that lasts more than 6 months).
Push comes to shove, it boils down to math… but only my family can see all the numbers on
In the end, I do not hold the words against the people who say them. I see that they are trying.
I see that they want to support us.
But that doesn’t mean the inadvertent stings don’t also wear me down.
In a few weeks I will celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary without him… without him again.
All of the days… The anniversaries, the birthdays, the holidays… The events--the birthday
parties, the concerts, the shows, the milestones… Whether the time away is long or short he
still misses so many.
So I find myself in the land of 1000 papercuts. This place where it never seems to be “Enough
time” to register pain worthy of feeling… but this place where the cuts keep coming, the pain
keeps building, the war of attrition keeps wearing us down in ways that are unignorable just the