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Pilgrims at Thanksgiving did not go home

That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I wrote a response to an article on Military Spouse Magazine in regards to going home for the holidays. The article felt judgy and unnecessary for military spouses who want to go home but for reasons cannot. My response was hasty, brash, and resonated with other military spouses. If you google it you can probably still find the original article at https://www.militaryspouse.com/magazine/. I decided to edit and share with you my thoughts about feeling guilty when you cannot go home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other important times of the year. So enjoy this revamped and retitled article, That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Here is to another guilt-free holiday!

Released from guilt

Two significant times in my life I was released from guilt for living so far away from family. The first was when my mother told me to get out of our small, rural, Indiana town. Then my 93-year-old grandmother told me as we prepared to move to Germany, “If anything should happen to me while you are gone do not haul those babies back here for my funeral.” She released from the guilt I had for not attending her funeral. You see, I am married to a military man but I live with less guilt because of the overwhelming understanding of my family for missing out on holidays back home.

My husband Chris has been in the Air Force for over twenty years. We have spent five years overseas and moved fourteen times in total. Currently, my college kid has never come home for Thanksgiving. I would be a hypocrite to insist he come home for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I have prepared myself for the future. As the mother of boys, I may spend future holidays without them. Our military lifestyle has always been about creating new traditions. Holidays at our house don’t always look traditional and we are okay with that.

Many times it is just not fathomable to return to your parents’ home for the holidays. Air travel, car rental, hotel stays, boarding of pets, food, and the list compiles and before you know it, you are so in debt you cannot travel the rest of the year. There is also the stress factor, the inability to get enough time off, and a plethora of other responsibilities. Let us not forget those that are deployed and cannot be home for the holidays.

Random thoughts about going home for the holidays.

1. If it is so important for your extended family to be together, invite them to your place. Two years in a row, our families traveled to where we live and we rented a house large enough for all of us. It relieved me of doing all the cooking and cleaning.
2. Delay holiday for cheaper times of the year or plan a destination holiday where you all gather in a central location. I dream of having a vacation in a cabin in the mountains one day surrounded by my boys and their families.
3. Talk to your extended family. Let them know how you feel. My hope is that your family is understanding and if not that is on them, not you.
4. Coordinate with local friends to gather for the holiday or serve in the community in some capacity. In years past, my family and I are served dinner to inmates in a halfway program on a farm.
5. Create your own traditions. My husband and I have created our own family holiday traditions. We look forward to carrying these out every year.
6. Above all, do what is right for you and your family. In the meantime, release your family from that same guilt. And do not judge other military families if their choices for the holidays are different than yours.

The 2020 holiday season is different but still guilt-free

The holidays should not be stressful or filled with guilt. My kid is doing what I taught him to do by making a life of his own. If his adventures lead him far away at the holidays I will survive just like my mother has done. She is a great example of how a mother can release her children and adapt through the holidays. Listen, this military life is hard enough on good days so the last thing you need is to feel guilty for not being able or wanting to return home for the holidays. Instead, embrace your new home, make new traditions, and if someone tries to make you feel guilty remind them that the Pilgrims didn’t go home for the holidays either. I release you of that guilt. I’m not saying to never go home for the holidays but when you can’t that’s okay too.

The 2020 year is bizarre, to say the least. We are being told by health professionals that it is best to not gather in large groups or with those people who have compromised immunity. This year we all are relinquished of any guilt about not going home for the holidays. We can claim that we love our families by staying away and thus keeping them healthy.   

Have a happy, guilt-free holiday season!

cemetery

How I learned to appreciate Memorial Day in a foreign land

Thanks to Covid-19, many Memorial Day activities are canceled or look different. With so many places still closed, it’s the perfect opportunity to reevaluate what Memorial Day is really about. Since I cannot attend my usual activities, I will reflect on our time overseas. Seeing other countries honor our military gave me a renewed appreciation of the meaning of the holiday.

Read more to understand the history of Memorial Day: https://www.pbs.org/national-memorial-day-concert/memorial-day/history/

Observing Memorial Day abroad

Because of my husband’s career in the U.S. Air Force, our family had the opportunity to live overseas in Europe twice. Our second overseas tour was to Belgium where he was the commander of the 424th Air Base Squadron stationed at Chievres, Belgium. Public Affairs would often ask him to attend and participate in memorial services. Many of these events coincided with the day and place a plane crashed during World War II.

Europeans do a great job observing US history in their backyards. During World War II, Chievres Air Base saw activity. Planes flew in and out of Chievres for months supporting their allies. Unfortunately, some aircraft crashed in the surrounding countryside. Those communities to this day still hold ceremonies to memorialize the heroes that sacrificed for their freedoms.

Magnum at ceremony
Magnum at a ceremony in Wodecq, Belgium. ©missykuester.com

On occasion we had activities at the many American cemeteries scattered throughout Europe. While we have been to Arlington Cemetery in the DC area there is something breathtaking about seeing the American cemeteries on foreign land. What is truly remarkable is how our allies honor and memorialize American soldiers. These cemeteries while paid for and monetarily maintained by the American Battles Monuments Commission (https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials), are visited by foreign and local visitors. Some cemeteries have adoption programs that allow local people to adopt an American soldier’s grave. 

Celebrating American heroes in Normandy

We also had the opportunity to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the invasion at Normandy. To walk the beaches that many of our country’s men stormed and died on is humbling. But what struck me the most was how the many non-Americans were there celebrating, honoring, and depicting roles of American soldiers. When tourists found out we were Americans they enthusiastically thanked us and wanted to share their stories and appreciation. How can you not be moved by other citizens celebrating what your countrymen did for them?

Boys at Utah Beach
Our boys at Utah Beach in Normandy France
©missykuester.com

Not the usual Memorial Day

So, your usual cookout, camping trip or other 3 day weekend looks different this year? That’s okay. Maybe we have gotten out of hand with our celebrations. Hopefully this year, we can focus on what Memorial Day represents. This might be the year that it really sinks in for you. It finally hit me when and where I least expected. Standing on foreign soil was when I understand what Memorial Day truly meant. I hope you experience the true meaning of Memorial Day this year. Thank you to all who answered the call and ultimately gave their lives so that we could live a life in freedom.

A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and wood, but it is a principle, and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.    George William Curtis