Military Homecomings: Returning to the "Normal" We Take For Granted | Metro Detroit Documentary Family Photographer

Something that clients often tell me when we're designing their session is that they are just normal, boring people and they feel like there isn't anything special or unique about them that we can photograph. And in a sense, they're right. Most of us are similar in that our lives consist of the same things. We work, we have families that we spend time with, we take time for our spouses and for ourselves, we take care of our homes and pets, we have hobbies. But my job, my passion, isn't to tell JUST that part of the story...

The story I tell is the love story that helps weave all of that "normal stuff" together.

I was thinking about this the other day as I prepared to blog this military homecoming session.

You see, everyone loves military homecomings. And rightfully so. What's NOT to love about the emotional reunion of loved ones, separated for months at a time because one was bravely fighting for and defending our freedom? They're real, they're raw, and they're simply amazing (to witness and experience).

But while y'all are over there crying at the sight of photographs and videos taken of a military homecoming, and while I'm over here crying as I edit said photographs, and while the reunited family is crying because, well, of obvious reasons...this teeny but really significant fact is still looming around all of us:

For us military folk, deployments are our normal.

 

So are TDYs. And moving every couple of years. Spending holidays without family is our normal. Getting told in mid-December that you're moving from Arizona to Germany and must be there by February is our normal (to give a general, non-personal example :-P). All of these things are seriously as normal as a trip to the grocery store. It doesn't mean we like any of them; they just come with the territory. 

And after telling the stories of many military families, I realized that we are so used to our "normal" that sometimes it's easy to overlook how special our stories really are. 


The family whose reunion story is told below is a special family that endured something that is considered normal to us: a deployment. And if you look at this from the eyes of a military member or military family as "a deployment," it loses its value, in a sense, because it doesn't contain that love story that weaves together the normalcy of the deployment story. 

Normally, this is where I'd say that we were going to not look at it from the eyes of someone who can relate, who also categorizes deployments as a normal part of their life. But today, we're doing things differently. We're going to look at this with detail, sharing the threads of their story that weave it together to be the beautiful masterpiece that it is. 


Thirteen days. 

That's how long Stephanie and Brian had to prepare for her first deployment. 

They made the choice for her to go immediately, instead of waiting another six months and spending each day with the deployment looming in the forefront of their every minute. In making that choice, she would have better conditions during the deployment, she would have wifi to communicate with her family, and she would return in time to spend the holidays with them. But, she'd also miss her son's first birthday, his first steps, and everything that growing from a baby to a toddler entails. 

They knew that it was the best choice. Difficult, but the best. And they had no idea to what extent.

I don't think that I could properly describe what she experienced during the months she lived apart from her son. I know that a great part of my own identity is found in my role as a mother, so if I was unable to be physically present to fulfill that role..."challenging" would be an understatement. 

But gradually, they adjusted. They found a "current normal," as Stephanie called it. They were on FaceTime frequently, which allowed her to watch her son grow and learn new things. Brian recorded normal parts of their day, like cute morning routines, and sent them to Stephanie so she could "be there" with them. They truly made the most of their situation, and did everything possible to stay the united and strong family that they are.


If I just ended the story of her deployment here, at the familial challenges, it would certainly still be a strong story. But it wouldn't be the whole story. 

Speaking to what she experienced during her deployment completes their story because it was the catalyst for every adjustment, every change, everything that happened from the moment they got the news until the moment they were reunited. 

Because of the delicacy of the situation, I am unable to share details. But what Stephanie endured was huge. Is huge. As in, it's-going-to-be-in-history-books huge.

And I know that service members are trained and prepared and all that good stuff, but if it had been me that was deployed at that place at that time? I'm not quite sure how I would've come out of it.

Certainly not as gracefully as she did. 

So when Brian messaged me to tell me that Stephanie had her return plane ticket...I could literally feel his excitement through my computer screen, and I shared in that emotion. She'd be back to her family, her home, to safety.


When service members leave for deployment, they don't do so with an overwhelming happiness. They aren't ecstatic about leaving their families, their lives, their homes. They just do it because it's part of their duty. And every single day that they're gone, they count down the days, the hours, the minutes until their hearts are back where they belong: in their normal. 

It's when they return to that normal that we see the overwhelming emotion: The tears of joy, the loving embraces, the kisses, the disbelief that they are finally back where they have wished to be every second for the last six months.

 

 


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Military homecomings are symbolic of so much. Husbands and wives reunite. Moms and dads reunite with their children. People are brought back home, to where their heart, their familiarities, and their comforts are.

They return to their "normal," the normal that so many of us think is boring, unworthy of being shared, and far from special.

 

Let that sink in for a second. The very life that we refer to as not being anything special is exactly the life that deployed service members can't wait to return to.

 

Why?

Because that is where their heart is. And truthfully, that's where ALL of our hearts are. Sure, we might climb a mountain and discover new strengths in the process. We may visit a country whose culture changes our perspective on life. We'll create memories through those experiences, and they'll shape our lives...but the every day moments? I'd argue that those shape our lives even more. I've learned more about life, myself, and love through little every day moments with my husband and kids than on any adventure we've ever been on.

So I don't blame them for wanting to return to the safety, the security, the warmth, the normalcy of the greatest love story they ever could've been a part of.


If you haven't figured it out by now, I'll say it bluntly: "Normal" is the most beautiful thing. Ever. 

So don't discount your life. Don't think for one second that your story is one that's not worthy of being told, because it is. It's the details of you and your loved ones that make your story special, just like it's the details of this deployment and military homecoming that make it special for them.