Distance adds to difficulty for military family ties


Kristi Langenbacher


Sunday, April 22, 2018

One of the most difficult things for military families is being away from extended family – especially during difficult times.

My uncle passed away this week, and I found myself feeling disconnected from the rest of my family. Most of them still live in Northwest Washington State, while our family is currently stationed in California. We began scrambling to find affordable flights to get back home, and spent hours on the phone consoling family members.

My uncle and I became very close when I was in college near my aunt and uncle’s home in Northern Washington. Back then I was dating my now husband, and my aunt and uncle adored him. My uncle loved to hear stories of his Coast Guard adventures and rescues, and our close bond continued over the years.

My uncle’s passing brought back difficult memories of times when other family members have passed away – and we were far away from our support system.

I was a new Coast Guard spouse when we first experienced the loss. We were stationed on Kodiak Island in Alaska, and had been married less than a year when my maternal grandmother’s health began to fail. When she was hospitalized, the doctors told our family that she wouldn’t be alive much longer. We dropped everything and drove to the Kodiak airport. It was a fairly quick flight from Kodiak to Seattle, and I managed to make it to the hospital before she passed away.

But, I felt a sense of guilt that I hadn’t been able to get there sooner, and because we were living so far away, I hadn’t spent more time with her before she passed away.

That same feeling resurfaced several times a few years later when our family was stationed in Elizabeth City for the first time many years ago. First my great aunt died unexpectedly. Her husband passed away just a few months later. Not long after that, my maternal grandfather died, followed by my paternal grandmother and grandfather.

During that one tour of duty in North Carolina, we lost so many of the older generation on my side of the family. In less than four years, they were all gone, and we were so far away. We had two toddlers at home, and simply couldn’t afford for the whole family to travel all the way across the country for each funeral.

I managed to make the cross-country trip alone for most of the funerals, and to this day I still feel extremely guilty for not being there for each one. It’s important for families to support one another through difficult times, and being thousands of miles away makes it that much harder on military families.

We relied on our close friends to help us through those tough times, and will continue to do so as we face hard times and loss in the future. The Coast Guard community becomes its own type of family, and people help each other through the dark times. Local friends also become like family to many Coast Guard families, and provide much needed support during times of grieving. We rely on our family and our friends to help us to remember the light that our loved ones brought into the world, and to appreciate the beautiful memories that remain even after they are gone.

Kristi Langenbacher is a Coast Guard spouse and writes about military family life.