By Staff Sgt. Heather Fejerang, 6th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published April 17, 2020
U.S Air Force Airman Staff Sergeant Heather Fejerang holds her daughter Isabel Fejerang while walking home at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., February 2019. Staff Sgt. Fejerang practices resiliency daily while being away from her daughter, who lives on the other side of the country. (courtesy photo)
One day, as if by magic – everything changed. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring, I couldn’t plan or predict my next move and I couldn’t see a day when I would feel safe and at peace.
There are two, distinct moments in my life that I experienced those exact feelings.
The first time I felt lost and unsure of my future was when my husband and I separated, and I decided to fly my two-year old daughter over 3,000 miles to live with him. The second time crisis struck my life was when the Coronavirus epidemic hit the world – I’d personally take the uncertainty of a pandemic over leaving my daughter but it’s that lonely and guilt-ridden experience that prepared me for resiliently dealing with this epidemic and any crisis that crosses my path.
After six years together and trying to make it work - my ex and I decided to separate last year. One day after what felt like years of trying to make it work… I realized I was fighting for something that wasn’t possible. Our individual growth and happiness were sending us down completely different paths and that was terrifying.
We mutually decided to split. He went to our hometown in Washington, to the support of his family. I stayed at MacDill with our daughter, Isabel… alone.
There’s no amount of words to describe the guilt and responsibility that suddenly hit my shoulders and I wasn’t being kind to myself in the process. I was so focused on being that happy, healthy mom that I didn’t realize how much painful growth I had to allow myself to go through before I could be that person. I was handling a family-size load of responsibilities at home while taking on more at work – I didn’t allow myself time to breathe and decompress all the emotions I was feeling.
As a result, Isabel clung to me – physically and emotionally. She still wasn’t speaking and was stuck to my hip, crying whenever we were around other people. My instability was affecting her. It was time to ask for help, so I asked her dad to take her for a while.
He was ecstatic to see his daughter and she was surrounded by family – vastly different than her environment with me. She started speaking, she was enjoying playing with her cousins and bonding with her aunts and uncles - she was doing so well. I had to accept the fact that right now she was exactly where she needed to be… away from me. After heartbreaking talks with my ex, my family and my wingmen, I decided to switch up the stereotype and have my daughter live with her father full-time.
After that decision, I started allowing myself to adjust to this new life of being a long-distance mom instead of beating myself up about my choices this far. I visit my daughter as often as possible; I video chat with her multiple times a day and I take care of her financially since I can’t physically be there. My ex and I are happier on our own and are better parents because of it; we work better together now than we ever did and I get to see Isabel blossom from our individual happiness - even if I don’t get to be a part of her day-to-day growth right now.
And I won’t lie to you, there’s still so much sadness and uncertainty – I don’t know when I’ll be physically reunited with her for good. But I take it one day at a time and the guilt of being away from her becomes easier to acknowledge and move on from as time goes by. That’s all we can do during this pandemic, right? Take it one day at a time.
You can try – but in the end you’re given this life to learn and to grow. I was tossed down this path of uncertainty for a reason and as hard as it is, it’s taught me that as long as I allow myself to go through the mess however I need to, there’s nothing I can’t get through. We all have different things to overcome during this time of isolation and sickness. We all are grieving something lost due to this worldwide pandemic – our routine, our friends and family and unfortunately for some, the loved ones we’ve lost to this virus.
So, here’s some unsolicited advice – be kind to yourself during this pandemic. We are all doing our best to isolate, stay hygienic, reduce the spread of this contagion and somehow maintain an ounce of normalcy. Everyone grieves differently and this pandemic is just as much a time of loss as any other – allow yourself time to think and grieve in your own way. Reach out to one another, support the growth of others and most importantly, yourself, during this time.
Don’t skip the healing process and the panic – we’re in this together.