One of the reasons we in the Foreign Service get so little sympathy is because people think we have such a great life. Oh, who cares if you take a pay cut to live overseas. You get to live in these great houses in cool places rent free!
It is true that we live in our houses overseas rent-free, and that sometimes the houses are nice. Sometimes they are not. Unlike most Americans, we get no say in where we will live. We get assigned a place at post and usually that is where we will live for our entire tour. Like it or not.
But the real hardship of the Foreign Service is not what you get but what you give up.
And the hardest thing to give up is almost every important milestone in your family's life. You don't just miss birthdays but usually weddings, religious celebrations, births, and most poignantly, deaths.
This was driven home for me yet again yesterday when I learned that a friend from the Service lost his father in the tornadoes that hammered the Midwest and southeast over the past few days.
In a way, he was "lucky" in that he was posted to DC at the time. So he was able to get home to his family quickly. But I have had friends who lost one parent while overseas, flew home for the funeral, got back to post and lost the other parent within a week.
The Department is great about giving us the time to go home when things like this happen. But nothing replaces being able to be there with your family. Nothing replaces getting to spend the last precious weeks or moments with a loved one. You never get that back.
I think about this with every birthday and Christmas that I spend away from my nieces and nephews. They are changing so much and I am missing it all. I think about it with every family gathering I miss. I love my family and I miss them.
It is a sacrifice I make to serve my country, but it is one of the hardest things about being in the service.