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I always said I could never be with a service member. I have the utmost respect for their bravery, courage, and sacrifices they make for our country. I just never thought I could be strong enough to be away from someone I love with all of my heart and soul for long periods of time. I know people do it everyday, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” as they say. Honestly, I just didn’t want to have to endure the hardships and pain that went along with that lifestyle.
Nevertheless, here I am. As the Biebs says, “Never say never”. An “army spouse” that’s made it to the other end of his deployment. So through this post, I’d like to share my personal experience, and how I coped, with any newbies or first timers looking for advice.
Have a plan of action in place before they depart. Makes sure all your affairs are in order. That doesn’t just mean knowing what the budget is going to be or who you’re going to call if you need help with something.
This also means making sure that you try to resolve anything that you and your spouse are having problems with in your relationship, because no relationship is perfect. For both of your sakes, you want to both be rest assured that you’re going into this as strong as you can be.
Discuss any fears you might have. Talk about what kind of expectations you both have for each other. Try to discuss how you plan to work on any disagreements that will come up. For most, it’s not like you’re just going to be able to call each other whenever you have something that needs said.
Phone calls will be a rarity and a luxury. You don’t want to spend them fighting, only to not know when that next chance is that you’re going to hear from them.
I’ve heard that a lot of relationships don’t survive deployments, but I say break the statistic! This experience could make it stronger in the end if you play your cards right.
Passing the time
The first few weeks, man all I wanted to do was lie in bed and sleep the next nine months away. My solider departed two weeks after our son was born, and we have a daughter as well. It’s probably for the best that hibernating was not an option for me. I had to get stuff done and be strong regardless of how weak I was feeling.
During that nine months, I didn’t know anyone where we lived, with the exception of a FRG leader that I befriended. I had a plethora of family I could call, including two women that inspire me everyday, my grandma and my mother in law.
They both have been through it before. Talking to them, I was reminded of how lucky we have it these days during times like these. My mother in law described how she would have to walk to the center where they would basically communicate through walkie-talkie esque devices. My grandmother relied on letters.
Don’t get me wrong, letters are so romantic, but I am really thankful that I was able to communicate through video and phone calls with my husband. Especially because it gave him a chance to see his little boy through his development.
After the initial slump had run its course, I knew I needed to dive into something that took my mind off of how much I missed my man. Hobbies will come out to play in a big way during this time. For me, this meant sewing more, and puzzles. I must have done about a dozen of those 1500 piece jigsaw puzzles.
I love to cook and bake as well, so I tested different recipes I planned on making him when he got home. One thing that really helped was care packages. I tried to send him one every two weeks and in between I planned the theme and contents.
This was great because my daughter got to join in on making something to remind him of all the people at home who were thinking about him. I showcased the one’s I managed to get pictures of in my post 5 Military Care Package Idea’s, along with links to the recipe’s and printables I used to put them together.
There’s a saying spread among-st army spouses “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option”. From before day one, I had to go into this with the mindset of there is no option other than to just take it day by day head on. My grandma was worried sick about me and how I was going to be able to deal, and all I could tell her is not to worry. That I’d figure it out, because my only option is to work through it. During that nine months, I learned that I’m stronger than I thought I could be, and that was empowering.
A lot of advice was given to me before this, one of those pieces of advice was to get out and socialize with other spouses going through the same thing. So I made myself go to at least one FRG meeting, and I’m glad I did because I befriended the leader, and she was amazingly nice and always there when I needed her. She invited the kids and I to go to an Independence day parade with her and her kids. This is where I learned another trait about myself.
While we had fun and it was good to be out, being around all the patriotism made me it impossible for me to not think about how much I missed my solider. How proud I was of him and how hard it was to not be with him on such an important holiday. Afterwards she invited us to go to a BBQ and fireworks with them, and while I really appreciated the gesture, I was emotionally spent at that point. That night I let my daughter stay up so we could watch the fireworks from our porch. This is the moment I discovered that I am an introvert.
While the general consensus is to get out and socialize, what made me more comfortable and helped me the most with getting through it was just being at home, with my kids.
So my point in this is to just do what makes you comfortable. That doesn’t mean not to try to get out of that comfort zone every once in a while, but don’t force yourself to deal with the emotional hardship of your spouse being deployed the way Mrs. Jones does. Everyone has different ways of dealing with tough times, you just have to figure out the style that helps you the most.
Shout out to this amazing lady for all the help she was emotionally and physically. I want her to know that just knowing she was down the road was an enormous relief.
This section will just cover a couple of tips for those who have kids, especially youngsters. I think everyone can agree that who this affects the most is the kids. We tried to explain to our daughter that daddy was going away for a while to fight bad guys. I’m not sure how much she understood that, or that an explanation even helped, but we wanted to make sure she know that daddy would be coming back.
To help her understand, we made a deployment wall. I put up a flag of the country he was in, and some spouses I’ve seen use a clock to show them what time it is there as well. Counting days seemed tedious, so I decided we would count weeks instead. A construction paper chain link countdown was made and hung on that wall as well. She looked forward to every link we got to pull off and say “we made it another week”.
My husband got her a daddy bear for her to squeeze on the nights where she was missing him the most. She struggled a bit after he departed, I noticed some anger issues. It’s all normal, but don’t forget that there are therapists on base that can help with these kinds of issues.
For the baby brother, all I could do was show him pictures of daddy and let him hear his voice when he got to call. There was definitely an adjustment period when daddy came home. I’d say in a couple of days he was used to having daddy around and embraced him with open arms.
Even though they’re overseas, the show must go on at home. My wise and beautiful mother in law told me “Just let the house get dirty if you have to”. That I was only one person trying to take care of two kids a dog and a house, and if I had to let some chores fall by the wayside then so be it.
Don’t feel guilty for having cereal for dinner or maybe ordering out more than you normally would. Take it day by day knowing the kids are priority and everything else can wait. After the initial slump, I had gotten into a routine. That helped me tremendously, as well as the kids. Soon I realized I was able to do it all (mostly), and this made me feel like a strong momma.
I hope this provided some insight for those going into a spouses deployment for the first time. Or even a different perspective for those have already been through it before. What are some ways you passed the time? What did you do for your kids to help them understand what was going on?
UPDATE: He’s been on the home front for about a year now. I had the perception that after that first deployment, that those occasional days at a time in the field would be a breeze. While it doesn’t compare to that nine months, it still sucks almost all the same.
Being away from someone you love is just the pits, and there’s no way around it. We now have a full appreciation for every day we get to spend with him, and try to never take any day for granted. <3
I want to hear y’all’s story! Connect with me in the comments below, tag on facebook @graceandthane, or on twitter @gracethaneblog.