Great galloping sons of Abraham…it’s finally over!!! My husband is returning home from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan, so the boys and I are absolutely thrilled to finally see the light at the end of a lo-o-o-ong and challenging tunnel.
This has been a rather interesting experience, so to sum it all up, I put together this post to suggest ways that you can help encourage your friends, employees, co-workers, family or loved ones who might be waiting for a spouse’s safe return home from military or civilian contractor deployment.
The following is a list of ten common things people say to wives of guys deployed in Afghanistan.
- Do you miss him? It really doesn’t matter if they were married 2 months or 23 years (like us). The fact is, they will absolutely miss each other. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
- Are you excited he’s coming home? – If I only had a dollar for every time I heard this one. Yes, I’m excited, but also a bit anxious. After such a long time apart, the thoughts that go through my head are: will he think I did okay taking care of things while he was gone? What if I’m not in as good a shape as I hoped? Will he be okay physically and emotionally after enduring such a long hard experience in such a dangerous location? Etc.
- Are you scared he might die? – Um…yeah. When your husband is deployed in a location that is often called the most dangerous place on earth, then yes, the thought does tiptoe through the back of your mind: how will I cope if I become a widow, and how will I help my sons process their grief? It’s absolutely terrifying to dwell on those thoughts so I just try not to even go there.
- Will he be home for Christmas? – No. He won’t. They don’t get holidays off.
- It could be worse. At least he’s not in Iraq. – This is just plain ignorant. Saying things like this only makes a spouse indignant, and is nowhere near as encouraging as you had thought.
- Oh good, you only have six months left. Time should fly by quickly! – Shhyeah, right. According to whom? Unless you have spent 6-12 months away from your spouse while he is deployed in a dangerous area and getting shot at, don’t assume you know how fast time flies for the loved one who waits at home. Truth be told, time does not fly during this experience. Not. One. Bit.
- So, when he comes home, what happens next? Will he go back to work right away? – After having worked in a hostile, war-torn, desolate environment, twelve to fifteen hour days, seven days a week for twelve months straight with very little time off, when he gets home he is going to need a lot of rest. He needs to take a break, and take time to re-group after a while in order to decide what to do next. Don’t press them for “the next big thing.” That will trigger a truckload of anxiety.
- I know how you feel. I’m a single mom. – Nope! Sorry. No you don’t. While single moms do know what it’s like to hold down the fort alone, they have absolutely no idea about what it’s like to have their spouse sent to a very dangerous area and have to worry about whether or not they might get the dreaded phone call or knock at the door with really, really bad news.
- At least your kids are older. – Yes, my sons are older, (20 and 16 1/2) but guess what? That means they watch the news. They fully understand how dangerous it is that dad is 7000 miles away in a war-torn country within which the people generally do not like Americans. So we have to talk about it in ways that calm their worries and help them refocus on how great it will be when he gets home.
- I don’t know how you do it. I would be a mess. – Just because the waiting spouse appears to ‘have it all together’ does not mean that she’s not an emotional wreck on the inside. Never judge a book by its cover! You might be talking to someone who is just really good at hiding her emotions behind a glittery shield of makeup, but when she’s behind closed doors alone, she’s breaking down sobbing more often than she cares to admit.
So if you really do care and want to help, here’s what you should do when your friend, co-worker, or relative’s spouse is deployed:
- Be genuine if you offer to help with anything – Car repairs, mowing the lawn, snow shoveling, etc. That first time offer will always be received with a smile, a nod and a “thank you”, but is generally not taken seriously. She won’t want to risk inconveniencing you especially if she knows you have a busy life. If you really are serious, follow up with her and just make it happen without making her feel awkward.
- Get her mind off of stuff that fuels anxiety. Gather some friends together and, at least once a month, take her out to dinner and a movie, the beach for a walk, or a mall to hang around and shop. More frequently, call her regularly, text, facebook or email if you can’t get to a phone. Genuine female bonding is extremely necessary.
- Pack a box to ship overseas! Deployed persons – military and civilian – can receive care packages and such things are extremely necessary for the overall morale of the deployed person. They need to know that people at home – especially their own church, temple or synagogue, family members and community – care about them and are pulling for them. The spouse at home also needs to see that you care by your actions more than just your words. So gather your friends together, draft a shopping list with the spouse who is home, and start building care packages to send to him or her, and their unit or team. Doing so will be good for YOUR soul.
- Go out of your way to empathize by learning what it’s really like. If you really want to know what it’s like, read a good book like Nightingale of Mosul. It’s an amazing piece written by a friend of ours in Rhode Island, Susan Luz, who spent over a year deployed in Afghanistan as the highest-ranking officer and medical commander during the time of her station. It’s an eye-opening, inspiring, heart-warming and tear-jerking journal from the heart.
…And now if y’all would please excuse me, I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to reunite with my family. Xo