When my maternal grandfather was almost 17 years old, he dropped out of high school, lied about his age and joined the Navy. He spent the next several years of his life fighting threats in the Pacific Theater, and has only recently begun opening up about his service during World War II. My grandmother, his high school sweetheart, waited for him.
My Family is full of service members and the people they have had to leave behind. I vividly remember going to my grandmother during my husbandís first deployment, asking for advice and looking for a shoulder to cry on.
I received no sympathy. Instead, she told me stories of not getting letters from Papa Chuck for months and about how she never knew month-to-month, let alone day-to-day if he was alive. She went through this For almost four years.
I donít know if anyone can be truly prepared for a deployment or long-term separation. Sending a Family member into a conflicted country is difficult, and everyone handles it differently ó during my husbandís first deployment I believe I ate all of the ice cream in my small town for the first six months.
Then I discovered the 24-hour gym across the street from our condo association and spent the next eight months in a constant state of workout-induced soreness.
I feel like I handle things a bit better now. Now, seven years after his first deployment, I have a lot more tools in my toolbox to deal with separations. That, however, doesnít mean that it is easier. Saying goodbye has never been one of my strengths and I tend to become a hermit for the first few days of being alone. But I feel that overall, I just handle things a little better now.
I have a bit of a strategy.
1. Let yourself feel sad
Whenever I see ďdeployment strategyĒ lists, this always gets omitted. Let yourself feel sad. Itís a sad situation ó youíre saying goodbye to someone you love. Itís daunting. Your brain doesnít want to comprehend that you might never see them again, but it IS the reality, and you need to face it. Mourn saying goodbye to them. I give myself two days to just completely wallow. Sometimes I donít get out of my pajamas. After those two days, I pull myself together.
That doesnít mean I donít feel sad ever again. There are some days where getting out of bed seems literally impossible and just petting the dog takes all my energy. Those days are the hardest to pull out of. During those times, I put something happy on the TV and pull out an adult coloring book. Focusing my hands on a task, even as something as silly as coloring, helps direct my attention away from the fact that my husband is possibly getting shot at.
2. Write down everything you want to do
About two months out from his expected deployment date, I write down everything I want to do while heís gone. My list contains tangible goals: walk the dog every day, learn some new things to cook, continue my gym routine, keep up the work in my darkroom and have dinner or brunch plans with friends at least once a month.
I make another list of trips I want to take. We donít have kids, so these range from trips to the beach to more ambitious adventures. For example, I have it in my head that during one of these deployments Iím going to turn my SUV into a camper and drive across the United States for a couple of weeks to sightsee with my Old English sheepdog.
Then I make a checklist with these goals. I get a little thrill of satisfaction when I get to check off something from my list, and the night before he gets back I look back on all of the things I accomplished for myself. It always makes me realize that while itís been hard, I made it through and probably with some fun stories as well.
Working can be hugely beneficial during a deployment. I am with coworkers all day, which staves off the loneliness is staved off a bit. Iím making money, and working forces me out of those days when I just feel like my bed needs me more.
3. Write down everything you have to do
My husband and I sit down and write down everything that I have to do while heís away. Things like spraying for termites and fleas in the spring and general house maintenance, etc. We go over which bills have to be paid when. This helps makes things I have to take care of seem less overwhelming.
4. Have a communication plan
This will get blown out of the water probably as soon as the Soldier leaves, but having a plan to talk every so often makes the separation a little easier. Depending on where in the world the Soldier is going, your cellphone company might have an international plan.
Wi-Fi is available all over the world, so if you opt out of the international cellphone plan (they can get expensive), texting apps can be used over Wi-Fi.
Skype dates can be really great to do too. Setting up certain times to talk can help combat the feeling that you are in a relationship with your phone. I will also sneak letters into his bags for him to find when he gets to where heís going.
Your life doesnít get put on hold just because your service member is away. My grandmother taught me this. Your life has to continue even when they are gone.
Stay busy, live.