My TimeHop app has been flooded with pictures the last few days surrounding my husband’s first deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 – the “good luck” cake, the big family gathering, the packing, the tears, and that one final (for a while) kiss goodbye. I was such a wreck saying that “see you later” to my brand new husband, but I can’t help but smile now looking back. Everything really did turn out okay.
If I could give a letter of encouragement and word of advice to that military spouse to read while her spouse packed up to leave, here’s what I’d say.
Dear military spouse facing your first deployment,
Your tears are justified. Sending your spouse off to war is terrifying, but you’ll feel a bit better in the morning knowing that this heart-wrenching goodbye is behind you.
You’re making a great choice by choosing to stay at your duty station even though it seems like moving home might be a little easier. You’re going to learn how to cut the grass and pay a load of bills and really make your house your home that your spouse will love when he gets back. The first time he smiles and says “You did a great job with the house, babe!” you’ll nearly explode with pride.
You have no idea how much support you’ll feel by the community of people you’ll encounter every single day who are either currently in your shoes or who have been there before. The military community is made up of people who understand what you’re going through without you even having to try and explain. You’ll find so much comfort in that.
You’re going to have to stick your neck out really far to make new friends, and though it will be uncomfortable at first, you’re likely to make some of the truest, most loyal friends you’ve ever been privileged to call yours. Those awkward “friend dates” will be so worth it. You don’t know it now, but you’ll have a few new lifelong friends to introduce your spouse to when he gets back. Just wait! They’ll be celebrating you and helping you get ready for his homecoming before you know it. They’ll be that special.
Learning a little bit about your spouse’s job will be helpful, so you should probably ask him to draw you a little map of how brigades, battalions, and units work. Embarrassing yourself by not knowing enough information to sign it at your first-ever FRG meeting won’t be a blast, so have a military lingo conversation before he leaves to make sure you know the basics of this lifestyle – enough that you can engage in future conversation with more “experienced” spouses.
Make a bucket list of things you want to do and actually do it. Looking back at all of those adventures you’ve crossed off will be extremely gratifying. More specifically, designate one adventure per month. They will help you always have something to look forward to and may even help the time go by faster until the homecoming rolls around.
Invest in the friends that invest in you. Travel to see your high school and college friends. Invite them to come and visit you and your new home. Girlfriend time is so good for the soul.
You know that little rescue dog you adopted right before your spouse deployed? He’s going to be your most special buddy while your spouse is away. He’ll make sure your house never feels completely empty and will make you smile every single time you walk in the door. You’ll look back and think that adopting him as your deployment buddy will be one of your best decisions yet.
You’re going to totally lose it the first time you see someone post on social media about how much they miss their spouse during the one night they have to spend apart from each other, but you have to understand that missing someone is a relative and universal feeling understood by all humans, regardless of the length or terms of the separation. Your situation is unique and extreme, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you expect others to try and understand that. That’s not fair to them or to you.
You’re not going to cry as much as you think, but watch out for those mood swings. Realize what makes you tick and try your best to steer clear of those situations that make you more vulnerable and upset. On the same note, let yourself get upset every once in a while. It’s going to happen, so let it.
Let’s talk about your marriage and how it’s not going to take a pause just because you’re physically apart for a while. You’re going to have to work extra hard to stay connected to your spouse. Put more thought into those care packages. Send hand-written letters. You might feel for a while that you’re married to someone who’s invisible, but you’ll pick up right where you left off when he gets home if you’ve put in the work to maintain your relationship while he was away.
Your struggles aren’t going to be the same as your husband’s struggles. He’s removed from normalcy and has his own unique issues that you can’t relate to, just like you’re going to have a set of struggles that he can’t relate to. I can’t promise that your marriage will be rainbows and butterflies while he’s away (if fact, it may feel like the opposite at times), but I promise you’ll both work through it and be stronger as individuals and as a married couple because of it.
Seeking out a new church alone will be challenging, but you’ll find one that you and your husband both love. The search will be so worth it.
You’ll feel a pinch of pain at each wedding and big event you attend alone, but you’ll also dance the night away with your girlfriends at each and every event if you allow yourself to put your chin up and enjoy yourself. You’ll build memories with your friends that you wouldn’t have gotten to experience otherwise.
With one month to go, you’re going to lose it like a three year old who just dropped her ice cream cone. He’ll miss your anniversary, your birthday (again), and you’ll find that those final weeks are going to drag. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and crossing days off of your calendar. Take your frustration and go shopping for an outfit that makes you feel gorgeous that you can wear to the homecoming. You so deserve it.
People will tell you that you’re strong and the they don’t know how you do it, and you’ll just smile and wonder what your alternative is. After a while you’ll begin to realize that you really are stronger than you ever gave yourself credit for.
Soon he’ll be back in your arms and you’ll do everything you wish of doing while he was gone. You might even find yourself one day staring at him and blissfully wondering how you ever survived so much time apart, and you’ll feel so lucky to call that brave man yours forever.
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