When I say grief as it refers to the military spouse, I’m not referring to the hundreds of spouses who have lost their hero in a war. Their grief is obvious.
The grieving cycle I’m referring to is the one that a spouse goes through when they hear the word “Deployment”. The process is very relative to that of actually going through a death however there are a few differences. The information shared below may be difficult for some to read or see, I ask you to understand where it is coming from and the message that is trying to be shared.
At the first mention of the word deployment, the mind of a spouse goes through a million emotions in one split second. If this is their first deployment their thoughts could be “No problem, I can do this” or “I don’t know how I’m going to do this”. You can see the realization in their eyes as the next 7 months, 9 months or year flashes before their eyes. They see birthdays, or actual birth days, holidays or school events but the one thing they never see are those blessed unexpected moments like leaky roofs or broken down cars. I have listed the process in numerical order, however, some spouses could experience #3 before they experience #1 or they could experience them both in one day every week. Every one of these is a daily happening in the life of a spouse somewhere. Their personal situation on that particular day will dictate which step they are in.
1: SHOCK & DENIAL
The Shock factor comes in many forms. For me, the shock was that my husband was leaving us again for 7-9 months after returning 3 months ago from a 7-month deployment. The 2nd bit of shock was where my husband was going and the potential to be in harms way. After my shock wore off the tears came because I remember how difficult that first deployment was and I really hadn’t recovered from it yet.
Denial for a spouse may consist of many things. They will deny that this deployment is going to affect them. They deny the fact that they will be stressed out or that they will be able to handle it. After all, they are a grown person and it’s not forever. Not a big deal. We’ll just suck it up and get through it. This is what I went through the first time my husband deployed. I said I could handle it, I didn’t have a choice now did I? My husband was actually a little upset with me because I wasn’t MORE upset that he was leaving. My thoughts were “It’s only 7 months, I’ll make a plan, we’ll get through summer, then school will start and soon it will be over” DENIAL.
2: EMOTION & GUILT
In the traditional grieving process, the loss of a loved one would create unbearable pain. With a military spouse, I would describe this pain as more of an emotional roller coaster. Some days it’s unbearable and others you feel empowered. It is not uncommon for a spouse of a deploying or deployed service member to spontaneously burst into tears. We experience everything from extreme strength to the opposite end extreme weakness. Emotion is something that stays constant during a deployment but returns at different levels depending on where we are at that moment in time. Guilt comes in the form of knowing that the military member is going to be missing life events. Guilt is also an emotion that is a constant during and after a deployment. No matter who you are you can’t help but feel guilty when you are sharing news of a lost tooth or the 1st home run hit. Knowing how badly the service member wants to be there but can’t. You feel guilty for being excited, for being happy…for having fun. Because you know your service member isn’t. Guilt pops up at the oddest times: eating out with friends, making new friends and having experiences without your partner.
Before the deployment, there are ‘arrangements’ that need to be made. Maybe you have house projects that were started but not finished. If it’s an urgent matter you may find yourself scheduling repairs more premature then you thought and the cost of those repairs not in your budget. Another ‘arrangement’ that needs to be made is to make sure the Power of Attorney and wills are in order. Not something you really want to think about but necessary. The military spouse is left behind and will be left in charge of every aspect of life for the family. Medical issues, mortgage issues, credit issues etc. The deploying spouse needs to shop. They need to stock up on toiletries, clothing, uniforms, extra this and extra that.
For us, this surprise deployment left us financially strapped because that extra $500 to get everything he needed for this deployment wasn’t a part of the budget and therefore other aspects of our life were affected.
3 days before our last deployment, we found a leak in the plumbing in the ceiling of our basement. My husband had to rip down 1/2 of our ceiling in order find and repair the leak. However, due to time, he couldn’t close up the ceiling and therefore it was left with the rafters exposed. Since home improvements are something that we need to budget for, a new ceiling was something we were going to tackle after he returned. Well, that didn’t get done due to this 2nd deployment and so our rafters will continue to be exposed several more months. These types of issues lead to the emotions ANGER & FRUSTRATION.
3: ANGER & FRUSTRATION (resentment)
Anger and frustration. They seem almost obvious, don’t they? When dealing with the military spouse, these emotions can seem like they are on steroids on some days. My family lives in Canada. I don’t have Grandma or Grandpa, Aunts or Uncles to take my kids for a day should I need them to. I have to ask favors of my friends or spend HUNDREDS of dollars on child care monthly should I need to work or go to the doctors. Often the work of the spouse results in paying the child care bill. Almost defeats the purpose. The guilt a spouse feels for having to put those requests on friends sometimes can be overwhelming and have the opposite effect on them driving them into depression and seclusion. ” I just can’t ask that of my friends anymore, I feel like I’m putting our friendship on the line, I will just deal with it”. Many of us have other military spouses who say they understand but when it comes down to it, those spouses have lives too, and they have their own children and situations to deal with. As much as we can turn to each other there are times when you can’t.
I can remember a few conversations with my husband while on his last deployment that he just didn’t understand the stress I go through while he is gone. Not only do I handle ALL of the household issues from garbage day to a broken furnace and everything in between but I also have to arrange childcare for our 2 children when I go to work or just want to have a moment to myself. I claim he doesn’t get it. He never has to worry about childcare because I’m always here. And even when I’m not I’m still the one arranging the child care because he doesn’t have their numbers and has never really had to deal with it. I am the banker, I deal with all of the bills, if one doesn’t get paid or we don’t have enough money, I am the one stressing not him because he is on the ship. The spouse spent too much money on a port visit and left the family short this month. For many spouses issues like these can lead to spouts of anger and frustration. For some, resentment towards their deployed spouse can occur. “He just doesn’t get it” ” He has no idea what I go through” “I’M SO TIRED OF THIS!” I would like to say that the emotions of anger, frustration, and resentment go away but they actually tend to stick around and in some cases escalate. Guilt comes back to visit in some of these situations when the spouse says “It’s not his fault he’s not here” and beat themselves up for thinking that way in the first place.
Fear. There are so many aspects to this topic. For starters, there is the fear of the location the spouse is being deployed to. Whether it’s a war zone or a natural disaster, fear plays a huge role in the life of a military spouse. Fear of what that spouse will encounter. Disease, death, sacrifice. If a soldier has to kill someone in battle, how will that affect them? If they witness one of their own, their best friend being killed in battle. How will that affect them? Fear of them catching a disease while assisting with a natural disaster. Fear of them seeing dead bodies lying in the streets of women and children. How will that affect them?
Trying to explain to them a new friendship and easing the fears the service member has of potentially losing you.
Now take fear and apply it to just the daily life of the spouse. Fear of their spouse cheating on them. Fear of living in a house alone. Being so scared some nights that they can’t sleep. Fear of their service member not coming home or coming home and having grown apart. Fear of them having to do it all by themselves for a long period of time. The fear that they have to take away from their children. Fear of the questions that might come about where their mommy or daddy is. Fear of not being able to soothe their child. Fear of having a meltdown and for some the fear of hurting themselves or others. Don’t forget the fear that some experience when a male repairman comes into their home.
Fear for a military spouse isn’t as simple as it sounds. And Fear is a daily emotion that comes in various forms.
The list doesn’t end here but I felt that this was enough for you to chew on for one day. Does it really seem, after reading the above, unthinkable that a military wife would snap? They say that God never gives you more then you can handle and I do truly believe this, however, this isn’t true for everyone. Our military members have a large support offering before, during and after their deployments. They have a constant group of people around them watching for signs of stress or PTSD, especially in those returning from active war zones. What about the spouses? Those that are the sounding board for their soldier or in some very extreme cases the actual board used by their spouse to take out their frustrations on. Who is keeping an eye on them? We are taught as spouses by those who have come before us to 1) ask for support and help. This is easier to do when you know people or have the type of personality that is outgoing. 2) To suck it up and deal with it. Spouses are never put through bootcamp, there are no mandatory training sessions for us to show us ways to cope. We have no training on how to deal with all of the new pressures that come up. Our service members train hard to prepare for war. We are just expected to go with it and learn as we go. No two women are alike and therefore no two spouses are alike, how they deal with a deployment will vary depending on their situation, background, and relationship with their soldier. I hope I have helped to bring a new light to this unique group of people.
Please join me for Part 2 of Lady in Waiting: The Grieving Process.