Lady in Waiting: Deployment Grieving Cycle Part 2

In my last blog entry I introduced how a military spouse whose partner is deployed handles the situation.  No matter what situation brings about loss, whether divorce, death or moving, we all experience in one form or another some of the stages at one time or another.  It is a natural process.  It’s how we come out of this process that makes the real difference in our lives.

We have covered so far shock, denial, emotion, guilt, anger, frustration and fear.  So what comes next?  Let’s find out.


Depression is not reserved for the spouse of deployed service members as this can affect women in every walk of life.  However, in the case of the military spouse depression can be a very dangerous place especially if there are children involved.  When your partner leaves for deployment and you are left alone in your house to carry on as usual that ‘usual’ may seem a little daunting.   Some of us with children carry on for the first couple of weeks as though nothing has changed.  Everything is still new and for the most part our partners have been gone for this long before and we’ve made it through okay.

Prior to most deployments the service members find themselves doing trainings, work ups or schools.  These can last from a week , month or several months depending on their branch of service and the type of ship or unit they are attached to.  Most families of military members are used to them being gone for these short periods of time.  It’s said the military does this so that we start getting used to them being gone, that is hardly their motivation.  While this may be true for the most part, taking the garbage out for 2 wks doesn’t really compare to doing it, the lawn, the cars or the house for up to and sometimes longer then a year.

Depression can set in due to many factors.  The spouse left behind is dealing with supporting the possible rants and emotional issues of their loved one with no one to vent to due to operation security. It’s sometimes not easy for a deployed service member to show weakness amongst his peers so he turns to his wife.  She is left to deal with that fall out.  Watching the news can also send a spouse into depression.

The spouse becomes lonely.  Now I don’t care who you are, loneliness can affect you no matter how social you are.  Whether it’s just curling up at night with a good book, laughing out loud and realizing there is no one there to share the joke with or the desire to cook a nice dinner and then wake up to the fact that you’ll be eating it alone.  I’ve been known to walk around my house talking to myself.  Luckily I never respond…

These little bits of life are ones that can tip the scales from outgoing to introverted.  Most of the time when a spouse goes into a depression it’s not about the big things but actually the little things that send them over the edge.  You take the extra time to look nice or are having a great hair/makeup/skin/clothing day and no one is there to appreciate it.  You can send an email or take a picture to try and share the moment but it’s one of those times that you kind of had to be there.  Today with social media being so accessible those efforts to attract the attention of your loved one often fall into the hands of others which can lead to a whole other set of problems.

I have 2 children but they don’t share my humor nor do they share my palette so for me to cook an elaborately flavored dinner is sort of wasted on them.  My husband however would devour it and shower me with compliments.  I read a book once called “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman, I’m sure many of you have heard of it.  Well the way that I show love is “Acts of Kindness”.  I may not SAY how I feel about a person but my actions will hopefully convey how I feel.  My husband is the primary beneficiary of my acts however when he’s not here it’s hard to feel validated.

It’s really easy for an isolated spouse to start to feel the emotions of loneliness and depression and have no one around to notice or be concerned.  Many spouses live in areas of the country where they don’t know anyone and no one would recognize a change in behavior.  This is where it can get dangerous.  If that spouse feels isolated and alone with no one or no where to turn, their state of mind can take them to very dark places.  To the point where they could harm themselves or others.  If the family has children this is an especially dangerous place to be.  In some cases those children are the brunt of the emotional dysfunction and can be left to fend for themselves, the depression can turn to anger and the children can become victims of abuse or worse.  In other cases the spouse may be able to put up enough of a front to not draw attention or concern from friends and loved ones.  We all know when someone bottles up emotions eventually they will snap, the straw that broke the proverbial camels back as one would say.

Depression and loneliness are very serious and not to be taken lightly.  During this time of the grieving process you may also see spouses who are normally very active in their community or even the opposite very quiet and reserved to start to act unnatural to their personality.  The quiet spouse may start to get loud and act out to draw attention to themselves or the normally outgoing spouse may all of a sudden retreat and not be seen for an extended period of time.

This stage is very dangerous also to the relationship that spouse has with their deployed service member.   When the service member starts to notice a change in their spouse this becomes a very dangerous place to be.  Our service members can’t afford to have the distraction of problems at home.  When their mind is affected by things going on here then they are not paying attention to what is going on around them as clearly.  If that distraction is concern over the mental or physical state of their spouse and children it could turn deadly, not only for the service member but also every member of their unit.  Once a spouse snaps out of their funk, guilt can set in for putting this on their service member…it’s a vicious cycle.


Many spouses eventually move forward into accepting their situation.  After a few months they find themselves in a routine.  They have made plans with family,  reached out to their church and community and are beginning to embrace their new, however temporary life.

The spouse may find a new sense of pride.  Pride in themselves for the fact that they are doing it.  When a challenge arises they moved through it and handled it with sanity.  Pride reflected in the communication with their service member.  A verbal ‘pat on the back’ from their hero.   Pride in the fact that they haven’t completely fallen apart and that their children are functioning normally.

The biggest problem encountered here though is that once the spouse accepts their situation and becomes motivated to make the best of it, on the other end of the spectrum, as the deployment comes to an end they are thrust back into anxiety and the emotional roller coaster of earlier in the deployment because now the spouse and family unit has to prepare for the return of the deployed service member and whatever that return may bring with it.


This stage is one that can appear at any time during the deployment however I am referring to these specifically as the deployment comes to an end.

During the past 7, 9 or 18 months the spouse at home has maybe dealt with deaths, car issues, house issues, behavioral issues and their own emotional ones.  They may have had a complete breakdown and moved through it to come out strong and independent on the other side.  Key word here INDEPENDENT.  This is can be a good and a bad trait as the spouse of a military member.

I am very independent and have, at certain times witnessed my own thought process going to “well, what do I need him for then, I’ve been doing this on my own and KNOW now that I can”.  Ooooh, that’s a dangerous thought to have.  That frame of mind is a place where the anxiety of homecoming can fester.

Here we have this spouse who has succeeded on their own for months and months.  Handled a variety of stressful situations some that may have crushed another person.  Now, in only a few weeks, their partner in life, their partner in home and family is returning.  Where do they fit in now?  How do we go from being totally independent of each other to learning how to depend again?  How do I help them to adapt to the new children they are going to encounter?

Our children had changed phases in life during my husbands last deployment.    Our then 2 yr old in diapers when daddy left was now a 3 yr old toilet trained little boy.  Our then 5 yr old kindergartner was now a 6yr old 1st grader who was doing everything by himself.  It’s a hard place for daddy to come home to where his children don’t ‘need’ him the way they used to.  My husband had to deal with those emotions himself and then had to accept the situations, routines and life we had built while he was gone.  This is all on top of the emotions he had to deal with while being gone and witnessing what he did on deployment.  Not only that but he also had to adapt to the constant “noise of playing, screaming and sometimes total melt down” kids again and the fact that the boys followed him EVERYWHERE he went.  That can be a lot to adjust to especially after spending months only taking care of himself.

The grieving cycle never really ends for a military spouse.  It’s more of a constant state in one form or another.  Once we recognize which state we are in is when we can move to a place where we can involve and encompass everything around us.  We are also able to learn from mistakes.  The mistakes I made on deployment one will not be in effect for deployment 2 and I will have a better idea of what to watch out for where my kids and I are involved because we have so recently been through it.

There is not one piece of advice that can be given in this situation.  We are all a lady in waiting at some point during our military spouse lives.  Every spouse is different and in different phases.  We each need to find what works best for us and then to make sure we make a note of it, because if you are like me, you will forget it just as fast as you thought of it.

I’d love to hear what you think.  Please join my blog and leave me a comment, this is as much for me as it is for you.

3 thoughts on “Lady in Waiting: Deployment Grieving Cycle Part 2

  1. Marisa Strauss April 4, 2011 — 5:24 pm

    Another GREAT job! You have put it all into words perfectly! Thanks for sharing this. What helps me is knowing…it is not just me that dealt with it this way! I was so hard on myself for going through some or most of these stages. You should make all these blogs into a book!!!!!!!!

    1. I love it:0 This is so true. People do not realize the emotional stress which spouses endore. The deployments, build on each other also. If you had a bad experience, then you get “gun shy” . There are spouses like yourself, who “have lived” the military spouse life. You are a VERY good person to articulate how day to day struggles affect military spouses.
      Thank you for telling the TRUTH:) We are NOT ALONE:)

  2. Thank you ladies, my goal is to reach out to all spouses around the world and hopefully get some of them to understand their own feelings since there really isn’t a manual….
    Let me know what you think of the latest one…there is a part of me in every blog so it also helps me to know I’m not alone….

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