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It goes without saying that deployments are challenging. As military spouses, we're left behind to miss our service members and worry about their safety. We parent alone, often with no family nearby to help. We wait for phone calls and pray we don't miss one while we're shopping at the commissary. As difficult as the actual deployment is, however, the weeks preceding it can be equally heart wrenching.
Pre-deployment preparation runs the gamut of practical ("We need to get a power of attorney.") to psychological ("I have to get used to doing this myself.") to emotional ("How will I cope with the loneliness?"). As a family, we scramble to make the necessary arrangements, while scrambling to squeeze in quality time together. There's so much to do as the clock ticks away.
From the day we learn of the deployment to the day our service member leaves, military spouses ride a roller coaster of emotions. Although the path varies from spouse to spouse, it's always a tumultuous ride. After living through two deployments, one of which recently ended, I've learned how to navigate my personal pre-deployment journey.
My roller coaster kicks off with Shock. As the wheels of the ride start turning, my brain attempts to process this new information and assess the implications it presents for my family. How will I explain to our children that their father has to leave? How many holidays and special occasions will my husband to miss? How often will he be able to call or email? Who will support me on the home front while I'm supporting him?
Before long, however, my brain becomes overloaded, causing the roller coaster to creep into Denial. If I don't think about it, maybe it won't happen.
Of course, I have to think about it, so my roller coaster loop de loops into Self-Deception. I focus on the upside of my husband's extended absence. I'll sleep more soundly because his snoring won't disturb my slumber. I won't have to clean up the clumps of dirt his boots track throughout the house. I can establish my own routine that doesn't revolve around his unpredictable schedule. Best of all, I don't have to iron uniforms.
At some point, whether incited by a random event or by an inexplicable jolt at 3:00 in the morning, my roller coaster hits its peak: Realization. This is when it knocks me over like a jab to the gut that this deployment is really happening, and it's happening soon. As I teeter at the summit of the roller coaster, I can see the entire deployment in the distance. There's no turning back now.
The roller coaster then begins its rapid descent. It touches upon Panic as I think about pulling double duty as a parent. I will no longer be just a mother, but a substitute father as well. It soars through Separation Anxiety; mood swings, stress and emotional fatigue collect and induce untimely but seemingly inevitable arguments. It even passes through Guilt for wishing my husband would just leave now and put me out of my pre-deployment misery.
As the roller coaster glides into Acceptance, I think of all the "lasts." The last time he'll wage a tickle war with the kids. The last time he'll wish me a good day as he leaves for work. The last time we'll cuddle on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and a movie. The last morning we'll wake up together. I then envision our last moment together, determined that his departing image of me not be a weeping, helpless mess. He needs to leave knowing I'm a pillar of strength and support.
After all, I am a strong, supportive military spouse. And as the ride slows into Validation, I remind myself that if the pre-deployment preparation accomplished nothing else, it proved that I am capable of handling the next roller coaster I am about to hop on: the deployment itself.
Finally, the ride comes to a screeching halt. Bags are packed. Affairs are in order. Hugs are shared. Farewells are whispered. And I send my husband off to answer his call of duty. He's gone, and the countdown has begun; he's now one day closer to coming home.
Freelance writer, teacher, mother of two, and military spouse
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Riding the Pre-deployment Roller Coaster »
Reflections of a Military Spouse »