The Woes of Our Supportive Community

24 May

My husband has been deployed for 3 1/2 months and his tour is officially 53% done.  During this time he has missed birthdays, the tooth fairy, music concerts, t-ball games, and a first home run. He has missed holidays, anniversaries, and family reunions.  He was not here when our roof leaked and flooded our living room. Nor was he here for the flu bug that hovered in our house for a month.  He was not here when my son suffered from separation anxiety that left mommy exhausted and heart broken and he wasn’t here for all the tears.  He was not here to provide the emotional and physical support we have all grown to depend on.  So what gets me through this deployment with our mental health still in tact? That’s easy – Support from my military family. Support that leaves me feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle another week.  Support that provides me the physical and emotional support I have been missing.  More importantly they provide the kind of support that does not leave me feeling alone, single, waiting, and exasperated.

Let me try to give you a visual on the types of support I received last week:

I was invited over to my neighbors for dinner.  We had a great conversation while the kids played. I did not have to prep any food nor did I have to clean up. It was an easy night and I was able to relax. A day later a neighbor offered to take my child to t-ball so I could take my other child to swimming lessons, without her help I would have only allowed my kids to attend half of their lessons since they overlap.  One friend came over and helped me paint my house followed with lunch and adult conversation. Another friend showed up unexpectedly with a dessert just because she knew I liked it. We ended the week with a deployed spouses happy hour full of drinks and a potluck dinner.

The same week my mother called asking me if my husband was okay. When I told her he was fine she started to cry and asked if I was doing okay alone. She then proceeded to tell me how proud she was of me.  I spent a half hour trying to stop her crying by telling her I was okay, the kids were doing well, and her son-n-law was safe. Next, another family member called to check in with me and during the phone conversation she questioned if my husband was being truthful with me about his where abouts, his job, and his duties because he does not want to worry me.

Two forms of support – two completely different reactions.

One form of support made my life easier. I did not have to think about being alone and I was allowed to slow down, relax, and enjoy life.  The other form of support, although appreciative that they care, caused unnecessary stress in an already stressful day. I have noticed Military spouses do not ask for help. They do what they need to do to get through the day and often times they go to bed exhausted, but don’t let them fool you! THEY NEED HELP! When I have asked for help from others outside the military community I usually get a response that makes me feel like I have over stepped my boundaries and inconvenienced a family that has their own difficulties. When I am asked what I need and I say, “grilled meat” instead of my typical response of “nothing” I often get a chuckle in response followed by some supportive words like “I don’t know how you do it” or “thank you for your service” and while I am eating mac and cheese I wonder why people ask how they can help but then do not follow through with the request.

Not too long ago it was Military Spouse Appreciation Day on our base. Around the same time Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden started a campaign to draw attention to military families and their struggles. I got an e-mail thanking me for my sacrifice, it was nice I suppose, but it didn’t help me in the day-to-day struggles of single parenthood. In fact, I was so busy I didn’t even read it.  In order for me to feel your appreciation I need more than a few kind words. The people who live on my street, which I call Deployment Lane, understand the type of support I need and I thank god everyday that I was placed in such a supportive community.

Am I alone in my thinking? Am I being selfish? Am I, as I have been told, “making my problems your problems?”  I decided to ask my friends what type of support they needed and it was unanimous; They too said they need acts of kindness, not words of encouragement.  We are bombarded with words of encouragement every day yet the acts of kindness that we wish for is few and far between. With the help of my friends I put together a small list of ways you can show your support to a spouse of a deployed family member.

  • “Invite me to a BBQ without having to bring anything on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.”
  • “Offer to baby-sit for an hour or two – free of charge would be preferable.”
  • “Call me when you know my schedule is busy and offer to bring a meal.”
  • “Offer carpooling to after school activities.”
  • “Make arrangements to get me out of my house when I am feeling depressed and alone and don’t take no for an answer. While we are out don’t ask what’s got me down.”
  • “Give me a hug without words.”
  • “Fly out for a visit.”
  • “Help fix the little things I can’t.”
  • “Bring me a bottle of wine and stay for a glass.”
  • “Call us and inform us of upcoming community events and discounts/deals.”

I asked my friends what words of encouragement they have received that actually causes more stress and here are their replies (I decided to keep the candid commentary I received on some of the responses):

  • My mother said “This 6 months should be easier since he just did it 8 months ago. She’s lucky I wasn’t close to any sharp objects when she said that.”
  • Straight from my sister-in-laws mouth while Jack was deployed to Iraq, “Kim, I know just how you feel!  Chris (Jack’s brother) travels to Vegas all the time for business!”
  • “Oh, I’m so sorry!”
  • “Oh, he only has 4 months left.  He’ll be home soon.”  (Oh that’s right, I forgot that he is invincible the last 4 months of his deployment!)
  • “He’s in Northern Afghanistan?  Well, he’s safe there!”
  • “You have it easy because you don’t have kids.”
  • “Babies are easier than kids during this time.”
  • “They have it worse because they are working all the time.”
  • “This deployment has gone by so fast. (Has it really? I’m glad you think so)”
  • “You are lucky he is in Kuwait and not Iraq. (You are lucky your husband is home)”
  • “Six months is nothing, he could be gone for a year.”
  • “He’ll be home soon.”
  • “I will pray for you and your family.”
  • “I know how you feel, I’m a single mom.”
  • “Do you ever worry he will die?”
  • “Is he worried about the increase in violence?”
  • “You knew we were at war when you joined.”
  • “Is he near all the violence?”
  • “At least he is in the green zone, you don’t have to worry about his safety.”
  • “Do you miss him?”
  • “Do the kids miss him?”
  • “Are you looking forward to his homecoming?”
  • “It must be hard.”
  • “Are you doing okay?”

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the fact friends and family call and talk to me at all.  By writing this I do not want to create a situation where people are afraid to talk to me and ask questions. I know they are curious and concerned. I wish people would not call to ask if I am okay because I am not going to disclose my sadness and fears.  I wish people would show more acts of kindness and follow through when they ask me what I need and I actually tell them.  I wish people would ask questions that do not cause a negative emotional reaction when they already know the answer like “Do the kids miss him?”

If only all my wishes could come true.

I am thankful my needs are being met during this deployment. It’s a benefit of living on a military base. We rely on each other for the emotional and physical support we are missing from our spouses. We take care of one another. I only hope that when my husband returns I remember how much these acts of kindness meant to me and I pay it forward.

Is your spouse deployed? Are you getting the support you need?  If you know someone who is deployed what type of support are you providing?

~Written by Heather Potter~

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2 Responses to “The Woes of Our Supportive Community”

  1. Michael Larson May 24, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    In response to:

    “They have it worse because they are working all the time.”

    As a military man, husband, and father, we have it easier because we are working all the time. I don’t know how you girls do it.

  2. Kelly Larson, MBA May 24, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    ~Facebook Comment~ Wow! Loved it, Heather! So true!

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