In my 15+ years as a military spouse, I have had to say goodbye countless times. I thought as many times as I have done it, it would get easier. That never happened.
When you think about saying goodbye to someone, moments like your spouse leaving for work for the day, or a visit with faraway friends and family coming to an end, or dropping your kids off at school for the day come to mind. Most people don’t consider saying goodbye to soldiers when they deploy, and most have not had that opportunity.
I am no stranger to the feeling of that imminent deployment window that could be the last time I see my husband or my friend’s husband. I hold a pang of guilt for the spouses that have said goodbye to their service member for the last time. They never came home to their families and are left with that void for a lifetime. My feelings of emptiness, detachment and even mournfulness start to bubble up. Emptiness because of the hole that your spouse leaves when parenting alone, detachment because I cannot rely on my spouse for help in the coming months, and mournful because I mourn my disrupted family unit. I will say that I have mastered my skill of the brave face, not only for myself but for the rest of my family. For many years I have been cautious not to break down in front of my kids. If they continued to see their mom as the strong one and kept together, they will be strong too. These last few years, I have come to realize that showing your vulnerability and imperfections to those you love and who look up to you is ok too. The times that my children have looked at me with tears in their eyes and share with me their worries and fears far exceed my moments of ‘stoic mom.’ We learn to trust each other and share our concerns and cry together. My kids have taught me that the quiet moments that come after the dark ones are as therapeutic for me as a cry session I have by myself late at night.
I have also learned the importance of a spouse community. Having a healthy group of friends that I can laugh with, cry with, and talk to is an asset to those long months. Knowing someone is going through the same things I am and having some of the same struggles and successes is a huge help to my mentality. The famous saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is also adequate for “it takes a village to be a military spouse.” Some things that helped me get through those long months were: friends I can rely on and talk to, staying busy (whether with the kids or with my hobby or part-time job), and take one day at a time. It is easy to get overwhelmed when life throws you curve balls. If I am spending my time doing something enjoyable and taking it one day at a time so I won’t get overwhelmed, my mental health is in a much better place to handle stresses that do arise.
For the last two years, my husband has been transitioning for his retirement out of the army. While we hold our Army family close and still keep in touch, the same feelings of emptiness, detachment, and mournfulness have once again shown their faces. This time is different though, my husband feels them too, and we are going through it together. We are transitioning to the next season of our life together, and the change is fast approaching. There have been a few struggles and issues that have come up, but we try and work through them together. I am not going to lie, I have had to get used to my husband being around all the time. I am working on my “I’ll just do it myself” mentality. We know that communication is most important, and from two people that are not good communicators, this has been a bit of a struggle and very new territory for us. We need to remember that we are each other’s support system. I am holding close to the fact that we are stronger together (even if we aren’t used to it yet), and we can do hard things together.
We have been through 15 deployments, ten moves, four kids, and countless other things. We have had enough practice at saying goodbye, and now we can work on holding each other close and cultivating the family of our dreams.
Author: Kate Barnett, 2021