More Than Survival

This is an essay I wrote for my English class. I think it could be helpful….

When a soldier leaves for war, his mind is filled with the stories he has heard from his contemporaries, images he may have seen on a previous tour that still haunt him, perhaps thoughts of how long until he will see his home again. When a married soldier leaves for war he is thinking about the wife he is saying goodbye to, making sure that he has left everything in order so that she will be able to take care of things, and hoping the days go by quickly until he is back in her arms (if he loves his wife of course). Deployments are difficult. Once that soldier is on the bus it’s done. There is no more preparation, no more tearful hugs, no more memories to make. Now it is about survival; for both the soldier and his wife. I can only speak from the latter end since I have never been deployed to Afghanistan. Though it may seem incredibly difficult, deployments are completely endurable. With thorough preparation, appropriate mourning, a daily routine and a positive attitude, you will not only get through the difficult task of being a deployed soldier’s wife, you will be better for it.

Before your husband leaves, it is vital to make sure that your affairs are in order. Be sure to attend every Family Readiness Group (FRG) meeting. It is usually mandatory for the soldier to go, but it is more important that you are there. They will give you all the information you need and introduce you to the other wives of your husband’s unit. It is also important to come up with a financial plan for deployment. You will need to take care of bills while he is overseas so come up with a way to lay it all out so that you are not even more stressed once he’s gone. My husband came up with a chart on Excel which shows me each bill, the date it is due, the amount that is due, the contact information for each company, and all the passwords or usernames on the account. It has really saved us!

Once you have dealt with the logistical things you need to move on to the more poignant matters. Get his Power of Attorney and be sure to get special power of attorneys as well for specific things (like the car or housing issues). Probably the most emotionally stressful thing you do before deployment is get his Last Will and Testament made up. When my husband brought his home and showed it to me I started crying at the very thought of needing to pull this out, but it was necessary. You cannot forget that these men and women are not just going on vacation. After you have gotten everything arranged you are ready, at least practically, to send him to war.

When you are standing at the battalion area, where your husband has just had his final formation (after they have already had 3 “final” formations before this one where all the soldiers scrambled into lines only to be dismissed for another torturous goodbye) and is passing you in a sea of his comrades, you feel as though the entire world has been roughly plopped on your weak little shoulders. Suddenly this horrible event you and your partner have been talking about for the last 4 months is here. This ugly monster has arrived and gobbled up your happy life. Now you are standing alone in the dark without any comforting words in your ear and without a hand to cling to. If you are lucky enough, you will have friends with you. I was not lucky enough. I went as far as I could go with the man I adored and then was forced to stop. I waited until the tail lights of the big grey bus (an image which brings me to tears even now) were totally out of sight before I got into my car and sobbed. Then, when I could see through my salty tears, I drove home on the same road which my husband had driven us to base on only hours before.

It is the things like that drive which caused the most heartache. Things that brought back images, scents, words of my husband which caused me the most distress in the weeks after he left. When you are alone in your house and you can’t finish your dinner, but you have no one to hand your plate off to, the deployment smacks you hard in the face just to remind you its still there. He’s still gone. For the first few weeks you may cry without any particular reason because his absence was once again revealed in some small way. It is essential to go through this. You have to come to terms, in one form or another, with the fact that life is different for a little while. However, take heart, this phase will pass.

After the first several weeks a routine starts to take form. It may be as simple as brush teeth, eat cereal, watch TV, feed the dog, eat lunch, walk the dog, watch the news (though tentatively because you will learn that it can become obsessive), eat dinner and go to bed. Hopefully you find a job or occupy your time with school. My advice would be to get a hobby. I became very involved in scrapbooking right before my husband left so that I would have a fall-back if I ever had some free time by accident. The most important tool a soldier’s wife has is activity. As long as you are doing something you are not concentrating on your man being gone. Once you have successfully developed a daily schedule of repetitive events, you will find that time will move along much faster. Do not be surprised by the occasional outburst – you will be sad once in a while. However, remember that not crying is alright. When you find your routine it will become much easier to smile and laugh as the days go by with less and less depressing reflections on your situation.

Those thoughts will decrease with your routine, yes, but if you want to really watch them dissipate you need to check your attitude. Our whole lives we are told that a positive mental attitude will solve our problems. Well, being optimistic is not going to bring the love of your life home, but it will make waiting much more pleasant. Think of it this way: no matter how you look at it, he is across the world in a war zone. There is no avoiding this fact. So you can either be miserable for a year and a half or you can allow yourself to enjoy what you can and be excited for the things you will get to enjoy together once he is home. With your new attitude, look for opportunities that this deployment may have opened. For me, my husband’s deployment opened up time for me to get some on-campus credits at the school I had been attending online. Of course I would much rather have him home, but when I choose to look at it as an opportunity I would not have had otherwise, life becomes a lot easier. I am a happier wife for him to talk to and much more agreeable person to be around. It is all in your perspective. Remember that being upbeat does not mean that you miss your husband less. He will be relieved that his wife is doing well and he will do his job better over there knowing that he has no reason to worry about you.

The love of your life leaving you to go fight in a war is a scary thing. It is not an easy thing for people around you to understand, so you cannot rely on everyone else. You have to take care of yourself. If you and your spouse prepare well before he leaves, you give yourself appropriate time to be sad, you build a solid routine and you allow yourself to live in good spirits, you will learn to be strong. I am amazed at the change that has occurred in me since my husband left. At the beginning I was scared and I felt unbearably weak more often than not. Now I have confidence knowing that I will thrive during the remainder of his absence. It is certainly not the end of the world (something I would never have been able to say nine months ago). I am a better person because of this event and we have a stronger marriage. Deployment can be a terrifying prospect, but it does not have to be.

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