As I mentioned up front, each of you is reading these posts from a different perspective – some of you are service members or military spouses who already know intimately or will know soon what a deployment feels like; some of you are family members of service members/spouses; others are friends hoping to better understand; some are just curious about military life or how newlyweds/new parents navigate something like this.
I thought it might be helpful to specifically list some of the things that were most helpful to me during this deployment. As I’ve said numerous times, we would not have made it without the incredible generosity of family, friends & strangers. Please also know this list is unique to me – every military spouse needs different things, so please view this list as instructive, not prescriptive:
One big picture thought -- a military wife wrote a post a few months ago saying she loved a “don’t ask, just tell” policy. I love that. It is REALLY hard to ask for help. This is embedded in our “can do” culture and certainly even more prevalent with military wives who just LOVE to convince themselves they can do anything. I got A LOT better at asking for and accepting help through this deployment. It was humbling and a real point of growth for me. That said, I’m so, so, so grateful for the friends who insisted on things – they just showed up to mow our lawn, or with food or to watch Ellie. Here are some really practical ways you can support a military family through a deployment:
GRAB YOUR CAMERA/IPHONE
Take photos or videos you can send to the service member – 95% of the photos/videos I sent to Ryan were of Ellie (because I was behind the camera!). He specifically asked me to try to get more of both of us so he could see our interactions/his wife too. I was so grateful to the friends who would take those for us.
FEED THEM & SEND THEM HOME WITH LEFTOVERS
Be mindful of bedtimes (to everyone willing to eat at 5:30 so I could get E home for bed, or even come to my house & cook so I could have some company post 7 p.m. – thank you!!). I’ll never forget when a friend dropped off baked goods on my porch with a note – such a pick-me-up in the middle of a week. Even little pick me ups – dropping off a latte or ice cream can be such a high point in another long week of deployment.
ASK HOW SERVICE MEMBER IS
It took me a while to realize this, but it was so wonderful when people really asked how Ryan was – and not with a tone that assumed he was miserable. It’s important to know that while Ryan was sad to be away from friends & family for months on end – he was excited to deploy. He had trained for years and was eager to serve. It also struck me how rarely people asked about him, or when they did, it was with his grave sounding tone in their voice. I was so grateful to those who genuinely wanted to know how he was, hear about his adventures or learn more about his experience.
CALL WHEN YOU'RE HEADED TO GROCERY/TARGET
Going to get a gallon of milk with a six month old is a production! I was so grateful when someone could grab the one thing I’d forgotten (& these days I almost always leave one critical thing off my list). One of Ryan’s good friends called every single week when he was headed to the Commissary (i.e. Navy grocery store). Even when I didn’t need anything, it made me smile to get his “hey Mary, this is my weekly commissary run!” voicemail.
THINK NIGHTS & WEEKENDS
For most families I know, those are the hardest/longest times – visit/call/text to check in/issue invitations then.
COME VISIT & PITCH IN
Book a plane ticket to come visit – E & I travelled a lot, and that was really fun, but I was also so grateful to the friends who were willing to come to us. It gave E some consistency & allowed me to get things done around the house. To the friends who showed up and instinctively tackled the pile of dirty dishes, started doing laundry, helped me stake my tomatoes, vacuumed my floors, took Ellie on a walk so I could sleep in – I love you. Truly.
HOLD THE BABY
To the friends who were SO EXCITED to hold Ellie – who played with her, took her on walks, gave my arms a break, showered her with love – thank you, it meant more than you’ll ever know. I was especially grateful to the guys who did that. It was so important to us that Ellie continued to get consistent guy time & I just loved the men/dads who saw Ellie and immediately asked to hold her.
It’s hard to put into words how much pressure you feel as a brand new parent taking care of a baby on your own for months on end – it is so easy to feel guilty/apply undue pressure/feel like you’re screwing it all up. As I’ve mentioned, Ryan was an amazing support, so incredibly present in our lives, but I had so many days where I wondered if I was doing anything right. I was terribly insecure about her separation anxiety or if she was getting enough rest or what on earth her “schedule” should be. One of the kindest things people did for me was reassure me. I’ll never forget the nursery worker at church, who no doubt had endured some serious crying from Ellie, who told me how much she loved spending time with her. Or the dear friend who was watching Ellie texting me to say what a great time they were having. Or my mom telling me how proud she was of me and what a good mother I was. I soaked up these small comments, tucked them away, and they made all the difference.
KEEP CHECKING IN
Honestly, there were lots of people reaching out right after Ryan left, and just before he got home -- there were many fewer when we were about two-thirds of the way through -- and Ryan needed emails of enouragement and I needed help with Ellie then more than ever during that time. Mark it on your calendar to call/text/come over once a month or offer that meal in the middle of deployment, when most others have moved on.
Here's the thing -- if every close friend and family member just went out of their way during a deployment just ONE time, our military families would be well cared for. You don't need to turn your life upside down to care for military families in your life -- just commit to actually going out of your way one time during a deployment and be open that it might be an unusual act of service that really helps the most. If you can go beyond that one act, consider calling/texting the spouse a few times over the course of the deployment and sending the service member a few emails with news from home -- those were such an encouragement to ryan & me.
*above photos are of some of the people who loved us so, so, so well during this deployment.