When I faced deployment the first time I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. I was paralyzed. It was an internal paralysis. I think I looked put together on the outside, but I was falling apart daily on the inside.
I am a proud woman. I do not like to share my weaknesses and my pain with others. My stoicism is both a benefit and a liability to me. It’s a benefit because I am very careful with whom I share my vulnerability. It is a liability because sometimes I need to let my family and friends know that I am not faring well. They need to know I need encouragement and that I may not be able to reciprocate that support for a little while.
Here are a few things I wish I would have had the courage to say during my son’s first deployment. I hope this helps another parent or spouse articulate their deep feelings so others can understand what they are going through. Change the words to match your own situation, and let others in your life know what you are going through and what you need. You might just be surprised at the amount of support you do have.
Dear Friend/Family member/Fellow Church Member/etc.,
I know you are aware of my son’s recent deployment to Iraq. This means that the next 15 months of my life will be steeped in fear, uncertainty, grief, pain and change. I am going through one of the hardest things I have ever faced in my life. It’s scary. I feel alone. I am afraid to reach out for comfort because I am afraid of facing rejection.
I sometimes feel defensive because there are some who feel they have the right to tell me their opposition to the war when they learn I have a loved one in Iraq. Please be my friend and my support person. Do not engage me in debate right now. What is a soapbox to you is real life and real loss for me. If you go there with me I will avoid you like the plague for the rest of this deployment. It could seriously hurt our friendship. I don’t expect to us to agree all the time, but I simply cannot go there right now.
My emotions fluctuate. Please don’t think I am strange if one moment I am laughing with you and the next I am swallowing hard to fight off the tears. Laughter and crying are closely related and sometimes when I try to laugh, those tears I stifled earlier in the day may try to sneak out.
If you have never had a loved one deployed you are not going to understand. Please do not compare my son’s deployment to the time your son broke his leg. I am very sorry for the pain your son faced, but this is a very different situation all together. I am not trying to be insensitive to your situation, nor am I trying to belittle your pain or circumstance, but while my son is serving in a combat zone and being shot at, it is hard to drum up the empathy you normally get from me.
I understand you can not empathize too much with me either. To empathize means you would try to feel as closely as possible what it is really like to have your child in a war zone. That’s not something I expect you to do. This is why I reach out to other military families. The empathy and understanding I get is vital for my mental health right now. It’s not a cult. It’s the best support I can find. Don’t take it personally if I turn to them. I still love you.
There are times when I am going to look on the outside how I feel on the inside. This is when I bottom out. This is when I have cried myself to sleep and can’t hide my swollen eyes the next morning. Please offer a kind word. Let me know you are there, but do not pry. Please do not tell me you understand and never downplay my surmounting fears with a simple phrase like “It’s going to be alright.” You don’t know that. I don’t know that. My soldier doesn’t know that. Let me know you are praying for him and for me. Let me know that you appreciate his sacrifice. That may not seem like much to you, but it means the world to me.
The best way to support me is to offer me patience, kindness and a shoulder. If you want to brighten my day or cheer me up then offer to write my son a letter or tell me you have adopted a soldier and are sending him care packages. Let me see your support of our troops in an active and committed way. If you aren’t sure where to start, just ask me. I know of soldiers who get no mail because I send a little something extra for my soldier to share with them. It would bring me joy to know the men my son is fighting beside are cared for and know they are loved.
In closing remember that the landscape of my life is forever changed. My son — my child, the one I love and promised to protect with my whole being the moment I first saw him — is in a war zone and is in range of those who seek to harm and kill him. That is not something I had thought I would face as a parent. He is not doing this because he’s seeking an adventure. If you want to know more about him, just ask me. I may struggle with fear right now, but pride is never lacking. Thank you for all of your understanding. One day we will be on the other side of this and I will be back to a more normal “me.”
A Blue Star Mother
Photo courtesy penwren