I did it. I outlasted the Navy. My husband retired from service in May. For decades we served, yes we. As I said when I posted about family grams – Spouse is the hardest job in the Navy. So what can you do to help them out? First off remember now it’s not just wives, but husbands. Yes even the submarines are co-ed. Really we women can sink in can as well as a man. These brave service members leave behind their families for months at a time with very little communication. They return without the parades and parties ships or local National Guard get. So remember the Silent Service as well. I was asked what did I want as spouse back when Mike shipped out. I’ve thought about that for sometime. I find it hard to unpack all of that but I did come up with a few things.
First don’t ask. Really, don’t ask when the service member is getting back. Don’t ask if it’s near time. Don’t ask period. Look I didn’t know and when I did know I couldn’t tell it was classified information. Trust me if they can tell a spouse will be glad to tell you to the day how long the separation has. If they don’t even if you are a relative don’t ask. Don’t put a spouse already in a difficult emotional position further into discomfort of having to be either reminded they don’t know or having to act as if they don’t.
Second give help where you see they need it. This is touchy but I wouldn’t ask or take help much if offered. It was a pride thing. I am strong. I can do this. I remember once after making yet another trip to King’s Bay in hopes of seeing Mike before the boat left I came home emotionally and physically exhausted. I dropped him at the pier some ungodly hour like 3am checked out of the hotel and drove home. I could never settle back into the hotel after he was gone. I knew when I got home I’d have to deal with the yard after being gone for four days. This was the time of year in Charleston where we mowed two to three times a week to keep it in check. To my surprise as I pulled into my driveway with dawn breaking I see my yard freshly mowed and trimmed. My neighbors had done it knowing that I had gone to see my husband. I was so thankful I cried. Sometimes just a kind hand quietly given is what is needed. They did that.
Third don’t just pass around Facebook images of support. Or just don’t say the trite words, ‘Thank your spouse for their service.’ Dammit thank the family for supporting the spouse for their service. Better than those words that always made me uncomfortable how about offering some friendship – a movie, a lunch, or something. Do something for the people don’t just give it social media lip service.
Fourth leave them alone for a bit when the service member first leaves or gets back. These are the most stressful emotional times. It takes a few weeks to get the new center and get life back a routine again. Others intruding by visiting, or calling constantly or overdoing drop-bys or overdoing invitations… is just added stress when a family is working hard to set up a new normal. Now this doesn’t mean don’t extend an invite to the local cook-out or make one short call to give support. This does mean don’t be hurt if the call is short, the invite refused, or they ask you to visit another time. Remember as much as it is hard on you who wants to see the service member too the spouse has just lost or regained their life partner and it’s a dance to settle into life again. Let the couple work that out then join in the celebration or support.
I don’t know if at the time thirty years ago I could have voiced these. It was hard even now unpacking all that emotional upheaval of coming and going – single and married – alone but partnered – my husband and family/friends. However with some long thought these are what came to mind. I hope they help you support a military family near you or in your family.