As of this day, I have been through two complete deployments and am approaching a homecoming for the third. This may not seem like a lot, but the way these have happened and how close they are timing wise made them interesting, and enhanced the worry, anticipation and feelings of each. You know how they say hindsight is 20/20, well it is. Coming from #1 to now #3, I can see the contrast in each and how I have handled them all differently. Some have been harder than others, some had ease in one aspect but more difficulty in another area. There really is no guideline to how people can handle deployments different from #1 to #3 or for that matter from 1 to 10. Life changes too much, we change too much and the situation around us changes too much. Deployments are dynamic and ever changing, they are what happen to us when we are busy making other plans.
First off, I just need to say they do not get easier with time or experience. A person or family does not get better at handling them just because they have been through multiple ones. We can however learn from each, adapt and hopefully overcome difficulties as needed. We each can only do the best we can do, and that is it. So, here are my deployments, from #1 to 3 and a little of what I have learned.
#1: Low Tide and No Waves-Reasoning would say this first experience of deployment should be the most difficult. For us, it was in fact the first for many things. There are firsts such as living without my military spouse for an extended period of time, the first time I willingly let him go to possible harm’s way and the first time I had to tell my children their dad would not be there for their next birthday or holiday. The firsts…there are so many reasons they are challenging. So to say that this was the calmest one for us can be hard to understand, but it was. With certainty this was the hardest time for us for some reasons, mostly because of those firsts. Looking back at it now the overall feeling was one of calm. I had two little ones 4 and 6. Had already finished school for my bachelor’s degree and at this point in my life was working full-time with the National Guard unit my husband and I were assigned to. Dad was getting ready to leave and be on active duty orders for 15 months while I was getting ready to go through a heart wrenching farewell and be a single mom for much more than just the three weeks at a time we were much accustomed to.
Well, with 20/20 vision and two other deployments under my belt this deployment was kind of on cruise control and not as many lows that can be typically experienced. I went through most days kind of on automatic. Maybe it was because I stayed so busy. I worked full-time, had drill one weekend a month on top of that, was very much involved with the FRG, took on another added responsibility at work and for my own sanity worked out regularly and played soccer with an adult team and recreationally as much as I could. Besides staying busy I really believe this one went so smooth because there were no big events or wrenches thrown into the mix. Yes I know, we all know the deployment curse and all the mayhem that comes with that but there was very little of this for our first time around the deployment block. There was the expected crying on my part and the heart breaking nights with a child who was crying for their dad. As I reflect on that first one though I can’t help but smile and be thankful for the lack of challenges and drama.
#2: The Stone Ages-There is a reason my number two deployment has the honor of being a part of the title and it’s not because it’s my favorite. My #2 is thus far the most difficult of the three. So why the stone ages you ask? Well as bad as #2 went my family and I had to try and think of a way to recall it without using curse words and that’s what we came up with. #2’s timing was well, not very convenient for us, go figure. #1 happened and then approximately 6 months after that homecoming my family PCS’d to Alabama for over a year and a half and then two weeks after my husband was able to accompany us home (we are National Guard) he was off for #2. So to say the least, our family was at a very high point of transition, adjustment, basically chaos and confusion. For this farewell, I was again getting ready for single-spouse-parenting mode, children were now 6 and 8, and I did not yet have a full-time job after just moving back to town. Besides the deployment, our family was getting used to being back in our hometown. It was a great adjustment and there was a sort of reintegration period to fit back into the lives we had left behind- at least that’s how it felt.
So those wrenches I mentioned earlier, the ones I lacked in #1? Well they were here for #2. They came in all different sizes, at all times of the day or night and they ruined most my days and nights. It was the worst deployment…ever! As we were just back home I had a new house full of boxes to unpack and get settled in. The boys were in a new school, within a whole new neighborhood than we were in before. And as if all that and a husband overseas was not enough I eventually went back to work full-time after being home with the kids for more than two years. The kids, well they were not happy with this at all, and I don’t blame them. Their little lives were being turned upside down in so many ways that their anger, frustration and sadness were all completely valid.
What was the worst part of this #2? Well that ,of course, hit when it was least expected…go figure. My husband had been home for R and R around the Thanksgiving holiday and after he left I figured it was all downhill. A couple holidays, and a month or so after those wrapped up, homecoming! Well, silly me for trying to anticipate how my life would go for the next few months.
A month after his return overseas, the weekend before Christmas day, I was finally doing my Christmas shopping. Yeah, you can say I was having a hard time with time management on a daily basis, hence the last minute shopping. Well my body had different plans and before I could make it out the door I was vomiting and had to have my mom- who was there to babysit the kids- take me to the ER instead. The car ride was the worst time I have ever spent in a car- the messiest, and the stop at the ER entrance was no quick relief. What I eventually found out after a number of different doctors, poking, prodding, scanning and morphine was that I had kidney stones. Apparently I was not taking good care of myself and certainly had not been keeping myself well hydrated. I would spend the next three nights at the hospital and was discharged on Christmas Eve. Dinner that night? Fast food, since my mom was with me waiting to be discharged. Those gifts I was supposed to get? No gifts for the kids, very little for their stockings (my siblings did a run to the drug store nearby to get anything left on the shelves) and a desperately sad son whom cried so much since Santa apparently did not come. My heart was broken for them and there was no miracle for that Christmas.
These stones would not make their own exit and required surgery. Somehow, the specialist on call for the ER that day was well nothing special at all. Follow up appointments took forever, there was a time period of waiting to see if they would exit on their own and everything in this process just did not progress the way it should. Eventually I was referred to another specialist but that process also dragged on. Every appointment, at every turn was like running into a brick wall. Besides the different ways I was experiencing physical pain I was also dealing with frustration and helplessness against this process of referrals and waiting for those next appointments. Medically I had infections to deal with and I also had to have a small shunt placed through my back so a solution in a syringe can be forced through each night to make sure things were still flowing through as needed. Kidney failure could be next if not.
I was broken at this point. I was broken physically, mentally, spiritually. This was not only the worst deployment ever but one of the very worst parts of my life ever. I cried so much. I cried in front of people which I hardly ever do. I cried in front of my mother, my younger brother and maybe once or twice the kids caught me. I cried in front of or also over the phone with complete strangers. I cried with a nurse from my HMO that called me after my discharge from the hospital to see how everything was going. She actually called a couple of times after that, I guess the crying led her to believe I should get some type of special follow up. I cried with a doctor who was filling in for my specialist when we were finally going to schedule a surgery. I just remember saying sorry over and over again to the complete strangers, that this was not the typical me. When I cried in front of the doctor she took time to comfort me and marched right out to get me scheduled for surgery, told them that I was to be put on my doctors very next opening and that tomorrow once she talked to him somebody would call me to see about getting an earlier one.
Surgery finally happened about a week before my husband’s homecoming and even then I was still recovering. That surgery was almost two months after I first went to the ER. And the night after the surgery was one of the , my body was not responding well. I was back in the ER for dehydration because now everything was coming up.
So, those are the stone ages for us. Now I can look back at it and laugh when we call it that. But back then, back then I hurt, in every way possible. I can’t say how I made it through- but just that I did. Medically I was okay to go to work, though the shunt in my back and pain from infections would say otherwise. I had to put one foot in front of the other, I had to keep on going, for my kids, for my husband, for myself. Besides, I had people watching over me; I wasn’t completely alone- don’t forget that nurse who called to check in on me. It had to be the others around me, who literally had to pick me up at my weakest moments and carry the weight for me and with me.
#3: Third Times a Charm, right? – It seems weird to think of it like that but so far I can’t complain much. I still work full-time, and we are in the same home. Most everything else has changed. I now have three boys, the older two are now eleven and thirteen and the baby boy just turned three. My family relationships and friendships are healthy, intact and nurturing, not going through an awkward reintegration phase. I have activities I enjoy to keep me busier and I socialize enough for myself as do the kids. Overall we are at a stable point in our lives with very little flux besides the deployment itself. We are not in some kind of big adjustment period and so far there have not been any big wrenches thrown into the mix, or should I say no big stones.
It’s hard to explain how I have gotten to this point and I’m not sure that if there is a #4 I would be the same way. I have even been able to find some happiness this time around, maybe that has a lot to do with my lil buddy who is more than enough company and a reason to smile when moments seem bleak.
I still miss my husband and still worry for his wellbeing. I still have moments where I just want to stop and break down. Moments where my older two boys are arguing over something, the baby is pulling at my pants for another reason and I am just getting home from an eight hour day of work trying to get dinner on the table while the news is on with something about Afghanistan. Most days I feel like I am running around like a chicken with my head cutoff-but it is a controlled chaos. Nights when I feel good and don’t have to go to sleep worried or upset- I do wonder. Am I okay? Is there something wrong with me for being okay? Well, I’m no expert and only have hindsight to give me insight. Yes, right now I am okay and there is nothing wrong with that.