His favorite meal is almost ready, the warm and familiar aroma filling the house. His favorite cookies sit waiting for him–the ones his grandma used to make. She glances at the table, his place set alongside his children, his parents, his waiting wife. The bustle of the holiday makes it easier to forget…until it’s time to sit, and his chair is empty.
She sits at the head of the table, eyes shining, and takes a breath to calm her loneliness, quiet her fears, raise her hopes. She holds her glass high and toasts to her husband, thousands of miles away, one of many who won’t be home for the holidays this season as they honor the oath they’ve taken to serve and protect.
After the meal is done, the songs sung, the dishes clean, the guests ushered out into the cold night, the kids asleep in warm beds dreaming of the presents the morning will bring, she takes comfort in knowing that, though separated by oceans and mountains, she and her husband both sleep under the same blanket of stars.
This scene is one that will play out hundreds of times over this holiday season with loved ones–mothers, fathers, husband, wives, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters–serving overseas. And though nothing can speed up time, we’ve found a few ways to stay connected during this holiday season–beyond FaceTime.
Share the Love
Keep up with the traditions if that is best for you. If you usually eat candy canes and drink eggnog together on Christmas Eve, try to find a way to recreate the tradition for your deployed spouse. Send an egg nog mix packet with a package of your favorite shared treats and decide on a time you’ll both toast to your marriage, to the dwindling number of deployment days, to your next drink together.
Never underestimate the power of a handwritten love note. That goes for both the home front spouse and the deployed! Just a note to say I love you, out of the blue, does wonders for zapping those deployment holiday blues. It’ll make you feel better knowing you’re sending a sweet surprise, and it’ll certainly perk up your unsuspecting spouse. Try it out and spread some romance. Or take a cue from a romantic Air Force captain who used YouTube to propose on bended knee from Antarctica to his sweetheart. Though she waited for his return to answer in person, the long distance proposal certainly doesn’t lack drama or romance, and a personal message might be just want your spouse needs. (By the way, she said yes!)
Create a fun countdown that you and your spouse can both participate in. Send a box of favorite treats–one for each day until they come home (with a few extra, you know, just in case!)–and make the waiting as “fun” as possible. By engaging both parties, you are sure to stay connected and create a special memory during the holidays.
One of my friends, whose husband is currently deployed, shared with me this great little nugget: minimize the impact. When I asked her how she keeps her family connected, she surprised me by saying that, sometimes, it’s easier on her boys to minimize the fact that their dad is gone. That means FaceTime-ing, but not necessarily including his favorite dinner in the holiday line up, or setting a place for him at the table while he’s overseas. Tune into your needs and the needs of your family and find what works for you to maintain a strong bond and minimize the impact of their absence.
Get in the FaceTime
While romantic gestures, love letters, countdowns, and continuing traditions all go a long way in keeping you connected to your spouse, sometimes there’s nothing like a good dose of face time. So, FaceTime when you can; run up and down the football field holding your iPhone so your deployed spouse can watch his boys during their game like my friend; excuse yourself from Thanksgiving dinner to receive a call from your husband in Antarctica so he can see his five month old daughter.
Fulfill the needs you have, and then indulge in those little extras that you’ve created to stay connected beyond FaceTime.
And remember, you are both sleeping together underneath the same blanket of stars this holiday.