As Military spouses or girlfriends or fiances or any family member of a Service member, we know that having a family member gone over the holidays just plain stinks. No sugar coating on that one. Let’s get real and be honest here. It’s very difficult to have a spouse deployed during moments where family and togetherness is the theme of the day.
Now, that being said, it’s possible to persevere through this stressor and still make good family memories and have precious moments during the Holiday season even when your spouse or loved one is gone.
In the last five years, my husband has been gone every Thanksgiving and two Christmases. It seems like every year rolls around and he’s on the hook for the deployment that covers Thanksgiving. Thinking back, what’s painfully surprising is how much my personal thoughts, memories, and traditions revolving around Thanksgiving have changed in the last 5 years and how he just isn’t in the picture for those “family” times. It’s sad but encouraging at the same time. It’s a reminder that it’s possible not only to persevere but thrive when your Service member has to be gone over the holidays. I don’t love the fact that my six year old has only spent 1 Thanksgiving, 1 birthday, and 3 Christmases with his dad. However, I find a deep sense of pride in the fact that we’ve been able to make it work without completely being disjointed as a family.
Here are a few of the things we did to enjoy the holiday season without Dad. I’m going to preface this with the thought that I would never suggest to a Military Spouse whose husband is going to be deployed this holiday season that they should just “pull up their bootstraps” and not let it get to them. I honestly believe that it’s a huge burden on military families to face separations during the holidays. However, having lived through it, I can say that you are capable of thriving in spite of the trial.
We Go On
The first Christmas my husband was gone, I was tempted to try to shut down and drown in sadness. That whole Christmas season, we were in a bit of an “unknown” about whether he would make it home or not. I decided from the beginning to function as though Dad was just going to miss this year. I set the kids up for the realization that Dad was going to miss Christmas, but we were going to have a wonderful holiday even though he was gone. I was blessed that my in-laws came out for Thanksgiving and helped us pick up a Christmas tree the next day to decorate. I went ALL OUT for Thanksgiving that year and hosted for the first time. I insisted that we thoroughly enjoy the holiday, in spite of the fact that we were separated as a family. For some tried and not-so-true holiday traditions, click here!
The delightful thing about this is that the next time we found out that he was going to be deployed over Christmas, I knew we could do it! What an amazing feeling to know that we can make it through a trying time and still find joy in our situation! I don’t remember a ton of details about that first Christmas because the memories of the holiday season all blend together. It doesn’t stand out in stark contrast as being an especially difficult time, because I insisted we still enjoy ourselves and make the best of it even though the situation was disappointing. Try some new traditions for your kids and give them something to look forward to, like new monogrammed stockings for each child.
We Allow Emotion
Every holiday that we have been apart is because of a deployment. It just plain stinks! And I allowed myself to feel that. I allowed the kids to be sad. I clearly remember the very heavy emotions I felt when I was celebrating the Holidays with family, but the one person I wanted there was gone. It’s very frustrating to be in a room full of people you love but still feel alone. THIS IS NORMAL! I always tell people that we married these people because we love them and want to be living life with them. So, with that in mind, it’s normal to be a bit heartbroken when we have to spend life apart!
The important thing, the thing I can’t stress enough is that – while it’s okay to feel sorrow and a bit of depression over the fact that you’re spending the holidays apart, it’s important to self-check and make sure you’re not falling too deep into the pit of despair.
We Stay Connected
We have been blessed with the fact that both Christmases my husband has been deployed, we’ve managed to connect via video chat at some point in the day. I work especially hard to ensure that he stays present in the kids’ lives and our family unit as much as possible even when he’s gone. This often means fighting frustrating Internet connections. But I think it’s important to try to make it a point to stay as connected as possible through the holidays. If we’re visiting family, I try my best to let my husband have time to visit with each family member. I’m sure I am probably that annoying member of the family who everyone thinks insists that life revolves around my little family unit, but we have a unique circumstance. No one is surprised anymore when I hush the 20 people in the room and insist that we make a video call to include my husband in the celebration. As much as we miss him, he misses the family togetherness too. I do what I can to ease that for him. It’s not the perfect fix, but it’s a bandaid that helps some during the deployment.
I will forever offer my praises to the gods of online shopping. The first Christmas he was gone, we discovered a brilliant way to handle Christmas shopping. On each of our computers (7000+ miles apart) we had both a video chat and a shopping website up. We managed to literally do Christmas shopping for the kids together in spite of the circumstances. We sent links for ideas back and forth to each other. We made it as though we were walking up and down the aisles in a department store picking and choosing what we thought would be good gifts for each member in the family. It worked so well (and my kids got old enough) that the second year he was gone, he instructed the kids to take the tablet he was chatting on into their bedroom and they did Christmas shopping for me together. He had the packages for me shipped with their names on the labels so I wouldn’t open them; he even bought special wrapping paper online and had the kids hide the presents in their rooms and wrap them for me so they got to feel as though they truly shared that experience with their dad!
We made it a point to bend over backwards to accommodate my husband’s schedule so he could participate in “Christmas morning.” One year, that meant he had just gotten back from an 18 hour flight and we were on a video chat at 0500 in the morning our time and he managed to stay awake long enough for most of the presents. Last year, it meant the kids had to wait to open presents until about 1 in the afternoon. It was a bit torturous, but we asked them and they made the decision to wait so Dad could be part of the equation.
Spending a holiday apart isn’t going to be what you would ideally prefer, but with adjustment you can still make it a very happy, joyous celebration!