PHOTO: SUPPLIED/ERICA DESPAIN
Three times in the last six years I've watched my husband throw a 50-pound bag on his back, put another overstuffed bag in each hand, and walk away from me for eight months or longer.
That last kiss wasn't long enough. I need just one more big hug. Are you sure you didn't forget something? Come back! I wasn't ready!
But he's off, and that sadly familiar weight surfaces of how deeply my heart physically aches in that moment.
As I'm driving away, I'm always caught off guard by the tiniest bit of relief I feel that's coupled with my tears.
We "ripped the Band-Aid off" as we like to say. The first difficult phase of this deployment is behind us, and that's the phase that occurred before he ever even left.
Most people know that deployments are difficult for service members and their families, but the pre-deployment phase is full of silent challenges that not as many people talk about or are familiar with.
Many of the strongest military couples I know have admitted that the month or two before a deployment present more opportunities for disagreements and stress that are purely, but frustratingly, situation-induced.
You unintentionally begin to push each other away in preparation to be "on your own" for a while.
You get upset every time their scheduled day to leave gets changed because the emotional rollercoaster of it all is too much to handle.
You begin to cry while watching your spouse and child laughing together because you know your child is going to miss out on that joy with your spouse for many months.
Your front door is revolving as every relative and friend arrive in town with good intentions to spend time with your spouse before he/she leaves.
You're tapping your pencil on the "honey do before you leave" list. You're forced to learn to take on tasks that you're not familiar with that you'll take care of while your spouse is away.
You're sitting down to map out a financial plan since your income will look different and you need to get on the same page.
You cringe at the site of your living room floor being covered in gear that needs to be packed.
Those silent stressors build, and build, and build so that small bit of relief that the goodbye is actually behind you is nearly inevitable.
One of the best things a military family can do is pull their heads out of the sand, recognize potential pre-deployment stressors, and tackle them by being mentally prepared and making a plan.
The ideal situation is to drop off your service member when you are both on the best terms with each other so that you can go confidently into this period physically apart.
So here are a few tips to help alleviate stress and frustration so that those last one to two months together before the deployment are full of happy memory making.
Plan a memorable family-focused outing or vacation
Pack your bags and get away with your family to some place that everyone will enjoy. Making happy memories while away from the home is a wonderful way to connect as a family unit without the distractions of everyday demands.
Sit down with a financial planner well in advance
Because financial conversations are often overwhelming or stressful, don't save this conversation for the final few days you have together when emotions are running high.
You should have an idea of what your deployment income will look like well in advance, so sit down with a financial planner and let them guide you through being financially smart during the deployment.
Communicate with relatives and friends
Consider who your spouse would like to see and who would like to see them before he or she deploys and communicate with those people early. Make a plan in advance for who will be coming when so that you avoid having back-to-back company as the days draw nearer to beginning the deployment.
Schedule something to look forward to
Healthy distractions are a great way to happily get through the deployment, so consider scheduling a few before your soldier leaves so that you and your kids have something enjoyable to look forward to when you're struggling with the anticipation of the upcoming separation.
You may be dreading the goodbye, but planning something fun also allows you to simultaneously looking forward to something enjoyable. (Psst: Planning one fun thing to look forward to per month is a popular way to make the most of your time away from your spouse.)
Give each other grace
Tension can run high for all parties when facing a looming deployment. Give each other grace and realize that this stress-inducing situation won’t last forever. Support each other and communicate your anxiousness and concerns.
Look at your spouse through a different lens and remember how proud you are of his or her willingness to serve our country. Look at yourself with a different lens and remember how incredibly strong and capable you are to handle a situation such as this. Look at your marriage with a different lens and realize what a strong foundation you’ve built that can survive and thrive during a lengthy amount of time apart such as this. You can do this!
This post is part of Spring.St's In Service series. We're looking at military life, and the hard-working families that serve the United States. You can read more here.