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The Holding Period: Life Leading Up to a Deployment

Leading up to a deployment, we’re all hanging on by a thread — walking through our days strong but broken. The strands that hold us together are snapping one … by … one … by … one.

Another lost night of sleep. Snap.

You hire a babysitter so you can update your will with your spouse (I know, awesome date), and it takes two hours longer than expected. Snap.

Your spouse comes home after your kid’s bedtime a week before he deploys. Snap. 

The period leading up to a deployment is an awful time.

We’re exhausted, and we’re deeply sad.

Some friends tell me it feels like a Band-Aid is slowly being pulled off; I’ve always considered it a grieving period. You’re grieving the upcoming season without the love of your life by your side. You’re grieving your kid’s mom or dad missing their next year. You’re grieving time lost and milestones missed. You grieve them while they’re still home, lying next to you.

Letting go of someone while they’re still around is complicated and unnatural.

Your pre-deployment leave is full of uncertainty. Each experience becomes your “last.” There’s pressure to feel connected but also a need to confirm your independence before they depart. You want to assure your spouse and yourself that you’re going to survive this. Ironically, you’re trying to prepare yourself to be alone while spending final moments together.

Unfortunately, most of your time is spent knocking things off the to-do list. You try to think of everything you need your spouse to help you with now, with the foresight of what you may need during the next nine months. There’s checking the smoke detectors, getting paperwork in order, trimming the bushes, fixing the broken fence, changing out the light bulbs, recording books so your kids can listen to daddy’s voice …

There’s just so much life to be responsible for. It’s hard enough to be intentional today, but for the foreseeable future?

If there’s anything I’m certain of, though, it’s that I’m not alone.

Nearly all of my dear friends are going through the same thing because it seems like every active duty soldier is leaving. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, South Korea, Poland … the list of what the world needs from us just keeps growing and growing. One after another, they all report for duty and leave us behind.

During this time leading up to a deployment, I’m praying a lot. I’m praying for each of my friends and all the heavy stuff they’re going through. While coping with their spouse preparing to leave, they’re juggling: newborns, little sleep, finding out they’re pregnant the day before their spouse deploys, coexisting with your stressed spouse, new jobs, kids acting up in school, and so much more.

Life doesn’t stop when your soldier prepares to leave; in fact, you juggle current and future life all in one. The exhaustion is so deep; one friend keeps forgetting what she’s saying mid-sentence. It’s like we’re sleepwalking: going through the motions, but our minds are somewhere else.

And then life’s just so busy you don’t have time to process what’s happening, so for some of us, we crawl into bed and don’t sleep. Your mind spins and finally unloads everything that happened that day. Cue insomnia when you need sleep the most.

There are no flower bouquets large enough to make life feel cheerier; there isn’t a bottle of wine expensive enough to drown out the burden of this change; and there is really nothing you can say. In fact, imagining all of the upcoming trials I will face is too overwhelming. We just can’t approach this season fully prepared. I’d argue that being fully prepared is dangerous. It’s just too much.

But, you can pray. You can give me grace. You can stand by me.

What else can we do to survive this holding period, friends? Queue up the sitcoms, try to laugh when you can, write out a list of goals, and give yourself grace.

My mom has always told me, when life is heavy; fill it with light things. Go buy your favorite magazine, take a bubble bath, add an extra mile to your morning walk. Take care of yourself until the wounds begin to heal.

Healing the heart is no easy feat but it can and will be done; however, I believe, there’s no moving on until you feel the pain. So, allow yourself to feel it, give your parting kiss, and soon enough you’ll be counting down the final days.

This too is just a season – a season with good along with pain. But this, too, shall pass. In the meanwhile, as those strands snap one by one, there is always one strand left that will remain unbroken. Hold tight – your strength goes deeper than it seems.

 

A special thank you goes out to the dozens of women who submitted photos for this post. It felt impossible to pick just a few – each photo, each moment was beautifully exploding with emotion. You are all brave and your photos made my heart grow even more for our resilient Army family.  All my love, Corinne 

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