The Devastating Agony of the Night Before Deployment

(Last Updated On: August 24, 2017)

The nights before deployment were some of the most difficult of my married life. Every moment is full of the devastating agony of letting go. Each second is rich with longing and fear.

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Seven years ago this week, the night before deployment, I began writing an army wife blog. As he was running around the house searching for random gear to pack in his last dufflebag, I began to write about the bizarre juxtaposition of emotions in the waiting for good-bye.

While he was gone, I wrote about our life on the homefront, my daily experiences as a geographically single mom, waiting for his return and doing my best to survive without him. I realize that this old blog might still be encouraging or helpful for someone, so I dug it out of the archive.

I will also add any new thoughts or things I’ve learned in the years since at the end.

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August 2010 – Day 366  (the night before goodbye)
The nights before deployment were some of the most difficult of my married life. Every moment is full of the devastating agony of letting go. Each second is rich with longing and fear.
My husband kissing our infant daughter goodbye in 2010

So . . . here it is. After months of looming, the day is finally here. His last day at home before leaving for Iraq, AGAIN.

It’s the night before deployment.

I try not to cry when I ask if I can leave a few minutes early today. Supportive smiles are good, but the pitying looks at various levels of understanding are hard to face.

We live near a military base; people, for the most part, get it, but unless you have gone through it and sometimes even unless you’ve gone through it more than once, the nuances of this military life escape even the most sympathetic friend.

By the end of the school day, I am ready to race home, take off my heels and see my husband, but there is a heaviness surrounding our exchanges. So many words hang in the air, unsaid but felt.

Dealing with deployments-the night before goodbye is full of unsaid words and not enough time. Click To Tweet

He wants to tell me so many things, but his mouth can’t seem to juggle the marble ideas in his head and spit them out. Instead he grasps my fingertips with my arms wrapped around the baby and whispers, “I love you.” And takes her, wanting his last few minutes with her too.

By the time he sees her again, she will be crawling, maybe even walking. Today she smiles and is working up to giggling, but is still very much a newborn. When he comes home, she will have celebrated her first birthday and be several months closer to the next one.

How do you fit an entire year into one last night?

I watch him feed and snuggle her. Her whole faces explodes into a Cheshire grin when he smiles at her. I am worried that his deployment will subconsciously make her feel abandoned by men or sad.

Even though, she will never remember this year without her daddy, I will have each day etched across my heart.

He wants to eat at his favorite sushi place. I think raw fish should still be swimming in someone’s tank, but I concede. He is deploying to a place he affectionately calls “the armpit of the world” or “prison” depending on his mood. I can give in.

We have sushi and spend our last precious evening on the couch watching TV, because even though, I have raw and deep emotions, I don’t really know what to say. If we haven’t loved each other enough all year long, the next ten minutes or just the right phrase, won’t fix it.

Saying goodbye before deployment is standing on the edge, leaning over just enough not to fall. Click To Tweet

Saying goodbye before a deployment is almost dangerous, walking a fine line between rich and hopeful and breezy belief that this is just see you later. I feel like I’m peering over a cliff’s edge, leaning over just far enough not to fall.

We stay lighthearted as we start to discuss the most ridiculous news headlines of recent days. The laughter pulls us together. We laugh and want to fall asleep, but he has to go inspect barracks, so we kiss goodnight.

His goodbye is only for a few hours yet, but the word tastes bitter on my tongue. I fall asleep and wait to wake up for the real good-bye. My dreams are frantic and jumbled, some with him and some in which he is already gone.

At some point, I reach across the bed, and he is there. I am tempted to stay awake just to memorize the safe warmness of him, but drowsiness wins and I slide back into slumber.

He wakes just before four, and I get up to say goodbye.

The nights before deployment were the most difficult of my married life. Each moment is full of the devastating agony of letting go, rich with longing and fear.

Some wives will spend the morning sitting in the gym bleachers, listening all the speeches, etc. but it’s the second day of school. I shouldn’t miss work and can’t see waking the baby this early will help her adjust to this new routine, so we decided that good-bye is the same whether we say it now or in two hours.

Besides, I don’t have to have a brave face for anyone here at home. I cry ugly sobs when the minute comes.

Despite really trying here, I can’t quite capture the horrible lead-weight-in-my-chest feeling with words.

Quietly, I tell him to come home and be safe.

Then, he is gone. I stumble around the house picking up cast off items that didn’t make the final duffel bag. I finally drop back into bed for an hour or so before my first day as a temporary single, working mom commences.

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I haven’t had to say goodbye like that in seven years now. But just reading it, I remember every second like yesterday.

Nights before deployment were difficult, full of devastating agony, rich with longing and fear. Click To Tweet

I shouldn’t have to do it again as we near retirement. But for younger wives, letting go and saying goodbye is a process that begins with his orders.

You start mentally preparing a world-wind family vacation tour, and a slew of honey-do lists that will help you start this year alone- because everything breaks when they leave.

You start measuring every moment against, “What if he never comes home,” which is the pendulum swooping ever closer that dangles over every interaction until he leaves.

I watched every second between him and the baby. As her mom, I wondered if these small moments and pictures or recordings would be enough if it were all she ever had of her dad.

Those days before deployment definitely help me now be more mindful of today’s blessings. Even when life is hard, it isn’t deployment hard.

And it reminds me that none of us have a guarantee of tomorrow.

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12 Replies to “The Devastating Agony of the Night Before Deployment”

  1. Jen I can feel all the things you have felt. I’m preparing my heart and mind for David’s new orders to Germany. It comes with a probable deployment and single mommy status with 2 kids. But I can relate to all the deployment moments before they leave how you try to freeze time and hold on to even them sleeping cause they are right next to you, safe.

  2. My husband and I lived apart for two years due to various employment commitments. Saying good bye was so hard. I often found myself clinging to him at night during the short times we were together. And yet, there is something precious about having someone you love that much.

    1. Surviving a separation like that can really strengthen your marriage, but it can also take a toll. We spent a year living four hours apart, then a year with him in Iraq before we got married. Then he was gone more than home for five years. We finally will have more time together than apart this year.

  3. That was so well-written! I could very much feel the weight of it with you. I think I would process things very similarly. It was extremely different, but I saw my brother off at the airport when he deployed to Iraq and I sobbed. He had two small children and another on the way. I spent some extra time with his wife helping out, and I’d take as many videos of his kids to send to him as I could. Deployments are really tough and you did a great job of capturing the emotions of the lead up to it.

    1. Thank you for saying so. I don’t know how you process emotions, but this was our third deployment and countless separation. You cry the first time like your heart is being ripped out and then you don’t because it scares him, he worries too much about you. It changes over time.

  4. I have a friend whose husband is deployed right now. I know I can’t imagine what she is going through but I appreciate you sharing how you feel before deployments.
    Thank you and your husband for your service.

    1. Thank you! She really just needs you to try to understand and (which you’re doing) and be there for her. My first experience with a deployment was while I was still living in civilian world. No one understood really. It’s lonely and the fear is never quite off your mind.

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