The Deployment Balancing Act – Day of the Deployed

The Day of the Deployed is always a bittersweet remembrance for me because my husband has deployed several times. While I am so grateful he isn’t deployed today, I know that thousands of spouses still wait, life on perpetual pause, hoping their spouses return safely.

I never know how to summarize the experience of deployment for those outside this military community because it’s such a complex experience.

We miss them as husbands, and we miss them as friends. We miss help with baths, bedtimes, homework, housework. While we struggle with anxiety and fear, we simultaneously live for every phone call or email and struggle to live at all.

It’s this terrible balancing act I felt weighing on my heart today. We have to live and find things to live for, not just countdown the deployment.

I can’t press pause on an entire year.

We’ve got to live those months or years they are gone, but . . . we want to freeze time, we don’t want that year of living to pass them by, but we can’t let it pass us by either.

Deployments are a terrible balancing act of waiting and finding the strength to keep living. Click To Tweet

So today I’m sharing portions of my army wife diary posts from this date in 2010, which, coincidentally, deal exactly with this complicated tightrope act.

“Today (Oct. 2010) I was tired, but I had a choice what attitude I would have. The past week or two, I have just been counting days, struggling against the world, but have I been living?

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” -Thoreau

Can I spend 365 days just waiting for him to come home?

I don’t want to get to the end of this year to discover I have not lived.

During my first experiences with a military man, distance and separation, I wrote this poem about living in a hurry to get to a much anticipated future.

Fools’ Luxury  by Jennifer DeFrates
 

Three minutes before heading home,
  striding purposely,
  laying out the evening at hand,
  I passed a quiet man, gray and lined
  silently sweeping piles of dust and off-handed debris
  from ancient tiles pooled with afternoon sun.
  Wish it was Friday –
  I answered his casual query
  Why, he said – giving me internal pause –
  Why would you wish days of your life away?
  Too busy to stop, I flippantly shrugged
  And carried on
  But his simple wisdom rippled inside
  Reverberating against my arrogance of immortality.
  Why were these Wednesday hours less precious?
  Where was my Thursday guarantee?
  In an epiphany flash, I wondered
  How long I’d been always looking to the next finish line –
  Friday        June        next Christmas –
  How long ignoring my life,
  Continuously waiting to live it,
  Procrastinated dreams growing dimmer,
  Days I’d let fall into dilapidation
  Instead of carefully constructing each minute.
  Time is fools’ luxury.
  Those with no more would chide, if they could,
  Would remind that Thoreau at his pond had it right.
  Too many meet death without knowing life
  Failing to embrace its falling seconds.
  So this Wednesday I sit
  And soak in cut grass and dampened dirt
  Shivering in Winter’s dying wind
  and try to teach myself
  To walk the tightrope
  Between looking toward tomorrow
  While remembering to see today.

Am I so focused on the end of this deployment, that I’m missing right now?

Today (2010), I ran late for my doctor’s appointment, then waited for an hour just to get into the exam room. After two minutes, he tells me I need to have two major surgeries. I can imagine the fun crutches will be with a baby.

An emergency trip to the grocery store took too long. When rushing to put away the groceries before picking up the baby, I shattered my coffee pot. So I had to make another trip to the store. Or go without coffee tomorrow. . . HA, yeah, right!

Deployed day is already missing these moments, I don't want to miss them too.
Froggy Bottom Baby

All these things went WRONG, and I came home smiling because I got to choose my response to these situations.

I choose joy.

I choose to live right now, even as it’s hard. It’s hard to truly enjoy the moments he is missing, but I know refusing to be joyful won’t give him back those times.

So, I danced and sang and played with my daughter, making her giggle over and over, reveling in her sweet baby laughter.

I could have spent this afternoon moping and sad and scared and frustrated, but what was that attitude going to solve? Nothing.

Worrying and waiting for my husband’s return isn’t going to solve anything either.
Attitude may be the most powerful choice we ever have in this military life. #DayoftheDeployed Click To Tweet

We struggle with trying to fill our days, keeping mindlessly busy, trying to stop the mental cycle of anxiety and stress, holding our collective breath as we wait for our soldiers to come home.

It's the deployment balancing act - We struggle with trying to fill our days, keeping mindlessly busy, trying to stop the mental cycle of anxiety and stress, holding our collective breath as we wait for our soldiers to come home.

However, that isn’t living.

None of us want to realize that we have not lived, but sometimes it’s hard to find a way to live deliberately when now is painful.

Find one thing to smile about and hold onto it as long as you can.

Crying will happen, it is part of this army wife life, just don’t let it be what fills your time until tomorrow.

That Day of the Deployed was five years ago,

and the last one I personally experienced with a spouse in harm’s way.

We tumbled through deployments tied to cell phones and Skype, just trying to find our footing.

I, like many military spouses, had to master trying to find the delicate balance of waiting for them and living in the present.

Save that new action movie, wait to try the new sushi place, but have joy in the life we have now, instead of just impatiently waiting for tomorrow. Life doesn’t stop for hard, neither should we.

Matthew 6:34 ESV  “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

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Day of the Deployed – Saying Goodbye

Today is Oct. 26 – the 10th annual Day of the Deployed, a day to remember the sacrifices of all the service members deployed around the world. Perhaps, also a day to remember the families left behind as well.

I don’t know what it is like to be deployed. I only know what it is like to say goodbye and be left behind: the heaviness in my chest, the knot in my stomach, the steely resolve, and the tears hiding behind every smile.

I don't know what it is like to be deployed. I just know what it is like to say good-bye and be left behind. Day of the Deployed - Heaven Not Harvard

Below is my post from the day my husband last deployed, his fourth deployment, my third. Hopefully, our last, but we never know.

Day 365 – August 26, 2010

A very brief hour and a half after our middle of the night good-bye,  I drag myself out of bed, too focused on getting myself ready for the second day of school and getting my Lil Bit ready for daycare to allow myself any more tears. I manage to get out the door only ten minutes behind my projection, but I am running on autopilot.

I have rediscovered an appendage, my cell phone. I have an iPhone, so I am extremely attached to it anyways; it practically does the laundry! But now I have to reprogram myself to carry it everywhere. I never know when my husband will call.

He is still on post, most likely drawing weapons and waiting for the bus to load and take them to their flight, but for all intents and purposes, he is gone. I do relish the fact that I can still text message him.

I send him a quick picture of the baby in her red, white and blue outfit for the day and hope it doesn’t break his heart. I could barely drag myself back to work after the summer. How in the world can he just pick up and leave his children for a year at a time year after year after year?

He has two sons, eleven and twelve from his first marriage (now 16 and 17). They have been through all three deployments. Last deployment his younger son really struggled with missing his father and feeling angry about it. I am already planning some new things to help Chad feel more present for them throughout the year.

They have daddy dolls, which seemed too childish, but I got one for each of them, and when they saw them and understood that daddy’s picture would go in them, they both grabbed them and carried the dolls around for the rest of the afternoon.

Last night, his older son called crying. His sobs echoed out of the phone and broke like soap bubbles across my heart. Chad tried to explain where he was going and that he would be back soon. Due to some developmental delays and autism, we don’t always know what he understands or feels. This was the first time we experienced him breaking down. His mother, father and I were all surprised to hear him expressing such strong emotions. I wanted to hug him through the phone. Out of everything, I think this was the moment Chad understood he was really leaving again and had to fight back the tears himself.

So . . . I am thinking about all three of Chad’s children as I drop off Lil Bit at daycare and head to work. I am smiling, saying “hello” and “good morning” until my friend Liz asks me how I am. For a second, the dam cracks and tears rush in. I just shake my head. I am glad she is such a good friend that she immediately knew I couldn’t talk or even manage a hug without losing my carefully placed facade.

Around ten a text message says they are boarding, and I don’t know when I will hear from him again. They fly a few different patterns to Kuwait. He could stop in Newfoundland or Ireland or Maine before the final leg to Kuwait. But I don’t know, I might hear from him again in a few hours or not at all for many days.

As I text back one more I love you and be safe, I realize that my cell phone has to go everywhere with me again. It took me almost the whole year to get used to being able to leave it in one room and walk into another, and now I am tied to it again.

This lesson is driven home later when I get into the car at 4:40 and realize I missed a call while making copies. I frantically call back and call back because even though I kissed him goodbye twelve hours ago, now every phone call, email, text message feels like the last one. The last call on American soil and I missed it . . .

.  .  . then he picks up. We have only a minute before I hear the boarding call in the background. I am just glad I got to say, “I love you” one more time. Now, it really begins, the wondering if and how we will both survive – on opposite sides of this deployment and the world.