Saturday, October 14, 2006

Sit right back and you'll hear a tale...

If you hang around here long enough, I swear I'm going to have this whole book typed out.

I'm very close to the end of Kristin Henderson's While They Are At War.

Yet again, today, while at the gym, I had to memorize page numbers so that I could share quotations with you.

"So a satellite television truck joined us in the hot, sunny parking lot where we families waited, beaming out to the rest of America close-ups of Marines hugging their girlfriends and wives and hoisting their toddlers. This is what people outside the military community see when the troops come home. Then the cameras switch off and to the outside world the homecoming appears to be over. In reality, the homecomings go on for months. In some ways, they go on for the rest of our lives." pg 225

That's something that always bothered me. There's so much focus on the going to and coming from "war," but there's rarely any coverage of the inbetween and after. I often hear, "I don't know how you do it." You know what? You really don't. If you're a civilian, you have no idea.

This isn't a game of one-up. I'm not saying military wives have it worse than anyone else. We do, however, have a very different experience than the vast majority of those around us.

One friend actually said to me, "My husband's a trucker. He's only home on the weekends. So I know exactly what you're going through. It's just like he's in the military--just like it. The only difference is he's not fighting."


Please please please PLEASE know that I am NOT trying to take part in a pissing contest. It must be very difficult to live your life with a weekend husband. I am not trying to deny you the hardship with which you're dealing. Still, your life is not very similar to that of a military wife. Those weekends are a big difference. The fact that he's not now nor has he ever been in a combat zone is a HUGE, screaming, jumping, blinking difference.

If you think to yourself, "What is the likelihood my husband will be hit by an RPG while he's at work? While he's in bed? While he's trying to talk to me on the phone?" If the answer is, "Not gonna happen," or "What's an RPG," then, please never ever EVER tell a military wife you understand her plight. You can sympathize with it. You can feel for her. But you will never understand her ordeal and you most certainly do NOT know "exactly" what she's going through.

A large portion of the book deals with wives who have lost their husbands to various conflicts. One section even deals with anticipatory grief; the fear of losing one's spouse that leaves many spouses grieving as though they have already lost their partner even though he/she is still alive and fighting. I never realized it had a name. I never even realized other wives had those thoughts/fears.

Henderson writes,
"(Chaplain Watter) started calling around to other chaplains, who agreed they'd been seeing it, too, spouses exhibiting all the same symptoms, even the same physical symptoms, as those who were grieving an actual death...." p 82

Unless you have specifically looked out your front door in fear of men in dress uniforms bearing awful news, you do NOT know exactly what a military wife is going through. If your mind doesn't start racing to awful places when an unfamiliar car pulls in front of your house, you have no idea. If your husband doesn't call for a few days and you don't have to fight off the panic, then your life is nothing like mine.

I desperately want to get the point across that I'm not trying to compete. It's just been very obvious to me that civilians don't understand what wartime deployments are really like. Which is another major reason I want people to read this book. I'm not saying that civilians don't try. I have been blessed with so many wonderful people in my life who are not military members or military wives, but they have been very caring and understanding. It's just that no matter how sympathetic, civilians just can't grasp the full picture. Although, I will put in yet another plug for the book and say that I think reading Kristin Henderson's book is the best way for civilians to get a glimpse at that full picture.

I suppose now would be as good a time as ever to share what you should/shouldn't say to a military wife:

Never say:
  • I'd kill to get rid of my husband for a few months.
  • Will the military send my husband too?
  • Oh, the time will be over before you know it.
  • He'll be gone 4/6/8/12 months? That's not that bad at all.
  • It must be nice to have all that time to yourself.
  • He's not going to like that you've done that when he comes home.
  • If my husband was gone that long, I would have lost all the baby weight/cleaned the house/painted the dining room/been shot out of a canon/saved the baby seals.
  • Any sort of joking about him not coming home.
and of course
  • My husband travels for business, so I know exactly how you feel.

Better suggestions:
  • Oh, I'm so sorry.
  • Let me bring you a meal on Monday if that's okay (Don't say, "Let me know what you need." Most military spouses will be too busy and/or feel too guilty to actually ask for help when they need it).
  • So how often do you want me to mow your lawn while he's gone?
  • What do you want me to grab for you at the store while I'm there.
  • Let me come over and watch the kids for you so you can get a nap.
  • Why don't we plan to meet for lunch?
  • Come on over.
  • Let me give you a hug.
  • Here's a gift card to (favorite store/restaurant).
  • Here's a drink.
or even better
  • Here's a bottle of wine
better still
  • Come share this box of wine with me. :-)

You'll be her best friend if you add
  • and I'll make steak/your favorite vegetarian stirfry/your kids leave you the hell alone/cookies

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