Watching Him Walk Away—Deployment Day

“For 10 deployments, I never stayed until the very last moment. I thought it would be too hard…you know, watching him walk away. But this time I did and I realized my instincts had been right all along. For me, I’d rather be the one walking away than the one that gets walked away from. For me, it was just too hard.”  This is what Ashley* told me after her husband Brendon* deployed to somewhere in the Middle East a few weeks ago.

U.S. troops deploying

Brendon leaving (photo credit: his wife, Ashley)

The other reason this deployment is different is because it will be Brendon’s last. He will retire soon after he returns. Like many troops, Brendon has also been gone from home many times for various training exercises and classes. This makes Ashley anything but a newbie in the Good-Bye Department. Like many spouses, she tries to help support those who are facing their first separation. And, as Ashley begins her last time going through this, she shared some observations with me hoping it may help others.

They need to know you’ll be okay

Every relationship is different. But at Brendon’s deployment, I saw two ladies on their knees sobbing. And I’m not judging, but it’s hard for me to see how totally breaking down is helping the person who is deploying. I think your spouse needs to know that you’ll be okay. Again, everyone is different so, maybe that’s what works for them.

But I know for sure what doesn’t work—getting mad at the person deploying for not spending enough time with you before they leave. Things get very busy before they go. It’s not easy for Brendon to see and do everything he wants. Feelings can be hurt. But calling someone deploying as they board a bus to yell at them? Trust me. Not helpful.

I have a friend who found out on very short notice that her husband was leaving. They’re high school sweethearts and this would be their first real separation. She asked me if she should take a few days off from work. I said ‘no’ because you being home alone is going to be worse than you being at work.”

The first 3 weeks are the hardest

The “firsts” are tough. Like first time walking in the door—with the silence. Going to bed and nobody’s there. It’s hard to sleep for the first few weeks. I don’t hear him breathing, I don’t hear him snoring. It’s funny to miss the snoring. Ashley laughs when she tells me that every time he leaves she wishes she would’ve recorded the snoring.

I asked Ashley what she found most helpful in this situation. “I think it’s finding a new routine that works for you. I need to add something new. If I just keep doing the same things we always did, I miss him even more.”

I asked her if this explained the new puppies she just got. She laughed again and said, “Exactly!”

Go to the support programs

Ashley attends the monthly get-togethers for spouses and kids who have a parent away on deployment or extended TDY (temporary duty.) She strongly recommends that every spouse find out what programs are available to them and to take part. “It breaks the normal routine and everyone around you is going through the same exact thing you’re going through. Makes people feel that they’re not in it alone.”

I asked Ashley if I could have Brendon’s address so I could send him warm wishes or a care package. She said that would be great. I’m hoping it will also be one more thing that helps them not feel alone.

*names changed for privacy

© Gina left the mall, 2014

11 thoughts on “Watching Him Walk Away—Deployment Day

  1. As always, Gina, your topics and your writing touch my heart. Every time you share the stories of our military families, I grow more and more appreciative of the sacrifices they make as their loved ones serve. My best wishes for Brendon’s safe return home after this final deployment and for Ashley’s continued strength of spirit!

  2. So many folks think that we are no longer “At War” in so many different places. Not true and I thank you for highlighting the fact for most of us. I have been on both sides of the deployment side now that I am out. It is tough for the guys leaving for so many reasons but a lot of it stems from the feeling they are walking out on their family.

    There is nothing easy for anyone when a deployment happens. I deployed so many times over a three year period that it became much easier to just leave the house like I was going to work. My wife and kids stayed home There was so much emotion, it made my wife upset and made me feel worse. It is a bad cycle and leads to a very long pre-deployment process.

    I pray for Ashley and Brandon. I pray for a safe deployment and that they are reunited on schedule.

    • Rob,
      Thanks so much for your insightful comment. Your “both sides” perspective on this is very helpful. It seems that it’s important for a family to find and do what’s right for them. Whether it’s saying good-bye like another day at work….or staying together up till the almost last moment.

      I think that feeling you describe—like the guys are walking out on their family is what Ashley is trying to help when she says, “they need to know you’re going to be okay.”

      Thank you for prayers. As you well know, support means a lot.

  3. On my deployments I always asked my loved ones not to come to that “final goodbye”. We just had a quiet thing on our own and tried to keep the emotions down.

    One comment to the suggestion of finding new routines – this is great and makes sense, however, make sure that you’re telling the deployed person about the new routines and the changes you’re making, whether they be around the house, to your look, your schedule, whatever. The deployed person kind of thinks (subconsciously) that life is frozen in time while they’re gone and starts back up when they return. I always dreamt of home the way I left it, fantasized about picking up old routines right where we’d left off, etc. Coming home to unexpected changes was painful. I’m not saying NOT to change, just to communicate those changes so it’s not a surprise or disappointment.

    • I really appreciate getting perspective from those who have deployed. I would’ve never guessed about the (subconscious) “frozen in time” aspect had you not shared it. Thank you! And I think it’s a brilliant suggestion to let your loved in on the new routine/changes. I am happy to report that before Ashley got the new puppies, she and Brendon had already picked them out and were just waiting for the pups to be old enough to come home with them.

      Thank you also for sharing your family’s good-bye ritual. Its sounds lovely and sweet and perfect for you. My hope is that every family find what’s best for themselves as they face their own “D-days.”

  4. One thing I know for me is, I have to stay busy! Ashley knows and advised the other woman with what I believe to be correct information. Some people couldn’t understand why I stayed at work after the Marines walked in to give me the news of my son – I really don’t want to know what I would have done if I had NOT stayed at work!!

    • Everett,
      I said a prayer after I read your comment because I understand the possibilities of what that news may have been. If you have mentioned this in your blog in the past, please forgive me for not knowing.

      Thank you for confirming Ashley’s approach. I hope that any family members reading this post get some added comfort knowing that others echo the advice shared here.

      • No, I don’t talk about it, but with you it seems easier. Michael was 20 years old,USMC for only 2 years.
        You can delete this if you wish, just wanted to thank you for the prayer.

        • I would never delete this. And, if you ever want to chat more, my email address is in the About section. And if you ever wanted to share more with others, I would be honored to write about Michael. God bless.

          • Gina and Everett,
            It would be an honor to hear about his son Michael! My parents very good friend was also named Everett (he has since passed away) and he served in a Tank unit in WWII.

            Paula K.

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