I am so tired at the end of every day that I can't even imagine how I will make it through the next. My muscles hurt. My bones hurt. Thinking hurts, but I am still happy. That's what I want people to know. Raising two toddlers, being a detective and worrying about my deployed husband all at once is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
With that in mind, I have though about some of the comments others have said or some of the offers that have been made. I know people are trying to be helpful or empathetic, but most of the time it sucks. Here is my list of dos and don'ts for your interactions with the spouse of a deployed soldier.
Don't tell them to call if they ever need anything. Let's face it if They ever were to call it would be because their world is falling apart and They need someone ASAP. If (most likely when) you are not able to honor your offer it will only make them feel more alone.
Do stop by on occasion. You get bonus points if you bring bring their favorite caffeinated beverage. You get quadruple bonus points if you tell them to go grocery shopping while you stay with the kids. If you don't have time to stay long please just stop by. Their best friend is half way around the world. Even if they are busy beyond belief with the kids they get lonely.
Don't make any comment that could be in any way considered negative regarding the upkeep of their house. The "your house doesn't look that bad" comment is not positive. Trust me on this. If you can see hey are struggling just start in with something if you have time. If you don't please keep your mouth shut.
Don't tell them they look tired or remind them of how busy they are doing it alone. Their body, their children, their workload and their mess of a home are already telling them this. The last thing a woman wants to hear is how tired she looks. That's the sugar coated version of you look like hell. You know it and I know it.
Do tell them they are doing a good job. I have heard this twice since CJ started his active duty orders. Once was from a friend of a friend while I was taking the kids on a walk. The second time was a text from my boss on Mother's Day. He stopped by the day before with his daughter and saw the circus that was my "days off". His text just said that he knew my day would probably not be so special since no one would be making me breakfast and the kids were too young to understand, but that I was doing a great job and he was proud of me. I cried. The fact that I can tell you the details of these two compliments should speak volumes to what your words can do for another military spouse if you just tell them they are doing a good job. The fact that I've only heard that twice pretty much sucks. I do hear how I look tired and how they have no clue how I do it a lot, but that's not really helpful when half the time I have no clue how I do it.
Don't under any circumstance tell them what you think about the war. This to me seems like a no brainer, but I still hear it a lot.
Don't remind them of how dangerous things are where their spouse is. I was at a training where after learning my husband was deployed and that he flew Black Hawks a guy just kept talking about how they crash all the time. No matter what anyone did to try to change the subject he just kept bringing it up. The next day another guy kept talking about how he volunteered for deployments to Iraq since Afghanistan was so bad. Then went into detail about some of the injuries he saw during his one deployment there. Seriously?!? Also, a guy I share my office with watched previews and clips of Lone Survivor for like an hour straight with no headphones. Again, even if the spouse seems like they are handling it well they do not want the reminder of their spouse's mortality.
Do keep them involved or at least extend the invitation. I get that if they have kids asking them to go out to eat means you will probably be helping with them, but it's a break for them. It will also remind them that people have not completely forgotten about them. On my walks with the kids I go past a house that we used to go over to quite regularly to grill. I see everyone out grilling and having a good time while I pull the wagon past. It hurts. I may not be able to accept the invitation every time, but the feeling of still belonging is nice. Please remember that just because half of the couple friend you hung out with is gone their spouse needs your support.
Don't spend your time with them talking about how busy and stressful your life is. It may be, but they don't need to hear it. My sister-in-law is one constant pity party. She cried to me for 30 minutes about her cat having part of its tail amputated and about how it was so stressful working 2 part time jobs, cooking for her husband and taking care of the cat. She reminded me several times during her one and only visit that she was going to be sooooooooo far behind in house work because she came by to help. She did nothing helpful while she was here by the way. Visits like that only make people feel like a burden and make it harder for them to ask for help from anyone. Please just be there for your friend don't make it about you.
Do call them. If you don't have time for anything else please just call on occasion. This goes back to their best friend is gone. When they go home they are alone. If you see they have tried to call you please make the effort to call back. No matter how strong someone looks on the outside they still need support on occasion.
During this deployment I have seen who my real friends are and who they aren't. My list of dos comes from all the wonderful and supportive people who have made efforts to help me keep my sanity. The list of don'ts is obviously from the other side. I have previously written about being hurt by a friend. The sad news is that wasn't the only disappointment. The good news is there have been a lot of people, some unexpected, who have been there to support me. Please be there to support the military spouses around you. Yes we all knew deployments were possible and even probable. What no one could ever know is how truly hard they are.