Every time I hear someone singing "I'll be home for Christmas, you can count on me" I cringe a little inside. I used to love that song; I thought it was romantic that no matter where your loved one was, he/she would be home for Christmas. They had to, right? It'd be a holiday miracle. Unfortunately, in reality, everyone is not home for the holidays.
Before we got married I knew "what I was getting myself into," as so many people like to phrase it. (Such a horrible thing to tell someone, by the way) I knew my husband was in the military and there would be a very real possibility of him missing occasions. For example, before we said "I do" we made sure we were on the same page with things, like starting a family. His take on the whole baby thing was (and still is, considering our current situation) "Well, I'll probably only be there for either the conception or the birth, but not both." And as for holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries? Yup, he told me he'd miss too many of those, too.
Somehow I still thought we'd magically bypass the whole aspect of missing important milestones. I would hear other military spouses talk about how many years they've been married and then how many special occasions they've been apart from each other. The difference in numbers shocked me, but I still kept tricking myself that we would slip under the military's radar and spend every occasion together. I was in my own happy little bubble.
Then the inevitable happened. He deployed with absolutely no warning a few weeks before Christmas and we had no clue when he'd be back. Truth be told, it turned out to be several of the hardest months in my life. I walked around numb for several days. He left so quickly that I would find pieces of him scattered throughout our house: the jacket he wore the day before still lingering on the chair; his coffee mug still half-full in the office; dirty clothes strewn all over our bedroom. It was like he left for a work in the morning and would be back later that day, only that wasn't the case.
I had a few things that helped me through such a dark time and I want to share them with you in case you're going through something similar. Please know that you're not alone!
1. Cry. I cried at the drop of a hat and I didn't try to hide it. I cried in front of strangers, through way too many Christmas songs (especially during the song I mentioned above), and I cried myself to sleep almost every night. That doesn't meant that I spent my days doing nothing but crying, but I decided to be vulnerable and not hide behind my feelings. As military spouses there seems to be this unspoken rule that you have to be brave, strong, and put on a stone-cold face showing the world that you can handle this. Well, I couldn't handle it, so I cried. A lot.
2. Find someone. Because of the circumstances surrounding his absence, I couldn't share details (even that he was gone) to most people. For someone who likes to talk a lot, this was remarkably difficult. Luckily, I could confide in my mom. She knew when I was going to break down and when I needed encouragement. I tried to act somewhat "normal" in public, so it was nice being able to let my guard down around my parents.
3. Go home. If you can, I highly recommend spending the holidays with close family or friends. It was terrible and awful to be surrounded by family without my husband, but it was also ten thousand times nicer to spend it with people I love and who love me than spending it alone.
4. Vent. Holding your frustrations in doesn't do anyone, any good. Writing is my outlet and since I couldn't blog about my husband being away, I wrote in a journal and my husband and I wrote letters and emails back and forth to each other. It was very therapeutic for me.
5. Mail. I sent him a couple care packages to help him feel the holiday spirit a little more. Inside one was like Christmas exploded—I found garland, tiny ornaments, stockings, and all the trimmings so he could decorate and make his room a little more festive. I also sent him cookies and a few presents so he could have something to open. Not only did it lift his spirits, but it helped me get into the holiday season a little more.
6. Find Resources. Since I kept pretty mum about the whole thing, I googled my little heart out and found blogs and different articles where wives talked about missing the holidays with their husbands. I found comfort in knowing I wasn't alone. (Check out Care.com for their interview series specifically for military spouses—great info in there.) These is also a program on base where you can go and talk to someone, much like counseling, but they're just there to let you talk. I can't for the life of me remember what the program is called, but when it comes to mind I'll put the info in here (if anyone knows what I'm talking about, feel free to share it in the comments!). I'm already planning on talking to them during our next deployment—it's just always great to have an unbiased ear to talk to.
I have more than a handful of friends who will be apart from their husbands this Christmas and my heart goes out to each and every one of you. I can now officially say that I've been there, and I know how you're feeling, but I also know it doesn't make this any easier. In fact, I'm already prepping myself to go through it again next year, although this time we have ample warning. Hopefully our crappy experience last year will help better prepare us for what's to come so that I can enjoy the holiday season a little more.
Have you been through a holiday without your loved one next to you? How did you cope?