Mailbag: “When Does the Pain of Deployment Stop?”


Reader KA is experiencing her first deployment and she feels a little lost. She asks some good questions, but one of them really caught my eye and made me think:

When does the pain of deployment stop? I am a girlfriend of a wonderful soldier and I looked at deployment as a mini-vacation. I could loose weight, focus on the kids, learn new things, work and take time for me! I was even excited thinking the time apart would bring us closer. I was fine the first two weeks, and now I am a wreak. I have read all the comments and am very busy, but there is a hole inside of me. That is the best way I can describe it. I feel like someone has died, but there is was no funeral and no one to talk to about it. I have a battle buddy, but am so sad and cannot talk to her all the time. I feel panicky, anxious, sad, and have no desire to do anything other than make care packages, and write letters.

My question is (he is talking about marriage when he gets back) will I get used to this? Will the pain of deployment ever stop and I can function again? I don’t know what to tell my kids. I go through the motions, but I know they can tell something is wrong. I don’t know if I should say “Mommie is sad right now?” or pretend this isn’t happening to me. Someone being in your life for almost a year and now they are gone is a death in many ways and the MISSING part is emotionally crushing me……HELP! SOS! Thanks for listening I know this is too long:(

[W]ill I get used to this?

That’s an interesting question. My answer would be yes. And no. I’ve had the opportunity to go through three very different deployments. As Sarah says, deployments are like snowflakes, no two are alike. And that is true. Life circumstances play a role, too. It’s never a good time to be separated from your partner, but some times are worse than others. However, I think with each deployment, we learn certain coping mechanisms and lessons which help us through any separation. As for the pain, I’m not sure it ever stops, I just think it becomes more manageable with time and experience. Make no mistake about it, all deployments are hard. But for me, I think going through it once helped prepare me for the next time, and the next time.

What say you – Are you “used” to it now? Was the first deployment or long separation more emotionally taxing than subsequent deployments? And you mommies and daddies out there – how do you display or explain your emotions to your children when your spouse is gone? Tips for KA on combating loneliness?

Other similar reads: New Husband, First Deployment. Advice? and When the Family Breaks Down and Nobody Understands.

About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

19 Comments on "Mailbag: “When Does the Pain of Deployment Stop?”"

  1. Renee L. Ten Eyck | March 21, 2011 at 9:57 am |

    We're going on deployment #5 (not including an all expense paid vac. in Korea). I think it gets easier-and it gets harder. Like you said-how you manage depends on many factors-what's going on in your lives a the time, IE: health issues of family members and how you deal with them. I think it also depends on your relationship, how secure you are in it, but also, how well you do life independently. I've been independent my whole life, and even as a retired soldier myself, I find myself challenged with facing dep#5. I'm not the young, new wife going thru the first dep. so I think my anxiety differs-I think that for each of us, anxiety originates from a different place, for different reasons..

  2. Renee L. Ten Eyck | March 21, 2011 at 10:04 am |

    and dealing with those different anxieties is challenging. How you portray this to your children varies. Most days, where we are in life now, I don't give my 11yo or 15yo any clue that I'm stressed with this beyond just responding to them when they talk about their own anxiety over it (or try not to) as they're old enough to have their own anxiety and need me to help them thru it. When they were younger, however, I remember crying in front of them-being upset and not hiding it. Some people may frown on this, but children are intuitive, and even if they're not stressed over the deployment, they sense your anxiety. I think it's OK to say "Mommy is sad right now because I miss ______." They can understand that and it shows them that it's OK to be sad. They will learn from you when they see you cry and get it out, and then get up, wipe your hands off, and get on with life. Deployments should never bring you down and keep you down. If you can't get back up-it's OK to get help!

  3. It doesn't stop, but it changes. WIth time, with personal growth, and with changes in your relationship with each other. Every deployment will be different, and getting in the "groove" will be different every time.

    You will learn how to function again, how to see that hole in your very center as the space waiting for him to fill it again, and to nurture that space and keep it safe and open until he returns. You will learn how to do things other than write letters and make care packages, and keep your ear open for the Skype noise. Although we are 3 months post homecoming, and I am still picking up care package items when I shop, and then getting home and wondering what to do with them … o_0

  4. Yes, tell your children. Assuming your man is important to them too, they need to know that it is OK to miss someone, and OK to worry, but that together you will all help each other get through this.

    Do things to pamper yourself. Get a talisman that you can touch that will give you comfort – a necklace, a soldier-bear, whatever works for you. And let people help you. I am sure you have folks around you who know what it is like, and have been where you are now.

    (PS – not liking the size limits on the comment form!)

  5. I know that ache of missing my husband. I hate it. It helps to know that others experience it, too.

    You know what I find conspicuously absent from most of these comments and posts? The role that faith and church and church community can play in helping wives cope with their husbands' deployment. There have been entire books written by Christian military wives on dealing with our unique challenges. I know not everyone is a follower of Jesus, but some of us are, and this can be a tremendous source of comfort. I know it's popular now to exclude religion from popular discourse, but by doing that, we really lose a critical piece of the puzzle.

  6. It's kind of like childbirth without drugs…you absolutely feel the pain each time you go thru a deployment, just like childbirth…and then when he's home…you kind of forget what it was like, and hey it wasn't that bad…then you get pregnant again… in he deploys…and it starts all over again..and you wonder if you were crazy to do THAT again….BUT, you are now more experienced and better able to handle the stress. That's the way I look at it….bring it on, cause it'll only make me stronger and make my life fuller.(….kids….and deployments)….

    • in my case, i get pregnant, give birth then he deploys. were on round 2 of, i guess, double births lol.

  7. anotherspouse | March 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm |

    No matter what deployment we are on.. it is not easy and at times uncomfortable. I think what makes a deployment easier is some type of support network be it through your family, friends, church etc.. When I had some type of support.. although I still missed my husband very was easier to know that I had people who remembered me and gave me support when I needed it. The hardest deployments are those where we are alone. (this happened to me too). Those are the most trying. Atleast I needed to know that I had someone to rely on while he was gone. :)

  8. lovemysoldier10 | March 21, 2011 at 6:58 pm |

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. You all rock! I love many of the ideas and appreciate the support!!! I have already noticed the pain comes in waves. It comes and fades in waves that all run together. I already feel much better just getting it out there. I love the tangible idea of something to hold. The soldier bear made me laugh……. I will do that! This feeling is so similar to grief that I am in awe, but I know I can do this and if its meant to be I will.

    • Renee L. Ten Eyck | April 4, 2011 at 10:02 am |

      Rather than a bear, I keep one of the shirts my husband last wears before he leaves, as long as it still smells of him. I used to spray his cologne on it. I also keep things of his out on the bathroom counter, his boots where I trip on them… those things that are annoying when he's home, are actually soothing in some way when he's gone.

  9. Maybe cg wife? | March 21, 2011 at 7:20 pm |

    Ok, first I want to say that I might not be the right person to answer this, as this deployment is not going well at all. But I can use the last one, I guess. Our first deployment was a newlyweds, but we had lived together a while before. He left and I was ok for about a month, and then it hit me. I was really sad, eventhough we talked everyday. The time difference messed with me, but I couldn’t stand to miss a call. We don’t have kids, so all my focus was on me and the lack of him. Family tried to help, and did a little bit. I started working out, signed up for yoga. My goal was to fill up time. I had a countdown where I crossed off a day every night before I went to sleep. It helped; it made me feel that I was one step closer to my goal- getting him back. (That might work well for kids, as well.) I got two jobs and worked overtime on hollidays. Working helped, it made me focus on the job instead of how I felt. But there were times I cried the whole way home, and I realized that was ok. If marriage is in your future, start making plans. Then you’re looking forward to when he’s back instead of focusing on the now where he’s not there. I hope this helps.

    • Renee L. Ten Eyck | April 4, 2011 at 10:06 am |

      what you describe is perfectly 'normal' if there is a normal. It took three deployments (and other misc. separations) before I finally got a life outside of the house (separate from a job or my kids) that is just stuff that I like to do. I started yoga in 2008, started ice skating again, joined a couple social groups, and even found a swordsmanship class! I also started hiking again, finding those places that are like therapy. Finding those things that have meditative or therapeutic qualities for you are critical!

  10. Bless your heart,anyone reading can feel your pain & I'm sorry your hurting so much.Your feeling that void of someone special.Nothing of deployment is easy, for us here & for our spouses over seas.This is my first but we've been married 12 yrs & what I do every time I am about to fall apart is send him an IM on skype.I never share how I feel because I know he worries more about me & I need him to be strong & focused.We are strong you have to focus on the positive & your children.Share with them how much you love him & are proud of him. Believe he is loving you from there.The time will go by but you need to stay busy.I have a support group my police department where I volunteer.Most of them are ex military.You have to learn to have fun & laugh.Ihave an inner peace believing our steps are ordained & guarded by Angels so my husband & I talk about future plans & funny You tube clips.I have started a work out program & it helps me feel great.Our relationship is strong we've been through alot together & he is there for me so I have to show how strong I am for him. I reflect on our love & just can't let him down.Let your love for eachother be your strength.I am praying for all of you.

  11. I get it! I was a disaster (my soldier is in month 9) the first 3 or so months – but that's just "stage 1". The package sending won't stop, nor will the tears…not until he comes home. You'll get frustrated, angry, realize that no one understands, that people are innately selfish and find that you live in your own little world. Well – you don't. We've all been through it and it's not at all easy, we need each other. You need your support (battle buddy) because without her, you'll become bitter and scarred. Your soldier needs you to be strong and supportive for him. Be wife/girlfriend of the year and make sure he and his team don't go without. Send out a monthly update to family and friends and focus on what matters. I'm newly married and this is my first deployment AND I don't live anywhere near a base OR family (which turns out is a blessing :) ) If you need a shoulder, hit me up! We're all family now – welcome!

    xo – Jessica

  12. Funny thing I noticed with my soldier and me on the two 12-month deployments we had so far?

    Soldier: Spends first half of the deployment plotting how to get out of the military, so he never again has to leave his loved ones. Spends the second half of the deployment thinking "Well, it's not THAT bad, and I'm almost done anyway…I think I'll stay in…"
    Me: Spends the first half of the deployment thinking well, this isn't so bad, I can get through this easily, no big deal. The second half? "Ooook, I am SO done, can I have him back now? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?"

    Amused me, as it happened with both deployments, as different as they were :))

  13. It's true that no deployment is ever the same. Its the things that happened while he was away that affected me the most and made him feel guilty for not being around. He's had 5 deploys. recently, but has 29 yrs. "in" so there've been many more. I was left alone to face the deaths of my parents and my sister's bout with cancer. Now even tho' he's been "stateside" for almost 2 yrs., he's still not home 'cause he's down at Walter Reed (he's been gone for 33 months at a time before, because while in Iraq or Afghan. opted to "extend"). Its lonely sometimes, so I turn to family and my church. It's a lot better these days for "modern" military families with sat phones, skype/internet. Back in the "old days" we had only snail mail –once I wrote a letter at the end of Jan. & he didn't get it until May!! Talk about anxiety and waiting. Be prepared, too, for the "adjustment" once he returns!! It's not always the romantic thing we envision when daydreaming about his homecoming. Good luck!!

  14. My heart breaks for my son who is over in Afghanistan. Within the first month of being gone his wife and daughter came back to there home town in Washington. His wife started communicating with him less and less and spending money like it was water. Then the real bad news came she wanted a divorce, she had been running around with some local guy. How do help someone work through this pain, while they are away and have none of the comforts of home or family. We communicate everyday if we can, and I encourage him to stay focused on his task at hand. How else can I help him ?

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