How to Thrive During a Holiday Deployment & Lessons Learned
This is my experience of how my family thrived throughout my husband’s deployment during the holiday season. Let’s me take you back to October 2016.
My husband received orders to deploy right after we moved into our new home. My heart dropped when I learned he was deploying right before Halloween and wouldn’t be back until June. This meant he was going to miss trick-or-treating with our three-year-old, our experimental Thanksgiving cooking, and Christmas-both of our favorite Holiday. My husband and I are both and celebratory people, so as you can imagine this was not an ideal way to ring in the new year.
...But duty calls, and we understand that the Marine Corps comes first. We were not just going to get through this holiday deployment. We were going to thrive. In order to thrive in a new duty station, with a toddler, and a holiday deployment, meant we would have to get creative.
Preparing for deployment
Before departure, we celebrated with a holiday feast. Call it above and beyond to do a Christmas dinner in September, but we are both too much of a sucker for stuffing to turn this down. It was a wonderful way to have the opportunity to celebrate with our daughter. The pictures actually looked like it was Christmas, so we just sent those out during December (just kidding).
As my husband hung glow sticks with care upon a miniature Christmas tree in the Middle East and played Secret Santa with his platoon, I was at home creating care packages. I admit, I went a little overboard, but it is a great creative outlet and a way to keep us connected.
Making affordable care packages is practical if you create a budget. Some postal services offer a free military package that includes boxes and tape. Shop around for inexpensive items to decorate your box. Include sentimental items, or something you made with your hands.
If you get a chance to communicate with your servicemember, ask what they need and include it in your package. They will be so happy to receive this from you.
This will keep you really busy.
*Always abide by the commands list of rules for shipping.
A Book Discussion
Not only are books one of my favorite Christmas gifts which I get my husband every year, but having a book discussion when he is deployed will seal a secure connection between you both, and keep the excitement flowing. Buy your servicemember a book for Christmas, and buy the same one for yourself. Put instructions inside and ask him to take notes if he has a chance so you two can discuss the book together. You might be able to do this over email, the phone, or handwritten letters. You will know he is reading the same book as you are, and you will soon discuss it together. This activity will bring you so close and remind you that distance is merely a concept.
Over the course of this deployment, we learned a harsh lesson with calling cards. They are beyond expensive. I recommend to buy sparingly, and get creative with communication. If you are unable to send an email, remember that mail is an option. This is the time to get creative and send your servicemember a festive holiday letter. You can send them works from your children such as art, a school paper or a project. The process of turning to handwritten letters is timeless and quite romantic. It saves a bundle when you are only paying for stamps. The timeline of receiving the letter is unpredictable, but the process of getting mail call and opening the letter that you worked so hard on “is wonderful it makes their entire month” (words from my Marine).
Importance of “Me time”: I took care of my physical and mental well being by doing things that reduced my stress. Get time in for yourself while your servicemember is deployed. It takes your mind off the loneliness, the “what-ifs” and reoccurring thoughts. This is especially important if they are deployed in a hazardous area. You must trust that everything will be okay. Although worrying is inevitable, they would not want you worrying about them during the holidays.
As Christmas grew closer, I set my pride aside and breached beyond my comfort zone to utilize the resources that were offered in the endless emails from the Family Readiness Officer. My daughter and I participated in events she prepared. She worked endlessly to ensure we were well taken care of during the holidays.
We participated in the Christmas Wishlist from a non-profit organization on the FRO’s list. As a result, we received generous gifts with a large sum of money. The participant did not leave any information beyond their first name. Despite our gifts (which we are so thankful for), this selfless act restored my belief in altruism-something I once felt apathic about. My husband was incredibly grateful and agreed that their selflessness made our holiday special.
Reflecting back, I had one of the best holidays of my life. I reached my goal to thrive during the holidays. Not only did I learn tips and tricks to share with other military families, I learned the impact of altruism from an anonymous person to lift the spirit. No matter how small, do something selfless to make someone’s holiday magical.