I’ll never forget the day my husband left our home for his first deployment. The worry, exhaustion and overwhelm that I felt was immediate as I stared at the calendar and began counting days until he returned. His flight to Afghanistan had taken off just hours before, but already I felt like I was in over my head!
My saving grace came in the form of Emily- a dear friend who stood beside me and carried me through some of the most difficult days as I (not so patiently) waited for my husband’s homecoming.
Each and every month, as we replicate this support and love by curating the deployment countdown box Brave Crate, we hear from friends and family members looking for ways to support a military spouse in their life. So often we see that loved ones have a deep desire to offer encouragement but just aren’t sure how. While they might not be obvious, there are some very simple ways you can help those you love find joy during their deployment countdown.
Emily did it. Brave Crate does it. You can do it too! Here are seven ways:
1. Ask about goals (not timelines)
During her deployment countdown, your military spouse friend is being asked one question constantly: “How long until your spouse returns from deployment?” While they can almost certainly answer this question without blinking (“10 months, 2 weeks, 4 days and 2 hours”) chances are, they’re doing their best not to let the time until homecoming overwhelm them. This simple question can seem harmless, but could cause some added stress.
Instead, offer encouragement by asking them about the goals they’ve set out to accomplish during the deployment season. Deployment provides a built-in finish line, and your friend has probably created their own “bucket list” of tasks, projects and milestones they’d like to achieve before it’s over. Your interest will spark their excitement and help them focus on something other than that their spouse’s homecoming date.
January's “Sweat Sesh” theme, Brave Crate subscribers focused on setting and crushing fitness goals during deployments.
2. Lend a hand
One reality of life with a deployed spouse is that routines, responsibilities and roles change drastically. That perfectly outlined chore chart? Useless. That family calendar with driving responsibilities for the kids soccer practices? Erase it. Regular routines that guided everyday tasks will need to be recreated and reallocated, and with two less hands to help.
Offering to take something off of your friend’s to-do list will feel like a lifeline for them during the deployment season. For the biggest impact suggest a specific task you’d like to take care of for them. An offer as simple as “I’d like to drop off dinner for you tonight so you don’t have to cook” will make it easy to say yes and can change the course of their day.
Brave Crate subscribers got their deployment schedules under control with the “Hustle” themed box.
3. Keep sending invitations
Here’s the truth: if someone you love is counting down a deployment, they dream of spending time with friends and family -- but they may not always have the energy to make that dream a reality. Between the overwhelm of a newly crafted schedule, and the emotional toll of worrying for a deployed spouse, you may find that your friend who was once a social butterfly begins to seem less and less available.
It can be tempting to stop extending invites to your newly reclusive friend, but the act of being invited can mean so much to a military spouse counting down during the deployment season. Each and every invite you extend to your friend is a reminder that they are not alone -- even if they can’t attend in person- so keep inviting even when you think the answer will be “no”.
With July's “Flying Solo” box, Brave Crate subscribers focused on prioritizing travel and memory-making during deployments!
4. Include them in your holidays
Holidays can be particularly tough for those with deployed spouses- a reminder of yet another moment that their loved one is missing. There’s nothing worse than spending a holiday alone while friends and family gather together to celebrate. Sharing your holiday traditions is the perfect way to uplift and encourage those who are counting down deployment.
Whether it’s asking them to help plan the 4th of July pool party or including them in your gingerbread-house-decorating-marathon at Christmas, they’ll appreciate the opportunity to be a part of your celebrations (and may even offer their own additions!)
Brave Crate subscribers found comfort and joy during the holiday season with the “Cozy” themed box.
5. Plan for the future
If your friend is feeling particularly overwhelmed by the length of their spouse’s deployment, you can help the days move more quickly by joining them in a plan for “mini countdowns” along the way. Ask your friend to create a bucket-list of local activities they’d like to try. Schedule one activity together each month until their spouse’s homecoming so that there is always a next moment to look forward to.
Having moments of fun planned in advance can help to remove focus from the deployment countdown and even provides time markers that make the days until homecoming seem less daunting. Instead of “200 days until homecoming” she can think “only 7 more of our planned activities” until homecoming!
The “Perfectly Planned” themed Brave Crate helped subscribers get organized during their countdown to make planning their timeline simple and fun!
6. Talk about their spouse
Deployed spouses can be like an elephant in the room- everyone knows they exist, but nobody is mentioning them. You may be nervous to talk about a deployed spouse for fear of upsetting your friend, but mentioning their spouse in regular conversation is a wonderful reminder that they are not forgotten. While deployments can be difficult, many military couples find that this season of separation helps them to grow closer and develop a deeper appreciation for their partner. Instead of trying to avoid the subject of their loved one, encourage your friend to share stories, memories and plans for the future.
Brave Crate subscribers explored how deployment can be an opportunity to spark intimacy with the “Very Sexy” themed box!
7. Celebrate their milestones
Birthdays, promotions, personal goals achieved -- it can be tempting to let life’s little milestones pass by without a second thought, especially during a deployment countdown. You can offer encouragement and support by remembering and celebrating important moments in your friend’s life when their deployed spouse is unable to. Something as simple as a congratulatory text message -- or as lavish as a surprise birthday party- will remind them that they are noticed and appreciated.
June's “Birthday Bash” box (in celebration of Brave Crate's first birthday!) encouraged military spouses to celebrate life’s milestones during their deployment countdown!
There’s no wrong answer!
Whatever ways you choose to offer encouragement to the military spouse in your life will speak volumes! The season of separation that defines deployment can be difficult for those waiting at home, and your intentionality can help combat those feelings of loneliness and emotional exhaustion. Simply by being present and aware of their challenges, you’ve already started showing your support for those in your life who are counting down to homecoming! It’s an indescribable gift for those of us on the home front!
Becky Hoy is the founder of Brave Crate, the deployment countdown box for military spouses.