Supporting those who support those who serve

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“No one really wants to admit they are lonely, and it is never really addressed very much between friends and family. But I have felt lonely many times in my life.” – Bill Murray

Sitting in church on Sunday, our pastor’s sermon theme reflected on friendship. Though he interjected some humor with thought-provoking questions, his message really hit home. I am sure many of us squirmed, knowing full well that we all can, should and could be better friends.

He touched on something that really resonated with me, and that was loneliness, and what it really felt like. If you have ever experienced loneliness, and I am talking gut-wrenching, deep-in-the-pit loneliness, you could relate. When you are hurting, you don’t want to be forgotten.

Most of us think of loneliness when we hear of someone passing away. Loneliness is part of the grief experience.  But it isn’t always death that makes one feel alone. Any traumatic experience – like a cancer diagnosis, a divorce, a job loss, addiction, losing a home – can lead to feelings of loss and grief.

Because I am a military spouse and mom, I know how very lonely it can be when your loved one is not home. Basic training, TDYs, far-off duty stations and deployments  can cause grief: separation anxiety, lack of communication, missing your loved one. You grieve for the life you had before they left. You grieve for normalcy. At times, people avoid service members’ families for fear of making them – or seeing them – cry. Similar to how people react to a death.

And honestly, that is isn’t too far off the mark as to how we respond, in general, when others journey through difficult times. We don’t know what to say or do, often afraid we will make things worse.

Back in the late 1960s, Elizabeth Kubler Ross introduced a hypothesis for the five stages of grief. Some pooh-poohed her idea, and others embraced it. When my dad died, I can say I went through the stages, though not in any particular order. I stumbled upon some notes regarding those stages recently, and it was like I had an “ah-ha” moment. The stages of grief are similar to the feelings many military families go through when those deployment warning orders start filtering down the chain of command:

  • Denial (Oh, this won’t happen. He is needed at his base more than over there.)
  • Anger (Mad at the command, mad at the violent world we live in, mad at the dog, mad the account won’t balance. Mad! Mad! Mad!)
  • Bargaining (God, if you keep my service member home, I will ___________ [fill in the blank].)
  • Depression (Some days, you just want to pull the covers over your head and sleep until your loved one returns.)
  • Acceptance (This really is happening, and with God’s help, I will survive it.)

I’ve been asked before how one can really help military families – you know, “to support those who support those who serve.” As a well-season military spouse and mom, I have some suggestions listed below for those who have a friend, neighbor, co-worker, church member or relative facing or living through a deployment. But really, these can be used for anyone in need:

  • Be there. When my husband left for a deployment, my sister-in-law showed up at our house within minutes of his departure. Kids, coffee, and tears. I don’t even know if I talked. But she held my hand while I cried.
  • Bring a meal. My mother is the best. She either a brought a complete meal or invited us over. What a relief to not have to worry about feeding the kids. What a relief to not have to eat alone if the kids are not home.
  • Texts are great, but there is nothing better than hearing a voice at the other end of the line.
  • Invite the spouse, parent or family for coffee, ice cream, or just for a visit. Evenings, weekends and holidays are the worst times for feeling lonely, as that’s when most families gather and interact.
  • Drop off or mail a care package to the family. Maybe a box with some movies, popcorn and candy; a cookie bouquet half-way through the deployment; a flower arrangement on an anniversary or birthday; a balloon bouquet on a child’s birthday; fresh-baked cookies…let your imagination run wild!
  • Offer to help – from childcare to errand running to household/yard chores. A military spouse is pulling double duty.
  • Don’t say,”If you need me call.” Just call – they do need you.
  • Don’t be afraid. You will see tears. I guarantee it. Consider it an honor that your friend can comfortably cry in front of you.

Certainly, we have all the technology we can handle to stay in touch, but as connected as we are, there is a huge disconnect in interpersonal relationships and human touch. We rely so heavily on texts, posts and tweets, that we feel we have done our duty to connect. And while electronics are good to get the dialogue going, I think we’re really missing out if we don’t get out of our comfort zone and help wipe some tears, hand someone a box of tissues, give them a big a hug or sit and hold their hand. Something as simple as sharing a big slice of chocolate cake, or a bowl of body-and-soul-warming soup can do wonders for someone who’s lonely and scared. They will know they aren’t alone.

From someone who supports someone who serves, I can tell you, it will be appreciated. Greatly appreciated.

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey. At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.” – Vera Nazarian

Would you be interested in seeing more blog posts on how to support military families? Feel free to let me know in the comments section.

© Lynne Cobb – 2013

10 Replies to “Supporting those who support those who serve”

  1. Lynne – terrific post. After reading your article, I find it hard to respond as it brings back so many memories. Just be assured that the lonely feeling is felt just as much by the loved one that is departing. I remember leaving for a 3 year tour in Japan. It was really hard to say goodbye to everyone, but I did so and boarded the aircraft. We taxied out, only to find out there was a problem with the aircraft and we had to taxi back to the terminal and deplane. This caused us to go through the same “good byes” again.
    This was before there was good communication available, like cellphones and Skype. When we said good-bye, it was really lonely. We lost a lot by going into the armed forces. Almost everyone I knew got a “Dear John” letter sometime during our 3 year tour. But most of all, we never lost our love for our family and dreamed of the day that we would return to them.
    Thanks for writing this great story. It’s good to know that the loved ones we left behind felt the same way we did. We must keep the faith and pray that your loved ones return in good health and spirit..

    1. Thank you, Bob. I really appreciate your comment and perspective as a veteran. I can only imagine how hard it is for our service members to leave their families and life behind to serve. Thanks for your service! And I think it would be great to read a blog post from you about deployment from your perspective 🙂

  2. Very nice post, Lynne. Your piece applies to widowed and single folks too. I am reminded of one of my best friends, who was widowed when her daughter was in college. We went through many of the stages of their grief together. That was 7 year ago, but even now I make sure I include her in most of my social actives, mindful that she doesn’t have a partner or spouse to accompany her. I admire how she has rebuilt her social life, and “gets out there” to be with people, always helping others, too. Thanks for the nice post — and your new site works.

    1. Thank you, Cindy. Absolutely, this post applies to others as well. There is nothing like a friend really being there. ps-glad the site works! Wow, what I have learned!!!

      1. I agree. I’ve had the worst summer of my life, and couldn’t have gotten through it if it weren’t for my old friends and neighbors bringing meals and stopping by to offer strong shoulders to cry on — just as you suggested in your post.

        Hope you feel better soon! And the site looks great.

  3. Grief surrounds every loss in our lives. And loss isn’t always definite, sometimes it is just for a little while, until they/it returns, but then there is change, and in change there is always loss. Back to the beginning. In life there is always loss, and we are blessed when people step up and take our hand.

  4. I Can Only Imagine How Difficult It Must Be To Be Without A Spouce FoR Months, Or Worse, Years! Especially while parenting. It Sounds Like You Have A prett Awesome Mom AnD sisterIn Law, Too. Glad To Have You Back! I Don’t Know Why It Is Capitalizing Every Word…Sorry About That 🙂

    1. No worries on the caps…the technology we have can be a pain some days! Thanks for the welcome back! After a month of migrating, merging and server pointing it feels good to be back 🙂

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