Much like the five stages of grief experienced when you or a loved one is dying, a spouse will experience these same five stages of grief when his/her spouse is preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan for the first time and even subsequent times. Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief are as follows (taken from http://www.memorialhospital.org/library/general/stress-THE-3.html) :
Due to the Nature of the military, you might know of an impending deployment from up to a year to as short as a few days, so the way spouses handle their grief will differ from one relationship to the next, but there are some commonalities. I will share my experiences with my husband’s deployment in an effort to help others experiencing similar emotions.
I knew about a year out that my husband would be leaving for Iraq. At the time we were still in Japan and would soon leave for the East Coast of the United States. Hardly home, but it felt good to be back in the States after 4 years. As a former Marine, I wasn’t delusional about our situation yet it was hardly on my mind, what with the move date inching closer and closer. Not one thought moved through my head about his deployment. When we arrived home we kept busy with our initial move into base housing but on a whim we decided to buy a house off-base, only 4 months before his assumed deployment date. We carried on as if a huge life-altering event wasn’t about to take place.
Right after the renovations were finished the reality of our situation sent a wave of panic over me. What if something happened to the house after he left? How would I handle our new financial situation? We aren’t as safe out in town as we were on base – what if we have a break-in with just me and my children here? The questions seemed endless yet I tried not to burden my husband with my concerns. Instead I felt:
Even as a former Marine who knew the ropes I was still angry. I felt like my husband was abandoning me. I hated the Marine Corps even more than I already did previously. I pre-hated the Key Volunteers. I hated Bush for sending my husband out there while his daughters were safe and sound in their local bar. I hated that he was leaving me alone to watch after two children who were already stressing me out. I hated Bush and the Government for not giving military families more money. And worst of all, I felt indiscriminate semi-hatred towards my husband. I found myself picking on him in a way that could be misconstrued as either playing or just being mean and he was often bewildered. I pretty much didn’t want to be around him and when I looked inwards I realized all I was doing was putting space between us in case he goes off to Iraq and dies. I was unconsciously separating from him and his love so I wouldn’t hurt as much if he died over there. Once I realized what I was doing I was able to calm down a little, but while doing so I wound up reacting in a way that upset my husband even more.
One day I sat down and told my husband, “You’re so lucky – you get to go to on a really crappy vacation. You might be going to an awful place but at least you won’t have to be stressed out because of the girls. I would trade places with you any day!”
Oh, that wasn’t too smart but I knew what I was saying and I meant it. I was dead serious too and boy, did he go off on me. He called me selfish and 1-way and all that. Even though I knew how bad it all sounded, I didn’t change my position. Even to this day I still feel the same way somewhat just because I’m not the best mother by nature and I tend to get stressed out by the presence of children in general.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I said the same exact thing two more times in a period of two months. I joked and said, “It’s like your United mileage points were about to expire and all you could go to is Antarctica or Iraq. Man I wish I could take your place.” A fight took place, ad nauseum.
Two weeks out of his deployment I went into a shame spiral and depression in general. I started keeping to myself in the bedroom when I could. I didn’t want anything to do with life, chores or even making meals for all of us, including myself. Ironically I started snacking like a fiend and I gained 10 pounds in one week. My appetite for sweet stuff and creamy goodness like, well I won’t go into it, but pretty much anything fattening and artery clogging. When I didn’t eat for an hour I would start shaking and I would crave cookies or a bagel and when it came time for a meal, I couldn’t be bothered.
I slept in a lot and had bouts of insomnia at night. I cried a lot and was emotional most of the time. I desperately needed my husband around me. Whenever Iraq came up or if I heard about people with loved ones in Iraq I would start crying uncontrollably. I was inconsolable and lethargic at the same time. I never felt suicidal but I can see where others who were that depressed might not have been able to handle it as well. I kept crying over the feeling that I haven’t spent enough time with my husband yet and I wasn’t ready to lose him. Again, as a former Marine who had the same job he is currently in, I knew that he has one of the safest jobs in the Marine Corps but that knowledge didn’t comfort me one bit. I never left the house. He did all of the grocery shopping and took the girls to gymnastics on Saturdays while I stayed home and cleaned the house as if we were to be inspected.
Then one day he came home from a deployment briefing that I chose not to go to out of defiance. He mentioned that the only valuable presentation came from the base chaplain who talked about how wives will try to push their husbands away and start fights, etc. He was playing back the last 4 months of my life and I could tell that a light bulb went off in his head and he finally understood why I was not myself, as did I. Even though I was good at self-analyzing, that whole time I thought I was crazy, immature and I thought I was the only one experiencing these symptoms. I often wonder if he hadn’t come to me with this information, would I not have made it to:
Hearing those familiar words was truly liberating. I felt this huge weight lifting off of my chest and shoulders, as cliché as this sounds, it was the heaviest burden I had ever experienced. I felt more bonded with my husband than ever and I could tell he understood me for the first time in a few months and at the same time I understood what hell I had put him through.
Now I actually look forward for a little space from him, as horrible as that may sound. For instance, there will be a lot less laundry to do, my girls can hang around the living room in the evenings instead of being sent to the playroom so he can relax, we can play music as loud as we want and dance our little hearts out, I won’t have to be forced to watch CNN all day long, and the list goes on and on and on. I know it won’t be easy and I know my girls will miss him dearly but I think we will be just fine. All of our affairs are in order and I have no further questions about anything. One huge plus is that I know he will have access to a computer on a daily basis so I can ask him a question if I need to.
I no longer have morbid thoughts about my husband’s impending death and we talk to our girls in a very matter of fact way about him leaving and how long he will be gone for. So now all is well in hour household. It’s a little cluttered as he is currently packing his belongings but I feel closer to him than ever. If I hadn’t heard about the five stages of grief and that they related to my situation as well, I don’t know if I would be as put together as I am today.
Others might have taken to praying long before this stage but I am not religious and I tend to self analyze and look inwards for answers and I’ve never been disappointed. I hope this article helps other military spouses in the same situation and I wish you the best of luck.