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Why is the last month of deployment so hard?
“I should be happy!” I told myself at the end of deployment. “Why am I so cranky and angry at everyone?”
We had made it to the final weeks of our 6th deployment. It wasn’t an easy one, since I had 4 kids at home by myself all summer. But for the most part, things were going along fairly smoothly. Until the day I got the phone call with his exact return date. At first I was excited and jumping for joy! But the next day, a tremendous wave of exhaustion and frustration hit me out of nowhere. And it stayed. For weeks.
I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to give up. With the end of deployment in sight, I felt like I was dragging myself to the finish line. It was almost over! So why was the last month so hard?With the end of #deployment in sight, I was dragging myself to the finish line. #milspouse Click To Tweet
It turns out that deployment is one big psychological game. And it can get the best of you at any time. The end of deployment is so hard because we expect that it will be the easiest and most exciting. When it turns out to be challenging and stressful, we are doubly disappointed. This shocking experience can be depressing and frustrating, especially if you don’t understand it. The more you berate yourself for not being overjoyed, the worse you will feel.
What makes the end of deployment so hard?
You suddenly have a deadline and a to-do list. The last month is usually filled with tons of tasks and chores. We go into a flurry of activity to have everything done before the deadline. Because of course the house must be deep-cleaned. And the garage must be rearranged. And we have to make Homecoming signs. Honestly, he won’t care about most of those things. He probably just wants to shower, sleep, and eat a good meal. So stock up on his favorite groceries, and focus on the important chores: make sure his car is working, and make adjustments to the car insurance and cell phone bills. If you need to do last-minute cleaning, stock up on supplies with this affiliate link.
Homecoming means change, which can be stressful. We expect that Homecoming will be a joyous occasion. But the end of deployment brings a lot of change to our lives. It can be good changes (like sleeping with your husband again!) or bad changes (like hearing his alarm go off at 5 AM every morning). Any kind of change is stressful, even happy change. Our mind and body reacts to stress, even before we realize it is happening.
You’re out of time to accomplish big goals. You may get depressed or frustrated with yourself when you realize that the deployment is almost over, and you didn’t accomplish everything you wanted to. You didn’t lose 20 pounds. You didn’t learn a new language. Heck, you never even decorated the living room. Instead of doing crazy things (yes, I once stayed up past midnight the night before Homecoming doing a painting project!) take a breath and realize that none of these things HAD to happen during deployment. Then look back at the small things you have accomplished. You may be surprised and proud when you realize everything you have done.
We realize we are about to lose some independence and control. Despite all the challenges of deployment, there are some slight silver linings. Most spouses say their favorite thing about deployment is the ability to control their own schedule, watch their own TV shows, and make plans with their friends. As much as we want our husbands home, we realize that we will be sacrificing the remote and some girls’ nights. We may feel silly for mourning these things, but it is better to respect your emotions than to stuff them and ignore them.
Kids start acting out. As the countdown gets closer, kids react to stress, too. And they may react in crazy, stupid ways, like suddenly talking back, or refusing to go to school, or not wanting to sleep alone. This is really hard to handle when you are feeling wound up and anxious yourself. Try to be extra patient with them. A little extra screen time for a few weeks doesn’t make you a bad parent! Another idea—try to NOT tell them the date until that morning! (especially since it is so likely to change!)
You worry about the unknown. There are so many what-ifs about Homecoming. Whether it is your 1st deployment or your 10th, those butterflies in your stomach never go away. You aren’t quite sure what your loved one will be like when he comes home. You worry he may not like your new haircut, or weight gain, or the household décor (don’t worry, he will love you no matter what! And he will probably be proud of what you did with the house too. Or just not care, haha). If there is a new baby, you worry about how they will react to each other. So even though we want to rejoice at Homecoming, these nagging insecurities and worries won’t go away.
You have to prepare for the next step. If only military life ended the day after deployment! But no, we know that as soon as they come home, they begin to prepare for the next one. Or you are preparing for the next big change in life: new orders, time away at school, a PCS move, a new baby. You crave some down time to just relax and be a couple together. But part of you knows that the days will be filled with paperwork and financial discussions. If you are feeling overwhelmed by all the future challenges, before you have even recovered from deployment, then try to make the most of the post-deployment leave block. Schedule some time for you to get away and relax, even for a day. Do something that makes you laugh together. And remember that you can always get free, confidential counseling through Military One Source.
When the end is in sight, we realize the burden we’ve been carrying. Once you get into your deployment routine, you find your rhythm and your own sense of normal. You don’t even realize the burdens you carry, because these challenges become your everyday routine. But once the end date is announced, you realize there will come a time when you don’t have to sleep alone, mow the yard, pay every bill, repair the cars, watch the kids every minute, etc. When you become aware of all your burdens, they suddenly feel impossible to carry. The thought of mowing the yard even one more time can drive you mad! I have seen this happen overseas too, when we finally got orders to return to America. I suddenly realized all the daily challenges of overseas living that I couldn’t wait to be done with. That’s why we struggle so much with “dropping our pack” at the end of deployment. (That means giving up.)Don't drop your pack at the end of #deployment. Finish strong! #milspouse Click To Tweet
Don’t give up at the end of deployment!
Face those fears and insecurities. Make sure you have reasonable expectations for yourself and your spouse. Talk to another military spouse about how you feel, because the chances are that she has been there before, too. And try not to dump too much of your worries on your spouse. Remember, he is experiencing his own challenges and heightened stress levels at the end of deployment. He wants to drop his pack, too. But just hang in there until the end: YOU CAN DO IT!
You may also find help in my article about Reintegration. It discusses the normal challenges that couples face after Homecoming.