December: the most stressful month for any military spouse. Last week while I was at the mall, Christmas carolers stood in the atrium and bellowed nostalgic serenades. Instantly, I was reminded this will be the first Christmas my husband and I won’t be together as a married couple. Like that horrendous homemade outfit my grandmother made and insisted I wear to dinner, I kept my smile and tried to forget about it. Fifteen minutes later, as I held a prospective new cell phone within the Sprint store, I was ambushed by my emotions to the sound of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” I burst into uncontrollable tears. The rattled salesman offered me a larger rebate and free phone case. He didn’t understand. I needed the winter day to go away and the carolers to stop their holiday noise, noise, noise! I needed the impossible: my husband to come home.
Later that night I opened my inbox and reread an e-mail from military wife and encore reader Caroline Burberry. She titled her message, “How do you do it?”
“Tiffanie, have you given much thought about an advice column for military wives? Remind me why we put up with this military wife life! It’s one of those days today when I hate it. It’s rather tough when all your loved ones are miles away. The family is holding up way better than me, actually, since they’ve had a lot more time to get used to it. I have a wall chart at present, crossing off days until I see him again. I’ve not mailed him anything yet but am trying to e-mail a photo of me day every day, so that when he logs on, he’s got photos. Obviously, I have not said this to hubby, but I need an ass kicking from a military-wife-sister. I love him, but today I don’t fucking like it! So, regular military-issue support greatly appreciated!”
Originally, I wasn’t going to respond. Advice for military wives? I’m not a professional. Far be it from me to tell anyone how to handle anything. Just ask the salesman at Sprint. However, my heart’s not an empty hole, my brain’s not full of spiders and I don’t have garlic in my soul. And so my advice opens with the suggestion to accept the fact during lengthy separations and endless anxieties of the season, holidays can and most likely will be, in the words of Burl Ives, “Stink, stank, stunk!”
In my opinion only, there is something abundantly wrong with a wife who likes deployments or finds them exceptionally easy to deal with. For those wives I have a litany of adjectives I‘d love to place in a box, wrap in a bow and deliver to their doorsteps with a smile. Being able to cope one day, and being sad or livid the next is normal. A caring spouse has concerns, and like my aforementioned outburst proves, mood swings.
Let it out.
Unlike our enlisted spouses, a military wife doesn’t wear a medal or ribbon that represents the previous wars we’ve been in. More often than not, no one can tell if we’re in the middle of a battle. The spoils of war are worn on our faces, hearts, souls and reflected in every day tasks. And that’s OK. Adamantly, I reject the idea: “We are the silent ranks.” Nothing about the pain we feel is silent. Nor should it be silenced. By doing so it hurts more, minimizes our worth and our roles. We don’t have to enjoy everything about military life, but we do have to respect it.
When duty calls and I want to throw Uncle Sam’s phone out the window, I find the best proverbial ass-kicking in the shape of a portable collection of bound pages. The genre of military guides for spouses is endless, but here are a few I have found to be the most supportive. Maybe they’ll help others this season, too.
“Chicken Soup for the Military Wife’s Soul” by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen was the first book I read geared directly toward military wifedom. The stories in the book honors the umbrella that spouses in the military unite under, as they rear families, preserve homes and labor to uphold the most optimistic attitudes when facing the terrors of war. Written by military family members and the brave women who themselves serve, the read is a bit cheesy at times—alright, a lot of the time. Nonetheless, each page highlights the special juxtaposition of commitment, loyalty, hard work and flexibility spouses need to possess in order to make it through any deployment.
Most importantly, what rises off the page is the reminder of the one-a-kind bond military wives and spouses can hold when given the chance. It will make readers cry. Some suggest it’s a book best read when deployment is over. I disagree. It forces us to let it out. It forces us to face facts. And that’s the point.
Another great body of work that doesn’t insult with disillusions and pockets full of sunshine is “I Love A Man In Uniform.” In this memoir author and encore book club favorite since 2009, Lily Burana details the story of her life concerning love, war and the realities of what it’s like to be within a military marriage. Detailing her adjustment to the darker side of the enchanted strength of the uniform, the book utilizes unique silver-tongued techniques that too many memoirists don’t execute when it comes to conveying serious feelings. Through tough yet truthful candor, the window she opens for readers allows all to peer not just into her soul, but into the spirit of every military life. Most importantly, she does so all while remaining loyal toward our America’s finest.
It’s a breath of fresh air in war-time America. While reading, it is impossible for any military wife not to laugh or continue to entertain the idea of being alone in their thoughts and worries.
“Confessions of a Military Wife” is also a novel that belongs on every military family’s book shelf. As a Marine wife, standup comedienne and public speaker, author Mollie Gross knows the struggles and overwhelming intimidation thrust upon us as we enter the military lifestyle and become known as the “dependent.” Anyone dating, engaged, married to an active military service member or reservist or those curious about the life style will read about the unfettered entertaining life of today’s military spouse.
Appropriately coined by Military magazine as, “the Chelsea Handler of the milspouse community,” Gross accomplishes two essential goals within her uplifting and in-your-face memoir: She humorously diverts our attention away from the constant hardships that surround us and inspires our morale.
Remember, what doesn’t kill you in the military can ultimately make you laugh.