Homecomings are the stuff of sweet dreams and dessert for breakfast — so perfect and delicious, but often followed by either a rude awakening or a few extra pounds. As a military family member who has experienced distances because of deployment and training, I can tell you it doesn’t necessarily get any easier. The families who recently have or are welcoming home loved ones this week have a few battles ahead as they work together to find a new family life balance.
In our communities, it is especially important to understand that these soldiers and their families may present a positive, upbeat outlook, but there often are quite a few demons hidden in the shadows. Some newly redeployed soldiers have an aversion to sudden loud noises or are uncomfortable (to put it mildly) in large crowds. While these issues might not always affect daily routines, awareness and acceptance of military families is critical, as is offering them support.
Holiday parades with loud firecrackers can send even the most levelheaded soldier into a panic. Family dinners filled with discord and shouting can lead to emotional battles that even the most experienced military families have trouble steering clear of. As a member of a family that has experienced all of this and then some, I know it is important to remember that the immediate events are not the cause of a soldier’s discomfort in such situations. Service members’ experiences at war are more traumatic, trying and taxing than we as spouses, civilians and passersby could ever understand.
Even within my husband’s small group, the homecoming experiences varied so much by family that I felt hard-pressed to provide adequate support on a case-by-case basis. But I was always more than willing to lend an ear to a troubled friend or just nod in agreement as she vented.
When it comes down to it though, that is what is most important — nodding in agreement, holding a hand and being available to just sit, side by side, and accept that this, too, shall pass.
It wasn’t just the soldiers who fought battles. Their families have experienced the heartache and the distance, too. Our community and our nation — even those who do not stand behind the wars or the circumstances — we all have a hand in this experience. As we welcome these soldiers home we must remember to set aside our political and personal beliefs and do what we can to offer support. Military families need reassurance that all will be well.
Eventually, the day will come when family dinners are calm occasions, and we won’t need to constantly scan our surroundings for potential panic-attack triggers. But for now, we just need to hear someone else remind us.
Please share in the celebrations, provide comfort in moments of doubt and anxiety and make yourself available when your military friends need a quiet moment of unyielding support. Often, just knowing we have someone trustworthy and judgment-free to call or confide in is all we really need.
Hewlett, a military spouse and mom of one, lives with her family in Richmond Hill.