As a military spouse, I know a thing or two about waiting. I also know about the need to have a plan, a backup plan, a backup for your backup plan, and so on. I even know a bit about preparing for disaster.
Remember that time North Korea was threatening to shoot a missile at the small island of Guam? Well, my husband and I were stationed there during all of that, too.
So as the country experiences yet another week of our COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, I’ve found myself ruminating on the myriad parallels between waiting out a pandemic/quarantine, and some of the most trying aspects of military life. It occurred to me that some of the pieces of advice graciously handed down to me by other, much more seasoned military spouses, which have gotten me through the tougher times during my husband’s military service, might help others get through this unprecedented time, too.
Deadlines are a constantly moving target
During my husband’s last deployment, I was constantly asked by well-meaning family and friends when he’d be coming home. I had somewhat of an idea, but homecoming dates are a moving target, and so the oft-repeated answer was always some variation of “I don’t know yet.” There is so much that goes into bringing a large group of our service members home, that you might be lucky to have a mere 24-hour notice before your spouse will be landing on American soil.
This is a really hard concept for most people to understand, when business trips and vacations typically have very hard-and-fast beginnings and ends. But as a military spouse, the fluidity of deployment and homecoming dates is a fact of life.
The end of our countrywide quarantine is much the same. There are so many different factors that will determine when all of this will end, that frankly, unless you want to drive yourself insane, you should take any predictions with a hefty grain of salt. Military spouses are used to thinking of important dates in terms of “ballpark” figures—right now, that is something we all need to get used to.
And if your county, city, or state leaders, even the president, gives you a deadline for when things will reopen, don’t start a countdown. In fact, it’s better to count up, so as not to be disappointed if the deadline comes and goes with nothing having changed. This is especially important for kids. When my husband last deployed, my toddler and I didn’t put up a “countdown til Daddy got home,” but rather a “how many days we’ve missed Daddy” count. Perhaps you could do the same in your own household: “How many days we’ve missed our cousins” and “How many days we’ve missed Grandma and Grandpa” are big ones in our household right now.
Plans are made to be broken
Because the quarantine estimates “are more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules,” if you must make plans right now, be prepared for them to be broken. If you need to plan something that would emotionally or financially devastate you should the event not be able to happen, do not plan it right now.
There will come a day when you can make plans again, but today is not that day. If there is one thing that military spouses know, it’s that having a Plan B, C, D, etc. is a must. Even in less uncertain times, we understand better than most that even the best-laid plans may be derailed by a surprise deployment or training exercise, or plain human error (case in point: 48 hours before our wedding, there was an issue with getting my husband’s leave approved that almost had him flying from Austin, TX to D.C. to clear up the confusion). While you shouldn’t put everything on hold for fear that your plans will be broken, sometimes, it does make more sense to wait.
Semper Gumby: always be flexible
This is the unofficial military spouse’s motto. If you simply must plan something now, or if you’ve got an event already planned that can’t be cancelled, what creative solutions can you come up with to make it happen somehow? When I was pregnant with our first while living on Guam, having a baby shower with my friends and family back home simply wasn’t an option . . . or was it? My mom and mother-in-law put their heads together and arranged for a virtual baby shower for me. I had a small party with my Guam friends from my apartment, while family and friends called in from “satellite showers” across the mainland. The whole thing was wildly different than what I would have imagined my baby shower to look like, yet it ended up being a somewhat chaotic, undeniably fun and unique event that I will never, ever forget. Technology, in particular, has made things possible in a way our grandparents never could have imagined. With a little ingenuity, openness, and flexibility, you’ll be amazed at what may still be possible, even now.
Have things to look forward to
During this last deployment, I made a point to have something small to look forward to each week, and something bigger to look forward to each month. Now, while we are all stuck at home, this can be admittedly trickier—but not impossible.
Each day, I look forward to FaceTiming a family member or friend, especially those whom I haven’t talked to in a while. Each weekend, I look forward to having my husband home; as a doctor, he’s still going to work every day, and working longer and longer days, as one might expect during a pandemic.
For the last six weeks, we’ve been looking forward to Easter, which no disease or catastrophic event can ever cancel. It will look very different this year, but that doesn’t mean we can’t plan a fun meal to celebrate (even if it means squirrelling away the last of our sugar and flour for the time being, or saving the last good cut of meat in the freezer to mark the occasion.) Keeping your little pinpoints of light at the end of the tunnel will be what keeps you going even during the longest days.
Always hope for the best, but prepare for the worst
Prior to each of my husband’s deployments, we have taken it as an opportunity to get our affairs in order. We have updated our wills, powers of attorney, and powers of attorney for healthcare/living wills as necessary. We have discussed, and put into writing, who would take care of our children should the worst happen. We have made sure that we each have our names on important accounts and documents like titles and loans, and that we each have equal access to various financial and credit card accounts. Do we expect to have to use or access all—or any—of these things? No, but we know we will be thanking our lucky stars that we took the time to do it before, should the necessity arise.
There is nothing like a pandemic to make you confront your own mortality. Now might be an excellent time to take a clear-eyed (read: non-panicked) look at your own situation. For example, if you have kids, have you discussed who will care for them should the worst happen? Have you and your spouse talked over your desires for advanced medical care, so that neither of you are in no doubt over what the other would want, if one of you needs to make healthcare decisions for the other? What kind of life insurance do you have, and does it need beefing up? Again, this is no cause for panic—it’s just being pragmatic, cautious, and doing what you can to protect and care for those you love most. These might sound like scary things to consider, but you’ll be astounded at the peace you’ll feel having figured these things out.
Above all, the most important thing I remember from military-spouse wisdom is that this will pass. As difficult as the days are now, there will come a day when you will look back on them and be proud that you made it through.
Military spouses are tough—but we weren’t all born that way. Certainly those who are facing this pandemic alone with their spouses deployed, and who have had their homecomings indefinitely postponed until the situation settles, are having their strength tested even more than usual. There are so many lessons I’ve learned as a military spouse over the years, and so many ways I’ve had to be courageous and resourceful, and each one has only made me stronger as a person. I believe that if we can all make the decision to take on this unprecedented situation as an opportunity to grow in flexibility, courage, and resilience, we will come out on the other side better for it.
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