We have known my husband, Nikko was going to deploy for quite some time but as the last couple weeks rolled around, it got real. We spent a week and a half of that time at home with our families to get in that extra quality time before he would leave. Everything was hunky dory until we said goodbye to our families outside of the terminal to return back home. I was immediately taken over with sadness knowing that our vacation had ended and deployment was a couple days away. I would start to tear up sporadically throughout the duration of the return flights. Once we got back home, we spent the time left running errands and packing him up. The errands included some time back at the engineering squadron to say his goodbyes. It warmed my heart to have gotten so many sincere well wishes and “reach-out-to-me-if-you-need-anything-at-alls.” It felt so safe and comforting to be surrounded by others who have been through deployments before.
Time spent at home was filled with him packing his sea of camo into two black bags that he would be living out of in the coming months. Our apartment was in disarray and the never-ending trains of thought in my head were getting overwhelming, so I decided to keep myself occupied during that time by working on little projects. One of these projects was “open when” letters to boost his morale at times when he may need it most or to be a part of celebrations while we are apart. I made letters for happy times like birthdays and anniversaries or his last day of deployment. But I also made sure to have letters for him during the lowest times like when he is missing home, had a bad day, or when he reached his departure gate at the airport. Another project I worked on was a deployment countdown for me. Pinterest was full of wonderful ideas but I opted for transferring beads from a “days to go” to a “days down” jar. it definitely helps to have a visual representation of progress.
The day before was spent doing normal weekend things, a trip to Costco and our normal errands. I was in my head constantly thinking about how on one hand I did not want him to go but on the other hand, I wanted him to just leave already. I also kept thinking about the best way to say goodbye the next day. Would I go in and spend my last hour with him at the airport Starbucks? Or would I rip off the band-aid and just drop him off curbside? The anticipation of him leaving had been lingering for six months now and the day would finally arrive tomorrow. I just wanted to start counting down the day to homecoming. We planned a special dinner out at a nice restaurant as our “last meal” so to speak. Truthfully, it was hard to find things to talk about knowing that we would be leading completely separate lives for a good portion of the next year. It was hard to get out of my head and enjoy our last evening together.
Morning came faster than I thought it would. I woke up first and looked at him snoring away next to me. I got my phone and snapped a quick photo of him so that whenever I missed him next to me, I could just look at the comically endearing photo of him and how he would be if he were with me. Shortly after my photo, he woke up and before I knew it, we were on our way with his bags and Walter, our dog. We went to the base first to run a couple of errands that had to be done the day of departure. This made for an even longer goodbye. After the base, we were finally headed to the airport. Our drive was quiet. I’m not sure either of us knew what to say to each other. I started to cry as we neared the airport knowing what would ensue. I had made the decision to drop him off curbside, not wanting to embarrass myself with another hour of tears and silence while we were in plain sight of everyone at the airport. We pulled up to the curb, got the bags out and I handed over Walt for the first goodbye. He told Walt to “Take care of momma” which made me break out into full on hysterical crying. He put Walt down and hugged me as tight as we ever had. We stood there for a minute or so knowing that this was it for a while. Nikko settled us back in the car, gave us one last kiss and walked off to the terminal. I hugged Walt tight and cried hard for a good minute before taking a deep breath, accepting this new adventure, and driving away. Instantly, in that first couple of minutes alone, I felt the weight of anticipation come off my shoulders. He was gone and the countdown could finally begin.
Here are some key things I have learned in my first months of deployment:
Before he leaves,
- Leave him notes/open when letters in his bag. It’s a great surprise and they will appreciate it more than you know.
- Spend some quality time together both with family and apart from family.
- If you know goodbye will be painful and tearful, drop him off. Have a good cry by yourself in the car and move on your merry way. Time to start the countdown!
After he leaves,
- Always have weekend plans. I find that weekends where I don’t have much to do can be the times when I most miss him.
- Book flights and plan trips! Use the time alone to visit girlfriends.
- Make new friends. At times it can put you out of your comfort zone, but it’s well worth it.
- Take up a hobby or learn something new.
- Create a countdown to homecoming. It will be sad at first but as time progresses, you’ll be happy you did!