There have been a lot of tongue in cheek posts on the Web about what the general public should not say to a military spouse. You'd be amazed at the ignorant, hurtful, and downright stupid things that people say to military spouses.
Or, if you are a military spouse, maybe you wouldn't because you've probably had some of them said to you. Sometimes people don't realize how incredibly stupid they sound, sometimes they don't realize how ignorant they are, and sometimes they are just downright mean and judgmental.
But some people really do want to help, and they really do want to offer support, but they just don't know how. They have no idea what being the spouse of a deployed soldier is like so they don't know what to do or say to help. Many of them, not wanting to sound dumb or ignorant or mean, say nothing.
So here are some things you CAN and SHOULD say to the spouse of a deployed soldier:
"I'm making ________for dinner tonight. Why don't you and the kids come have dinner with us?" - Don't pretend like everything is normal, but don't ignore us. Invite us to BBQs, family dinners, ball games and other activities. And don't talk about the war when we're with you. Give us the chance to have a normal afternoon/evening with our family and friends. It's one of the best things you can do for us.
"I'm going to the grocery store/post office/mall can I pick up something for you?" - Running a household and a family by yourself when your partner is gone is hard. Very hard. Sometimes it's just too much effort to get out and run errands. Sometimes we are waiting for a phone call or an Internet chat, sometimes we are just too worn down to face traffic and shopping and normal life. Knowing someone you love is in mortal danger can do that to you.
"I'd like to send a letter/card/package to your spouse. Can I have his/her address?" - Don't forget about our spouses. They are working hard in deplorable conditions and often they do not get the supplies they need. Send letters/cards/photos from home. Send dry socks too, they can never get enough of those.
"I'll take this meeting/cover your shift/let the boss know where you're going" -When we do get that phone call we've been waiting for don't give us grief about taking it in the middle of work. We have no idea when those calls will come in. Sometimes it might be weeks, or even a month or more before we get another one. Cut us some slack and help out a little so we can talk to our spouses for as long as they can talk to us.
"Let's get a cup of coffee" - When you can see that we're edging down Depression Road and haven't gotten off the couch in a few days or have stopped bothering to shower everyday force us to get out and get back into life again. When you're dealing with the stress of knowing a loved one is in danger, and having to be responsible for a family all alone, and living with the reality of being alone after having a partner to lean on for a long time it's easy to just shut down, shut the world out, and retreat into solitude. Don't let us. Drag us back into the world again even if it's just for a cup of coffee.
"I don't know what you're going through, but I want to help. What do you need?"- Don't compare yourself to us, don't try to sympathize. You don't know what this is like, so don't try to convince us or yourselves that you do. It's ok that you don't know how hard a deployment is. We go through it so you don't have to know what it's like to lose your spouse or loved one and so that your family can be safe. But you don't have to know what it's like to help us. Just ask how you can help. We'll tell you what you can do and what we need.
"Call me anytime you need to
talk" - We need people to lean on, and not just between the hours of
9AM and 5 PM. When a message about an injury or death in a unit goes out,
when we hear about a bombing in our soldier's vicinity on the news, when we see
the dreaded black sedan coming anywhere near our home, when the burden of
carrying all the responsibility of keeping a family and a relationship becomes
too much a sympathetic ear is a lifeline that can keep a spouse sane. At
3 AM when you've been up for days willing the phone to ring so hard you
almost convince yourself you hear it ring and you obsessively check the
computer for email or an IM and the dark thoughts of disaster start creeping
into your mind having someone to talk to can banish the "what ifs"
and help us gain some much needed perspective.
"Thank you" - We don't do this for thanks, the same way our soldiers don't do their jobs for thanks or praise or medals. But even that small acknowledgment of the sacrifices that we make and the enormity of the struggles that we go through keeping things at home running and supporting our soldiers so that they can protect and serve means the world to us.