Sunday, May 23, 2010

What to Say to Military Families

There are two kinds of people you should never mess with in this world. The first would be a nursing mother and the second would be the mother of a deployed Marine, soldier, sailor or airmen. Actually- make that mother or father and include any stage of service then double it if they are deployed, and triple it if they are deployed Marines.

I was a nursing mother. I remember tug-o-wars with the baby and his paternal grandmother when it came time to feed him she would pull him close to her and say, “Ill feed him.” I would have to put my arms around him and gently pry him back, “No that’s okay, I’m breastfeeding him remember?” Inside I would be boiling over. What was wrong with her? Did she not realize this is something only a mother can do?

If you are not the parent/loved one of someone in the military - then I am going to refer to you as a civilian. Please do not be offended, it’s the only way I can differentiate the people who have been introduced to the military world via their children- and the people who have not.

I stopped or limited talking to more than a few good friends and family when my son joined the Marine Corps. No one understood what it was like. The swelling pride was never stronger than the relentless fear. My friends and family tried to understand- but they didn’t.

“I missed my daughter when she went to college too, you’ll get used to it.” One gal said.
Oh really? Were they shooting at her in that school?

I found a website where I could relate to people. They didn’t think I was over the top in either pride or fear. As the years went by, I realized a common theme among us. Civilians just did not “get it.”

Stupid comments from unknowing loved ones, friends and strangers could bring us to our knees. How could they not understand- that at night most of us were lying in bed thinking about how we would survive if anything happened to our kids in a war that so few of us (if any) understood? And if we were lucky enough to sleep- our very first thought, before our eyes even opened, every single day was please don’t let anything happen to my child.

“I don’t want my tax dollars going to this war.” I was once told. Really? Because your tax dollars are going to help buy the equipment, my son and all his buddies need you piece of crap.

“I don’t believe in this war- Bush is sending all these kids to die for oil.” Even if this was true- it is NOT something you should ever say to a deployed parent.

“Is he somewhere safe?” No, like I said- he is in Iraq.
“You should just stay busy- then you won’t have so much time to worry.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“This war is all about money and everyone is dying for greed.”
“I heard the Marines are killing women and children.”
“He’ll just be there for a couple of months, right?”

Like nursing mothers, we are protective and ready to strike anyone that means to harm our children. Stupid words are like swords to the heart. For me the very worst was when someone I worked with told me if my son were to die in Iraq, he would not go to heaven because he was not saved (born again). I used a year’s worth of tolerance on that one statement. I cried for days- and I never went back to work. It didn’t matter that my son calls himself Buddhist, it only mattered that someone I called a friend was so thoughtless.

Keep your politics to yourself. I don’t care if someone has 30 flags on their car and 30 Semper Fi stickers- don’t say I hope they kill all those Muslim bastards. Because the person you are talking to just might be Muslim. Muslims are serving too- alongside my Buddhist, and Jewish and Christians. Don’t make it about your hang-ups and prejudices. And really- parents do not want to hear about their kids having to kill anyone. Fact or not… it’s not up for discussion with civilians.

So what should you say to a parent of someone in the military?

You must be so proud.
Please, thank him for his service.
Good for him/her.
I know you will worry- so if there is anything you every need- here is my number- call anytime.
What does he/she need?
What can I send?
Can I write to him/her?
I’ll keep him/her in my prayers.
I was in Nam, if he ever needs anything here is my number.

My fellow Marine Parents were all I could really talk to for a few years. They knew that some days we would be crazy and other days depressed. It was a very manic four years. Either pulling the covers over my head and waiting for the anxiety attacks to go away or going 100 MPH cleaning house or baking cookies to ship oversees.

Many of the friends I made from the website turned out to be dear friends. I will never forget the kindness of people I had never met, who sent me cyber hugs and long emails just checking in. Some are friends who I ended up meeting in person and who I love dearly. And even a few I still have not met in person but I have a strong connection to- I call my friends. Fortunately, my old friends –are still my dear friends too.

There were civilians who gathered care packages for Nick’s unit, who baked for him and his brother’s in arms, people who never talked about the politics of war- just the human element- the one we all already knew. War is unbearable for parents and loved ones. Some of these people I knew and some I didn’t, but they all have my gratitude.

Right now I have a few friends whose son’s are deployed to Afghanistan. I hope I can hold them up as well as they held me up when Nick was deployed. We are all war weary now. Deployment fatigued and oohrah’ed out, gray hair and weight gain our battle scars. It’s for them that I sat to write this today because I know how they feel. Don’t talk to me unless you have been in my shoes is what we think in our heads. That is how we all feel, though we try to not broadcast it. We don’t mean to exclude people who love us, but honestly- it’s like the nursing mother syndrome. Hormonally unbalanced due to fear, and hyper vigilant in our protection- our minds will not accept anything that may harm our child- even words. Don't mess with us.


  1. WOW! You go Mama!! RIGHT ON.
    I am REALLY REALLY proud of YOU!

  2. As a spouse of a
    Marine I feel the same way when he's deployed! I can count the times I've heard " you chose this life" from family and friends! Now add in that my children need me to be strong no matter what and that yes some things are better left unsaid in that five minute static marked phone call so my service member can keep his head I. The "right spot" to watch his back and his battle buddies too the same could be said for many spouses and children serving in the silent ranks of today's military! This article really "gets" military life from the point of view of a loved one.

  3. Hi. I am a military spouse - and loved reading your thoughts. There was one that reminded me of something that was often said to me back in '03. My husband (Marine) was sent to the Philippines about a month before the Iraq war broke out. Mainstream news outlets didn't really cover the US presence in the Philippines although from January (when my husband left to go there) through June we had more troops dying in combat in the Philippines than in Iraq. When someone would ask where my husband was, I'd tell them he was in the Philippines. First response I got every time was, "Oh, I bet you're so grateful he's not somewhere dangerous like Iraq". Drove me crazy because at that time, he was somewhere as dangerous if not even more! Anyway, I long ago decided that people don't think before they speak. :)

  4. Very well said! I come from a long line of military and my husband does too. I am a spouse of an Army National Guardsman. I can only imagine the stress of being a miitary mother. This is my husbands 2nd deployment. The first we had been married for 3days the day he left. And I swore if I heard the comment "Aren't you scared he might die?" One more time I very well might have choked someone. This deployment our son was 3 days old when he deployed. A close elderly family member at Thanksgiving actualy made the comment, "You know, he has been gone so long he won't even know who his daddy is when he gets back." It was all I could do to not burst into tears and pretend I didn't hear the comment. I really do wish their was a manual just to hand out when civilians say things as such. Simply read this and shut up.

  5. Loved the article and the comments. I am a Marine mom whose son returned from Afghanistan last May. He is preparing to deploy again next year to a different area overseas and I've already heard "thank God it's not Afghanistan" more times then I ever want to again! All deployments are scary and uncertain and I worry as much for how my daughter-in-law is holding up as my son who is gone. People just don't understand and I have to give my frustration to the Lord or I might act on my temptation and choke someone. You never truly get it unless you have a loved one in the military and I was as ignorant as anyone else before my son became a Marine so I should have more understanding. It's just really hard.

  6. Thank you all for your comments and your sacrifices while your loved ones serve. Thank you to those still serving- without them- we might not have the freedoms we have today. I think writing a "How To" book is a great idea- I might just do that one of these days. ;o)


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