You may have coworkers or friends with a spouse, son, or daughter who has been deployed overseas. Here are some ways you can provide special support during this difficult time.
What to expect
A wide range of emotions maybe experienced by your friend or coworker:
- sadness: an acute sense of sorrow and loss
- helplessness: not knowing where to turn
- anger: resentment about the absence
- worry: constant concern about the loved one's safety and health
- duty: a strong obligation to remain strong for others
- fixation on news: a compulsion to read, watch or listen to the news on a regular or continuous basis
Other, more positive feelings may include the following:
- hope: feeling of being optimistic and positive, no matter the circumstances
- pride: a deep sense of satisfaction or pleasure because of something you or their loved one has done or created
- inspiration: feeling of knowing or doing something to make the world a better place
- gratitude: feeling of being thankful
What can you say?
People with a loved one who has been deployed may or may not want to talk about what they are going through. Remember that this is not a reflection of their feelings about you, your friendship with them, or your willingness to be available. It's important to take your cues from the other person and be there to listen if and when the person wants to talk.
When you see your friend or coworker, here are some things you can say:
- How are you doing? (Ask this sparingly, not every time you see the person.)
- This is such a difficult time.
- You are strong and I admire you.
- I just want you to know that if you would ever like to get together and just talk, I'm here.
If your friend or coworker wants to talk, just listen. If the person begins to cry or seems upset, you might suggest going somewhere private to talk. Then find a private place for a conversation. If they seem happy or joyful, you might want to share in their excitement. In your conversation:
- Reflect back what you hear. If your friend or coworker talks about the difficulties of his or her situation, you might empathize with a statement about how hard it must be.
- Don't try to give advice. Just listen. Be nonjudgmental.
- Ask if the person has family or friends that can be counted on for support. This will help you know whether your friend or coworker is actively seeking help.
- Offer to talk again. Let your friend or coworker know that you would be glad to talk again. Reassure the person that you have the time and want to listen. If the conversation needs to continue, but you don't have time right now, invite your friend or coworker to sit down at a later time.
- Make plans if you are close to the person. If the friend or coworker is someone you like to do things with, make plans. Ask him or her out to lunch, or call spontaneously on a weekend or evening to go shopping, for a walk, or to a movie.
Ways to offer support
Know that your friend or coworker is mentally preparing for the long haul and some days are better than others. So you should try to be there for the long haul as well. Small acts of caring can go a long way in helping your friend to remain strong and optimistic.
- Do some research. Help your friend or coworker find groups or online bulletin boards where family members are sharing their experiences. If you live in a larger metropolitan area, help your friend find a group to share experiences with - through the local newspaper, community resources, or the library. The military offers many resources for families of service members living on or near a military installation. Help your friend get connected to these resources.
- Check in. Find out how your friend is doing by phone, email, or by just dropping by. Your conversation can be brief but still caring. Find out if your friend is exercising, eating right, and assuming most of his or her normal routines. See if you can help with an errand or help care for children to give your friend time to get out.
- Talk about the deployed person. When you are together and when there is time, encourage the person to talk about her loved one who has been deployed. Tell stories about the person. Do what seems to come naturally to your friend or coworker.
- Avoid political discussions. Political discussions could trigger sensitive emotions. Avoid pro and con discussions or debates in front of the person. In general, avoid heated discussions about politics in the workplace.
- Celebrate mail. Rejoice with your friend when a letter or email arrives from the person overseas. Any extended time between contacts with the person deployed may be very difficult. Anxiety and worry may increase when communications are delayed depending upon the circumstance.
- Remember special days. Holidays and birthdays may be tough or your friend may want to plan something special to celebrate even though his or her loved one is not there in person. Be sure your friend or coworker has a place to go or has plans to socialize in some way. Celebrate in a special but low-key way. Again, take cues as to what the person needs or seeks in terms of support.
It may be a long wait before your friend's loved one is home and safe. Friends and coworkers have to be prepared to provide ongoing support for weeks or months. Heartfelt expressions of support can help your friend feel cared for, more rooted in life's normal routines, and stronger during the deployment.