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Heroes at Home

boys and flag
Making sacrifices: When a mother or father is serving in the
military abroad, the remaining spouse must manage the
family and the household.

Although the news is full of updates on the death and tragedy in Iraq, we sometimes wonder if some of the most heartbreaking casualties of war are often shoved under the rug. The spouses left behind when military personnel are shipped overseas for long periods of time suffer the deprivation of a loved one, at times economic hardship, and the extra workload of caring for family members single-handedly.

Over the holidays, we drove down to Virginia to visit with Kelly’s family for a week. We made the trip a priority, despite our dislike of traveling during the winter, for one reason only. Kelly’s youngest brother, Keith, had just returned from 15 months in Iraq and was visiting their parents for Christmas from his home base in Alaska. It was his second tour of duty away from his family in less than four years.

Keith’s children are just 6 and 8 years old. There have been lots of missed ball games, ballet recitals and birthdays when Daddy was on assignment in Iraq. Such missed events are not only difficult on the children but also on the absent parent and on the spouse who would love to share the memories with his or her partner.

Our sister-in-law, Pam, is a silent hero. When Keith is away, she wakes up early every morning, gets both kids ready for school, sends them off on the bus, and then drives to work herself. She’s there to greet them when the children come home each afternoon, runs them to their extracurricular activities, cooks their dinner, ensures their homework is done, bathes them and tucks them into bed each night. It starts all over again the next day with the same busy routine.

After Keith returned from his first tour in Iraq, we asked about his reunion with his family. He said after all the crying, kissing and hugs were over, Pam looked at him and said, “You have bath duty for the next 365 days: Have fun!”
We asked Pam about how she keeps the marriage strong long-distance. She said that they e-mail often while he is away, and she is sure to include details from their day-to-day lives to help him feel involved. At the end of Keith’s deployment, Pam printed all of their e-mails in chronological order and compiled them into a journal of their time apart. She says they enjoy flipping through it together and reliving their experiences.

Carrie Tirinato, a Liverpool resident whose fiancé is currently serving overseas in Iraq, says that she and her partner use a webcam frequently, and e-mail almost daily. Carrie, who cares for her fiancé’s son and who has had their first child since her partner was deployed, says that her 7-year-old stepson loves using the webcam as well. They talk about his dad often, and her stepson enjoys setting out a plate for his dad at dinner and hanging a stocking for him at Christmas. They enjoy sending packages for every conceivable holiday as a way to keep him alive in their minds and hearts.

Pam had a quilt sewn for each of her children before Keith’s first deployment, with pictures of the children and their dad. She said they loved cuddling up in their quilts at night and talking about him while he was away.

Personal time to emotionally rejuvenate is important, as any solo parent knows. Pam advises those living through a similar situation to take advantage of people’s offers to help. She also said that enforcing an early bedtime helped her achieve some downtime to pursue her own interests. Carrie agreed, saying that the hours after the children go to sleep is her personal time. She also indicated that her shower time is sacred.

Support systems also prove invaluable while spouses are away. Pam and Carrie feel fortunate that they have friends with whom they can talk and on whom they can rely. Pam says that she has woken up several times while Keith was away to a freshly shoveled walk or leaves that have been raked and bagged by an anonymous neighbor. Carrie says that her mom has been helpful in giving her some downtime and in helping her adjust to being a new mom while her fiancé has been away.

Kelly grew up in a military family and remembers her mother’s efforts to keep the household afloat while her father was stationed on unaccompanied tours of duty in Korea and in Crete. At the time, Kelly didn’t appreciate the many sacrifices her mother made to ensure things ran smoothly at home. Looking back now, she recognizes there were many lonely times for her mother.

Having our five active, involved children at home, we can’t imagine juggling their schedules and homework alone. Kelly knows she’d be a basket case in less than a month. Our hats go off to those amazing women and men who keep the home fires burning while their partners are deployed. We both have the greatest respect for Pam and Carrie and all of those who care for their families while their partners are serving our country abroad. They are America’s heroes in a profound sense of the word.

Alan and Kelly Taylor live in Liverpool with their five children. Kelly holds a master’s degree in family studies; Alan is an assistant professor in Syracuse University’s Department of Child and Family Studies. Write to them at editorial@familytimes.biz.

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