Significant stresses and issues for the family at home include:
If married, the spouse who remains at home obviously has increased responsibility for the running of the household and the care of children. The remaining spouse may be required to do tasks (such as handling finances) that had always been done by the deployed spouse. As a virtual single parent there will be many emotionally demanding and time consuming increased responsibilities that were formerly taken care of by the deployed member.
Psychologically there will be a need to make adjustments required by the absence of the loved one deployed. The family must think of itself in a different configuration during the deployment. The adjustment may entail a kind of ‘letting go’ and almost a kind of emotional ‘moving on.’ This can sometimes be disturbing for the spouse at home, who may feel guilty that the family is operating well, without the presence of the deployed member. This is normal and healthy but it does mean that at the end of the tour there will be a need to ‘make room’ once again for the re-engagement and reconfiguration of family dynamics.
Sometimes a spouse at home may not adjust appropriately to the absence of the deployed member. Such a spouse may begin to de-compensate, not eating or sleeping, and general functioning may be quite low. In this case, children’s needs may not be met and the family may generally be doing poorly.
In case of death or physical injury during deployment
Particularly significant for the family at home will be if notification is given to another family in the parish that their loved serving abroad has been killed. Sensitive pastoral care must be provided to the families of other deployed military personnel in the parish who will be particularly affected by this situation. For the specific family that is notified of such a death, the parish that has surrounded the family with love and support before the incident will be well placed to offer appropriate and on-going pastoral support in this time of crisis. When a parish grieves the death of a military member, the spiritual leadership of the parish must be upheld in prayer as it guides not only the immediate family, but the entire parish through an appropriate grieving process that typically will last for many months and years. Part of this grieving will be the urgent existential pondering of questions of justice and evil in a world created and sustained by God’s Love.
If a military member is wounded abroad, the immediate family will receive personal notification of such injury through a notification team that will include a chaplain. The chaplain will be eager to work with the Rector of the parish, with the family’s permission, to establish both an immediate and longer term pastoral care plan that will ensure continued pastoral support both for the wounded military member and the family. The wounded member may return home immediately or may continue to receive medical attention abroad before returning home. If the parish has established a routine of public and private prayer for the deployed member and his or her family, the family will take great comfort in the continuing prayers of the parish. For such a parish, there will be many special opportunities to offer practical and spiritual support for the member and his or her family during recovery.
Significant stresses and issues for the deployed member may include the following.
For the member engaged in combat, the emotional gap and distance from life ‘back home’ can be considerable. By virtue of their profession they have entered a world that may be tremendously fulfilling professionally and yet its particulars not easily able to be translated/transferred to life with family in Canada. A soldier may have seen the death of some of his or her comrades, or of civilian non-combatants. A soldier may have killed someone of the opposing force. Such experiences are not un-expected on a military operation, but are entirely ‘out of the ordinary’ and almost incomprehensible in life back home in Canada.
Some physiological symptoms may also be experienced by a deployed member in an operational environment. Circumstances during the deployment or negative news about the family back home may lead to the member not coping well, being stressed and unable to function at an optimal level.
All military deployments have their cycles of highs and lows. As the tour of duty nears its end, especially during dangerous missions, there are considerable psychological challenges that may be manifested in different ways. The member may unwittingly begin to practice the avoidance of exposure to operational threats – such as a reluctance to ‘go outside the wire’ for fear of being killed prior to getting home. Members may begin to feel anxious about the prospects of returning home, wondering about the changes in themselves and in their loved ones during their separation, and the members may be uncertain whether the quality of relationships will quickly be renewed upon return.
Spiritually, the tour can raise – for the member deployed, and for the family – existential questions. What is the purpose and meaning of life? Where is God in these situations? If a loved one is killed – how could God allow that to happen, as I prayed faithfully every day and the parish prayed as well?
There also can be significant spiritual growth. The member can feel he or she went through the valley and God walked beside them. The family can feel God was with them and helped them cope and become stronger.
How the parish can help when a family member is deployed:
Keep in touch with the family on a regular basis.
Establish a prayer chain for the deployed member and family.
Design prayers for the public liturgy that are appropriate – not supporting the mission itself, but supporting the troops that are on deployment, and their families at home, praying for the deployed member from the parish by name.
Send postcards, appropriate notes, assurance of prayers, care packages, etc. to the member on deployment.
Be careful not to offer simplistic answers to tragic events. Present a theology capable of allowing members and their families to have a deeper understanding of God amidst challenging life events.