Significant stresses and issues for the member and family include:
The member is transitioning from a war zone to a peace zone; from an unsafe environment to a safe environment; from an alone context on the intimate level to a coupled context; from a group mentality to once again an individual mentality. It is all about adjustment and re-integration.
For the family it is allowing a ‘stranger’ back into the fold. An older child may have to give up a role naturally belonging to the deployed parent. It is the same for the spouse. There is considerable literature on this and it would help a parish to know about this re-integration process.
It is important to note that issues for the member, and thus for the family dynamic, may not surface or become significant for several months, or even more than a year after the return of the deployed military member.
How the parish can help in the post-deployment stage:
Learn about typical dynamics of family re-integration after deployment, and as far as possible help the family to anticipate what to expect, thus being better prepared for the homecoming.
Watch for signs of distress and anxiety in both the returned member and family.
Welcome the member back into the community deliberately and intentionally in ways appropriate to the individual and family. Do not ask too many questions about the deployment itself, especially the worst-case scenarios. Coffee time should allow for some sharing of stories but not such that the member is prevented from reconnecting or is re-traumatized by the recalling of tragic events. Perhaps it would help the member to formally share their experience once at a coffee time but guided by covering the ups as well as the downs of the experience. Once there is this type of sharing, the member needs to be given opportunity to re-connect with parish life and projects: to return to life in the here and now.
Include the family when the member shares in this way so that the full story of the deployment is communicated. Be sensitive to the need for the sharing to be appropriate for the persons present. It would be good for a member of the parish to speak about how the member and the family were upheld in prayer, and what a privilege it was for the parish to do so. It would be appropriate to express how the parish family looks forward to the whole family’s presence and participation in the faith community.
Sensitively give thanks for the family reunion, but remember that the military member may have returned with a profound grief and confusion about his or her tour of duty. Sometimes a defined psychological injury will only be diagnosed many months after return to Canada. In such cases the parish must be very sensitive to respect the appropriate rights of the family to reveal as much or as little of the nature of such an injury to others. Nonetheless, in all circumstances, the parish that is informed and prayerful will be seen to be the caring and compassionate extended family. For in reality the parish is exactly that – the extended spiritual family of the returned member who is re-united at home with spouse, children, parents, and friends.