There were a number of responses to my December column about pastoral and parish responses to returning military personnel. With the permission of two of those who responded, I will let their observations speak for themselves.
From a 20-year officer/veteran: “The advice is not just for those deploying in harm’s way. Sailors on six-month cruises and soldiers and marines on unaccompanied tours will make their transition back into families with many of the same difficulties. Difficulties are always possible and many times do happen even in what had been strong families before the deployments.”
This is, of course, a very important point. The focus of my column was on those returning from the war zone. But the dynamics of being apart, returning, and processing the experience still will be there.
From the spouse of a now-retired military officer: “When one’s husband is deployed, the wife goes through all the stages of grieving as if she was now a widow — even if there is regular contact between the husband and wife. No matter how many times she may have been through this in the past, each time is a new experience of grieving of the ‘loss’ of a husband, although over time one learns coping mechanisms.
“When the husband returns, the marriage relationship needs to be re-established all over again, almost as if it were a new marriage. You were absolutely right in that the family left behind reshapes itself to cope with daily life without the spouse. When the spouse returns, they have had a very different life elsewhere and expect everything to be exactly the same as it was before they left.
“Meanwhile, the family that has changed now has to reshape itself again to allow the spouse to become part of the family again. That is a difficult struggle between the spouses if there is not clear communication between them and a willingness to work through the problems on both sides.
“Recruit prayer warriors to be in regular contact with family members left behind, so they know someone cares about their ongoing problems and concerns. This should be done for all family members, both spouse and children. Recruit persons willing to do handy jobs around the place for women whose house or car needs repair/maintenance/etc. If there is no extended family nearby, recruit substitute ‘grandparents’ to give the spouse an evening off without the children, and to be there for special times (play performances, sports events, etc.). Have someone tape these special events so they can be shared with the absent parent.
“Most of all, remember the absent person in all corporate prayers in the church services, so that the family does not feel (they or) the absent spouse have been forgotten.”
One writer pointed to an excellent article titled “Coming Home from Iraq,” by Lance Kittelson, an Army chaplain who served in Iraq. It appeared in the September 2004 issue of The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s available online at www.thelutheran.org/0409/page46.html, or e-mail me and I will send it to you.
Two other worthwhile articles are a Dec. 16 front-page article in The New York Times, “A Flood of Troubled Soldiers is in the Offing, Experts Predict,” by Scott Shane; and “Home from War,” by Todd Etshman, in the September 2003 The Lutheran, available at www.thelutheran.org/0309/page28.html.
Dr. Bruce M. Hartung is executive director of the Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support and associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted Dec. 27, 2004