For the longest time, making big memories when my sailor was not home was something I avoided. My mindset changed once my preteen voiced his disappointment about not celebrating important things because his dad wasn’t home. My immediate reaction was to ask him why he felt like that. To be honest, I was taken aback by his answer. “We never celebrate or go out and do fun things unless Dad is home.” It was a true wake-up call causing me to realize that everyday life shouldn’t stop with the latest deployment. Some things really did stop. I stopped planning surprise outings in celebration of everyday wins. We didn’t go to community events or have parties or get-togethers anymore. Things are different when his dad is home. We cook a special dinner or go to his favorite restaurant. If my son has a great sports day, an awesome science fair or a recital I tell him I’m proud, although I hold off celebrations until Dad gets home. My mindset was “Dad will be so happy to celebrate these things with us.” My son on the other hand thought we only did fun things when his dad is home. That made long deployments twice as hard; not only was his favorite person leaving but for him that meant the fun things stopped.
I was absolutely crushed and felt like I had cheated him out of the special moments he deserved. I sent my husband an email telling him that we will start celebrating things twice if he is not home. To my surprise, he emailed me back asking, “Do we not already do that?” Sometimes as the spouse left behind to take care of things at home, we can feel a certain way about celebrating life when our partner is not home. I see it every day in the various military spouse groups on social media. The repeating question “How do I keep my spouse from feeling left out of special things when they are deployed?” For some reason, for me, the answer became wait to celebrate until they are home when it should have been to celebrate again when they get home. Not only does that make the person being celebrated feel special in the moment, but they get a bonus celebration memory of the time Mom or Dad came home and celebrated something special with them. I remember one time my husband was gearing up for what the Navy calls “workups” and he would miss our son’s birthday. I had already told him that we would celebrate when Dad comes home. I planned to make his favorite dinner and give him a few gifts. Instead, I planned a whole party in less than a month. We had just PCSed and knew no one yet. I posted in a local spouse group inviting anyone available and my family drove in from Texas. I remember that being one of the best days for my son and me. Looking back now I can’t believe I almost missed that memory.
What “Double the Joy” Actually Looks Like
- Plan as you normally would. What would the family be doing if all members were present? Whatever that answer is, do that; and then do it again when your service member comes back home. Is there really such a thing as too much family fun or making too many family memories? Personally, I think not.
- Ask the one being celebrated what they would like to do. In my case, it is so easy to say, “Dad and I are so proud of you, what do you want to do to celebrate?” One year we celebrated early so his father could be there and then we celebrated again when the special day arrived. The great thing about kids is they will do their favorite things multiple times. The same is true for adults. I promise you the Navy schedules my husband’s work to ensure he misses every holiday or anniversary since we said I do. No matter how many times either of us say, “We will celebrate when we are back together” we both try to make the other feel special when the moment arrives. That might be him setting up a flower delivery in advance or me hiding a gift in his sea bag or sending snail mail out months before and praying it makes it to him wherever he is.
- Take joy in making those special memories. As military families, we know that plans can change at a moment’s notice. Deployments can be moved up, even pushed back, and unfortunately, we know that tomorrow doesn’t always come. So why not cherish today? Celebrate today, tomorrow and every day that we can. Do everything to create memories full of happiness and joy that get us through the long separations that this life brings.
- Take a moment and capture the memory. Memories are everything. Visual representations of those memories allow us to relive that memory multiple times and let us share those memories when hundreds if not thousands of miles separate us from our loved ones. It’s important our loved ones have something to look forward to and something to share.
- Look forward to celebrating twice. Knowing that things are still special even when special people are missing from the celebrations instills a sense of self-resilience. It can teach us that celebrating by ourselves is just as important. I graduated from college while my husband was overseas. I wanted nothing but to have him there in the audience cheering me on. I had no celebration plans and if it wasn’t for my husband’s love and support, I would not have even gone to dinner with my family. He pushed me to take graduation photos and to be okay with being proud of myself. He stayed up half the night to watch my pinning ceremony and when he came home, he spoiled me rotten. For me, that’s the true definition of double the joy. A life full of that with him is a life I wake up looking forward to every day.
- And most importantly … take every moment to celebrate all the things that make us feel special. Don’t think, just do. A year from now you will be glad you did.
Life Lesson Take Away
A life full of double the celebrations is a life full of double the joy and double the fun. It is a life filled with two times the special memories, memories we as military families will never take for granted. While we miss our other half while they are off being everyday heroes, we must remember they want us to celebrate life. They don’t want us to hold our breath until they get home. Personally, I still hold my breath, but I remember to breathe long enough to fill life with joy. My husband loves all the pictures and videos we make and send him when he is away. He always says he can’t wait to come home and have fun with us.