December 1, 2006 - So, your loved one has gone to Iraq. Now what? Well, usually the organization that your spouse works for will have some sort of support. Take advantage of workshops, seminars, etc. that are offered to you. Don't feel like you're all alone in this because you aren't!!! If you are a military spouse, you have lots of good assistance through the military. Be sure to seek advice from the Personnel Office, and try to align yourself with other spouses "left behind." If you are a Foreign Service spouse, you should contact the Family Liaison Office in Main State. They have a lot of information and will help you network with other spouses in the same situation. Their general website is: http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/. They even have a special website just for spouses of employees on unaccompanied tours (like Iraq): http://www.state.gov/m/dghr/flo/c14521.htm. Check it out!
If you have kids, you will be both mother and father while your spouse is gone. If friends and family offer help, take it. If they don't offer help, seek it! Be good to yourself; prioritize what MUST be done and when and how. If you have to eat more take-out, do it. If you have to let the house get cluttered or dirty, so what? The important thing is to make sure that you stay strong and the only way to be strong is to take care of yourself. Go to a movie with friends (or even alone!); go to a spa/gym; play poker; attend church if you're so inclined; do something kind and just for you as often as you can. Try to reassure your children that everything is difficult, but not insurmountable. Be as positive as you can and if you start to feel overwhelmed or depressed, please seek advice and help as soon as possible.
There are thousands of people here and all those people have someone left behind. So you are not alone. There is a saying in Spanish that translates more or less to this: God may squeeze you hard, but He won't choke you.
December 1, 2006 - If you are watching out for yourself and your immediate family, what can you do to help your loved one in Iraq? First and foremost, stay in touch. Write to them. Even if you talk to them on the phone every day, letters and packages mean the world to someone overseas. Send them silly cards and stupid gifts. The excitement of getting mail knows no equal and it's not just the fact that a letter or a package came, it's the fact that you took the time and effort to send something.
Send e-mails; send digital photos. Take a picture of your pets, your kids, the new microwave you bought for the kitchen. Try to keep your family member "in the loop" and part of the family. Don't be afraid that they will feel homesick. They're already homesick. But if you can make them feel a part of the family while they're gone, it will make them feel like they're, well, part of the family! There is nothing more depressing than realizing that your family is making a life without you. I'm not saying that you need to send your spouse a list of the groceries you bought that week and certainly don't give them bad news unless you have to. But involve them in your everyday life and decisions. For people in Iraq, nothing hurts more than knowing that they're missing out on a year (or more) in the life of their family.
Keep in mind that everyone here in Iraq is under a lot of stress. For many, the high point of their day is a phone call home or an e-mail from a loved one. I personally watch the clock until I know I can phone home. Hearing the voice of my husband or one of my children literally makes my day. If I get the answering machine or voice mail, I'm disappointed. While your loved one is in Iraq, they do want to know what's going on. No matter how mundane the issues may seen to you, they are important to those in Iraq. Send them copies of the kids' report cards or send them the kids' latest drawings. A hometown newspaper. A cartoon you cut out.
Just remember: It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it's a big deal to your loved one in Iraq. So include them as much as you can. They will love you all the more for it and it will help make the time go by faster.