The holiday season is arguably the most difficult time to be separated from family and friends. Thousands of you are currently serving in all corners of the world. Putting the military's needs before those of your loved ones is a tremendous sacrifice. Indeed, the physical distance from loved ones this time of year is a necessary cost of being a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
No matter how hard you try, telling yourself that this time of year is like any other seems empty. Even reflecting on the fondest memories of past holidays only temporarily masks the sadness and loneliness that can overwhelm you if your loved ones aren't around.
As someone who missed many holidays with family and friends because of deployments, I understand the emotional burden separation brings — and the critical importance of focusing on the mission and being efficient and effective at what you do. Below are four lessons I learned that can help you manage a holiday deployment.
Attend the celebration virtually.
Audio and video technology are widely available on ships, at foreign bases and posts, and even in relatively remote combat zones. If possible, schedule a video session with the whole family. Have an agenda such as opening presents, sharing a cup of cider or hot cocoa with your children, or telling your spouse how much she means to you. Even though you will be separated by thousands of miles, seeing each other’s faces can be very soothing.
Celebrate with your deployment family. “If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with.” Although not a perfect example to make my point, there is some wisdom in this 1970’s song lyric. Celebrate with and enjoy those around you. Make new traditions and memories with your brothers and sisters in arms.
Make plans for a special holiday season next year. Instead of dwelling on the fact that you're missing this holiday season with your family, start thinking about how you can make next year the best year ever. Plan a holiday trip. Think of new traditions you’d like to start. Keep your mind focused on the unlimited possibilities of the future and not the limitations of today.
Give thanks for the less-than-pleasant parts of the season. This may seem like odd advice coming from a psychologist, but spend some time thinking about the things you won’t miss this holiday season. Give thanks that you won’t have to navigate the chaotic mall parking lots and food courts. Be grateful that you won’t have to experience the irony of needing a vacation after what is supposed to be a relaxing and joyous time.
If those tips aren't helpful, please keep in mind that millions of us back home are thinking of you and your family. Stay focused, stay safe, and we will see you next holiday season.
Bret A. Moore, Psy.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist who served two tours in Iraq. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is for informational purposes only and is not intended to convey specific psychological or medical guidance.