Subject: [MilitaryPrideNews] Ways to Support a Co-Worker or Friend Whose Loved One Has Been Deployed
Ways to Support a Co-Worker or Friend Whose Loved One Has Been Deployed
What to expect
During times of crisis and war, everyone handles uncertainty, painful feelings, and separation differently. Some people with a loved one serving overseas cope by keeping busy and focusing on work. Others may be distracted or have trouble concentrating. Some people need to talk about the war with trusted relatives, friends, and co-workers; others cope by not talking about their feelings, fears, or thoughts. Many people find coping more difficult due to the ever-present radio and TV news coverage.
To a large extent, the absence of a loved one can be like living with a heartbreak that doesn't end until the person's safe return. Nothing can replace the absent person in your friend's heart or mind. Your friend may feel:
- an acute sense of sadness and loss
- a sense of helplessness, of not knowing where to turn
- anger about the absence
- constant worry about the loved one's safety and health
- a strong sense of duty to remain strong for others
- a compulsive need to read the news and listen to TV on a regular or continuous basis
Caring expressions of concern from friends and co-workers can go a long way in helping people left behind feel supported and less alone during this difficult time.
What can you say?
People with a loved one who has been deployed may or may not want to talk about what they are going through. Remember that this is no reflection on their feelings about you, your friendship with them, or your willingness to be available. It's important to take your cues from the other person and be there to listen if and when the person wants to talk. When you see your friend or co-worker, here are some things you can say:
- "How are you holding up?" (Ask this sparingly, not every time you see the person.)
- "This is such a difficult time."
- "I just want you to know that if you would ever like to get together and just talk, I'm here."
If your friend or co-worker wants to talk, just listen. Don't be afraid of the feelings you hear. If the person begins to cry or seems upset, you might say, "Would you like to go somewhere private to talk?" Then find a private place for a conversation. In your conversation . . .
- Reflect back what you hear. If your friend or co-worker talks about the difficulties of his or her situation, you might say, "This must be so hard."
- Don't try to give advice. Just listen. Be non-judgmental.
- Ask if the person has family or friends he can count on for help and support. This will help you know whether your friend or co-worker is actively seeking help.
- Let your friend or co-worker know that you would be glad to talk again. Reassure the person that you have the time and want to listen. If the conversation needs to continue, but you don't have time right now, invite your friend or co-worker to sit down at a later time.
- If the friend or co-worker is someone you like to do things with, make plans. Ask him or her out to lunch, or call spontaneously on a weekend or evening to go shopping, for a walk, or to a fun movie.
Ways to offer support
Know that your friend or co-worker is mentally preparing for the long haul. Despite his feelings of sadness or confusion, he is probably very aware that there is no certainty of the outcome -- when his loved one will return or whether he or she will be safe at all times. So you should try to be there for the long haul as well. Small acts of caring can go a long way in helping your friend to remain strong and optimistic.
- Help your friend or co-worker find groups or online bulletin boards where parents or loved ones are sharing their experiences. If you live in a larger metropolitan area, help your friend find a group to share experiences with -- through the local newspaper, community resources, or the library. The military offers many resources for families of service members living on or near a military installation; help your friend get connected to these resources.
- Check in. Find out how your friend is doing by phone, e-mail, or by just dropping by. Your conversation can be brief but still caring. You might say, "I just wanted to know how you are." Find out if your friend is exercising, eating right, and assuming most of his or her normal routines. See if you might help with an errand or help care for children to give your friend time to get out.
- When you are together and when there is time, encourage the person to talk about her loved one who has been deployed. Laugh and cry together. Tell stories about the person. Do what seems to come naturally to your friend or co-worker.
- Avoid political discussions about the war that could trigger sensitive emotions. Avoid "pro and con" discussions or debates about the war in front of the person. In general, avoid heated discussions about politics or war in the workplace.
- Rejoice with your friend when a letter or e-mail arrives from the person overseas. Any extended time between contacts with the person deployed will be very difficult. Anxiety and worry will increase when communications are delayed.
- Remember that holidays and birthdays will be tough for the person. Be sure your friend or co-worker has a place to go or has plans to socialize in some way. Celebrate in a special but low-key way. Shop for something special. Again, take cues as to what the person needs or seeks in terms of support.
It may be a long wait before your friend's loved one is home and safe. Worry and anxiety will affect your friend's daily life and routines. Friends and co-workers have to be prepared to provide ongoing support for weeks or months. Heartfelt expressions of support can help your friend feel cared for, more rooted in life's normal routines, and stronger during this difficult time.