I get asked frequently for ‘lists’. Which is funny because I am a terrible list maker and you guys have way more faith in me than anyone should. I frequently grocery shop without a list (gasp!). I make lists and forget where I put them. I don’t complete them. I don’t even write them. All of the above.
But, well, I have done the Deployment mambo more than a few times, and I’ve learned from trial and error that there are some things you just DO before they’re gone to make your life 110% easier.
Did that life experience remind me to winterize his motorcycle when he left on an immediate reaction deployment for 6 months last fall? No. Ask the mechanic who just charged me my firstborn to fix Dh’s motorbike this spring.
Sometimes, shit happens and you can’t get everything done. You don’t have time to evaluate what you need to finish before they are gone. They just leave. This is why many of these things should be talked about now, if not yesterday. Life happens and it pays to be ready for it.
But many times you have some warning. Or, if they are posted to a High Readiness unit, or their unit goes on Immediate Reaction, you can just get stuff done as a ‘just in case’. That is usually our scenario. Not that any of that saved the Virago’s carburetor.
Either way, this is me giving you what you were looking for, the best way I know how:
Before you read this, you should go to your MFRC.
Or call them. Ask if they already have one of these. I’m sure theirs is, you know, professional. And probably has fewer swear words, fewer typos, and important things I’ve forgotten because this is their job. I’m not a professional, so don’t rely only on me, ever! Check with them. I know some places, like the PMFRC, have amazing pre-deployment binders and info, so it’s worth the call.
First Things First:
Buy a folder. Make it a pretty one, with some inspirational crap written on it, or flowers or skulls, your call. But something might as well make you smile while you do all this.
In it, put all the things you are compiling, and then keep it somewhere safe but not too hidden. That way if you get hit by a bus, important information is available to a first responder, friend or family member.
- Mailing address for the deployment. You will also need the members rank, name and the last 3 digits of their Service Number. For info on packages, how big, what can and can’t be sent and where it can be sent from, see the Canadian Forces Moral Mail page
- Contact info for Unit: The name, rank, phone number and email address for at least one member of your spouse’s unit that is at home who can answer any questions about the deployment/length/return date/etc in the event of a communication shut down on your member’s end.
- Spouse’s email address or other contact info: remember all deployments will differ in available communication. Here’s where you talk about what that communication might or might not look like and be accepting that it might change.
- Make stickies for your phone that remind you tone of voice is hard to relay via email. Remind yourself repeatedly as you type when angry, and for every time you get that one sentence email response to the 5 paragraph love letter you wrote.
- Head to your MFRC. All units are required to give the MFRC information on deploying members so they can contact the families to offer support. This does not always happen. Many times this piece is missed and even when members have requested support for their families, the centers don’t always receive that request. Be proactive. Call or visit the local MFRC and ask to be put on their deployment contact list. Generally this means you will receive monthly emails with information on upcoming programs and services for deployed families. Maybe your MFRC is different, maybe they have dropped the ball in the past. Maybe you are unlikely to need or use services. Still won’t hurt to go in and make sure they know to reach you with the info. You never know what a day of free respite care or a coffee night might look like 4 months in.
- Talk to your friends. Let them know what’s coming. Maybe arrange for a kid swap every 2nd weekend for an afternoon or a night. Let them know what you find helpful. Maybe you’ll let THEM know when you need them. Maybe you’re the type who will always say they are *fine* and you need a friend to call bullshit sometimes. Talk to them.
- Look at the calendar and realize that the member will miss (insert family event here) and you’ll have to brave (insert obnoxious relative) on your own. Glare at them without telling them why.
- Have an open talk with your spouse about OPSEC and PERSEC. Are you allowed to mention where it is he or she has gone? What about what your kids will tell friends? Who can you tell? What sort of info is acceptable for social media and what is not? If your member doesn’t know, they need to ask.
- Kid free? Little on your plate BUT the kids? Know you’ll get lonely, need adult time, or end up bored? Sign up for some classes, groups, gym, make goals, whatever works! Many times it’s those deployments on your own either before kids or as an empty nester that can feel the loneliest. Get out there!
- Family Care Plan. Every member is required to have a Family Care Plan that details what alternate arrangements are available for childcare if the spouse at home became unable to care for them. Talk to your spouse about the plan and discuss it with the alternate care provider. Need help making one? Call your MFRC.
- Make a purse or wallet card. Keep your spouse’s name, rank and unit on it, as well as the number for the Duty Padre and your Family Care Plan alternate provider in case of an accident.
- Create a Home Emergency Kit for inclimate weather/power out/natural disaster. For more info on how, visit here.
- Realize there will be at least one major snow storm/air conditioner fail in a heat wave/flooding. Mentally curse your spouse that you will have to deal with it on your own, but remind yourself that you’re a badass and you totally can.
- Talk with your spouse about your contact info at his or her unit. What numbers will they try to reach you at? Do you need to call and let them know if you travel from your home overnight or if your number changes? If so, who do you call?
This is the time I want to remind you that emergencies happen whether they are on course, on exercise, on deployment, in combat or driving to work one day. If you have not talked with your spouse about insurance, living wills, funerals, family arrangements and all those other uncomfortable but necessary things that grown ups need to know whether we like to or not, do it. Do it now.
- Map out the location of the circuit breaker, water valve and gas shut off.
- Write down numbers for landlord if applicable, a plumber and electrician you can trust, and a handyman whether a business or a friend.
- Check smoke alarms, furnace filters and other home maintenance
- Arrange for any fuel delivery if applicable.
- Lawn care/snow removal. If you’re going to take care of it yourself while the member is away, have a backup. You never know when you might put your back out/break an ankle/run away during the winter to Mexico/flat out refuse to shovel any more damn snow/rake any more *&#@ leaves.
Run around the house and yell “WHY THE HELL DID WE LEAVE THIS STUFF UNTIL NOW! Now I have to do it all on my own you huge douchecanoe!” Sulk for 3 days minimum.
- Sun Life: List of Coverage. Contact Info. Have the member call to ensure there is permission for the spouse at home to contact them during his or her absence and set up direct deposit. Have extra signed claims forms. Make sure the spouse at home has a Sun Life PSHCP benefits card.
- Emergency childcare. Chat with friend/neighbour/family member about having their number as your emergency middle in the night call for childcare when inevitably one kid breaks a bone/spikes dangerous fever/experiences first allergic reaction when your spouse is away. Put paper aside to make a list of those events that you will haul out and use on your spouse for weekend sleep in privileges when they are back.
- Great West Life: Have the member call to ensure there is permission for the spouse to contact them during his or her absence.
- Bills. Ensure all bills are coming from a joint account or one the spouse at home has access to. Contact ALL billing parties to ensure they will speak to the spouse at home during the member’s absence. This includes: bank, oil, gas, electrical, property taxes, insurance, phone, cell phone, Internet, etc.
- Pay. If you will receive any extra pay during this time, talk with your spouse about what you’d like to use it on. Keep some aside for when you want to go to the expensive grocery store because it has Starbucks, short lines and bags your groceries for you. Because you friggin deserve it.
- BUT do not expect any money until it arrives. Not all deployments will be tax exempt. Not all deployments will be quick to issue the hardship or risk allowance, and not all allowances will be the same amounts. Never spend money you haven’t received yet.
- Contact. If the member has any accounts that are in only their name, ensure all those bills will continue to be paid on time and the billing parties know correct contact info.
- Check registrations. If registrations need to be renewed during the members absence, ensure the are in joint names or that you have power of attorney to register in their name.
- Check insurance. Ensure the spouse at home is listed on all insurance papers and write down claims contact information.
- Consider roadside assistance and/or make note of a reputable mechanic in case of accident or repair.
- Ensure all stored vehicles have been winterized and remain properly insured. *cough*
- Power of Attorney. It is expensive, but having a POA or Limited POA for your spouse is key to being able to handle all those unexpected things that come up in a deployment. The military POA is not helpful for civilian circumstances. Ever. Really really. You can even get an enduring POA that can be used for all circumstances in the future until revoked. I’ve had mine for 14 years, which helps with the cost in the long run.
- Be sure to remind your spouse that if you DO have power of attorney then after the dishwasher breaks and the kids take turns getting sick and you end up with an emergency appendectomy and his parents staying with you for the holidays, if you are still around when he gets back without selling the house and all your worldly belongings, taking out a line of credit in his name and moving to Tahiti, you deserve all the shiny things.
- Passports for everyone and if you have children, a notarized letter from the member allowing you to travel out of country with them. Remember if the worst happens and your member is airlifted to hospital in Germany, you may want to go as quickly as possible to be with him and even expedited passports take longer than immediately.
- Talk. You need to have the hard talk. Especially if this is a combat deployment, but even if it’s not. Shit happens. Will you bring the kids overseas if he is hospitalized there? What about extended family? Who would he have as an escort home? Are you the only one listed for the Memorial Cross or are other family members like his mom or daughter included? What about funeral plans, would you like privacy or would you allow media during the process? Do you want to know what a notification process looks like? Have you thought about who you would call for support right away? Some of these questions are things everyone should talk about, now’s a good time to start the communication.
- Custody agreements? If a step-child will still be staying with or visiting the spouse at home during the deployment, ensure all the t’s are crossed on any legal documents pertaining to guardianship of that child, and if that child lives with another parent, talk to that parent about supports available to that child during their parent’s deployment. Even a child who does not live with the military member as a primary caregiver is entiteled to services like Deployment Support during their parent’s absence.
- Talk to the child’s school teacher or daycare provider regarding the deployment. If they are at an off base school, encourage them to talk to the local MFRC with any questions on how they can support the child during this time. Make note of days like Remembrance Day, or Father/Mother’s Day, and talk to the child’s teacher in advance about how that will play out.
- Comfort. Consider ordering a Daddy/Mommy Bear or a Build a Bear for each child. A voice recording can be placed inside some of them for mom or dad to record a special bedtime message.
- You 100% love your children. No question. It does NOT make you a bad parent to want to hide in the bath with your head under the water so you don’t hear them bickering for 30 friggin minutes. You need respite too and making arrangements for that, whether it’s a halfway point overnight sleepover arranged, a spa day, whatever, makes you a better parent.
- Recordings. If you have smaller children and a tablet or phone, have the member record reading some bedtime stories or other messages for the kids. NOTE: this isn’t always helpful. Some children might find the recorded messages too much of a reminder. What works for most will not work for all and you know your kids best. Do not feel bad if yu decide this option isn’t best for your child.
- Birthday’s/Christmas/etc being missed? Have the member write cards in advance or record messages, etc for any missed occasions.
- Pregnant? Explain the situation to your care provider. Talk about things like social inductions during leave, video conferencing availability in birth rooms, ensure your birth support person/people are aware of who to contact when it’s go time. Have a care plan for after baby is born, those who will check in and freezers of frozen meals. Have more than one care provider available for other children during and after labour and delivery. Be proactive. It can be done, you don’t need to be superwoman about it.
There you are.
That’s quite the list, but to be fair, this is the part I’m relatively good at. The list becomes easy the more times you do it, and it’s less about emotion, less about anger that you’re on your own again, less about that aching fear of combat deployments, and more about practicality and planning and cute folders with what ifs spelled out as though they can be contained in writing.
This part can be done. And so can the other part, too. It’s just a lot harder on the heart.
You can do it, friends.
Remember together, we are all stronger.