By Carole Van Holbeck, MSAN Mental Health & Wellness Contributor
It’s been almost two weeks since you heard anything. You sit at the kitchen table with your morning coffee and stare at the seat he normally occupies. You pick up a pen and begin what has become a Sunday morning ritual, writing a letter to your military husband. You write him about the special and mundane moments of your life over the past week. You relay a joke you heard and most importantly, you tell him how much you love him.
Imagine a world where the only form of intimate communication with your spouse is a face-to-face conversation or pen-to-paper letter. No email, no text messages, no Facetime. You’re probably thinking back to a different time when life was simpler. I am, too. The year was 1989. Does that surprise you?
The year Ken spent in Korea was difficult. I was alone and pregnant with our first child. Ken was a first sergeant in a strange land. We did get one 10-minute phone call each week. The call was incredibly expensive and we disciplined ourselves to start saying goodbye at the 9-minute hack. While incredible to hear his voice there was never enough time to fill Ken in on the details. We relied on letters to keep us connected and provide the intimacy distance denied us.
We now live in a world where we can communicate instantly. We can text, email, or Skype anyone at anytime. All these advances in communication should make expressing our feelings to our partner easier, right? I would argue this is not the case. Our modern technology transmits in sound bites that are in-the-moment and oh so temporary. Technology does little to promote intimacy, yet often couples rely on it as a primary source of communication when a spouse is deployed.
Intimacy is about more than sex. It is about drawing closer together through friendship. Letters are the perfect vehicle to draw couples closer. They are purposeful. The writer must choose his or her words to reflect thoughts and feelings. Letters are personal; handwritten words meant only for the eyes of the reader. They are tangible, a permanent reminder of a particular place in time.
This past November, I dug out two shoe boxes of letters from Ken’s remote assignment in 1989. I made it my quest to chronologically file them and create a snapshot of our year apart. I had forgotten many of the things I wrote to him about. There were names of people with whom we no longer kept in contact, stories about our newborn son, talk about the future, and silly doodles. There was also the constant message of much I loved and missed him. That same message was communicated back to me in Ken’s letters. Reading them again reminded me that it wasn’t the phone calls that kept me going during this hard time. It was the letters…something I could hold in my hands and read over and over again. Those letters were a physical reminder of his love and commitment to me and our family.
Finally, there’s the ever-looming question that lingers on every military spouse’s mind. You know the one. “What if my spouse does not come home?” Although Ken was not serving in an armed conflict in 1989, this thought crossed my mind many times. Those letters became even more precious. Sure, it’s easier to Skype or text. However, I believe taking the time to write a letter to your spouse creates a lasting legacy of your military service together. Start a new deployment ritual. Take out that paper and pen, and give it a try.
For other great deployment tips, visit the Military Spouse Advocacy Network’s (MSAN’s) website at https://www.milspouseadvocacynetwork.org/deployment—reintegration.html. Find additional resources for this blog there:
10 Things Not to Write in a Deployment Letter to Your Spouse
DIY Shadow Box for Deployment Letters