Friday, April 23, 2010

Band of Sisters--Author Annette Lyon--Guest Blog

Last year I interviewed Annette Lyon when her book, Tower of Strength, was released. I wanted to interview her again because she has another wonderful book out this year, but I didn't want to do the same thing I've done in the past. I wanted this posting to be different because this novel is very different from Annette's other books. This book strikes close to home for those left behind when their loved ones leave to serve their country. Plus, Annette is involved with a worthy charity that I thought you would like to learn about, and what better way than to have Annette tell you in her own words. I'm going to turn the rest of this posting over to my friend and fellow author...Annette Lyon.

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“Mama, I love Dada. Dada all gone.”

Meredith’s daughter was 10 months old when her father was deployed to Afghanistan. She was nearly two when she said that and otherwise coping well, but late-night moments like that were hard when her dad was away.

Several years ago, I interviewed five military wives whose husbands were deployed to Afghanistan. Their experiences differed, but they shared commonalities and challenges they wished those not in the military understood.

The interviews began as research for a magazine article aimed at showing what life at the homefront is like. I learned so much and felt so passionately about the topic that I was driven to write an entire novel on it. The result is Band of Sisters.

I learned a lot of misconceptions about deployment, as well as what the rest of us can do to help support military families.

“I Understand; My Husband’s Gone on Business”

The wives found that the most common misconception about deployment is that it’s essentially like being a single mother, or that women with busy husbands can relate.

One admitted that she, too, assumed that’s what it would be like. “Fixing a lawn mower or handling all the finances were not what was stressing me out,” she insist. It was not knowing where her husband was, if he was okay, or whether she’d ever see him again.

Meredith added, “It would help if people saw beyond the fact that my husband is away, to the fact that he is constantly in harm’s way.” During one phone call, an air raid siren sounded, and her heart nearly stopped. She was put on hold for ten minutes. She held her breath, not knowing if she’d ever hear her husband’s voice again. She discovered later it had only been a drill—not a typical business trip phone call.

Bethany pointed out that when your soldier calls home, you don’t know if it will be your last conversation. “You pray the last thing you do before you finally fall asleep—if you are fortunate enough to sleep that night.”

Daily Life

When asked about their regular schedules, the common thread was the never-ending burden of worry. “I have to keep reminding myself that I’m experiencing a normal response to a very abnormal situation,” Sarah said.

Bethany described her typical day: “I wake up trying to leave my husband’s life in God’s hands.”

With the time difference, the wives greeted each morning wondering if she had an e-mail from her husband. Perhaps he was on-line and could chat. Or he could be in an area where he could call. Or was he dodging bullets? She’d check the computer regularly until lunch, wondering, worrying. She’d read the wires for news of bombings or casualties. Would the doorbell ring, with two soldiers bearing the worst news of her life?

Eventually she’d let her mind rest—somewhat—because he was in bed. In Sharissa’s husband’s case, “bed” consisted of old boxes embedded in sand, a Humvee hit by an RPG, where the vehicle burned as her husband tried to radio for air support. And it was a tent where he was so covered by tick bites he prayed for relief from the itching so he could sleep.

Whenever a soldier is killed, all communication lines are closed down, and a wife will wring her hands until she knows whether the soldier was hers.

If she doesn’t hear from him in the morning, she’ll start checking e-mail and waiting for the phone to ring again in the evening, because he’ll be waking up then. When the kids go to bed, she’ll collapse in front of the television in the dark and fight the loneliness.

Reaching Out

So what can the rest of us do to help? The wives agreed that the simplest acts of service make all the difference—acknowledgment that they’re going through something difficult, something others can’t really understand.

“For me,” Sarah says, “the acts of kindness that have meant the most are the ones where people see a need and step in without me needing to ask,” including something as simple as a mother sending her daughter to help with children during a difficult sacrament meeting.

A welcome service is a listening ear if a wife wants to talk—but not to expect an outpouring. Talk to them as if they’re still the same person as before. “We have our bad days when we need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to listen to us,” Liz says. “And then we have our good days, but it still doesn’t mean we’re really okay.”

Other suggestions:

—Give any service at all. Look for things that her husband used to do.
—Provide child care, so the mother can have time to herself—especially to attend the temple.
—Sympathize, don’t judge. “I had someone tell me to stop whining, that this experience would make me stronger,” Liz says. “I already knew that, and I didn’t need anyone to say it.”
—Pray for the military family. The wives have been touched and uplifted upon hearing, “I don’t know what to do, but my family has been praying for you,” and Meredith insists, “If anyone wishes they could do more, but they can only pray, they have done enough!”

And now, ANOTHER way to help:
I’ve been working with the Flat Daddy® organization to support families with a deployed parent. Flat Daddies (or Mommies) are life-size photos of the deployed parent from the waist up. Families mount them and then carry their Flat Daddy around with them, whether it’s to a birthday party, a field trip, trick-or-treating, or simply to the store or a soccer game. In a powerful way, these cut-outs give a measure of comfort to families and especially children. Babies have been known to go straight to their parent off the plane because they recognize Mom or Dad.

In the past, donors could pay for an entire Flat Daddy® (about $50), but now you can donate any amount you can afford, whether it’s $5 or $500 or anywhere in between. You can buy a Flat Daddy for a specific family if you have their e-mail address as well. After you pay for it, a code is sent to the family so they can claim their Flat Daddy online.

Learn more about the Flat Daddy® Project and read the first three chapters of Band of Sisters, click here.

Thanks, Annette!

6 comments:

  1. Wow! This sounds like a wonderful book, very powerful. Thank you for featuring it at your blog.

    Just became a follower of your blog after reading your interview with Linda Weaver Clarke.

    Cheryl

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  2. This made me want to cry! I have so much respect for military wives and husbands, for military families. They have endless courage and strength! We all can certainly learn from them. Books sounds great; I'll read it with several boxes of tissues by my side.

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  3. Cheryl, it is a wonderful book. I'm so happy you became a follower. Linda was very kind to do my interview. I really enjoyed doing it.

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  4. Laura, I know what you mean. It makes me tear up, too. Annette has done a wonderful job with this book. I really think you'll enjoy it.

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  5. What great insight, thanks for sharing, ladies! And an incredible book to check out.

    Yesterday I saw four kids I know at the hardware store and as they waved to me I noticed they weren't with their mom, but a man I didn't know. I immediately realized this was their father whom I had never met because he has been deployed in Afganistan. He must have thought I was really weird because I just had to shake his hand. And I loved feeling the kid's elation introducing their father to me because they had missed him so much. Really long story to say how much I loved this post!

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  6. Thanks for sharing that wonderful story, Jackee! I understand how you felt. I stand in awe of our armed forces. They sacrifice so much for us. Thanks for stopping by.

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