Why We Need to Listen to the Stories of Older Military Spouses

Why We Need to Listen to the Stories of Older Military Spouses

Maybe it’s because I’m now categorized as a bit, well, older, or maybe it's because I've been blessed with some amazing mentors along the way, but I’m wondering...when did we decide we needed to reinvent the wheel and toss aside advice from older military spouses?

Bear with me here. Lately, I’ve noticed the memes and the sayings and even articles which all have some iteration of the following…

We’re not your mama’s military spouse club.

We’re not like it was back when it was all garden parties and you had to dress up to go the commissary.

We’re modern...our problems are different....etc.etc.etc…

And I get it. Times have changed. I’ve written plenty about inclusivity in spouses’ clubs, the toll of distance on a military marriage, career and childcare demands placed on milspouses, and more. I adore younger military spouses. They inspire me! 

But.

It’s so easy to dismiss advice from older spouses because they haven’t lived just exactly what we’re living. But there are some things that haven’t changed. You know how it is when you first go off on your own/get married/have your first child/hear your teen yell they hate you/have your own child move out on their own? Suddenly, your own parents seem so wise. You finally get it. You understand why they had all the rules and little quirks. They knew a thing or two.

It’s the same in the military spouse world. While we protest that older spouses just don’t understand what we’re going through and turn to our peers for help with problems they’ve never navigated before either, the older spouses are standing by, waiting for us to buy a clue. They know a thing or two.

Why We Need to Listen to the Stories of Older Military Spouses

Why We Need to Listen to the Stories of Older Military Spouses

They know what it’s like to say goodbye.

In my research for my upcoming book about the widows and older couples living at the Bob Hope Village (most Vietnam and Korean era war wives--more to come about that soon), a topic that kept cropping up was how many separations they’d endured.

  • They didn’t usually have an end date--their husbands shipped out and they figured they'd hear something at some point.
  • They didn’t have any guarantee their husbands wouldn’t ship out again (sound familiar?).
  • They had no or few phone calls, and certainly no Skype. Mailed letters took weeks and months to travel across the ocean. They did a lot of waiting. And didn’t fuss much about it, then...or now even in retrospect.

Anita Doan, a spunky little British lady, when asked how she got through those days, put it this way: “You just get up and cope.”

Ampy Waterman acknowledges it was hard, but says, “It’s just what we had to do.”

And while this may not be the advice we want to hear, sometimes it’s what we need to hear: you can get through this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so thankful for the better military family support we have these days, but it’s a good reminder: some days are all about simply moving forward, one step at a time.

They know what it is to uproot a family.

One spouse spoke of living out of her family’s station wagon on a cross-country move. A young enlisted family, they couldn’t afford hotels and didn’t have the option of military family lodging we have these days. They made a game of it, taking turns sleeping on the ground or in the car, cooking breakfast over a campfire.

Anita adds, “It was very hard bringing up four small children with all the changing schools. It was dreadful, actually. But we traveled all over and the children had a wonderful education. One of them became a diplomat.”

How desperately we need to hear at times the hindsight from someone else who’s lived this nomadic life and can assure us that our kids can thrive through all the changes.

They remind us how important it is to have our milspouse tribe.

Anita again:  “It helps that you have an Air Force family [insert your service here!]. Someone else understands. Nobody else understands what you do without, what you went through, what you have to do by yourself…”

Stories of best friends, supporting each other through the war years...friends who waited and watched together. All of them spoke of at least one special friendship. 

It’s a good reminder to realize we weren’t meant to walk this military spouse path alone.

They know what it is to be in love and sacrifice much for marriage.

Most of us probably never imagined having our lives intertwined with a person so willing to walk into harm’s way. But we couldn’t help ourselves--we fell in love with a military member. We didn’t expect to spend holidays and birthdays alone or any of the rest of the sacrifices we make daily. It is good to hear that it will all be worth it, from those who stuck in there and made it into 40-50-60 years of marriage.

“He was my one and only,” Alice Coffman says softly as she looks a photo of her beloved Stan, who died in 2000.

Ampy Waterman, married over 50 years, after retelling the horrors she lived through as a child in World War II Philippines, becomes quiet when discussing her beloved Bud’s final illness and death,

“I can’t talk about this. It’s too sad.”

Foley and Mary Wood, the cutest couple you’ll ever see and true loves since kindergarten, now match their clothes on a daily basis so that, as Foley tells me in his charming Southern drawl, “If I get lost, she can find me.”

Alice sings to me lyrics from a favorite Frank Sinatra song that she once performed as the first female Tops in Blue performer, that sum up what we all feel so beautifully:

Night and day
You are the one
Only you beneath the moon or under the sun
Whether near to me or far
No matter darling, where you are
I think of you night and day
Day and night
Why is it so?

That this longing for you follows wherever I go
In the roaring traffic’s boom
In the silence of my lonely room
I think of you night and day....

These are the stories we need to hear. 

Get more encouragement! Wondering how you'll make it through all that military life throws at you? Weary of deployments and moves or just need a little "You've got this!" from someone who's been there?

I wrote You Are Not Alone: Encouragement for the Heart of a Military Spouse just for you.

Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash