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Military Life: How PCS Orders Triggered The Grieving Process

PCS, Permanent Change of Station, Moving, Military Move, Orders. Call it what you want. Heck, since we began our military life it’s been referred to in many ways – I’ve even heard it called the “P-Word”.  But until this very moment I never really understood how a simple piece of paper could create feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety.

Just to be clear NO this isn’t my first PCS and typically I’m not one to flip out over a last-minute change in plans. But like so many things in  military life until you experience something during YOUR perfect storm you can’t even begin to understand what another spouse is going through. In my past new orders were always met with excitement. I looked forward to our new adventures, exploring  new duty stations and experiencing the local culture. I didn’t even mind the PCS process, in fact it allowed me to get rid of the clutter in my house.

But this time it was different.

I LOVE our assignment at Ft. Carson. There isn’t one thing about Colorado, this post or this town that is lacking for me. In fact 8 months ago (after he finished Master Gunner School) my soldier broke the news that completing the course “locked” him into his unit for at least 2 more years. I was ecstatic! We talked about retiring here in the future and even set a date to begin looking for houses.

I accepted more invitations from civilian friends. I volunteered for year-long positions. Like I said I even began looking for possible houses to buy. I understood that we would eventually get orders but that was a long way off and for the first time in my military experience I felt like I could finally let my guard down and put some roots in place because eventually we would  return and retire here.

So when the P-word came out of my husbands mouth unexpectedly and too soon I was devastated. This time WAS different.

As I write and rewrite this piece I’m faced with the fact that with this set of orders I’m finding myself going through the grieving process. Don’t believe me? See for yourself:

  1. Denial & Isolation: For days after my soldier dropped the P-bomb I was paralyzed. I couldn’t tell anyone.  I found myself thinking (out loud) “This can’t happen”, “There must be a mistake”, “They said you were here for at least 2 more years”. “I can’t move right now”.  It felt like some sick kind of joke that I was the brunt of. For a couple of days I refused to believe that we had come down on orders. So I did what any other sane spouse would do I holed up in my house with a glass of Merlot and some chocolate and cursed the Army and all the idiots who mess with our lives. And then I was ANGRY!
  2. Anger: I have a long fuse, but once ignited I become the kind of angry that is ugly. I mumble under my breath, curl my lip and am short with those around me. How DARE they mess with my world right now. For me this  happens to be the worst timing for a PCS EVER. My book is currently at the printer and launching in just over a month. I have speaking events lined up throughout the fall (all from Ft Carson). And I LOVE it here. How DARE they….sigh.
  3. Bargaining: I wonder if he can call branch and extend. I silently pray that this nightmare will just go away until the spring, knowing deep down inside that the timing then won’t be any better. But I still try to bargain with anything I have. At one point I am crazy enough to say that he could go on with out me and I’ll meet up with him around the holidays. Ha… right like I could REALLY do that…Funny how the grieving process goes.
  4. Depression: And then reality sets in and I know that come late September, just weeks after I get my book in my hands, I will be starting over once again. And that makes me sad. I’m grateful that I’ve learned to let myself experience the feelings that come with military life, even when I wish I felt differently. So I take a day and cry. I cry because I’m sad, frustrated, and angry. I cry because today it feels like I have a huge bull’s-eye on my chest that the Army has chosen as their target in a plot to sabotage my book and my business. I cry because I’ll be farther from my babies and grand babies, and I cry because I love this place that feels like home.
  5. Acceptance: I’m still working on the acceptance piece – acceptance is a process, but moment by moment I find myself taking the steps to begin turning my attitude and grief around. I’ve started looking to see who I know at Ft. Leonard Wood. I’ve spent time researching how far I will be from the nearest airport and what bases are within a 1/2 days drive. I am even shocked (and pleased 🙂 ) to realize that I will have access to fresh produce as well as tomatoes and apples that taste like they are supposed to taste. I’m beginning to accept my fate and looking for the opportunities that will come with this move (just as they have with all previous moves).

This experience is bittersweet really, but also a lesson and a reminder.

Never ever assume that you’ve got military life mastered, because no matter how long you are a part of this community there will always be a new set of circumstances to deal with. No PCS is the same because factors and situations in our lives change. Thankfully experience has taught me that while this isn’t my choice, the sting will wear off and I’ll get there.

But right now a piece of me is still vacillating between denial and acceptance …secretly wondering, hoping really, if it’s all some big mistake.

~~~

~Judy Davis, the Direction Diva is a motivational speaker, author and lifestyle blogger as well as a military life and teen suicide prevention expert. Co-founder of DASIUM, Judy’s books Right Side Up  and Warning Signs: Is Your Teen at Riskare go to resources for families and her websites are filled with tips, inspiration and resources for those looking for direction. Connect with Judy at TheDirectionDiva.com

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