What War does to Moms and Wives—

By Circe Olson Woessner

When a loved one–a husband or child, is in harm’s way, many women say they are on constant edge, living in a state of hyper-vigilance. Every ring of the doorbell or telephone, every breaking news story, sets their heart racing and evokes a sense of dread.

 Sometimes it’s overwhelming.

 An Air Force wife couldn’t bear to stay in her base housing far from her family support system, so she quit her job and moved her children and herself back to her parents’ just so she wouldn’t have to wait and worry alone.

 A young Italian woman, married to a US soldier stationed in the States, committed suicide just before he was to leave on his second or third deployment to the Middle East.

 A Marine mom admits that in order to keep her son safe she felt compelled to pray the same prayer at the same time every day throughout his deployment.

 I recently went to dinner with a bunch of military mothers. We each had had, or still have, sons serving in a combat theater. We shared our experiences with each other, and all of us came to the conclusion that this eleven plus years of war is taking a toll, not just on the troops, but on their wives, their children and their parents.

 Each of these moms had sad stories to share—one mother had two Marine sons. One son had been killed in combat and her other son had severe PTSD and his life was slowly unraveling. He was suicidal and suffering enormously.

 Another mother said her daughter-in-law, unable to cope with her pregnancy alone while her husband deployed, came to stay with her until the baby was born.

 A mother, whose son had been wounded in combat said she knew exactly when he died—she had arrived exactly ten minutes after he’d passed away in a military hospital.

 Her friend, sitting next to her asked, “How long has it been?

 “Six years, five months”

 “And how many days?”

 “10 days—but who’s counting?”

 Another mother held back tears as she described her grandson, a combat medic, who, she said, had been “bombed” nine times.  He is out of the military now, but he is permanently disabled and suffers from serious depression and PTSD.

 He doesn’t speak to her about his wartime experiences, but he does speak a little to her husband, who’d been in Vietnam. She admits she feels left out, but understands that she wouldn’t know what to say even if he did.

 The other mother said she and her son were close and he texts her constantly—almost as if she is his lifeline. She is living his war experiences vicariously—and is now experiencing secondary PTSD.

 Another mother says that because her son turned whistleblower while observing unsafe unit behaviors in Iraq, his entire chain of command has turned against him, even going as far as losing his paperwork, and denying him the opportunity to go to the promotion board and giving him the worst tasks in the unit.

 Her heart breaks as she watches her son, who believed he was doing the right thing at the time, become the target of jokes, adverse actions and psychological abuse. She’s so bitter–angry at the Army.

Vietnam Veteran, Paul Silva remembers the day his draft notice came, “My mother sat down in the chair and cried.  At the time, I had no idea why.”

Later, he realized that his mom, a Navy Nurse during WWII, was remembering all the wounded Sailors and Marines returning from the war in the Pacific she’d taken care of.

Some moms and wives feel a constant, low-grade anxiety the entire time their loved ones are deployed, and seek offset these emotions.

 MAMF Writer in Residence Caroline LeBlanc, herself an Army Veteran, wrote poetry to chronicle both her husband’s and her son’s deployments to war.

Sons, daughters, husbands, wives—these lines from Caroline ‘s poem, Cries in the Night, seem to sum it all up:


It’s another night of not sleeping after not sleeping

the night before. I wander back to the guest room

that once belonged to my son deployed East.

Truthfully, the disturbed order of things

upsets me more than my wakefulness.

The air stifles, even with the window open in the new moon blindness. 



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