Resiliency is key for military families come deployment time when Canadian Forces members are required to work overseas, often for great lengths of time under challenging circumstances. The Christmas season can be an especially challenging time when families find themselves ‘suddenly solo.’ More often than not, the washer breaks or the kids get sick the day a loved one leaves.
Over the holidays, 70-plus members from 19 Wing are deployed on Operation IMPACT — the Canadian Armed Forces’ contribution to the Middle East Stabilization Force (MESF) – a multinational coalition to halt the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They are stationed in Kuwait.
The Comox Military Family Resource Centre supports families during periods of absence by providing resources, information and connection to others dealing with similar situations. Each Christmas, the centre organizes an event where people can enjoy some fellowship with an extended military family. This year’s event was held Dec. 13 at Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens.
“Being able to connect with other military families is often a source of support and comfort,” said Kassandra Dycke, deployment services co-ordinator at the centre. “When you’re without your loved one, and you’re far from your own family, you make family where you find yourself. This is what military families excel at. We work really hard to partner with families and develop their resilience. I would say that’s a feature that’s … unique to military families, because it’s necessary.”
Being resilient, she said, is having the ability to bounce back in circumstances of adversity or challenge. Military families also need to be flexible and adaptable.
“Over the holidays that kind of skill is very much called upon.”
Families appreciate the chance to stay connected with a loved one while he or she is deployed. One way is by sending care packages — an especially important gesture for children.
“For mom or dad to receive that package is a really important thing,” Dycke said. “It’s a big boost for morale at both ends.”
Isabella’s stepfather is deployed this Christmas. To brighten the holidays, the 11-year-old and her mother Karen prepared about 250 Christmas cards, hand-written with wishes from classmates and work colleagues. The cards were delivered to Canada Post in Comox and are en route to deployed members. The idea is part of a campaign to send letters to troops, initiated by Vancouver radio personality Docc Andrews.
“Docc told Ella that our troops are heroes, and that made her feel really good,” Karen said.
Last month, numerous volunteers at CFB Comox packed and labelled parcels to be shipped containing gifts on a member’s wish list. Some of the retailers around town got in the Christmas spirit and offered discounts or no charge on the items.
Families can send parcels free of charge either through “morale mail” or through Canada Post, which offers a free service during the holidays.
“And that then includes folks who might live far from a base,” Dycke said.
Many families will catalogue missed events including birthdays, graduations and/or holidays during a deployment.
“When the member comes home, often that’s when they’ll choose to celebrate those events, including Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day — whatever it is they missed.”
Where duty allows, members can Skype home, perhaps from the dinner table.
“Enjoy some turkey long-distance,” Dycke said with a laugh, recalling how the centre used to host families using video teleconferencing. “For some families that’s (Skype) a really effective way to connect over the holidays.”
For children, she said the question of where their mother or father might be and for how long is an abstract concept.
“So having that physical connection through a Skype call with mom or dad can be really meaningful, really important for little ones.”
Some people decide to fly home for the holidays if a loved one is overseas. But for those who stick around, the centre arranges social connections through activities like the Java Talk, where spouses can connect year-round. During the holidays, they might have a cookie exchange or share child care duties so each can get out for Christmas shopping.
“There’s a broad awareness of the experience because they’re all having the same experience,” Dycke said. “Families will tend to reach out and support one another.”
The CMFRC also operates youth clubs, which offer a way to connect and enable peer support. When a parent is deployed, the centre pays the drop-in fee.
“When a parent is deployed, they are going through something unique and challenging,” Dycke said. “That understanding and support that they can receive from each other can be really impactful for them…For military families this is the norm. Their strategies for building their resilience often depends on one another.”
The non-profit Comox Military Family Resource Centre offers ongoing services. At least 51 per cent of members comprising the board must be military spouses, as per the charter.
For more information call 250-339-8290 or visit bit.ly/1jYKhPi