Kari M. Pries is the wife of Invictus Games Toronto 2017 Team Canada co-Captain Simon Mailloux, and knows first-hand about enduring the separation with which many military families must cope during the holidays. Find a comfortable chair, a quiet moment and read on:

Christmas Connections: Military Families During the Holiday

On Christmas Eve during a deployment to Afghanistan, Rhonda Crew found herself hunkered down in a bunker with a friend as a rocket attack raged overhead. They kept singing Christmas carols, took smiling photos, and recalled other soldiers in other wars who had also sung carols in the trenches.

While taking cover from the rockets, Crew didn’t have access to the internet and telephones that would connect her to family celebrations at home. The saving grace was that she had already contributed to their Christmas preparations.

“I think the best thing that I ever did that impacted my family as well as myself was staying involved in Christmas,” she reflects. “I would write emails and messages and Skype about Christmas, the plans and what presents [husband Duane] was buying everyone.”

Keeping deployed loved ones involved in holiday celebrations through phone calls and packages connects military families who go long months without being able to exchange hugs. Attempting to keep things in a routine at home is equally important, especially if there are kids who don’t always quite understand time and distance. Some choose to get away and do something completely new so that the gap in family holiday traditions is less noticeable. Others make long-lasting “advent” calendars filled with one sweet for each day of the expected deployment.

“We just go on like life is normal,” explains Angela Baughman, whose husband is based at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. “We make sure we talk on the phone and that he talks to each child and FaceTimes with them.” Her children take time selecting a toy to give to their dad to travel with him. “They get excited to see it when he brings it home.”

Despite best efforts to keep things ticking along, life for military families can get lonely and feel disconnected. The experience for military partners without kids can be just as rough. “I wasn’t into [the holiday celebrations] but I don’t have kids so [I] didn’t need to force myself to be,” reflects Elizabeth Ward, whose partner went on three tours to Afghanistan. For others, visits with family and friends help to share the burden and create new support communities.

Remembering military families during the holidays — through small actions — can make a big difference to those who are living through a deployment. A hug can go a long way in creating needed connections with others. A simple “Hello” and “Thank you for your contribution” lessens the heartache.