Saying grace like God is at the table

Author's note: Nearly 600 soldiers from Jackson, Josephine, Douglas and Coos counties will begin training in February for deployment to Iraq with the 41st Brigade Combat Team of the Oregon Army National Guard. My friend's son is one of them.

Dear Julie:

That boy of yours, the one you love and protect like a mama bear? The one who is in so many ways the distillation and purification of the very best of you? Yes, him. He'll be gone in a few months, and this time — the days between "now" and "then" — will soon start to accelerate in a way you can't even begin to imagine. Yet the year or more that he's gone will feel like forever. So I'm going to tell you what I wish someone had told me before my husband's first deployment.

Let the little things go. Trust me, you'll forget all about them when he's gone.

Take pictures, lots of them, even if he doesn't like it. (You've got a Mom card; use it.) You're going to want to compress a lifetime's worth of memories into a few weeks. It can't be done, but you'll try anyway. This has the potential to make everybody crazy.

The male veterans in your life will reminisce about their time in the service, speculate about the current wars and what they would do, and/or spend hours watching war movies and documentaries on the History Channel or DVD. Beer will likely be involved. This will pass.

The women in your life will alternately hover and retreat, spending much time talking about nothing, before finally circling down to asking, "How are you?" Wine will likely be involved. This will not pass.

Well-meaning friends and extended family members who aren't directly impacted will offer up anecdotes about something they've experienced as comparable to what you're going through. It isn't. They're trying to connect. Let them.

Well-meaning acquaintances, upon learning of your son's deployment, will ignore it, change the subject, talk politics or launch into an anecdote about something they've gone through as comparable to what you're going through. See above.

When your boy deploys, you will, in effect, have a seat in the emergency room. You'll know he's in there, but you won't know if he's OK or exactly when he's coming out until he's home.

You may experience mood swings, which could include snapping at loved ones, barking at friends, and alienating strangers. This is perfectly normal. As a reference point, here's what Teri Wills Allison said during her son's deployment:

"I am not a pacifist. I am a mother. By nature, the two are incompatible, for even a cottontail rabbit will fight to protect her young "¦ I granted myself permission to be stark raving mad for the length of his deployment "¦ Right now, you might want to be careful about cutting in line in front of a middle-aged woman." Vent when you need to; weep when you must. You've got 55 acres.

That Military Family Leave Time your employer provides? It's there for a reason. This is it.

Make sure all of his legal documents are in order. Try not to think about what it means. Put them someplace safe and forget about 'em.

His mind will deploy before his body does. When he comes home, it works in reverse. Nothing you can do about that.

Your soldier is a young man, and doesn't want you fussing over him. Your soldier is a boy, and wants you fussing over him.

All of those things you are sure he already knows? Tell him again.

If you want him to remember, make it brief.

And this Thanksgiving, say grace like God is at the table.

Stacy Bannerman of Medford is the author of "When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind." Her husband currently is serving his second deployment in Iraq with the Washington Army National Guard 81st Brigade. Stacy can be contacted through her Web site,

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