In March of 2020 my son Liam, then fifteen months old, and I left our home on the beautiful island of Oahu, Hawaii for Lima, Peru. Snaphope.org, a non-profit organization I founded in 2015, provides school supplies for underprivileged children living in remote locations around the world. Our most recent endeavor took us to the village of Belen, Arequipa. It is a mission dear to my heart, and one I wished to share with my own child from the moment he was born. This project has allowed me to reclaim my own identity as an individual after becoming a military spouse and stay-at-home-mom without a conventional job. While I was sad to be separated from my Marine husband Jayson and our pup Elsa, I looked forward to sharing the experience of visiting with the precious children, their mothers, and the entire community with my son Liam. Unfortunately, we were unable to reach our final destination due to adverse weather conditions and road closures, which forced us to divert our cargo and cease operations prematurely.
COPING WITH QUARANTINE
Unbeknownst to me, on March 15, 2020, former Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra addressed the country in a nationwide televised speech and reported that the Council of Ministers approved a Supreme Decree, declaring a State of National Emergency. This Decree also mandated the country’s total closure of borders for a period of fifteen days due to the outbreak of Covid-19. Completely unaware of unfolding events, my child and I returned to our hotel after a lengthy road trip. Once there, I was awakened by a phone call I am certain I will not soon forget. I was urged to reach the airport immediately as the National Guard had gained control of the city, while the Peruvian army was roaming the streets to secure civil obedience.
The new quarantine period was extended for an additional thirty days. All of the country’s borders and airspace remained closed to domestic and foreign travel, which created a monopoly within agencies offering repatriation flights for anyone stranded. The process became lottery-like, overpriced, and emotional, preying on people’s desperation and anguish to return home. Citizens (one family member per household) could leave their homes exclusively to purchase groceries, conduct transactions at a financial institution, or visit the hospital. People over sixty-five years of age or children under fourteen were not allowed outside under any circumstances. Meanwhile, other non-essential businesses, parks and recreational areas, restaurants, and all flights remained closed to the public. Soon thirty days became one-hundred and twenty and the novelty of the original shock became ordinary, while tensions rose, and desperation morphed into tolerance.
LEARNING TO THRIVE
In retrospect, I must admit those days were grueling, stressful, terrifying, uncertain, and at times even hopeless. They often ended with a sense of defeat, inadequacy, and endless tears. Occasionally, my relationships felt fragile and strained and even my faith tank felt unfilled. Yet, I made a personal commitment to maintain a strong family bond for us regardless of the season and our geographical distance. For almost nine months, Liam Facetimed with his Papa twice a day every day. His stoic Marine Papa watched in awe, often tearful, as he realized his son was no longer a baby. Sometimes, the five-hour difference between countries would claim victory and force us to miss a call. However, despite the unrelenting challenges, and the sheer familiar sentiment of a deployment (this time inversed) we remained a family and dreamt of an impending homecoming.
Here are four things that helped me thrive during my inverse deployment and subsequent homecoming:
TIP 1: BE HONEST
My family and I obviously looked forward to a picture-perfect homecoming and filling all the relational gaps we opened unintentionally during those nine months. However, it would be absurd to assume that our daily dynamics would resume flawlessly. Contrary to public belief, the process of readjusting after a separation is not impeccable or fairytale-like but rather raw, tearful, intense, challenging, and almost unbearable at some points. It can also be curative, healing, and extraordinary at others. Distance and separation also make space for new routines and habits that may not be graciously received by your spouse. In our case, we added to the equation an additional fourteen-day mandatory quarantine period upon arrival (after almost sixteen hours of flying with a toddler). To say that our home often became an active battlefield is an understatement. Nonetheless, remaining vocal and transparent about our feelings and expectations through continuous raw dialogue, was paramount to our marriage well-being and sanity.
TIP 2: SEEK MENTAL-PHYSICAL BALANCE
This was one the easiest concepts to embrace and practice during our separation and reintegration periods. I knew from past personal experiences that maintaining physical activity would simultaneously grant me mental clarity. When we arrived in Oahu, despite a timely submission of the results of my negative Covid-19 test to the pertinent authorities, I was mandated to self-quarantine at our residence. This was unexpected and mentally challenging, as I was not prepared to embark on any additional confinement periods. However, it was during this intermission that I was able to reacquaint with my environment. This allowed for a forced yet necessary pause I would not have practiced otherwise. Although I prefer outdoor activities, I utilized our home space to exercise daily before sunrise while I could still enjoy the gift of silence. Carving personal time for myself was paramount.
TIP 3: PURSUE COMMUNITY
If I have learned one powerful concept during the past decade as a milspouse, it has been to seek community through every life-season. Community fills the gaps that our military lifestyle often creates. During our inverse deployment, my husband had the privilege of experiencing the infallible support of our military and local communities first-hand, while Liam and I were the recipients of constant immeasurable encouragement despite our geographical location and time difference. Through it all we saw glimpses of sympathy, kindness, compassion, and grace, sometimes from people we did not even know before our odyssey started. Love came in the form of uplifting words through a little screen, homemade meals left at our doorstep, exuberant fragrant flower leis, heartfelt notes, the scent of familiarity and comfort within our home, father-son sublime moments we got to document, and that alone was more than enough. On homecoming day our entire street was lined up with neighbors, friends, and our church family holding welcome home signs. We were enveloped in love from our community.
TIP 4: RESIST APATHY
I could have dwelt in the frequent chaos and the prolonged separation, letting my frustration turn into hopelessness, and welcoming anger as my heart’s newest permanent-resident. Yet I resisted. Carl Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” You can make your own choices while you are fully awake. Choices that are determined solely by your heart and not by the opinions of others, a worldwide pandemic, the current political state, or our country’s apparent divisiveness. Your contributions to this world will not be measured by the amount of money you make, or the prestige you gain with titles, but rather the way in which you share your unique gifts, passions, and the lessons you have learned. Exude moral imagination and creative compassion in your every action. Every day is a new opportunity to make an impact and to be proactive about affecting your environment positively. You have the undeniable power to make a difference and prevail.
Claudia Demarini-Welihan is a US Navy veteran and a USMC milspouse currently stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay in Oahu, Hawaii. She is mom to Liam (twenty-six months old) and Elsa (an 8-year-old Siberian Husky mix pup). She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology. She is the founder of Snaphope.org, a Christian non-profit featuring the orphaned and the poor through the art of journalistic photography. Some of her passions include social work, photography, building milspouse community, traveling, culture immersion, and healthy lifestyling.