Missed Moments: Blue Star Families and Sleep Number Aim to Provide Support Through the Hardest Times
Imagine being separated from your spouse and children for months with just 24-hours notice because your job demanded it. Most couldn’t imagine doing so, but our military families endure these experiences regularly. It’s hard on spouses who become single parents overnight and can be excruciating for the kids. The toll these unique experiences can take is why our military families need our support.
Families like Heathers. Her husband is a full-time police officer while also serving in the Texas Army National Guard. In the nearly nine years since he joined, their family has endured three long deployments in addition to shorter separations for training and assignments. “Each deployment has impacted me and our kids in different ways,” Heather recalled. “His first deployment was right after our daughter was born. She was born prematurely and was very sick. I had to manage her care while still looking after our older son. Overwhelming is an understatement. It was painful on us all because when he came back after, she was over a year old and didn’t know who her Dad was. His next deployment to Afghanistan was really tough on our son who was old enough to understand what it all meant. At only 9, he worried every day about his Dad and his safety.”
Dealing with the time apart and the big emotions that come with it is a very familiar occurrence for most military families. In fact, according to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey (MFLS), more than a quarter (27%) of active-duty family member respondents have been separated for 6 to 12 months out of the last 18 months. Deployments and time away are already hard enough for military spouses and children. It seems impossible that it could get any worse. But that’s exactly where Heather has found herself.
“This recent deployment has probably been the hardest on me mentally,” Heather shared. “With only 24-hours notice, we had no time to plan, to say goodbye, or feel even a little prepared. We have had so much back to back—between recovering still from the last deployment, COVID-19, and our house being ruined in the Texas freeze, it’s been a lot, and I have really struggled with this one. It is hard being all things for everyone. As moms, we already are, but during a deployment, you really are all the things for everyone. I have to be strong for my kids, strong for my husband serving our country, and try not to fall apart in the process. It can be a lot and a lot of juggling on my part.”
The challenges can feel even more overwhelming for Heather as a National Guard spouse without a strong network of support from a military installation and surrounding military families. “Not living on a base or anywhere close to one, there are not a lot of military families around us, so I didn’t have a lot of people to turn to,” Heather said. “Sometimes, local civilian spouses will joke that they would love the idea of a ‘break’ from their spouse or getting the bed to themselves, but when you do it for months or a year at a time, it gets lonely. Oftentimes, I feel like I’m in a lifeboat all alone and not surrounded by other military families that understand what we go through.”
With all of that stress and weight on your shoulders, it’s super important to get a quality night’s sleep. Yet, according to the 2020 MFLS, only 38% of active-duty family respondents get enough good quality sleep to function effectively. What’s more, 15% of active-duty service member respondents and 6% of active-duty spouse respondents report having a current sleep disorder diagnosis. A desire for good sleep led Heather to connect with Blue Star Families during her husband’s Afghanistan deployment.
“When my husband first joined the Army, I got connected with several military groups to help me,” Heather recalled. “Blue Star Families was one of those groups that I would follow on social media and via email. In those beginning days, they really helped me learn how to navigate being a military family. Blue Star Families really helped me, especially when I couldn’t talk to my husband and ask him. When Jerrod was deployed, Blue Star Families posted about the Sleep Number Sweepstakes. At the time, Jerrod had just broken his ribs from a mission, was sleeping on a hard board, and was working 13-hour days, 7 days a week. When I saw that pop up, I thought he deserved a good bed to come home to. I remember telling Jerrod the next time I talked to him what I had done. He said, ‘Heather, I love that your heart was thinking of me and wanting to do something sweet, but baby, you know 1,000s of people will fill that out and we will probably never win.’ We both laughed and got a good kick out of it, but then a few days later when I got the phone call, I couldn’t believe it. I literally broke down and cried on the phone.”
Not only did Heather win a Sleep Number 360® Smart Bed for herself and her husband, but Sleep Number also made sure their children received brand new beds and had it all delivered by none other than Amari Cooper of the Dallas Cowboys. “Blue Star Families and Sleep Number showed up and showed out BIG time,” Heather shared. “At our house, we have an ‘adventure wall’ filled with experiences and places our family has gone. I want to always be able to look at that wall and be reminded of how far we have come and how blessed we are. We have a big picture of the day Blue Star Families, Sleep Number, and the Dallas Cowboys came to our house. That is an adventure I don’t ever want to forget. During such a hard deployment for my kids, this experience was one of the biggest blessings to come out of it. To see the joy on my kids’ faces that day – it will be embedded in memories forever!”
But Sleep Number couldn’t let Heather have all the fun with Jerrod overseas. The entire family was invited to attend a Dallas Cowboys football game in the fall when Jerrod returned home. But in the same week as homecoming, the world shut down due to COVID-19, and those plans had to be put on hold.
Heather and Jerrod assumed the opportunity had passed. However, with more than half of active-duty family respondents to the 2020 MFLS reporting that COVID-19 had made their own mental health (59%) and their children’s mental health (52%) worse or much worse, Blue Star Families and Sleep Number knew something had to be done. We reached out to Heather and her family to invite them to attend a 2021 game. “Blue Star Families, even two years later, continues to be a big blessing for our family,” Heather said. “When COVID-19 hit, we very well could have never been asked to go to the game, but they never forgot about our family or our kids and still wanted to show up for us! The kids were so excited that we all got to go and be a part of that experience together.”
That excitement quickly changed when just one week before the game, Jerrod deployed again, which meant he would have to miss out on the experience “It was heartbreaking and honestly really difficult for both Jerrod and I to digest,” Heather recalled. “It was just one more thing on the list of things he would miss. Of course you automatically think of the big things like holidays, birthdays, kids sporting events, or plays, but then there are so many other things that service members are gone for, and this, for us, was one of those big moments that was two years in the making because of COVID-19. For him to miss it in the end because of another deployment was really devastating.”
True to form, Heather continued to do her best to take everything in stride, using the game as a fun distraction to help take the sting away from having to abruptly say goodbye to their dad. “It very much helps to have something to look forward to for myself and for the kids,” she shared. “To look back and be thankful that even in the hardest times of our lives, our family is blessed with the right people and organizations to make that deployment a little less hard. The game came at the most perfect time for my kids who were very much hurting. It’s not only a distraction for them, but also for me! It makes the tough days easier seeing their joy in those moments, and I couldn’t be more appreciative and thankful. Even sweeter is that I know Blue Star Families will continue to be there for my family, providing resources, support, and, most importantly, understanding when we need it most.”
Heather’s right. We’ll continue to show up and support military families like hers alongside partners like Sleep Number. Once again, we asked deserving families to enter Sleep Number’s “Thank You, Military” sweepstakes to win a Sleep Number 360® Smart Bed of their own. Check our our social media channels to learn about the winners and see some of the excitement from this year!