Kristen Henderson

 

Kristen Henderson is the wife of a Navy Chaplin who has dedicated herself to helping military spouses and families find the help they need in meeting their unique challenges. She has also dedicated herself to helping the rest of us civilians understand what these families go through on a daily basis.

In a spiritual site such as this it would be more usual to highlight a peacemaker. But in light of President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, I felt it was important to bring attention to a part of our population most of us do not know about or feel connected to: our soldiers and their families. The daily struggles they face when a loved one is sent to war take a human toll which we can all understand--no matter what part of the political spectrum we find ourselves on.

In her book, While They’re at War. The True Story Of American Families on the Homefront (Mariner Books), Ms. Henderson helps to bridge this gap by giving us an intimate glimpse into the lives of real families who must cope with the challenges of the repeated deployments of their loved ones. She helps us understand the financial stress, the constant worry and anxiety, the challenges of raising children with a mom or dad at war.

In Henderson’s own words, “…these spouses are on an emotional roller-coaster. Some are paralyzed by constant news coverage. Others avoid the news all together. All fear that knock at the door and the news that their loved one is wounded or dead. That constant fear can lead to crying jags, shortness of breath, and panic attacks. This is normal and even has a name -- anticipatory grief -- but most spouses don't realize this and simply suffer alone. Depending on how a spouse copes, these challenges can produce amazing personal growth and lifelong friendships with their fellow military spouses. For some, however, it can lead to substance abuse, infidelity, or depression […] Children experience all the same feelings. The majority of military children attend public schools, and often their civilian teachers have no idea they're worrying about a parent in a war zone.” By helping us understand and find compassion Ms. Henderson is at the same time helping military spouses know they are not alone.

Her book and her website also directly help families find the services that can help them deal with both the financial and emotional trauma that result from the deployment of their spouses. Kristin Henderson’s work is also helping remove the stigma of needing and asking for help in a culture that relies on toughing it out.

Not only is Kristin Henderson’s book filled with very moving personal accounts of military families but she has some invaluable things to say about our perceptions of our volunteer soldiers. Here is her answer to a question asked of her by an interviewer.

Question: You’re a Quaker. What’s that like, to be a pacifist moving through the world of the military?

I’m an outsider on the inside, and it’s given me a unique perspective. I used to think the military had nothing to do with me, that we’d all be better off without a military. But after my husband joined the Navy, I was forced to confront my own prejudices. Gradually I began to realize that my own attitude was the result of a growing gap between the military and civilian society. Since we no longer rely on the draft to fight our wars, there’s a whole generation of Americans like me, both liberal and conservative, with no firsthand exposure to the military. That’s ominous for two reasons. If you look back at our history as a nation, whenever there have been fewer veterans among our elected leaders, that’s when our country has most often resorted to war to solve problems. And looking ahead, if civilians disengage from the members of our armed forces, the two groups run the risk of becoming increasingly alienated from each other. I don’t want to see the day the military no longer feels it has a stake in civilian society, because they’re the ones with the biggest guns. Understanding and embracing our military families is one way to help bridge that gap

Kristin Henderson has something valuable to teach us all. Please visit www.kristinhenderson.com to read more about what Ms. Henderson has to say.

Contributed by Arlene Shulman

Author photo by: Jenifer Morris