Coming home

Helping you and your soldier through this transition.

Soldiers comfort each other at the funeral for Max Steinberg, the American lone soldier killed in one of the first days of Operation Protective Edge. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Soldiers comfort each other at the funeral for Max Steinberg, the American lone soldier killed in one of the first days of Operation Protective Edge.
I think I speak for the nation as we prepare to welcome home our soldiers, our beloved heroes.
They are our sons and daughters, brothers, husbands and fathers. Gone for far too long and exposed to far more than they should have been at this tender age, they will be forever changed, as we all will.
The conditions were harsh: it was hot, they were exhausted, barely ate or slept, and faced, perhaps for the first time, and maybe even repeatedly, the reality that they might be wounded or even killed.
They have done an amazing job with unparalleled dedication and professionalism, and we, their family and friends, are incredibly proud.
The private thoughts and concerns of our soldiers, before entering enemy territory, were concealed by tremendous bravery and love for their country. As you, their loved ones, held their hand, if only virtually, you hoped they felt your presence and knew that your heart was with them with every step of the way.
You longed to care for and comfort them. Your wait for your soldier has been long and intense as what began as an operation, turned into a month-long war.
Your soldier never left your thoughts. You waited anxiously for calls, just to hear in his voice that all was okay. You constantly worried about him, and prayed that he received your strength. You felt each loss almost as if it were your own. And you did this all while running to dodge missiles as the sirens sounded, risked travel or stayed inside for days on end with your children, whose activities were canceled. You joined the ranks of the “lightly wounded”: you jump at the slightest noise and wonder if the noise you just heard was real or imagined.
You have been through your own trauma and this will impact both the way you yourself cope and how you are able to be there for, and help, your soldier. In order for you to heal and be helpful, you too will need to acknowledge and talk about all that you have experienced.
Both you and your soldier have been through a very abnormal situation, and while many of the reactions you each have are very normal and expected, they may be painful and frightening.
At last, your soldier is coming home and you can’t wait to welcome him. You just want to hold and protect him and pretend that everything is all right again.
He may want this too, but you can’t predict just how he will respond, and this in itself is difficult. He may be completely overwhelmed or he may appear to be fine.
One minute all may seem to be okay, and the next, nothing may be.
The transition from army to home is never easy, but now, after a month fighting a war, he may experience coming home with mixed emotions. You both need to be patient and take the time to adjust. You must take your lead from your child, though this may be difficult.
The world he has just left is very different from the “normal” one he has now re-entered, and the best thing you can do is to simply be there for him – for now, on his terms. Don’t worry if he is not forthcoming in sharing his feelings, be supportive but allow him to reveal his thoughts and emotions at his own pace and in his own time.
As he examines and tells his narrative slowly, he will come to make sense of it and heal. Some things may be very upsetting for him and reviewing these over and over can cause more pain. Initially, it may feel like you are tiptoeing around so as not to upset him. It may be hard to be patient.
While you may want to shower him with love, he will need some space. While some things may seem familiar, others may feel strange, and his whole body will need to make the adjustment. This too will take time. Depending on the support he received in his unit, and the sharing he did with other soldiers, he will come to appreciate and remember that most people are kind and loving and warm. The love and comradeship he felt among his fellow soldiers is to be cherished and like nothing else in this world. They are the only people that truly understand what he has gone through and they understand him, without even an exchange of words.
As the days turn into weeks and your soldier returns to his previous life, he may need to help you, help him.
If at any time you’re not sure what to do, ask him what you can do that would be helpful for him. This may change over time, so ask often, don’t guess and don’t be surprised if he’s unsure of what he needs.
Don’t be surprised too if, when he first comes home, he’s exhausted, yet has difficulty sleeping. Food that he’s been dreaming of may not taste good, and he may even feel physically unwell. He may be irritable, at times may not want to hear what you have to say, and may tune you and others out, wanting only to be left alone. At other times he may value your presence and want you nearby. He may appear to be that brave soldier and yet the next minute seem anxious, frightened or confused. His behavior may be unpredictable and erratic. He may have nightmares and intrusive thoughts; sights, sounds and smells may trigger memories and things may seem unreal as he reviews in his mind what he has been through the past several weeks.
His entire body and nervous system need a period of calm to slowly adjust.
With time, he should start to feel better, and these symptoms of stress and trauma should begin to diminish.
It always takes more time than one would expect, and given all that you both have been through, it may be hard to be patient. While most people are resilient, adjust and do fine after having time to integrate all they’ve been through, some would benefit by talking with a professional. If you have any concerns, make sure that he gets help and that the whole family, if need be, gets help as well. Personality, support, degree of exposure, and resilience are just a few of the individual differences that make it hard to predict who will have an easier time in the coming weeks.
Words cannot express the nation’s gratitude to each soldier for putting their life in danger to safeguard ours.
We pray that our soldiers will take the time they need to heal and to look after themselves, to stop and calmly breathe, to notice the beauty in our amazing country, to appreciate the familiar smells and sights, and to enjoy the smile their return brings to people’s faces. As a country we’ll be okay. We must be and we know it.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra’anana, and author of the book Life’s Journey: Exploring Relationships – Resolving Conflicts.
She has written about psychology in The Jerusalem Post since 2000. Send correspondence to or visit her website at