With husband in Iraq, woman uses humor to cope
When Jan Donahue's husband was deployed to Iraq for the second time, she went through a period of depression. She has turned that around and is touring with her comedy act now.
Donahue's husband, Kevin, is serving with the Minnesota National Guard in Iraq. Besides her husband being gone three of the last four and a half years, she is raising their two teenage sons, was laid off from her state job and is trying to maintain two homes.
"We need to work together and get our soldiers back," she said. "We're tough. We're strong. We're from Minnesota."
Feeling down, Donahue, who lives in Rochester, met with a life coach and talked about turning things around with humor.
She performed her comedy for her local Family Readiness group, and they liked it. So did she. Now she's touring all over Minnesota, has some gigs in California, and a piece on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.
She stopped in Detroit Lakes this past weekend to entertain the Detroit Lakes-based Family Readiness Group.
"My mom always said 'be careful what you wish for," she started, admitting she may have wished for her husband to be gone from time to time.
Serving his second deployment overseas with the Minnesota National Guard, Donahue said she thinks it should be renamed the International Guard, getting nods of agreement from the Detroit Lakes group.
She said she thought her husband was coming home last month, so she bought a razor. And a treadmill. And started sleeping with some pillows in bed because she could "no longer be a bed hog."
Along the way, she has raised their two sons, moved across the state for her job, which she lost one year later, had surgery for kidney stones, and learned to take care of household chores she hadn't had to in the past -- like shoveling snow off the roof. All that stress added up to depression.
"We've gotta go with the flow. We've gotta get through this. I know we can," she said. By helping each other, she added, "hopefully the public catches on and helps us out."
Things that have gotten her through are the simple little thins people can do, like bringing over a hotdish one night.
"Just that little thank you, it feels so good," she said. People not forgetting our loved ones, she added, makes her feel so much better.
Donahue is able to keep in contact with her husband while he's in Iraq, both on the phone and over the Internet. She said they've had some "e-mail fights" because of his lack of ability to type with more than one finger.
"When he gets home, we're going to have a typing lesson, have a technology lesson, so if this happens again..." she said.
Donahue has mainly done local -- Minnesota area -- stand-up routines, but she is scheduled for a trip to California for two shows. She also tried out for the TV program "Last Comic Standing."
"I'm not a professional comic, I'm just sharing my personal story," she said. "Truly, this is not about me. I feel like a messenger. This makes me feel good to help you get away for just a few minutes. You guys are heroes, too, don't forget that."
Donahue said she would like to one day entertain the troops overseas. She plans to continue her stand-up routine once her husband returns at the end of the summer. She'd like to make a career out of it, she said.
One that could have a major take-off after ABC's airing of her performances. The piece was supposed to air on Monday, but because of the Virginia Tech shootings, it was postponed. The new air date is not known yet, Donahue will post the date of the airing on her Web page, myspace.com/themilitarycomic, when she knows the date.
The National Guard is paying for her expenses thus far, which she said is good or she wouldn't be able to travel around and entertain.
"I think I've finally found my calling in life."