Suffolk woman’s book helps military kids cope

Published 10:04 pm Friday, November 30, 2012

Navy wife Donna Purkey presents her self-published book, “Miss You To Pieces,” at Northern Shores Elementary School the day after Veterans Day. Her own family’s experiences form the basis of the story, which includes a guide for a game to help children cope with overseas deployments.

A children’s book penned by a Suffolk woman about a mom’s efforts to help her son cope with a father’s overseas deployment is based on first-hand experience.

During the almost decade they’ve been married, Donna Purkey’s husband, Woodrow “Keith” Purkey, a Navy warrant officer, has left home on five six-month deployments.

“I just have to come up with ways for my kids to cope with it,” Donna Purkey said.


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The last three deployments have been more challenging, she said, with the kids a little older and wiser. “They’ve been trying to understand where he is and why doesn’t he come home, and when is he coming home,” she said.

One successful method Purkey landed on to ease the burden is a puzzle game to count down the days.

“We add a piece of the puzzle each day,” she said. “It’s just a way to count the days down, and at the end we have something to show for it.”

Purkey, who said her son learned how to count by playing the game, had always wanted to write a book, she said. Friends encouraged her to stage a story around her family’s deployment experiences.

The result, “Miss You To Pieces,” is a 40-page children’s book with color illustrations telling the story of Riley and how he copes with his dad’s deployment.

“I self-published,” Purkey said, describing a process that required a lot of research. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into.”

Purkey readily admits that her book is based on a true story — her own family’s. “The boy’s name, Riley, is a combination of our children’s names,” she said.

She said she worked on the project during her husband’s past three deployments, doing the bulk of the work between this January and July, his most recent overseas mission.

The book, illustrated by Beth Wehner of Suffolk and Chesapeake’s Emily Erbig, is available from Amazon or by contacting Purkey at

Those who contact her direct can get an autographed copy, Purkey said. The book costs $9.99, plus tax.

In the back of the book are tips for doing the puzzle, she said, adding the game can also count down to things like a grandparent’s birthday or vacation.

The day after Veterans Day, Purkey presented her book at Northern Shores Elementary and shared her experiences with students.

“I had them raise their hand if they know a veteran, and almost every hand went up,” she said.

All in all, Purkey said, her children handle their father’s involuntary absences well, “but it’s not easy to explain why he’s not here for birthdays and Christmases.”