Anticipating the Worst


I knew exactly how it would play out. I'd gone over it a million times in my head. Sometimes during the middle of the day, sometimes at night when I couldn't sleep. I refused to be caught unprepared.

I didn't have to worry about a stranger knocking on my door. My husband did not deploy with a unit, he deployed as one representative from his unit. So, his Colonel would know before I would, and he would send my husband's co-workers to my door. He would probably come himself, even.

I would open the door and know immediately why they were there, but at least I wouldn't hear about it from someone who didn't know my husband. The news would be bad, but I had decided that having familiar faces, friends even, deliver the news would somehow make it less painful.

I would look at them calmly and say, "no." Then they would ask to come in.

Their wives would either be with them, or arrive shortly. I was friends, good friends, with the wives, and the husbands would know they would be needed.

I would clutch my dog and cry, but only briefly, because I would know that things needed to be done. I would also know that it would be important to me, as strange as it sounds, to accept the news as gracefully as possible and to function as efficiently as possible. "Don't fall apart, don't fall apart," I would repeat over and over to myself. "There will be time to fall apart later."

"Where is he?" I would ask.

If he was still in theater, I would want - no demand - to fly over and accompany his body back home. I would not want my husband making the journey home alone. I couldn't be there to hold his hand and tell him how much I loved him in his final moments and by gosh, I didn't want him coming home without me being with him.

I always wondered if the Army would honor this request, and finally decided that they probably would not. However, I would press and I would use whatever contacts I had, and I would tell them, "I don't care if I have to talk to the President of the United States, this WILL happen." Who wants to argue with a grieving widow, let alone a strong-willed one? Not a battle I expected to win, but one that I was going to fight. Sometimes my persistence can be an annoyance to my husband, but I knew that he would expect no less of me in this instance, whether or not he thought it was the best course of action. He would still be proud.

In the end, I would lose the battle because people would explain, in what they believed to be rational terms, why I couldn't go. I'll be needed here, it's dangerous. blah blah blah. I would relent, but make it crystal clear that I will be at Dover Air Force base the moment my husband arrives. They would say, "Absolutely. Of course."

People would be scurrying around my house and my friends would all have that look on their faces. That look that said they weren't sure how much pity or how much strength they should be showing. Who could blame them? What do you say to a widow?

I would excuse myself and go upstairs to make the dreaded phone calls. My dog would follow me upstairs and jump on the bed. I would pick up the phone and put it back down a few times. Finally, I would talk to the dog and cry a little more. I would tell him that his daddy loved him so much. Then, I would do what had to be done. My first phone call would be to my husband's oldest sister. His mother deserved to have the news delivered in person, surrounded by her other children. We wouldn't chat much, we would both know that we had jobs to do and we'd touch base later. Next, I would call my sister, which in some ways would be harder than calling my husband's sister. She would be charged with driving to my parent's house and telling them what had happened. I would tell her to tell them that I'm doing okay and I will call them later. For now, I had to do a million different things.

I would go back downstairs and tell the official contingent that they can leave, I'll be fine. The wives are here with me and that's all I need. I would then assign tasks. I would take out my address book, highlight people who need to be called, and ask them to do the calling. While they were busy with that, I would do the one thing I never wanted to do. Take out the little yellow envelope. I needed to review the will in case I was about to make decisions that were contrary to what we had discussed previously. I would review the will, very calmly, and find no surprises. Everything is how we had decided it would be.

I would make sure the CACO knew that he needed to get to work on arrangements at Arlington National Cemetery. And I needed to do the same, which reminded me, and I know this would be an unusual request - but our dog would have to present at the graveside service. My husband loved that dog with his heart and soul.

The next few days would be a blur. I would be busy with plans and coordinating travel and lodging for both of our families and our out-of-town guests. My girlfriends would take me shopping for the perfect dress to wear, and it would feel comforting to be surrounded by them. I'd probably buy a new pair of very high black heels too. My husband always got a kick (no pun intended) out of my love for high heels. He would approve of this purchase.

Nobody would patronize me, they would know I don't like that. If anyone didn't know, my sister and girlfriends would be sure to let them know. My best friend, Cynthia - who has more energy than the energizer bunny - would be a Godsend. She would take charge of things that needed to be done, things that didn't require my stamp of approval, and she would handle them like a pro, as always.

I would meet my husband's body when it arrived at Dover. I would run my hands over the casket, hug it even, but I would try to remain as composed as possible. The funeral and burial would go off without a hitch and I would say to myself, "a fitting tribute to a true hero."

A couple of days later, when everyone had finally left, I would be grateful. I would then admit that I was tired. Before sleep though, I would pull out the little yellow envelope once again and reach for what I knew was there - the letter my husband wrote to me if the worst were to happen. Then, and only then, would I fall apart.

Who really knows if everything would have gone as I had imagined it would, but that's the way I imagined it.

Just like AWTM, I had imagined the entire thing. Not only imagined it, but planned it. And, just like AWTM, I had never once told anyone because I realized that it sounded incredibly morbid and irrational. Well, turns out it's not. Turns out, a lot of us do this, for many reasons. As for me, I wanted to be prepared, and have some idea of how everything would work if I ever received the knock on the door. In an odd way, it was a way for me to be in control of something beyond my control.

NavyChiefSqueeze's comment illustrates that some of us think we're crazy for going through this thought process. Nice to know we're not.

Join us tomorrow evening at 9:00 EDT on SBTR for a conversation about Anticipatory Grief with journalist, author and milspouse, Kristin Henderson, one of my favorite authors. It promises to be an emotional, but enlightening program and we hope you join us.

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