Can Anyone Talk To Their In-Laws About 'What If'?


I can talk to my in-laws about the number of cavities my ten-year old will soon have if he doesn’t stop eating so many Pop Tarts.  I can talk to my in-laws about the record lack of snow this year. We can talk about movies last seen in 1974. We can never, never, NEVER talk about what we would do if something would happen to my husband on deployment.  And nothing will ever change that.

So I was struck by Terri Barnes column at Stars and Stripes this week. One of her readers, whose spouse died on active duty, pointed out that conversations that cover “what happens if” really need to be conducted with the parents of the service member prior to deployment.

“In the surviving spouse communities I affiliate with, a common theme is fights with the surviving parents. At best, it’s verbal bashing and social media wars. At its worst, it involves the courts and legal action, as each side takes the other to court over burial arrangements, disposition of benefits, visitation of kids — all the worst hallmarks of an ugly divorce.”

That isn’t a scene anyone wants—parents or spouses. Reasonable people can recognize that if the worst happens, grief will be a powerful factor in how everyone behaves. So it makes perfect sense we should all sit down with mutual our in-laws.  We should conduct frank discussions about “what if” way before the deployment ever happens. I totally agree.

I totally agree that you should sit down with your family. My in-laws are never going to get beyond the weather and everybody’s health.  I wish they would.  I wish we would all behave like a TV movie, hold hands around the dining table and review what happens if a service member dies.  But we won’t. We are a family of polite silences.  We are a family of the averted gaze.  If something happens to my husband expect longer silences and stonier gazes and a coldness that would make the polar icecap refreeze.

In the planning part of my brain, I know that the “what if” conversation needs to happen with the in-laws.  But in the stillness beneath, I know that if we were the kind of family who could sit around a table and have such a difficult conversation before deployment, we would also be the kind of family who could get through the grief process without having it turn into an ugly divorce.  In the meantime will rely on luck and hope--and pray that will be enough.

Navy wife Jacey Eckhart is Editor of SpouseBuzz and author of I Married a Spartan??  The Care and Feeding of Your Military Marriage available on iTunes and on www.jaceyeckhart.com.





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