When news starts to trickle out that a soldier, airman, sailor or Marine has been killed, the community holds its breath. You look over your shoulder to make sure your own service member is still sitting there on the couch, safe. If he or she is not home, you start to worry, even if doing so is unreasonable.
“It couldn’t have been him,” you tell yourself. And yet you wonder. The tension builds.
“Oh please, God, please – let it not be my spouse.” You feel guilty for hoping it was someone else’s.
“I hope it’s not anyone we know. I hope it’s not our unit. ” The realization that it has to be anyone at all is crushing, like you are wishing death on someone else so that you and those near you can escape it.
And then the speculation begins on social media. If you are near the base where the accident occurred or where the people killed were stationed, you can feel the pressure in the air. Well-intentioned friends and neighbors share news stories. News outlets, maybe even reporting from near the scene of the incident, feed you the details they have. No one has said anything official yet, but words like “fiery crash” don't sound good.
And now you, like so many other spouses near you, are waiting for The Knock.
Your husband doesn’t fly helicopters. Your wife wasn’t anywhere near that spot in Afghanistan. So there’s no way it could be you. And yet …
The weight of anticipating that Knock, even when it is improbable, is one of the great burdens of military family life. It’s one of the things that makes signing up for all of this on purpose seem, at times, like lunacy. We are told to not let worry about The Knock change us or impact us. We are coached on resiliency and moving forward.
And yet the weight is there. The Knock worry lingers in the corner like an unwelcome guest or that demon of a mouse you just can't trap. It’s sneaky like that.
Sometimes it’s easy to question whether or not there is a better, faster way in the age of instantaneous news and social media to get official word of a death to the family sooner. When accidents happen or troops are killed downrange, it’s easy to figure out who it might’ve been. Our military communities are so small. Only so many are deployed to that exact area. Only a few people from a certain base were out flying that aircraft at that moment.
Officials wait to release specific details on any accident or attack for that reason. Even if you logically know that if a helicopter, for example, crashed near your base and your spouse was out flying a helicopter at that time, and it might have been him, you still don't know for sure. You still may convince yourself that, no, you are safe.
Every inane seeming detail brings it closer to home. And that's why they should be withheld, and usually are, until The Knock gets to you. You shouldn't have to see enough information on the news that you know for certain that The Knock is coming before it gets there.
It’s unlikely at any time in the age of social media that The Knock will be a total surprise. When we asked SpouseBuzz readers in 2012 whether or not officials should consider changes to the notification system that might speed up the process, the answer was a resounding “no.” About 80 percent of respondents said that the system currently in place should be kept, regardless of whether or not everyone is smart or considerate enough to honor it by keeping their mouths shut. We have to trust the system, you said. We have to believe that when officials release information to news outlets, they know what they are doing and that they have a plan behind their timing.
And here’s why: even though the notification system is not perfect, even though the weight of The Knock is a burden we constantly carry, there’s comfort in knowing exactly what to expect from the process. And in a moment when there are no good things, that’s something to lean on.