I’ve personally dealt with a lot of loss of life in my short almost 31 years on this earth. I’ve experienced deaths in my family from a very young age, and recall bits and pieces of each of those experiences.
I know how I deal with it.
I give others room to deal with it how they’re going to deal with it.
Now that I’m a wife and mother, it’s just not that simple any more. There has been death in our lives since we have been together for both of us and our families. And I like to think we’re there for each other as much as we can be, but we also let each other deal with these things in our own ways.
As a wife, especially a Navy wife, I know that there may be times when I have to be the first to know about big things, good or bad in my husband’s family. It has happened twice now, and it certainly isn’t any easier. Yes, I am family, I am my husband’s right-hand, I am his best friend, but being the first of the two of us to find out about any kind of bad news coming from his side of the family just has never been easy for me. I accept it as a part of our life considering his career, though.
Recently my husband was on deployment and it was nearing the end, and I had a friend over for a quick dinner. Within minutes of getting to my house after we had been out, I received a phone call from his older sister. I should have known something was up right then and there, since I’m not huge on using the phone and everyone around me knows it. (Tech kid, what can I say?)
It’s never a good feeling to get bad news about family. Ever. But when it is news for me specifically, about someone in my family, for some reason I process it a bit differently. But when it involves my husband, it is something that just touches me in a far different way. Having to be the one that has to make a bunch of phone calls to every last person I can think of in order to attempt (yes attempt) to get a message to my husband is not a part of the process I in any way feel good about. Having to tell so many people something so intimate and personal and important… before ever getting to talk to my own husband about it, it hurts in a way I simply can not put into words. I hurt for him, and what I simply can not be there to do for him. I can’t be the one that looks into his eyes or at the very least be the voice on the other end of the line to tell him something has happened.
I had to do this for a second time recently, for the man that raised my husband from a very young age. He may have been his step-father, but step is something that doesn’t really exist in his family’s vocabulary. Family is family. Period. His dad was in the hospital, dying of a cancer no one knew he had.
I felt numb for a bit upon hearing the news, and slugged through the rest of the phone call, much of which I honestly don’t remember. Only after hanging up did the first emotional slap hit me and in that moment I just felt incredibly hot tears running down my face and my muscles just tightening up. I can’t begin to explain how thankful I was for the sheer dumb chance that I invited my friend over on such short notice to have her there with me while I got that news, and for her keeping my child (and hers) occupied so I could gather my wits and start making all the phone calls that I needed to make.
Making the phone calls suck, as anyone who ever has had to make phone calls to family and friends knows. But there is a cold weirdness to making phone calls to the Ombudsman, the command, to Red Cross… It’s so clinical and distant, even though people are generally trying to be friendly and sympathetic.
Then there is the waiting. That limbo of “I don’t f-ing know what’s going on…” Not knowing whether or not my husband is even going to be given the information. Especially being so close to the end of a deployment, are they going to tell him and let him off a few days early? Are they not going to tell him until they get into port? Fielding calls from the command, from Red Cross, from family.
Something happened, that I didn’t find out about until he came into port, and the details of I didn’t find out until a few days ago, that was really, really incredible. My husband not only was given clearance to call me, but his mother, and something I didn’t expect… his father in the hospital. He had been in and out of consciousness, not always very lucid. Hearing tell of it now, he was incredibly lucid for this conversation with his son. The amount of relief and joy that came over me when I found out he had been able to talk to him at all was incredible, considering we had no idea if he was going to hold on long enough for us to get James into port and fly out.
Unfortunately, he did not make it that long, but it was an incredible blessing that they were able to have the conversation they did.
And another call I received, was regarding his passing. James was not yet in port and once again, I had to make my calls, this time foregoing the Red Cross. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to have to convey news like this in the way we have to.
His Captain approved immediate leave, and has been incredibly supportive throughout this whole experience.
The time of homecoming from deployment is supposed to be a happy one. This is one that is burned into my heart for very different reasons. I had absolutely no idea if my husband was made aware that his dad had passed at that point, and being there to pick him up from the busses, words were not necessary. The embrace we shared was and is the most bittersweet embrace. It lasted a very long time, and was still far too short.
Fast forward about a month. my husband’s younger three sisters were all pregnant around the same time, so we decided since dad was being cremated to have a family gathering after two of the three babies were born since they were in different states at the time.
Last weekend everyone who could gather, gathered. It was a family gathering like we’ve not been able to manage in a while. Being there for him and our family was a very good experience, if for very sad reasons. And I hope I’ve been able to give him the support he needs and wants.
Our child is too young to understand any of what went on, but as a mother now, I can’t even imagine how he felt, let alone anyone else in his family, as I have not had a parent pass. And it makes me think of my own daughter, and how someday she will have to experience death around her from pets, to friends, and family. I don’t know if she’ll have to deal with it as much as I did, but I can only hope that in some small way I will be able to help her through it, and to help her find her way of dealing and to let her know that as long as she’s not harming herself, or others… whatever way she deals is ok.
It makes me think about what might have been going through my own parents’ minds and hearts with each passing of family and friends as we grew up. I won’t venture to say it’s the same or even similar to the musings I’ve had as of late, but it certainly makes me curious. I can only imagine the apprehension, the uncertainty, the possible struggle to find the words, the explanations, the ways to give comfort.
I only hope I am prepared enough to really give my daughter the support she may need when she has her own experiences with death.