Advice from the inbox
Published: February 27, 2012
In January, I wrote about Nickayla Myers-Garner, an Army widow who stresses the importance of preparing military families for the loss of a spouse (“Preparing for the worst.") A reader wrote to thank Nickayla:
Thank you for your willingness to help others through the pain you’ve experienced. I came across an article about you and what you are doing to help military spouses before the worst happens to them.
It is something I can identify [with], having lost my wife while I was on active duty in 2006.
I’m now in communication with many military surviving spouses and agree there is much that we would do over ahead of time if we had the opportunity again.
Definitely agree that this is a series of conversations, which need to occur between spouses long ahead of time.
One important element I would add, which you may be doing but it wasn’t touched on in the article, some of those “in case of” conversations need to be with the parents of the servicemember.
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.
The matter is often complicated because the surviving spouse discovers to her dismay that her husband left his parents as the Person Authorized to Direct Disposition (PADD). The spouse wants Arlington Cemetery; the mother-in-law wants Texas. The spouse wants one type of marker; the mother-in-law wants another. It is as ugly as it sounds, and after 10-plus years of war the issue seems to be rampant and growing.
I doubt any conversations with parents can stop this entirely. Grief is a powerful motivator, and a mother grieving her child is no less wounded as the surviving spouse. But if it can help a few relationships, or at least reduce the legal ramifications of not talking, well, that would be a big improvement.
God bless you, Ms. Garner, for what you are doing. I know it isn’t easy to relive those threads.
— A Reader
Another reader identified with my column about adjusting to civilian life in the U.S. (“Life on the outside.") These are excerpts from her message:
I could relate to much of what you said in terms of the culture shock of your return from life overseas.
Coming home … to life in the States is a major shift in attitude, so I thought I would share a small part of my experience. ...
We returned to the USA from Belgium in 2000. In some ways, I am still going through culture shock. We were at a remote NATO unit ... just across the Flemish-French line (a 30-minute to 90-minute drive to various military facilities, including medical, schools and shopping.) Our children also went to the DODDS schools, which were a 45-minute bus ride each way every day.
We spent a lot of time in the car, as I volunteered heavily at the schools, my husband coached both kids’ soccer teams, our daughter was in gymnastics, and my son played baseball/basketball, etc. ... All in all, despite the distances driven, it was the best tour of our military career and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
We were fortunate to live in a village where many of our neighbors spoke English. Our neighbors were gracious and invited us to family parties, weddings and Christmas parties.
Coming back to the States, we were hit with culture shock. I felt as if we had lived in a time warp for three years.
As you wrote, this is part of military life, without the daily interaction of the military. We each have adjustments to make and while some are by choice, it is still different from what it was like when we were overseas.
— Feliz Cordova