Preparing for the worst
Published: January 11, 2012
The folder is labeled “Pallbearers.” It holds the names of my husband’s closest friends and a list of his favorite hymns. We stashed it, along with our wills, in the back of a file cabinet several years ago. It is a testament to our recognition that the worst could happen, though its location probably shows we don’t want to be reminded too often.
Army wife Nickayla Myers-Garner has a constant reminder. Her husband, Capt. Mark Garner died in Afghanistan in 2009. Nickayla said she and her husband had prepared for that possibility before his deployment, sparing her some stress and confusion after his death.
Since then, she has been encouraging other military couples to do the same, giving a presentation called “Preparing your Relationship for the Unthinkable: Military Casualties” to spouses and active duty members near her home in Germany.
“You have a choice now to talk and plan,” she tells military couples. “If this happens, you don’t have a choice.”
Her husband had already planned his funeral, she explained, allowing her to carry out his wishes. She said she has heard from many who wish they had done the same.
“Families want one thing. The spouse wants another,” she said. “Having a plan ahead of time solves those differences of opinions.”
Talking about practical considerations like funeral plans and a burial location now can alleviate uncertainty for grieving families later.
“I thought (my husband) might have wanted to be buried at (Arlington) National Cemetery or at West Point,” Nickayla said. Because they discussed it before his death, she knew he wanted to be buried in their North Carolina hometown.
“I have so much peace knowing that Mark is resting where he wanted to be,” she said. “If you don’t know about those and other seemingly smaller decisions, like what songs to play, you can’t get past that to do the real business of grieving.”
Most of us probably have prepared wills and life insurance, but Nickayla emphasized that couples should plan for more than finances.
She also encourages conversations about where a surviving spouse and children would live, in the event of a death.
“What location is going to provide that support for you, not just financially but emotionally?”
Living near a military community may be important to some, while others want to be near family. The military will provide one move, so it is important to choose a location with forethought.
Military families living overseas should know that although their housing allowance extends for a year after losing a military member, Status of Forces Agreements might require them to leave a foreign location within 90 days. Nickayla remains in Germany because her contract job provides SOFA status.
The possibility of losing a mate doesn't top anyone’s list of favorite topics. It can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, and some even fear it is bad luck.
One friend told Nickayla that her husband avoided the subject, saying, “If I talk about it, I’m basically dead.”
Nickayla said that it helped her and her husband to use humor when discussing questions of life and death. Rather than have a serious conference on these subjects, she said they would talk about it while riding in the car or at bedtime.
She advises couples who find this subject too painful to take it in small doses.
“Ease into it,” she said. “Bring it up gently. Even if you only get one question answered (each time), that’s more information than you had before.”
Although the subject is difficult, Nickayla said the conversations she had with her husband eased some stress after his death.
“Unfortunately in the military, casualties are higher compared to other career fields,” she said.
“I hope this is information that you can use 60, 70 years from now after a long, prosperous and happy lifetime, but go ahead and take care of it now,” she said.
I think it’s time for me to dig that folder out of the back of our file cabinet.
Nickayla welcomes questions and comments via email. Contact her at email@example.com