I grab a paper and pen and begin my hurricane evacuation list. My memory has been awful over the last few weeks (and that is an understatement) so I have had to write everything down - and I mean everything. I even write the basic items (the things any Southern Louisiana girl automatically knows to bring in the wake of a major hurricane): family photos, insurance documents, jewelry, etc. I add a few more "well-duh's" to the list - Logan and Eli's scrapbooks, birth certificates, power-of-attorney's, shot records.
I go into the closet to see if there is anything I have forgotten and there it is. I had laid it flat on the floor, beneath the clothes so it didn't scream out at me. I would move it into another closet entirely if I was in my own house. The large, black hanging bag with the Army Seal on it. We all have one - at least one. It holds his uniforms - both the Class A's and the Dress Blues.
These can never be left behind. I take my pen and add them to the list.
"Why is there a funeral planner on the table?" my dad asked, many months ago.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my Mom shake her head at him. I hadn't talked to him about it - my mom knew. She is my sounding board, my strength. I had said we were going over to Gil's but that wouldn't be odd. Gil was the deacon who had married us. He would baptize our second child. He was the first person I told I had met the man I was going to marry. He supported my husband and I when we needed it most. He stayed in contact with C through his first deployment. He is one of our closest allies in this life, a friend, a veteran, our rock. He means so much to us as a unit, as a partnership. He was the man C wanted to be there - to be the one. I respected that, I understood it, I hated it.
My dad came up to me and put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. That was all there was to do. Sometimes it is better to say nothing.
I do not think in any other life this would be practical. What 20-something plans their final wishes? This is not the way it is supposed to be for me. At this age, I should not know the casket my husband wants, or the readings at the funeral, or the eulogists, or the uniform he will wear. I should not hear him speak of the practicality of who will be able to come, who he wants as an escort, where he wants to be laid to rest. I am too young for this. He is too young for this.
But I understood why it needed to be done. Because this is our normal. This is our reality and my husband has seen what happens when soldiers and their families ignore it. As I said before, he has been on the other side of things. He has seen what happens when a family loses their soldier. He has seen what happens when a family has planned and he has seen what happens when a family has not. There are emotions that run hard and fast when these things are not written down and directed and he has seen some horrible outcomes from it.
And so I sat beside him and held his hand. I listened to his questions and I listened to the responses. I listened as the man I married and the man that married us spoke of the only Church C and I both feel most connected to. The Church where we were married, the church where our son has been baptized, the church where I was baptized, the church I first sang in, the church that molded me, the Church that saved me. The Church that I grew up in that he wanted to have welcome him Home. And my heart was broken with every question, with every answer, with every pen stroke marking the finality of it. I, instead, tried to focus on his hand, I rarely spoke, I just took in the feel of his skin, the warmth of the pumping blood beneath it, the pink color of it, the strength within it. I never once let go of his hand.
I believe it is safe for me to say that none of my non-military friends have done this with their spouses - planned the other's last rites (the few who are married). And I am sure that they would find this strange. It is strange. There is nothing normal about planning what will happen when you leave this life. There is nothing normal about having the clothes your husband would be buried in on the floor of your closet. There is nothing normal about having a file in your desk drawer with his last will and wishes when he hasn't even reached his 30 birthday yet. It is not normal.
"Aren't you scared?" she asked, staring at me straight on. "You know, that he's going to be killed?"
"Of course," was all I could muster with the anger beginning to well up inside of my core. I felt my veins pumping and my temperature increasing.
"Well, how do you handle the worst-case scenario?"she asked with her doe-eyes staring directly at me. How could she honestly be serious.
I do not believe that as an Army Wife I am entitled to anything from anyone. I do believe that our soldiers are entitled to the greatest praise and the highest honor - however, I firmly and adamantly do not for an instant demand the same. But, and it's a big "but", the pain of this reality that we carry with us each day that our soldier is gone does demand your respect and your courtesy. Do not get me wrong, we chose this, as I have said so many times before, we did - each one of us chooses to carry this. And for the majority of the time, we are powerful, strong individuals - but there is a line that should not be crossed. Please do not ask us if we fear that our husbands will not come home. Please do not act like by asking that question it makes you a concerned individual. It makes you stupid.
I do not own an appropriate "funeral" black dress. My husband and I have discussed that if his team loses a soldier during this deployment, I will represent him and the team at the funeral. This was a matter-of-fact discussion. It is reasonable in this life but it is not in the "normal" classification of the outside world. I have not bought one, I cannot bring myself too. I feel like I would jinx things - as incredibly stupid as it sounds - but I have gone to purchase one several times. I have even found a few. It is practical to have one now - just in case. And I am, for the most part, a practical person. I have given myself pep-talks before entering the store, in the dressing room, while walking to the counter. But I always put the dress back - sometimes with tears running down my face. And to anyone who notices me, they will think me far from normal.
But all of us wake up sweating from the same nightmares. We all forget to breathe when a car we do not recognize is parked in front of our house. We all panic for a moment when the doorbell rings and we aren't expecting anyone for a visit. This is our normal - and we all experience it. Do not ask about it. We all process this reality differently, we all handle the abnormality of it in our own way. We all pray that we remain in this reality, that we can just live in the fear because as long as we live in that we are not living in the nightmare.
I am 25 years old and I have planned my husband's funeral. There is nothing normal about that.
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1)
For the men and women who give of themselves to ensure that we continue to live freely, to worship without fear of persecution, and to strive for a better tomorrow, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.
God Bless our Troops. God Keep them Safe.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.