Please, God. Not That…

bullets-windshield

I read an article this morning which compelled me to write about something I’ve never really discussed with anyone. It’s a tricky subject. I’ve wrestled with writing in detail about it for a couple of years but ultimately decided it was simply too hard to explain my raw feelings and inner turmoil. And quite honestly, I feared what others might think.

When my husband was deployed, I constantly thought about worst-case scenarios and how I would react to them if they were to become reality. I’m not ashamed of this, I think it’s a perfectly reasonable response to the perfectly strange existence of a wife whose husband is a zillion miles away in a combat zone.

This is an excerpt from an article written by a fellow Army Wife gearing up for a deployment:

There is a certain pragmatic streak in me, making me seem like a slow-moving train in the night. Our marriage has lasted at least 25 years, at times a careen through more drama than we prefer. Simply put, we have loved and fought. Anyone with a marriage as long or longer will have had times when words are barely spoken, when being together seems an impossible puzzle.

I slowed the pace, pulling the dog next to me. “I need you to know what I want you to do if I’m captured,” he said. Then he described what I was supposed to do, what would happen, and most of all, not to talk to the media.

This wasn’t what I expected. Being captured wasn’t what I wanted to hear or think about. I knew bad things happen. People are maimed, bent or never come back. Although I had assiduously avoided TV, the books on my nightstand were a model for intellectual self-flagellation. In other words, I read ridiculous amounts of analysis, reports and cultural history. Intellectualized to keep my fear at bay. While my head was stuffed with facts, it left me emotionally drained.

“The Army will take care of everything,” he said.

All I could manage was a feeble okay.

As I war-gamed various scenarios over and over and over again, there were days when I came to an unsettling conclusion about a scenario which I’ve rarely seen discussed in milspouse circles – having a spouse captured and Missing In Action. For better or worse, we’ve become accustomed to reports of injury and death. We know, all too well, that risks are associated with this profession. I believed I could deal with a severe injury, or even death.As much as I hoped and prayed our family would never face either situation, I also knew that if handed either fate, I would be facing a certain, concrete reality. The situation would be placed squarely in front of me and there would be no unknowns. These were situations which I could attack and exert some sort of control over. But the thought of my husband being captured, whereabouts unknown and being tortured by barbarians who would mutilate his body and inflict unimaginable pain on the man I love made me physically ill. Not only would I lose him in the end, but he would have been tortured to death. No, It was definitely the least acceptable scenario of all the vulgar scenarios which spilled out from the dark recesses of my mind when I allowed myself to open the most undesirable of undesirable vaults.

Or was it?

There were days when I would tell myself that I was being preposterous. Insane, even. On some days, this conclusion made perfect sense to me but on others, not so much. And it felt incrediblywrong to even think such a thing.I was having an internal struggle over which horrific scenario was worse. Not a productive or healthy use of time, I admit, but that’s how it went.

I wondered if other milspouses had nightmares about their loved ones being captured. If so, I wondered if this was one of those subjects that milspouses just don’t discuss because they fear that civilians, and even othermilspouses, would be appalled at this line of reasoning. How do you say, “Did you ever wonder if death would be preferable to a capture” and expect a lively, honest discussion to ensue? Talk about being the downer of the party….

And did I really believe death would be preferable to capture? I told myself that if someone is captured, at least there’s a glimmer of hope that he could be rescued, though I didn’t hold out much hope of a Jessica Lynch-style rescue. Round and round I went, but each time I landed on “captured,” I experienced a paralyzing fear which is difficult to describe. As irrational as it may seem, it affected me more negatively than anything else.

Those were not fun days. As prayers go, mine often went something like this, “Please God, Not That….”

About the Author

Andi

Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

  • You took the words right out of my mouth. I feel the exact same way…

  • I can honestly say this is something that didn’t ever cross my mind. I’m glad you’re bringing it out into the open, though.

  • Kathleen

    Wow! Well written. I have had the same thoughts daily during a deployment. It is terrible but, it is where the mind wanders at times. Thank you for writing this!

  • ARNG Wife

    Wow, I thought I was the only one who thought these things! (I too felt horrible, like there was something wrong with me to even go there.) I have yet to come to a conclusion as to which would be better, but I have considered my reactions, what to tell our kiddos.
    Thanks for the post, it was very well put.

  • Kitchen Wiccan

    Death vs. capture was a conversation I was never able to start with anyone either. And once the deployment started it was one of many things I never would have said out loud to anyone, along with the littany of everything else I’d imagined would be worse than death. But now that he’s home (2 weeks now) I can say anything to my counselor and let it all out. Ahhhhh…

  • Kristine

    Thank you for putting in to words the unspeakable thoughts that have gone through my head. I had the great honor of hearing Doris Day (wife of Vietnam POW COL Bud Day) speak on this topic just shortly after 9/11. While the situation we are currently in differs from Vietnam, her advice still resonates for milspouses: your husband expects to come home to the same person he left. Do not give up hope and give in to despair.
    Wise words, indeed.

  • She of the Sea

    I think that everyone has thought of it. At my husband’s first duty station, one of his squadronmates had been a POW during the Gulf War. His wife would mention that that you should prepared for this possibility as much as you prepare for an injury or death, as the emotional and legal issues were so different. It seems like it should come up in conversation more often, even though the possibilities are so statistically remote.
    Great post, Andi.

  • Such a beautifully written glimpse of just a bit of what goes through the minds of military spouses. Those things in the dark recesses of our minds that no one talks about. It is completely normal to replay scenarios in your mind, imagining what we would do if we received this kind of news. Some of us imagine ourselves being strong, holding our chins high, being a rock for our kids (maybe not even telling them, not yet). Others can see themselves falling to pieces, crying, feeling helpless, powerless, not knowing where to turn. All of us knowing that our world would be upside down upon receipt of such news.
    So, where do we go from here? Do we start talking about it openly? Do we keep our fears to ourselves? Do we just say we’ll cross that bridge if or when we get to it?
    Last night I heard Fort Carson Commander, Major General David Perkins talking of resilience. The Army is trying to determine why two individuals who experience the same trauma may walk away from it differently. One may be totally in shock, and may develop post traumatic stress symptoms. The other brushes off his pants and keeps right on going.
    What ever the difference, I would like to be the resilient one. Knowing that I would have this life with my Sapper over any other life without him, even if it means facing such a sacrifice on his part. I’ll be able to hold my head high. I might not be the strong oak that I imagine myself being upon learning of his capture or loss; I may totally fall apart. But in the end, I will know that my Sapper knows, if he’s alive, that he has great love waiting for him at home. And if he passes, he will go knowing he gave his all, and that his family will celebrate his life, and honor his passing.

  • Sarah

    I force my husband to talk about stuff like this. He usually thinks I’m being silly, but he humors me.
    And, as I wrote before, knowing my husband was going through SERE school was hard enough, and that was “pretend torture”; I couldn’t handle the real thing.
    My hear hurts

  • oh wow. Never thought of this and I have to wonder why? You’re right – everyone talks of injury or death and we tend to prepare for that, as much as we can (which probably is very little) but capture or MIA, we should be aware of that and learn what we are supposed to do. I’m all for shining a light on bad scenarios and talking them over. And this is a bad scenario. So let’s talk.

  • Elisha

    If I start thinking about this I will probably fall deep into the rabbit hole with no escape. I am a worry wart and I do think about many tragic things all to often, but if I over analyze this one I am bound to go crazy. I have to block and compartmentalize. I have to be the strong one, if he gets an indication of my fears it will make his time away even harder.

  • Robert L. McHenry Ph

    This issue should be considered a mandatory topic for all military spouses to hear about through their military installation family support services. Like health caregivers the milspouse is under so much stress. Nothing can ever attempt to alleviate these types of issues from their life.
    Would think this could become an invaluable book and basis for much needed training. The originator has really started a worthwhile discussion with many other contributors making valuable inputs.
    May the day never come anyone must face this issue. As a military retiree I can understand your thoughts and feelings.

  • Jack

    The paralizing fears, and crushing weight of silence during a deployment can wreak havoc on even the most sane mind. I can attest that for a husband, and perhaps especially for a man who is serving at the same time, the fear of your wife being captured creates a seething timebomb in ones emotions. No amount of rationalization or over-thinking can excape the rage, frustration, and depression that sets in. All military spouses could have this fear, and yet all of us would feel horribly alone. Thank you for being brave enough to face this fear with others.

  • Tina

    I imagine that the trauma of being captured is similar to the trauma caused by coming home with physical, emotional, and mental wounds that do not go away. There are many families dealing with those changes and not all are able to adapt. After talking with an amputee, I understand his wife was unable to adapt to their new reality like he did and had to leave him. I think that being captured is the least likely scenario as our military members are very adept at not leaving anyone behind, but wounded warriors we have plenty. I hope no one has to deal with either experience, but if so, we need to be strong enough to learn to cope with the new reality. Experiences like these will change anyone that goes through them and we must be ready to change too.

  • Great post, Andi. i have to admit I never thought about DH being captured and how I would handle it. On the other hand, I never really thought about DH being seriously wounded – and that happened, as you know.
    I think it’s great that you took this brave leap to write about something so sensitive to each of us. For those of us who never thought about it before, I think it’s good to open this up for our brains to process.
    In the mean time, I continue to pray for ALL of our troops for a safe return.

  • Memiamoe

    Every time we even hear the word ‘deployment’ I cringe and the nightmares begin full of worry and angst that something has happened to DH. I grew up in a military family, on a base, and had to move every few years. I have more worry about what will happen than my in-laws or hubby. I have in the past expressed some of these fears to my in-laws (my FIL is retired Army reserves) and they ignore my worries or tell me I’m ridiculous. I don’t cry, moan, or complain non-stop; I don’t let the kids know I’m worried. I get anxious when it’s been week 2 or 3 of no communication because of a mission. Yet they are the same people who call and pester me that their son isn’t contacting them enough or want to know about his well-being.

  • Ari

    My husband and I discussed this after watching the movie, Brothers. I was greatly disturbed by the movie itself, but at least it opened up the discussion. Something I was grateful for since the terrible thought had crossed my mind many times. Thank you for writing

  • sherry lyn dyer

    there are many things that cross our minds when our men are off to war,we may think the worst but we hope for the best!we pray that every one wiil come home safe but in a lot of cases that in not the way it happens! they come home hurt in many differant ways,just keep your heart,your emotions,feelings in check,be prepared for the worst,and may god help us in our hour of need if that time should ever come!just remember they are still are men an woman who fight to keep us free in our home we need to keep them just as free in our hearts an soul!love lyn.

  • My sister-in-law refused to have my brother get life insurance. She felt it was betting that her loved one would die. Unfortunately he was killed at age 33 in a mid-air while on a training hop in an F-4 Phantom. He left his wife with three little ones, credit card debt, and no money.

    I think we benefit by thinking about the unthinkable. Fighter pilots call it avoiding clouds full of rocks: being prepared for the unexpected–the unexpected that is anticipated can help us survive.

  • I can honestly say that after 3 deployments & heading into #4 I had never really thought about my husband going MIA or being held as a POW until now. We had such a hard couple of deployments where we lost so many friends , I think my mind only could register death or extreme injury. This is all we have known during his deployments. Now that I can think about this I am sure to ponder it more, which I am not sure is a good thing. But as a Military Spouse I do feel we have to talk about the hard things before they become a reality. With who we choose to have these conversations is another thing to think about . Thanks for bringing up & making me think today.