Don’t Let Facebook Tell Me He’s Dead

In a time when news is instantaneous, don't let Facebook tell me he's dead. http://wp.me/p1d7d0-8Xo

When news starts to trickle out that a soldier, airman, sailor or Marine has been killed, the community holds its breath. You look over your shoulder to make sure your own service member is still sitting there on the couch, safe. If he or she is not home, you start to worry, even if doing so is unreasonable.

“It couldn’t have been him,” you tell yourself.  And yet you wonder. The tension builds.

“Oh please, God, please – let it not be my spouse.” You feel guilty for hoping it was someone else’s.

“I hope it’s not anyone we know. I hope it’s not our unit. ” The realization that it has to be anyone at all is crushing, like you are wishing death on someone else so that you and those near you can escape it.

And then the speculation begins on social media. If you are near the base where the accident occurred or where the people killed were stationed, you can feel the pressure in the air. Well-intentioned friends and neighbors share news stories. News outlets, maybe even reporting from near the scene of the incident, feed you the details they have. No one has said anything official yet, but words like “fiery crash” don’t sound good.

And now you, like so many other spouses near you, are waiting for The Knock.

Your husband doesn’t fly helicopters. Your wife wasn’t anywhere near that spot in Afghanistan. So there’s no way it could be you. And yet …

The weight of anticipating that Knock, even when it is improbable, is one of the great burdens of military family life. It’s one of the things that makes signing up for all of this on purpose seem, at times, like lunacy. We are told to not let worry about The Knock change us or impact us. We are coached on resiliency and moving forward.

And yet the weight is there. The Knock worry lingers in the corner like an unwelcome guest or that demon of a mouse you just can’t trap. It’s sneaky like that.

Sometimes it’s easy to question whether or not there is a better, faster way in the age of instantaneous news and social media to get official word of a death to the family sooner. When accidents happen or troops are killed downrange, it’s easy to figure out who it might’ve been. Our military communities are so small. Only so many are deployed to that exact area. Only a few people from a certain base were out flying that aircraft at that moment.

Officials wait to release specific details on any accident or attack for that reason. Even if you logically know that if a helicopter, for example, crashed near your base and your spouse was out flying a helicopter at that time, and it might have been him, you still don’t know for sure. You still may convince yourself that, no, you are safe.

Every inane seeming detail brings it closer to home. And that’s why they should be withheld, and usually are, until The Knock gets to you. You shouldn’t have to see enough information on the news that you know for certain that The Knock is coming before it gets there.

It’s unlikely at any time in the age of social media that The Knock will be a total surprise. When we asked SpouseBuzz readers in 2012 whether or not officials should consider changes to the notification system that might speed up the process, the answer was a resounding “no.” About 80 percent of respondents said that the system currently in place should be kept, regardless of whether or not everyone is smart or considerate enough to honor it by keeping their mouths shut. We have to trust the system, you said. We have to believe that when officials release information to news outlets, they know what they are doing and that they have a plan behind their timing.

And here’s why: even though the notification system is not perfect, even though the weight of The Knock is a burden we constantly carry, there’s comfort in knowing exactly what to expect from the process. And in a moment when there are no good things, that’s something to lean on.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • infowbj

    I can’t imagine how they would change the notification system short of sending out a text to the next of kin. Having someone come to your door is terrifying but it’s the face-to-face interaction, which we are grossly lacking in our lives, that hammers home the point that your spouse and your family is part of a community. If there’s one thing that should still be done “the old way” it should be learning of such life changing news from another human being.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      I could not agree more.

  • B.Coolidge

    It’s nice to know that should “The Knock” come, it’s still done with respect and discretion – the general public has, apparently, learned that the families involved come first when it comes to The Ultimate Sacrifice and they, thankfully, now respect that.

  • mikez

    during the whole 21 years I was in the AF and flew my wife and I never really had the “talk” about “the knock” we did talk about the slim possibility of something happening when I was either TDY or out flying. and I definitely did not talk to my step-daughters either. but, with things now a days I would HIGHLY recommend this being one of those “things” ALL military couples talk about and talk to the kids about it.
    I lost my father, who was not in the military at the time but still died a horrible death, and considering it was in the ’60’s and the lack of support or information then – if even some of the support or info back then was available it would have probably helped.
    so, have the “talk” it’s part of life, and death, and I think folks now are more able to handle it too.

  • MajorDad

    Delivering that news was the hardest thing I had to do in my 20+ year career. But experiencing that was reassuring. I knew that someone would take care of my family if something ever happened to me. I didn’t know the young Marine who died, but I stayed in touch with his family for years afterward.

  • Michelle

    I believe there should be separate processes for deaths and injuries. The current personnel casualty report procedure gives the same 4 to 12 hours to make notifications in the event of a death, very seriously wounded (death likely within 72 hours), seriously wounded or ill (death possible outside of 72 hours), terminal illness, and a non-life threatening injury or illness. These are completely different circumstances and deserve a more individualized procedure. If my husband dies in a plane crash, yes, please take an extra hour to get the right people to me to deliver “the knock”, but so help me God, if my husband were injured in a hospital somewhere, and his squadron mates waited for the correct procedure to notify me, I would never forgive them. This article and the resulting discussion reminds me that I need to make my wishes known to our friends – “CALL ME immediately if something happens and he’s still alive. I don’t care what the procedure says.”

  • Kristy

    This is an interesting article. Titled “Don’t let facebook tell me he’s dead”, and yet believes the current notification system is A-ok. Maybe it’s just agreeing that a human needs to make the notification. I think we can agree that no one wants to find out about the death or serious injury of their military member via social media. The problem with the notification procedure is that it has been grossly outpaced by social media. Finding out that there is an incident in a location is one thing, but now we have an issue with finding out way too many details about an accident/incident before proper notification is made. It really needs to be addressed. I would be interested in the results of a poll of military spouses whose husbands/wives have deployed during war time and even better yet spouses who have recieved those notifications as to whether they believe the system needs to be changed. Naval Aviation in particular has seen the notification system fail undeniably.

  • Navyjag907

    I don’t remember that there was this level of concern about the “knock” when I was growing up in Army Aviation, especially at Ft. Rucker. Most Dads were at least WWII vets and many like my Dad had also fought in Korea. Their wars had been brutal with many more casualties than today and it was something that generally wasn’t talked about except in war stories over barbecue and a drink. My Dad had flown 30+ missions as a bombardier in B-17s against the Luftwaffe and I don’t think anything ever really compared to that although he was in heavy ground combat in Korea and then commanded a helicopter battalion in Vietnam. When we did get the “knock” we knew what it meant but we didn’t talk about it beforehand. That attitude protected us children from a lot of unnecessary worrying, I think. Not criticizing the approach of today, just commenting.

  • labcoatsandcombatboots

    There was an incident during my husband’s deployment a few years back and one of the ways they prevented any information from getting out before the families were notified was to shut down all nonessential communications for the troops with their families back home until next of kin was reached for all of the fallen soldiers. I feel like that’s the best they can do to keep the word from spreading before the family has a chance to process what’s happened.

  • PatB.

    A few years ago, a police officer was killed in a horribly tragic traffic accident. The people working as dispatchers listened as this officer prayed for mercy as he was trapped inside his burning vehicle. One or more of those dispatchers took it upon themselves to let his wife know, long before the chain of command could respond appropriate support element to her home. This hits squarely on topic and when word got out how she was notified, well…you can imagine.

  • Gary

    Whats next, a drone shows up at your front door with a note attached?!

  • JenO

    Goodness, while this is a great topic to discuss, can’t we find something that helps us give support through the holiday season, rather than find more to complain about that requires a change in policy which we don’t control? It’s the season for both Christian and Jewish celebration, for the buzz of Christmas, and there are many spouses who are without their loved ones, many who are lonely because it’s their first OR thousandth holiday without that person…can’t we find something uplifting to help people through this time, instead of reminding us the spookiness of death lurks and we might have one more thing to worry about? C’mon more sensitivity to this time of the year, Spousebuzz, and yet, this is the very reason some people do feel weak, unsupported, etc.

  • This topic definitely caught my attention, and it’s sad to hear such a tragic story. Even more when you hear the news that your loved one died from someone telling you through “virtual” reality. And the crappy part is, it is reality.

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