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May 8, 2012 / Jess

Just a Dream?

Dear Army,

An Army wife, who lives less than an hour from where I live, was having a video chat with her husband in Afghanistan. Suddenly he pitched forward, hitting his head on the desk in the process.

She watched him die.

Typically, the Army notifies family members of a loss. In this case, she scrambled for two hours to get in touch with someone in Afghanistan to check on her husband, where they confirmed his death but offered no explanation. This story has made national news. It has also made me sick.

I don’t know what happened. I wondered how her husband managed to get two hours of privacy, and how his wife could possibly recover. I prayed their children were not part of the video chat. I prayed that her seeing him die ends up giving her more closure than a phone call would have, although I don’t know how you recover from this sort of unfathomable trauma. I prayed that she believes in God.

But my first thought when I read that story was, I’ve had that dream before.

I used to have a lot of nightmares before my soldier deployed. They echoed the helplessness I feel. In the most recent ones, and the most horrifying, the Army would let us reunite, and would then restrain me. I’d be forced to watch them execute him. In the still of the night, I’ve seen him die dozens of different ways.

I don’t have nightmares anymore. But that’s probably because I don’t sleep long enough to dream. I’m often up for most of the night; I wake up two hours after I fall asleep, regardless of the time. How long I stay awake varies, sometimes I don’t go back to bed at all.

Since the dreams don’t come at night, they find me during the day. When my mind wanders, I find myself constantly thinking of death. Today, as I went for a walk on my lunch break, I was back in 2004. I clearly saw the toy airplane that was on display at a family friend’s toddler’s funeral. I remembered throwing up. I went back to 2003, saying goodbye to my uncle the week before my birthday as he disintegrated from brain cancer – only to get the call about his death while I was opening my presents a few days later. I find myself imagining deaths that haven’t happened yet – like how a health scare with my mom less than two months ago could have been fatal, and, if it had been, what it would be like to have to express that in a letter to my guy.

I’m still trying to figure out how to handle memories of grief that I have long thought I moved on from and why I’m having distorted memories of the recent past. As for the nightmares … when I woke up from them, I’d remind myself it was just a dream.

No. That’s no longer a comfort. Not now that I know that it’s literally someone’s reality.

If anyone who reads this letter believes, please pray for her. She’s a stranger but still is, or one day could be, a sister in Christ.

(Not) love,

Jess

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