One of the sobering realities of being a military family, and one of the things I didn’t expect would cause such introspection is the seriousness with which the military takes encouraging service members to talk with their loved ones about difficult topics. It shouldn’t have surprised me, after all, it is war time and these are topics that are important to talk about before it is an emergency and you need those contingencies, plan b’s, fallback plans, and worst case scenarios.
And not just for the military member, in this case my husband, but for me too.
When I was 16, my grandmother told me that she had just finished drafting her wishes for her funeral. At the time she was healthy – it wasn’t like her death was on the horizon – and these plans were not needed for another 15 years. She did this to ensure that her funeral represented who she was – she had attended a number of funerals of friends who had passed in the previous months and was disappointed that their funerals had not represented who they were, but instead the hastily put together bricolage of family’s best guesses.
It was just like her. She took the time to put together plans for her funeral. She chose readings, prayers and hymns. It was a weight off all our shoulders. She placed a letter to her children and grandchildren along with a copy of her will and the funeral plans in the front of the family bible and she made sure that we knew that’s where they were.
A few years ago, I was an Executive Assistant to a boss with a very full workload, and two kids. She showed me a folder marked with the words “If I get hit by a Bus” on the label. It struck me as a really good idea, both professionally and personally. For quite a few years I didn’t have the stability to need this kind of folder with me. Instead, I carried a folder as I moved around the world that contained all the important documents you need to prove identity, education etc. But, I didn’t have to think about anyone else, and I left the “If I get hit by a bus folder” with copies of the essentials with my mother.
Life has changed inexorably in the last year.
Now I am faced with forms that ask me, as well as my husband, about funeral plans and who we would or would not want contacted. It has meant visiting the Legal Office and collecting powers of attorney and confirming with institutions that I am authorized to deal with everything. That way, if a deployment lands suddenly we’ve at least made a start.
So, we’ve thought and talked and shared our wishes for those moments we hope we will not have to face. We’ve walked through who we would want with each of us if anything should happen, and we’ve discussed those of our friends and family we would trust and want to be by our side.
We explored the hard places; we acknowledged the expected grief about the loss of those we love. Being prepared means facing some of your own very worst fears. It means planning for the best and the worst. It means to continue to learn about each other and not assuming that there’s not still more to learn. It means that we will periodically revisit this information and our wishes – the Air Force recommends a review every 6 months. If you live a lifestyle that is more stable then you might be able to push this out to once a year.
As newlyweds these are conversations that are beyond important – as is the process of combining the most important documents so that they can be found if we need them,. With the prospect of moving always somewhere round the corner with the military, my practice over the last few years has been to keep the most important documents easily accessible and portable – this habit is coming in handy. Actually, in many different ways the preparation required for moving continents four times in the last 7 years is coming in quite handy!
Here are some suggested questions & things to think about to get you started.
- Who should have a copy of the key to your house?
- Who are your emergency contacts – both close by and family? (Write these down!)
- Have the funeral plans conversation with all member of the family. Children can be part of this discussion too, depending on their age and maturity.
- What’s in your “If I get hit by a bus folder”? Do your important emergency contacts (and even older children) know where this is? do they know where to find your wills, insurance documents, birth and marriage certificates?
- Do you have a written and practiced plan for local weather worst cases (like tornadoes, cyclones or hurricanes, local flooding or bushfires)?
- Obtain certified copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, transcripts and professional certifications. (These will save you significant time when/if you need them).
- Once a year, have passport photos taken – it is amazing how often these come in handy, especially for travel!
Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. She is proudly Team Rabe. Recently married, she and her husband love to cook together using fresh ingredients. More recipes can be found at Food: Nourish. You can follow her adventure on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. Quotidian Home is a place of comfort from which to show hospitality, of joining with friends for food, fun, laughter, and tears.