Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Preparing for the What Ifs

Whenever self-pity threatens to wash over me, usually about the fourth day after the husband has left on yet another of his frequent trips, I think about one of my friends. She managed two kids, a dog and a home on her own for an entire year while her husband served in Iraq. In the neighborhood that I live, her story is not uncommon.

The days and weeks before someone leaves to go a long way away from home and family and for a long period must be, of course, intensely emotional. There's the spectre of days without contact, not knowing what's going on. There are those moments at the end of the day when the entire family is meant to be together chatting happily about the day's events or cribbing about the boss. (Lisa, the wife of one of the men who died on Flight 93 on 9/11, said of all the times she missed her husband the most, the most soul-crushing few moments that she relived day after day was the time every evening she expected him to fling the door open and yell, "I'm home!" and he never did.) There are the weekends stretching endlessly, during which you actually look forward to the mind-numbing routine of the week. There's the uncertainty - what if? - your wife or husband does not make it back?

Worst of all, knowing all this, you must plan for that eventuality. Of the few times my friend has talked to me about her experiences during that time, she described the agony of going through finances to prepare for the eventuality that her husband might not return.

Terri's Mom's recent post prompted by the premature death of the husband of one of her friends poignantly ponders the issue of losing a spouse and how the survivor might manage in its wake. In our rational minds, we know we must prepare. We all have heard horror stories of surviving friends and relatives who got blindsided by poorly managed finances. But somehow our recessive ostrich genes suddenly assert their dominance when it comes to having to think about discomfiting problems.

There's another infinitely more grim issue that we've been grappling with - who will take care of the children if something happens to the both of us?

We have never gone away overnight, or even for more than a few hours, without the kids. But what if? These days, with all the horrible incidents taking place everywhere no one is really immune. It's easy to imagine all the ways. I'm not even going to enumerate them.

It is not the actual act of sitting down and figuring out who to designate to be the children's guardians. We did that within weeks after we had C.** It's the necessity of having to imagine how their lives will be like in the immediate aftermath.

This thought process is made that much more excruciating because we live far away from our extended family. Grandparents are more than a day away. Other relatives at least a few hours away, that is if they get to know within minutes. If not, they are days away too. You cannot escape the horrifying thought that for a few hours, for a couple of days, your children will become wards of the state. They will be in some strange home, in strange beds, eating strange food. That is, if they stopped crying at all. Sometimes I can't get two-year-old Moshe's crying face, in his grandparents' arms but wailing for his mother anyway, out of my head. I remember reading the story of a six-month-old baby who cried for days after his mother died on 9/11, his sobs starting anew every time the door opened and it was not his mother.

As the lawyer went down the details of who the court will accept as guardians (a relative in the US preferred over relatives in India) and how they will decide on where to place the children in the absence of our instructions, my stomach roiled as my mind imagined every ghastly scenario.

A few weeks ago in a fit of wanting to do something I sent details of every relative and close friends that need to be contacted to two friends. They see me every day and C knows to go to them or call them if necessary. Until the kids are collected by whoever their guardians are going to be, I want them to be with familiar people, with friends, and see familiar faces, people who I know adore them, who will care for them and make them feel safe.


** This was not something we had ever thought about before having children. One of our friends had a child before C was born and in passing they had said it was important to designate someone to step into your shoes. It was also important to keep this decision from your designated person, they said. They would find out when the executor (of their affairs) opened the papers. The reason for this was that your opinion of your designated person might change in the interim and it was best that there was no fuss or misunderstanding after you're gone and no longer able to control anything.


Anonymous said...

Not just you, all of us have such thoughts fleeting across our minds, sometimes lingering uncomfortably for a long time. We all balance that with positive thoughts, don't we. And as the saying goes: hope for the best, but be ready for the worst.

Choxbox said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Choxbox said...

Thank God the kids are growing up - the older they are the better is their capacity to handle crises.

p.s.: The letters in word verif are 'dedly' :)