Premonition.

Something that a fellow widow posted in our online group tonight brought up a lot of emotions, and I think it is finally time to purge it all out. This is a painful and difficult thing to admit to, but I feel like it is finally time for me release it. [warning, this is long, and if you are close family maybe tread carefully.]

I know I’ve mentioned before that from the very beginning, something felt different about this deployment. There were numerous moments throughout where we both commented on it, but just attributed it to having Little Man and the changes that caused. Then there were little things, like my insomnia and the flag that I mentioned in this post and our phone call that I talked about in this post, that could be seen in hindsight as significant. But beyond these small feelings, there was something greater going on that I never told anyone about. Not even The Hubs.

You see, I think I knew he was going to die.

Let me rewind. Since I was young, I’ve always placed a great importance on intuition. I believe strongly in your ‘gut feeling,’ that still small voice that is God + your heart + your mind all coming together to lead and guide and support you. My intuition has led me through every major event in my life and is always spot on. Now, whether I listen to it or follow it is another story…but it is always there. I’m not saying I can predict things or always have a feeling about everything, but major things have always given me this visceral, instinctual response.

And our last deployment was no exception.

It started slowly. Actually, if I’m honest with myself, it started way back in 2003 with an experience I’ve only shared with a few people. We were newlyweds, 19-year-old kids who were learning about life and marriage at the same time, doing everything (loving, fighting, growing) with a fire-like passion. Life was intense and we loved every moment. One night, completely random with no apparent trigger, The Hubs woke screaming from a nightmare. I’ll never forget the pure horror in his voice, the whites of his eyes in the shadowed room, the sweat on his skin. I was first terrified then deeply worried, trying to calm him as I watched his fear dissolve into tears of sadness. I held him for a while as he came out of that confused state that happens when you first wake up out of vivid dream…and when he was finally able to speak, he told me he had dreamed he was killed in action. I can’t remember now all of the vivid details he recounted, but in the dream he was involved in a firefight and was shot. After telling me about the dream and calming down, he looked at me with that look that I knew meant something was serious and said, “I’m going to die young.” I’ll never forget the look on his face, the conviction in his voice. He said it was a deep feeling he just couldn’t shake, and he just knew it. Of course I did what you would expect and tried my best to comfort him with platitudes that it was ‘only a dream’ and ‘there was no way of knowing that’ and ‘look at how many AF EOD techs are on the wall, the odds are slim, you’re going to be fine…’ He was shaken up for a few days, and told me not to tell anyone (I’m sorry babe, but I think you’d sacrifice ‘outing’ you so I can release this). Over time the memory faded and he forgot all about it. It faded from the front of my memory as well and I didn’t dwell on it, but I didn’t forget it either.

Until that fateful day in 2009, when the memory came rushing back…

But as strong as this memory was, you could still chalk it up to coincidence rather than foreshadowing. In fact, I believe that in life we often we attribute a lot of our intuitive experiences to coincidence. But when combined with other discernment they paint a different picture. And there was something huge that happened a few weeks before The Hubs death that I never told anyone about…not even him.

One afternoon, a few weeks before we lost The Hubs, I was home alone as usual with our babe. I don’t remember what I was doing, but I happened to look out the window that overlooked the side street by our house. We lived in a new neighborhood that was still being developed; only one street’s worth of homes had been built and only four or five families lived there. There was no reason to be in the neighborhood unless you lived there, and we all knew each others vehicles. Anyway, that afternoon when I happened to look out, I saw a plain black car idling on our side street. Immediately, I was struck with a horrible feeling of doom that literally made my knees weak. I remember plain as day feeling suddenly lightheaded, shaky and sweaty, and grabbing for the chair at the dining room table that was right by window so I wouldn’t fall down. As I looked at that black car, I was absolutely 100% certain that it was there to notify me that Bryan had died. I couldn’t explain why I felt that way, nor did I try to shake it off. I was convinced. I sat breathlessly glued to that window for what felt like hours (I have no idea how long it actually was, probably minutes), waiting for the other cars to show up and for the uniformed men to get out and head toward the house… Eventually the car just drove away without explanation, but my feeling did not leave with it.

I tried to swallow it down. I told myself I was just being paranoid. I told myself it was post-pregnancy hormones. I told myself it was fear, it was worry, it was nothing. But from that moment on, I think I just knew. That event would occur again, only this time it would be real…

Shortly after that, I remember seeing something about a loss in someone’s family scroll across my Facebook news feed and, after offering a prayer for their comfort, my mind immediately went to what I would write if that happened to us…and if people would reply with the generic platitudes I was replying with. Within seconds I chastised myself, telling myself I was being dramatic and that only someone who was looking for some kind of attention would think something as melodramatic as that. But then I found myself thinking what I would do if it did happen, how I would feel or what I would say, what would The Hubs look like… These kind of thoughts began to consume me in the most random moments. I would be fine and then they would just hit and I couldn’t stop them. I wanted to talk about it, but I felt like I couldn’t tell The Hubs. I didn’t want to burden him, worry him, affect his focus with my worries. He was already dealing with enough as it was, with the mission and being away from home and his own feelings from what he had seen. So I tried to pray them away, pleading with God to bring The Hubs home safely…

And then September 12th came.

And although the entire experience was a surreal, out-of-body thing that can’t quite be explained, there was something buzzing in the back of my mind.

I knew it.

I’ve already told the story of that day here, but what I didn’t mention was this. I have a very vivid memory of, probably an hour or so into the whole thing, turning to whoever it was next to me on the couch (I believe it was my sweet friend H, who I only barely knew before but who amazingly and commendably jumped right into being my rock) and saying something to the effect of, “I didn’t want this to happen…I mean, I worried about it but I didn’t think it ever actually would, I promise I didn’t want this to happen….”

Looking back, I can see where that was probably chalked up to babbling of an incoherent grief-stricken new widow, which I was. Of course I didn’t want my husband to die! But at the time, I felt some sort of unexplained guilt…like I had caused it or must have desired it in some sort of way if my mind was capable of thinking like it did. Like my worries had made it happen, like my thoughts were just that of someone who didn’t have enough courage, like I was seeking some sort of drama by thinking that way and I had gotten what I had deserved for even thinking of those things. I mean, what kind of wife wouldn’t have the fullest confidence in her husband, right? What kind of Christian wouldn’t have the fullest confidence in her God, right? What kind of person, who believed herself to be optimistic and who put out positive energy, would allow such negativity into her spirit?

There. I admitted it. For so long I’ve felt like my thoughts cost my husband his life. Like that dream and that car were foreshadowing, that maybe if I had just told someone…

Before you can even begin to say or type it, trust me I know. It’s ridiculous. It’s unfounded, it isn’t logical, and it doesn’t make much sense to allow yourself to be bound by something like this for so long. But unless you could crawl inside my heart, I couldn’t possibly adequately explain it. This is the closest and best I’ve ever come…and it’s taken me SO long to get here.

I’ve lived with an enormous guilt for 3 years, 8 months, and 27 days…a guilt that, unfounded or not, has kept me from completely moving forward in my life. I don’t think about it daily or consciously dwell on it, but it pops up at random moments, consuming me with shame and pulling me back as I try to move forward. Nearly four years after The Hubs death, I’ve come so far and in many ways am a better person now than I have ever been. But the weight of this guilt and shame has kept me from fully opening the wings that have been more than ready to carry me away. I’ve felt guilt over what happened and what my perceived role in it was, guilt over not telling The Hubs what I was experiencing when we told each other literally everything, guilt over not sharing it with his parents whom I love to death, guilt over being too embarrassed and worried of people’s reactions…

But something has finally broken. When my fellow widow posted a question about intuition tonight, the dam broke. Nearly 4 years later, I felt like I could finally unlock the chain and release it all.

You are probably thinking, “what’s the big deal?” Surely from the outside it must look like I am being dramatic even now in explaining it. Or maybe that is just my fear and embarrassment talking. Regardless, putting this out there is HUGE. To purge this is to make myself vulnerable. To be bold (my word of the year). To free myself from one of the final threads still tying me down. To finally give up the last self-induced reason not to live fully. To reveal another layer of the fragile yet shatterproof widow who just wants to move past her inadequacies and idiosyncrasies and ridiculous hangups and just be herself….whoever she finds that person to be.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for helping me unload the baggage. Thank you for listening as I finally free the stories behind the premonitions and intuitions that I experienced when I lost The Hubs. It’s hard enough to lose a loved one, a soul mate, a future….it’s even harder when you think, unfounded or not, that you might have had a hand in causing it.

Mom Berky

Erin Im glad you finally got that out. What Bryan said has haunted me since you told me. I have wondered what I did for this to have happened to my family. What wrongs have I done to have to live with Bryan being taken away from us. For Jeremy to lose his only brother, for you and litte man to lose the best husband and daddy. I will ask this until the day I die. I know Bryan never did anything to deserve what happened to him. I miss Bug everyday and my heart has a hole that will never heal.
I think everyone that loves Bryan has questions. I hope and pray everyone can find some little bit of peace knowing Bryan was a very happy man. He loved life and enjoyed every moment he had. Always know we are all here for.

Kay Shaughnessy

Not to discount your intuition, (I’m a huge believer in it myself), but I don’t know why you wouldn’t have thoughts of all the what ifs. Maybe I’m odd, but I’ve gone through a few unpleasant scenarios when my husband has been driving home late from a business trip and that doesn’t even begin to come close to the danger Bryan was in every single day he was deployed. Who wouldn’t be anxious and battle thinking of the worst?

That said, let’s assume for a moment that your thoughts really were a premonition of sorts and you knew. Does that make you responsible? Absolutely not. There’s nothing you could have said or done to have prevented it.

I can’t even begin to imagine what you and other spouses and loved ones go through, but I am certain that your writing, the amazing gift you have of putting words to the emotions and experiences, helps others who are on this journey. You’re in my prayers as you continue to heal.

Stephanie

Bryan never, ever deserved what happened to him. And there is nothing in the world he ever did to cause it. But the same is true for you and Mom Berky. It breaks my heart to know so much time is spent wondering what you did or could have done to stop it. And the truth is, there was nothing. Neither of you ever deserved this happening to you either.

EOD and their families are full of superstitions. I could tell you a few that have haunted ours for years now. But in the end, it is really the guilt that eats survivors alive … mostly the guilt in the belief you had some level of control over the outcome. A lot of us become consumed with the idea that there’s something we can do to prevent this from happening again. That somehow if we do enough, say enough, be enough … we’ll survive this kind of fate. And when it happens, we’ll feel punished for every mistake we ever made. Because if we were good enough people, it wouldn’t have happened. But the truth is harder to accept. We have no control. It wasn’t up to us. And we can literally kill ourselves slowly with the obsession over trying to change an outcome we never had control over in the first place. Or worse, a situation that has yet to be.

Over the years, Kev has said many things that have haunted me. More so after he sets foot into a war zone. I can drive myself literally insane with the memories of the things I think may be telling of my fate. I have spent much too much time preparing for an outcome I have no control over. It is absolutely normal to be sort of slapped in the face here and there with the thoughts of what you will do when it happens to you. To think about the kids, the families, the people who will all be affected. To think about what you’re roll will be and how you will want to handle it. It’s very common, but nobody wants to really talk about it. It’s hard enough to think and feel it. I’m so sorry that was happening to you and you kept it to yourself. But believe me, if thoughts had that much power, I’d be a widow too. And I’m not. Please don’t blame yourself for the things you think you put out there that had some influence on this. If that were the case, there would be a lot more names on the wall.

What you put out there, and continue to do, is love and support. Bryan felt the love you had for him, as do we now. Seeing your son grow … in every picture I see the love. Every memorial walk or run, there is love. That’s what you’ve always put out there. That’s what you had control over. And that’s still the one thing left standing. So be in the love Erin and Sonya. I want that for you so much.

As you say, releasing that guilt will set you free. I hope you guys continue to find more peace.

Iris

Erin,
I read this about four times, just because there was so much in there that made me think of a lot of intuitions I’ve had whenever mine has been deployed in the past and was in a worrisome situation. One particular one was a really tough deployment (I found out later on) and I could go back to many little flags thrown my way. I think it’s a mix of intuition and knowing the frequency in which you’d hear from them and things like that. Amongst these guys, if you’re a sensitive enough person to tap into that, you can tell when they worry about their own peers, too.
I know that shaky feeling very well. The first year we lived here in Florida I worked at a courthouse while he was gone for the second time. These super properly dressed military men (like nothing I’ve ever seen) came walking straight towards me when I was on my break (I didn’t know back then that they wouldn’t come to your place of work so there’s that for irrational fears), and I swear I was ready to pass out. Only for them to walk right by me..
I think for us spouses it’s somewhat normal to think about the ‘what if’s’ frequently. I know I do every time. When it first started I told myself that I shouldn’t think that way.. but now I think it’s a very important exercise your mind is doing there. The possibility always exists. I am obsessed with knowing what he wants me to do if it happens and I, involuntarily I must admit, go through these scenarios in my head. What would I say to his family, how would it feel and down to all kinds of very specific details. And even though the thoughts pain me, I feel better prepared somehow if that makes any sense. I believe (even though I haven’t been in your shoes), that there’s nothing you should feel guilt about. Your mind, your heart, or something was preparing you for a big task. I find intuition and the ability of your mind to go to difficult places a very healthy and necessary response of your mind and body to adjust to living in sort of a ‘always on call’ state. Which, really, is what us families who remain back home live in all the time.

Erin, thanks for sharing this whole thing. You don’t know how much of a difference you make. Not only to your fellow widows, but all of us who fear what you have gone through. Your picture pops into my head when I read the word Bold every time. :)

Christina Hamski

I don’t know when Joe knew it, but we know he did because of his last request of his mother. But I had felt “off” about his last deployment since the moment he told me he was going. I bawled liked like a baby during the cab ride to the airport after being with him for the last time in Norfolk. Don’t blame yourself for not telling him. I wouldn’t have told Joe if I had felt as you did. I didn’t want anything I told him to “mess” with his head or cause him to lose focus. You know as much as I do that EOD takes pride in being “fearless”. I believe it’s better that they lived their last day as normal as possible, knowing that they are loved, needed to get this mission done and make it home. My only wish was that if Joe was to die, that he wouldn’t be conscious of it. When I would remind him during our phone conversations that he needs to come home to me, he would reply, “Of course honey, I would never want to disappoint you. I love you too much.” I knew that if he even had a moment to understand he was dying, he wouldn’t of thought about his death – he would have thought of how much he was going to disappoint me. I understand your feeling of guilt. Why am “I” alive? What did he do so wrong in life to deserve not being there to live our dreams? The best I can do now is live my life the best I can. Always honor his memory and live the s#!t out of my life and make it worth it. I told a fellow widow once that, “Becoming a widow made me hate life so much that I want to teach it a lesson!” It’s hard to stay motivated but that’s exactly what I intend to do. It’s an honor to know you, Erin.

Thanks for sharing. As hard as it must have been to let out those personal things, I truly hope it has been a healing release.

Shana

I love you!

Angi

My husband passed away last year on Father’s Day. I had woken up from a nightmare and found him in our living room. It was as if I walked into hell. I can still hear my our voice in my head and yet I remained calm as I called the emergency number. My soul focus was that our children not see him. That goal was what kept me together until help could arrive. My story is similar to yours in a way that a lot of different things up until then pointed to me being a widow young. He had mental issues and was drinking a lot. All he wanted to do was retired and he didn’t have long to go, but maybe he just couldn’t wait any longer. The police said that it was an accident but in my heart of hearts I believe he just gave up. I still feel guilt, much of it produced by his family who question “HOW THIS COULD HAPPEN?” and “HE LOVED YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN!” but we were thousands of miles away in another country and they truly did not know what all of us were going threw and how he had changed. Thank you for sharing your story and giving us a place to share ours.

I’ve been trying to think of what to say and can’t really find the words I need to say it. But two things-
1, No matter what feelings, thoughts, premonitions, etc. you had, it’s not your fault. I know you know that, but I just have to say it.
2, I have never read a blog post that affected me more, and I’m sure I’ve read thousands. It kept me up late. It led to a long conversation with my husband. Because I haven’t had those exact thoughts of course, but I’ve felt things that way so many times (and so has he) about other situations. I completely believe in what you’re saying.

Mary

Erin,

I believe in intuition, and my dreams.
I dreamt my wedding, the tiered steps and a military wedding.
I dreamt this before I met the love of my life, my military husband.

last year whilst my husband was on deployment I dreamt his funeral. I have not told a soul until now after reading your post.
It was this year two months ago I was sitting in the chapel we married in 24 years ago ,seeing his coffin surrounded by the catafalque party as it was in my dream.

I know I didn’t make it happen, but it has unnerved me.

I just wanted to say believe in yourself and your gut reasoning.
Blessings to you.
Mary.

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