The knock: A military spouse's biggest fear

Oct 28, 2013 at 11:00 a.m. ET

When my husband was on his second deployment to Iraq, I only had one friend who lived two doors down from me. We were similar in many aspects.

Woman looking out her window

We both had two kids who were the same age, we were the same age and our husbands were deployed together.

Another thing that we had in common is that neither of us ever had company past a certain time of night. In fact, we both never really had any company (other than each other). And despite being next-door neighbors, we typically talked on the phone more than anything because we both were proud hermits and somewhat introverts.

The knock

This semi-antisocial status of ours worked great because we always knew what to expect and it was how we kept our sanity during a long 15-month deployment. One weekday afternoon, that sanity was almost lost as I was sitting in my living room curled up on the couch watching TV with my kids. A loud stern knock came from the other side of my door. I panicked because the over-analyzer in me sensed that this wasn’t just a, “Hey, I am your neighbor next door,” knock.

This was a knock of authority and importance. I made my way to the window and began to panic when I looked out because the vehicle in front of my house looked like a government car. At this point my stomach was in my feet and I didn’t know what to do. I thought about not answering the door but knew that wouldn’t prevent the inevitable.

I finally swung open the door with my eyes big and my breath held. A man in a suit (not a military uniform) greeted me and said, “Hello ma’am!” Part of me was relieved because it was one person (not the two they usually send) and he wasn’t in a uniform. He certainly did not look like a casualty notification officer. However, I started thinking that maybe they had changed the procedure and maybe this was their new way of notifying people that their loved one had passed away while serving in combat.

The panic

I quickly said in a strong tone, “Did something happen to my husband?” and the man in the suit looked at me, surprised. He apologized, “Oh no ma’am I didn’t mean to alarm you. I wanted to ask some questions about your neighbor who applied for a position with the FBI and I am conducting a background check."

I wanted to shout all kind of obscenities at this innocent person who was just doing his job. I wanted to scream at him and let him know that he almost caused me to have a nervous breakdown in front of my kids. I needed him to know that a fun afternoon of snuggling with my kids had almost been turned into the worst day of my life before dinner — with just a peep out of the window.

In another incident a military policeman (in uniform) decided to knock on my door to ask if I was the owner of a pet that was wandering the street around my home on base. I remember quickly saying, “No, I don’t have pets!” and slamming the door hard in his face. Again this person was just doing their job, but he didn’t understand the agony you put a military spouse through when you knock on their door during a deployment. I went to my bedroom to cry because I couldn’t take the overwhelming panic I would feel when this would happen.

Naturally it’s unrealistic to think that you could ever go through a deployment without anyone ever coming to your door. It’s not just anyone coming to our door that we military spouses fear. What we fear is “the knock” — the day two men in uniform knock on your door to tell you that life will never be the same. We fear the horrific feeling of being in a happy, normal state of mind and with a simple knock your life changes forever.

More about military families

Military homecomings: It's not always like what you see on TV
6 Ways to keep the fire burning during deployments
How being married to the military is different than civilian marriage