A friend of mine, Major Dan Gade, is starting a book project that I think has a ton of merit...
...Before I was deployed to Iraq in 2004, I wrote a letter to my wife, Wendy, to be opened only 'In the Event of My Death'. In it, I expressed my love and admiration for her, my gratitude for our life together, and my fondest hopes for her future with our daughter. In the summer of 2011, while we were moving to West Point, I discovered the letter in a binder and allowed her to read it- her reaction to the letter is where this book idea came from...
The idea is to honor military families by publishing a series of the kinds of letters that they write to their loved ones for delivery after their death. These love letters- in various degrees of eloquence- capture the military family's sacrifice in service. The book will be nothing BUT these letters- no spin, no editing, and no commentary. I'm soliciting both Gold Star families and military families whose letters were never needed for the project.
Please take a look-
Here's my "If"
I don't write letters to be opened in the event of my death. I have a will, of course, and make sure it (and my insurance) are up to date before I leave. What I do, and I think it's one of the reasons I have such a strong marriage, is leave all my cards on the table. I have no need for a letter from beyond the grave, because I tell my wife and family often that I love them. I live my life in a way that leaves my friends and family KNOW how I feel about them, and that if the day ever comes that I won't return, they know that my last thoughts were of them.
Dying, of course, sucked the first couple of times. But the fact is, when you're under water, unconscious, and quickly bleeding out, the thoughts that come to you are the most important ones. For me, the driving, all encompassing thought was about my family, and the only thing I could focus on was "I have to get back to my wife and kids." That spurred me to consciousness, and the movement I made allowed my comrades to find me in the muck.
I'm not (despite what you read here) the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve all the time. People generally know where they stand with me, I don't tolerate idiots, assholes, or retards; but my friends are the kind of people who, if they called in the middle of the night, I'd help them hide the bodies. My family though--they are my life. I've sent my wife the letter from Major Sullivan Ballou, which I feel related my feelings in prose much better than anything I've written, and it's important because it shows how feelings of love for family can transcend time and over a century later can have just as much impact, meaning, and truly heartfelt sorrow.
So I live my life as though each day might be my last--I don't stay angry with my wife, on the rare occasions where we fight. I'd rather just let things go than let them fester. I always tell her I love her--and she me--whenever we talk or write. And I mean it.
I don't know if my father ever wrote an "If" letter to my mom. I imagine he did at some point, but I don't think it was necessary. Dad and Mom showed me what love between a husband and wife was supposed to be like. They showed by example that no matter what the odds, it was two against the world, and they were always together--if not in body, then in spirit. They always, after years and years of marriage, held hands. They wore matching shirts (yes, they did, and no, I never thought it was weird.) They cuddled. They kissed, and they never cared who was around. EVERY time they got out of the car--if mom was dropping off dad for work, or just changing driving responsibilities, they paused at the back of the car for smooch.
That is the same kind of relationship I have with my wife (except for the matching shirts--so far.) That is why I don't feel the need for an "If" letter. I don't take her love for granted, but when we do say goodbye, we leave nothing unsaid or emotions unfelt--because we've been through this before, and we know that life can be extinguished in an instant. Whether stepping onto an airplane to go to distant shores and get shot at, or right before they wheel you into surgery (again) we say our goodbyes, we proclaim and reaffirm our love, and we kiss, and we go our separate ways, knowing we are loved.