All I wanted to do was to save Marines from having to go through the same thing my husband and I did. Whether you did your four and got out, or stayed for your full twenty or longer, you likely know a Marine whose child died. I was that Marine. I woke up on August 7th, 2013 to my husband screaming at me to wake up, our son wasn’t breathing. We called 911, the operator asked if anyone knew CPR. I did. I had received my certificate not too long before.
The moment my lips touched the face of my almost three-month-old son, my worst fears became my reality. I could feel his cold skin against mine. The operator said to remember chest compressions. I did them, but I saw the dents and marks they were leaving on his skin. I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t, I thought I might actually be able to save him. It felt like an eternity for the paramedics to arrive and all the while I just prayed for a damn miracle. I wanted him to cry, to breathe, something, anything. The paramedics came and whisked him away, but before we could follow, we had to answer the officer’s questions. On the way, even at four in the morning, we realized that it was a Wednesday. I remember calling my Sergeant and frantically explaining what was happening, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I made sense.
When we did finally make it to the hospital, I jumped out before my husband could park, but the E.R. doors were still locked. I could see the nurses standing together, crying. I beat on those doors with every ounce of strength in me when I saw that. My head was trying to tell me that my hopes were dashed. My heart was telling me to try harder. Then we heard those words that nobody wants to hear. “I’m sorry, but…”
We got to hold him, they brought him in, wrapped in a baby blanket. He looked like he could have been sleeping and part of me still, after everything, just hoped to God that he was, and that everyone else was wrong. There was one point when I leaned down to kiss him and I felt air escape his lips. I screamed. It was a miracle! But, no. I had only compressed his body and whatever air was in his system was “expelled”. That’s the word the nurse used. “Expelled”.
We had to let him go, it had been a few hours. My SSgt and Gunny, my husbands SgtMaj were waiting for us.
“We’re so sorry.”
“Anything you need.”
“You’ll have us.”
No. We didn’t. We had to start planning a funeral. Our families had to fly in from Iowa and New York. Chance’s funeral took place one week from the day he died. We were overwhelmed by the number of Marines and Sailors who came. Those we had deployed with, those we worked with, and those who were our friends. Flags were flown for him, patches were left on the table for him, but from what we later realized, those actions were started at the enlisted level. Of course they were, we take care of our own when we can.
Three days after our only child’s funeral, ten days from the day he died, my husband received a call from his shop. When was he coming back to work? He was still going on the deployment in a couple months, right? The same day, I got a similar text. “When are you coming back to work?” My husband and I both ended up using our own leave days. We were back to work two weeks after we woke up and found our son dead.
Sure. “The military doesn’t issue you a family.” It’s what so many hear. But, take into consideration how you would react, what your life would be like. When we went back, we did our jobs, no limits. I was creating and testing pilot’s breathing oxygen for purity. My husband was working on ejection seats. Why? Our “quals” were needed. Now that I look back, it terrifies me. He and I happened to work two jobs that went hand in hand in the aviation field. What if a pilot died? Would anyone have cared that our son died? Maybe, but likely not. We were only there for the “quals.” While maybe some SNCOs and Officers have had experience with this, many are not sure what to do, as in our case. My Commanding Officer hadn’t even realized I’d been called to come back to work.
Around September 2013, General Amos, the Marine Corps Commandant came to MCAS Cherry Point for a Town House with the NCOs. I asked him, “why is it that when a Marine has a baby they are allotted six weeks and eight days, for females and males respectively, to bond with that child, heal, and adapt to their live with a child, but if that same child dies, there is not a policy in place for them to grieve?” I was told, “I don’t have an answer for you at this time, but I will get it to you.” A couple days later I received a phone call from his aide telling me the Marine Corps fell in line with the D.O.D. policy that it was up to Commander’s discretion and E-Leave was to be used.
E-Leave. That was the answer; that and whatever the hell “commanders’ discretion” was. I don’t know about anyone else, but aside from the fact that I had been on a board, my C.O. didn’t know me from Adam, until my son died. It’s not his fault, we had a lot of Marines in our Squadron, I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like for ground side. So why is it their word that dictates what happens when a Marine’s child dies?
For the next three years I suffered from grief, depression, suicidal ideation, suicidal tendencies, binge drinking, and I hated everything. I hated myself. I questioned everything. I cried a lot, too late. There were days when I woud wake up from nightmares of finding Chance dead all over again. There were nights when I couldn’t take the silence in the house. There were two nights when I didn’t want to be in a world without my son or times when the memories of his mottled skin and too cold lips haunted me. I wanted to kill myself. I spoke to grief counselors who told me that I didn’t grieve properly in the beginning and that’s why I was spiraling. How could I have grieved properly when I was being asked to come back to work three days after my son’s funeral? Then, I went to work. I spoke to therapists, grief counselors, psychiatrists, and other parents who had children die.
It was in February 2017, when the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Sergeant Major Green came to Cherry Point, and I was ready. I asked him the same question I had asked General Amos, updated concerning the new maternity order. I asked him why the Marine Corps preaches so heavily on being family oriented, but is okay on resting on the laurels of the D.O.D. policy? He asked if I had a Point Paper, I told him I did. It was e-mailed to him on Feb 24 2017 via Gunnery Sergeant Griffin, Brian. I sent the point paper, my references, and even told my own story in those e-mails. I had still heard nothing by April 20, 2017 and emailed to check in about it and was told they were sending it to M&RA (MP Division) and G-10 Section at HQMC. GySgt Griffin asked for another copy and I obliged happily.
By August the same year, we hadn’t heard anything so my Sergeant Major too action and also began sending e-mails. We were told to “hang tight”, “it was being reviewed” but they were busy with the “Marines United Scandal.”
Still, nothing. I reached out to the Marine Corps Gazette twice, and the Marine Corps Times, and never heard anything back. By April 2018 I was being medically separated from the Marine Corps, and not once did I ever hear from anyone.
There needs to be a change in the Marine Corps when it comes to child loss. A Marine can not, and should not be expected to fulfill the duties they were doing prior to the death of their child within two weeks. The Marine Corps is putting lives at risk by pretending that this can be done.
My story isn’t the same as everyone else’s, but to this day I still have flash backs of finding my son. While some may handle it better, some may handle it worse. Either and everything in the middle is appropriate in grief. As said above, I went through suicidal ideations and tendencies. I went to LeJeune’s 4th deck twice, because I didn’t know how to get through life without my child.
Below is the Point Paper that Sergeant Major Green, GySgt Griffin, SgtMaj Williamson, The Marine Corps Gazette, Marine Corps Times, and other received, and all ignored.
1 February 2017
Subject: POLICY CHANGE CONCERNING EMERGENCY LEAVE FOR ACTIVE DUTY MARINES AND PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATION IN EVENT OF CHILD DEATH.
1. Purpose. To recommend a policy be implemented that would change the requirement of Active Duty Marines to use Emergency Leave in the event of the death of a viable pregnancy or child for funeral/burial affairs, possible travel concerns, and beginning of the grieving process. To also require a temporary suspension of all licenses/qualifications and a psychological evaluation be successfully completed before returning to full duty status.
2. Key Points
a. Current Marine Corps guide lines rely on the policy of the Department of Defense Instruction 1327.06, which states up to thirty days of Emergency Leave may be granted on Commander’s Discretion.
b. There is no policy in place to ensure the mental state or mental well-being of a Marine before returning to full duty status which causes safety concerns for personnel and equipment.
a. The current DOD Instruction states Emergency Leave shall be used in the event that a Marine’s viable pregnancy or child dies, but this is determined upon the Commander’s discretion. A Commander may grant a Marine a small amount of un-chargable leave. However, there is no set standard of the number of days to be granted or who may be eligible.
b. The initial shock of child-loss is believed to take full effect on the days surrounding the funeral and/or burial and could last up to fourteen through thirty days afterwards. As Marines come out of shock they will begin processing the death and proceeding through the five stages of grief. These days are extremely crucial to the grieving process and mental health of the Marine to ensure they develop healthy grieving habits.
c. Without a standard policy in place creates an atmosphere of confusion and distress for both the Marine and the Command when trying to decide what type of leave needs to be taken and how long the Marine has to grieve before returning back to work. This can delay the grieving process, negatively affecting the mental health of the individual later on.
d. Requiring a Marine to use Emergency Leave pressures them to choose between their needs at the time of death and the needs they may have later on in the grieving process.
e. During the initial shock and grieving process, a Marine may not be in the right mental state to determine whether or not they are fully capable to perform tasks required by their billet. Allowing Marines to return to full duty before having a psychological evaluation is a potential hazard to the Marine and all personnel and equipment that the Marine may come into contact with.
a. Recommend Marines will be allotted at least fourteen days of grievance leave, not chargeable to the Marine, for the death of a viable pregnancy or child, for funeral/burial arrangements, possible travel, and beginning the grieving process.
b. Recommend Marines who have suffered the death of a viable pregnancy or child have all licenses/qualifications temporarily suspended until a psychological evaluation is successfully completed.
a. Christ, Grace H., D.S.W., George Bonanno, Ph.D., Ruth Malkinson, Ph.D., and Simon Ruben, Ph.D. "BEREAVEMENT EXPERIENCES AFTER THE DEATH OF A CHILD." When Children Die: Improving Palliative and End-of-Life Care for Children and Their Families. (2003): n. pag. NCBI. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
National SIDS Resource Center. "The Grief Of The Parents: A Lifetime Journey." The Death Of A Child (1997): n. pag. ATHEALTH. Web. 15 Jan. 2017.
Rogers, Catherine H., Frank J. Floyd, Marsha Mailick Seltzer, Jan Greenberg, and Jinkuk Hong. "Long-Term Effects of the Death of a Child on Parents’ Adjustment in Midlife." J Fam Psychol. (2008): 203-11. NCBI. Web. 01 Feb. 2017.
Urtz, Sherrye L., MPH, LGPC. "Parental Bereavement Paper." Letter. 1 Feb. 2017. MS. N.p.
Prepared by: Michelle A. Moskiewicz, Sgt, USMC