Unwelcome News: One Girl’s Stages of Grief Over Orders

“So….we have a lot to talk about…” Whether it’s a text message, a phone call, an email, or an in-person conversation after work, those have been some of the most unwelcome words in our military journey...especially during PCS season.

Between PCS’s and PCA’s, we are currently on our sixth assignment as an active duty family. All six are places we did not want to go. At all. There are days when I can joke about it - because it is humorous, right? We’ve never gotten out of the same two states. Who gets the bottom pick of their list EVERY time they’re up for orders? Especially when there have been a few times that the “list” included any duty station in the entire world!

I’ve gotten pretty good at cycling through the stages of grief when it comes to unwelcome orders. And with the Marine Corps’ track record, I’m sure I'll have a few more chances to do it again. If you’re dealing with orders to that one place you did not want to go, know you’re in good company and hopefully you can find the humor in my own journey through grief over unwanted orders.

Denial. Stories always circulate about that family who was ON THEIR WAY to one duty station, and then received a phone call and had to turn around and drive to a new duty station in the other direction due to last minute order changes. Even when sharing our news of orders with other people, I always add the caveat, “Well, you know, nothing is FOR CERTAIN until it’s actually happening, and even then…” Because I’m always hoping. Maybe this will be the year that we are the ones who get a last minute change of orders to somewhere we want to go! It could happen, right? (So far, it hasn’t happened to me, but that part of me that will always be in denial about bad news with the military can always hope)

Anger. I have been a Marine Corps spouse for nearly twelve years, and I am still nowhere near mastering the art of “Semper Gumby”. I hate being flexible, and having my entire life at the mercy of orders is almost as hardcore flexible as possible. So when, once again, I don’t get my way at all, anger is quick to appear. Anger and blame. It’s not nice to admit, but I am really good at getting angry and really good at placing blame. The problem is, finding out who to blame is hard. Sometimes it’s the Marine Corps as a whole. Sometimes it’s the bureaucracy of the system. Sometimes it’s the guy passing out orders. Sometimes it’s my husband. It’s never productive. Never. So I find a close friend that I can share my frustrations, acknowledge that sometimes the military just stinks, and process the anger as quickly as possible so I can minimize the whole blame situation and move on with my life.

Bargaining. I love to bargain. It’s probably my favorite of the stages of grief (Can you have a favorite stage?), and the one I eventually find the most futile. “Um, excuse me? I’ve already done this. I’ve already moved somewhere I didn’t want to be. We’ve spent the last eight years on East Coast orders. Can’t we go to the West Coast JUST ONCE?!?! We’ll happily go to Twenty-Nine Palms!!” I will yell out my bargaining in the shower, driving through base, at every Eagle, Globe, and Anchor I come across. Every year, without fail, we have friends that get our dream orders. You know the ones: the orders to Hawaii, or Germany, or Japan, or, for me, basically anywhere that isn’t where we currently are. So I mentally bargain even harder: “Can’t we just switch?? They don’t even WANT to go there and we do! Lots of people want orders here. There isn’t ANYONE we can switch with??” As much as I love a good bargaining session (I went to school for Criminal Justice and can formulate an argument like nobody’s business), the truth is: there is no one to bargain with. The Marine Corps doesn’t care. Their needs come first when it comes to orders, and a spouse wearing ballet flats and driving a minivan isn’t going to have any say in it.

Depression. If bargaining is my favorite stage of grief, depression is probably my least favorite. And the one I have struggled with the most. Depression and anxiety are my natural tendencies, and what could be more depressing than moving somewhere you don’t want to? I have cried pulling into our new town at two out of the last three duty stations we have had. The only reason I didn't cry at the third one was because we were only moving sixty miles. I had been there before and knew what it looked like, so I got all my crying out earlier.

There has been at least one duty station where the depression over moving there never let up until we drove away for the last time. I still don’t look on that set of orders with any fondness whatsoever. That’s okay. I have worked through my grief of that part of my life and accept that time of depression as part of the cost of military life. We have had duty stations where I have eventually felt the depression caused by grief lifting and I have been able to move on to the final stage of the grief process.

Acceptance. We are six months into our third PCS/PCS in North Carolina. I came here very reluctantly, and I certainly didn’t want to stay for two more tours. But North Carolina has grown on me. Sure, there will always be things I don’t like (hello, cockroaches and humidity!), but there are so many other things that I love about living here (no traffic, cheap gas, and a quiet base are all pretty nice). I have found myself saying over and over “the hardest thing is knowing I didn’t want to come here.” It’s awkward to acknowledge that fact because I threw a huge, embarrassing fit about coming here. I would have happily gone just about anywhere else in the world. It didn’t even take six whole months to feel at home again. The little things that add up to be the big make-or-break things have already started creeping in: I’m recognized at the fabric store now; I know my way pretty well around the base; I would recognize my neighbors at the commissary, and I have started volunteering with our squadron. It all makes a big difference in acceptance.

I have heard that the duty station you cry about going to is the duty station you will cry about leaving. That’s been true in my own life once, and totally not true once, too. Because while I see orders and tend to get hung up on the physical location, what makes or breaks a duty station for me is a little more intangible. The people, the relationships, the op tempo, the season of life: all of these and more are facets that really affect how I view a duty station. I just need to remember that the next time we get a set of unwelcome orders.

Laura saw a guy with a cute haircut her first week of college, married him a couple years later, and has been involved in this whirlwind of a military life ever since. A Pacific Northwest native, she has spent most of her time as the spouse of an active duty Marine on the East Coast. Between homeschooling and writing, she loves to spend her lazy days working on household projects, quilting, and reading.


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