By Mr Mark Iacampo ( Hohenfels )August 30, 2011
HOHENFELS, Germany -- "Raise your hand if you know anyone who has lived forever."
As the crowd looks around in bemused confusion, Nickayla Myers-Garner nods.
"Exactly. Death is inevitable. It's a subject we don't want to discuss, but it's inevitable, so it's something we should all discuss," Myers-Garner said.
"Preparing your relationship for the unthinkable - Military Casualties" is a presentation designed to help people deal with the death of a loved one by explaining some of the issues they might face and the questions that may arise after a loss. The class encourages participants to discuss and plan, to "give your loved ones the gift of peace, by taking the time to talk about the unthinkable."
"Hopefully the information you gain from this seminar you can use 50 or 60 years from now," said Myers-Garner. "But they're important conversations to have now which can bring you peace later."
Myers-Garner speaks from experience. On July 6, 2009, her husband Capt. Mark Garner was killed in action in Afghanistan. In one moment, her entire life changed.
"It's devastating, but because Mark and I had discussed the possibility of his death, I was able to go into complete business mode and implement what we had discussed," Myers-Garner said. "I was able to relax a little bit knowing I was making the right choices."
Shortly after her husband's death, Myers-Garner was approached by another spouse whose husband was about to deploy.
"She said 'I heard you and your husband had these conversations, but I don't know what it is we should discuss," said Myers-Garner.
That's when she realized there was a void in the Army programming that she could fill.
"There are so many areas they are preparing us for, but we need to be prepared for the death and life after the death," she said. "So let's be proactive and try and prepare these families."
Myers-Garner applied to speak at the annual American's Working Around the Globe (AWAG) conference held in Garmish that year. Her first presentation had roughly 35 attendees with only a handful scheduled for her second talk. But as those first attendees spread the word, her second speech had to be moved to a larger venue as more than 80 people signed up.
The presentation touches on the notification process, finances, wills, funeral arrangements, and more. Lasting a little more than an hour, a second hour is dedicated to answering participants' specific questions. Though aimed primarily at military families, Myers-Garner's message is universal.
"I've had people come up to me and say, 'I'm not part of the military, but my parents are aging, or my husband is sick with cancer.' These are things that can be use by anyone," she said.
"The presentations are a work in progress," she added. "As I speak to other family members of the fallen, as I attend more conferences, as I experience new things with my grief, and in my experiences trying to start a new life, I realize there are more things to include."
Living on after such a devastating loss is one of the key aspects of her talks. Myers-Garner compares life to the patterns of a Kaleidoscope, which with one twist, can alter and change completely. She says it's important to try and find some beauty in the new pattern.
"Life goes on, and you have to figure out how to live it," she explains. "I've spoken with widows, who say, 'I'm starting to date, I don't know if my late husband would be okay with that,' and they just rip themselves apart emotionally because they don't know, they're hoping they're doing the right thing but they just don't know."
Included in her presentation is a nine page worksheet aimed at getting couples to consider some of the questions that may come up and discuss the answers.
"These are the questions no one wants to ask, but everyone needs to know," said Myers-Garner.
"I've learned over the past two years that the conversations that were the absolute best for me were the discussions about what Mark wanted for me in my life afterwards," she said, but cautions that ultimately the survivor must do what feels right to them. "Remember, those wishes are a guideline, not a definite."
Myers-Garner has spoken to women's groups, Family Readiness Groups, and units about to deploy. She has traveled all over Germany, from Baumholder to Stuttgart to Grafenwoehr, taking leave without pay and volunteering her time in the hopes that her experiences can help someone else.
Though in some ways, Myers-Garner finds it cathartic to talk about her experiences, dredging up the pain often leaves her in emotional turmoil as she still struggles to deal with her grief.
"Mark made the ultimate sacrifice for something we both believe in," she said. "I'm willing to continue sacrificing -- to deal with those emotions -- for the better good of our military families."
If you'd like to contact Myers-Garner for a speaking engagement, she can be reached at email@example.com