By Cheryl Rodewig, The BayonetNovember 3, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. -- When two officers in full military dress arrived at her door five years ago, Nicole DiCenzo knew what it meant. It's something every military wife dreads, she said.
While on a mission May 25, 2006, in Baghdad, her husband, Doug, was killed by an IED explosion. Nicole described the experience of hearing of her loss as "excruciating."
"Your body goes into complete shock," she said. "I had a lot of questions. I started asking God about heaven."
A story of challenges
As a captain and company commander with 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, Doug deployed to Iraq when their son, Dakin, was 10 months old. When Nicole found out she'd be raising their child alone, he was 16 months.
The family was stationed in Baumholder, Germany. With the news of the explosion, Nicole realized it was time to go home -- but she didn't know where "home" was, she said.
"My first feeling was I would come back to Columbus," said Nicole, who lived in the valley area while Doug took courses at Fort Benning. "But when I came back here, it was so close to the Army and seeing Soldiers, I physically couldn't handle it. I almost broke down every time I saw a Soldier. So I moved to his hometown (in New Hampshire) for three years, and then it was time to come home. I just love the people here. This was where I met him. This was home."
A story of hope
It was here -- at home -- that Nicole was able to put her journey on paper. Released in October, Revelations: A Survivor's Story of Faith, Hope and the Coming Kingdom is available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites. The book is a real-life account Nicole said she hopes will help others in difficult circumstances, no matter what they're struggling with.
"The wounds continued to multiply," she said. "But God got me through it, and my questions on heaven were answered. The book is about my experience. I pray that when people read it, they have that sense that, yes, it's horrible … but yes, there's hope. That's what gets me up in the morning."
Now, Nicole speaks at churches about the hope she's discovered through her time of questioning. The journey to healing wasn't immediate, she said, but her friends, support from the military and ultimately, her relationship with God, helped her survive.
"The book starts with Doug being taken to heaven and meeting Jesus," Nicole said. "Our life is not over when we die. There's always that point of joy at the end. My focus is to get people excited about heaven. People are so scared, thinking when Jesus comes back, everything's over. Christians need to be excited about his return because it's not over."
A story of miracles
The explosion was "horrific," Nicole said. "He came back in three urns six months apart."
Somehow, more than one piece of memorabilia survived the blast. It was unlikely, Nicole said, in all the charred and twisted metal that her husband's wedding ring and dog tags, including a key etched with the words "I love you," would make it back, but they did.
The dog tags were unscathed and the wedding ring was distorted and shrunk -- so that it now fits perfectly on her thumb, she said.
"Over the course of the last five years, there have been so many miracles in my life that are pretty much unexplainable unless you say, 'God did this,'" she said.
Nicole said she struggled with the idea that there will be no marriage in heaven, but she looks forward to the millennial kingdom -- 1,000 years on Earth with Jesus as king, according to the Bible -- when she believes she'll be with Doug again.
"I think my tragedy is going to be turned on its head to where I am with him for 1,000 years," she said. "How that looks with everybody else's life, I have no idea. I think you have to look at each individual circumstance. (But) it's not over. I can get up and go on if I know that's coming. That's my focus."
Nicole is available for speaking engagements on or off post. For more information, email email@example.com. To read more on the book or the DiCenzo family, visit www.nicsrevelations.com.
A story of survival
When Nicole moved back to Columbus in 2009, she immediately connected with the Survivor Outreach Services program on post. She took her son to various events so he could meet other children in similar situations and attended meetings.
As a survivor, Nicole said she appreciates SOS being there for her in case she has questions.
"God bless the Army for knowing that is needed," she said. "We have a place to go. If we need help, we're not uncomfortable walking into a building and saying 'help me,' because that's what it's for."
SOS is for any Family member who had a loved one die while on active duty. It provides services such as counseling referrals, benefits and financial counseling, resource information, support groups and social activities.
And it's not just for Families at Fort Benning, said Michael Doorbal, SOS financial counselor. The local program covers a wide area of Georgia and parts of Alabama.
During a time of tragedy, Doorbal said it can be hard for the bereaved spouse to focus on the difficult details of running a household. That's where financial counseling for home-buying, college planning, investments, insurance and the like, along with all the other services SOS provides, comes in, he said.
"The Army doesn't want them to be forgotten," he said. "Survivor Outreach Services embraces that Family and says, 'You do have that place where you can still call home and you have an SOS family that will take care of you.' We encourage all survivors to be a part of that community so they can support each other. Whenever they have questions, issues, anything, we are here for them."
For more information about SOS, call 706-545-2989 or visit www.benningmwr.com/acs-sos.php.