Next of Kin

As my son prepared for deployment to Afghanistan, he asked me to be his next of kin. By Friday 21st May he had been on tour for two months.

I had just returned from walking the dogs when the doorbell rang. I retraced my footsteps through the back gate to save removing my muddy boots and as I approached the front of the house, I caught sight of two men looking at our front door, waiting for it to be opened.    They introduced themselves. One was a Royal Marine Lieutenant Colonel, acting as the Casualty Notification Officer, the other was a Padre – both wearing suits.   They told me that our son Edward was very seriously injured.   Shock overcame me and I slumped to the ground, they escorted me indoors. They continued to relay what information they had. The Royal Marines were searching for a wire leading to an Improvised Explosive Device when it exploded.  Edward’s injuries were extensive. He was having life-saving surgery at Camp Bastion but I should prepare for the worst.  His survival was unlikely.  The troop’s corporal had been killed in the same blast.

Clusters of words circled in my mind that I remembered Edward saying before deployment. “I’m well trained; I’m battle ready; it’s what I’ve trained to do; I’ll be fine Mum.”  I bowed my head focussing on my feet.  It was an attempt at blocking out reality. Icy cold fear crept from my head to my toes.

The Casualty Notification Officer explained that there was a 24 hour curfew preventing the media from reporting this incident. I had to reach family and friends within this period.  I prepared to phone my husband, not in the City, not nearby but thousands of miles away as captain of a merchant ship. The first attempt failed – I was cut off. The second time worked.  I heard his voice.  My heart melted.  I tried to tell him the news gently. I wanted to hug him, comfort him, to tell him that we would get through this together.  If Edward should die, the Casualty Notification Officer explained he would return in full military uniform to tell me.  That long night I barely breathed as I listened for his footsteps on the drive.  I began to plan Edward’s funeral – preparing for the worst was my coping strategy. The underlying meaning of ‘next of kin’ began to dawn on me.

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