- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I can’t forgive myself for lying to my buddy’s parents after he was killed in Afghanistan. I knew him well, so I knew he didn’t like his parents very much. He thought his dad was a real jerk, and he blamed his mother for not protecting him from his father.

At his memorial service, they asked me if I was with him at his last breath and what did he say? I lied and said, “Tell my parents I love them very much and thank them for everything.”

Now I want to tell them the truth. My mother says I need to just forget about it and leave the matter alone. I’m trying but I can’t. It feels really crazy to me right now because I feel like a heel. — Regretting a Lie

Dear Regretting,

You have faced some ugly situations many of us will never be able to comprehend. I don’t know anyone who would condemn you for this lie. You were experiencing a lot of emotions fear, anger, anxiety, sadness and even survivor’s guilt. Maybe you wanted to comfort his parents or perhaps you were caught off guard by their question. However, you said it and it’s over.

You have served your country greatly; now it’s time for you to let us help you. You are having symptoms of combat stress. Many resources are offered to help service members with concerns just like yours. No situation is too small or too large to seek assistance and reassurance, and this is what you need right now. I encourage you to contact the behavioral health department on your base. Not only will they assess your needs, but they also will work with you individually and offer group support so you can hear from other service members. You may discover others have had similar situations as you.

But here’s the deal. You were there for your friend when he needed you, and I applaud you for that. I encourage you to start moving forward and not be too hard on yourself. Let other professionals help you now. Write me again and let me know how you are doing.

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I have made a terrible mistake. I proposed to my late friend’s wife.

My friend and I met years ago on active duty and knew each other’s family well. I am divorced, but I have a good relationship with my ex-wife and young daughter.

When my friend and I were in Iraq, he was killed in action. Of course, I felt I should be there for his family. I especially felt bad for his two sons; I felt they needed a father and a man in their life since that was something I never had.

Well, one thing led to another, and I started dating his wife. I hesitantly proposed and she accepted. We haven’t set a date yet, but I am seriously having second thoughts. I’m feeling bad because I don’t want to walk out on her right when she needs someone in her life. Any advice would be appreciated. — L.D.

Dear L.D.,

I remember reading about the same thing happening to emergency service personnel who were involved with the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Reportedly, firefighters married the spouses of other firefighters who lost their lives that day. Some even divorced their spouses to marry widows. This is an interesting dichotomy, and has many clinical implications to therapists like me. But here’s the bottom line #8212; don’t do it.

You already are questioning your motives and having second thoughts, so you are not marrying her for the right reasons. She deserves better, right? Even though she is hurting, she doesn’t want you feeling sorry for her or pitying her.

It appears you are very concerned for her sons, but I’m sure there are other ways you can provide support to her sons other than joining in a marriage you don’t want to be in. Who knows, maybe she is having second thoughts, too.

Listen, I really appreciate your service to our country, but you can’t proceed with this. You have divorced once and have a beautiful daughter. Spend some time on self-exploration and with your daughter. She needs you too. Let me know what you decide.

Vicki Johnson can be reached at dearmsvicki@yahoo.com.

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