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When there's fear

The fear of the unknown — we all experience it. But sometimes, life can plunge you so deep into the unknowns, you feel like they just might swallow you.

On September 11, 2001, I flew from Raleigh to St. Louis to Seattle… and then to South Korea. I had been in the military for about three years, at this point. I arrived in South Korea the morning of the 11th. My supervisor picked me up and drove me to my dorm room on Camp Coiner in Seoul. I got in, started unpacking, then laid down to take a nap. It had been a very long day of traveling and dealing with airports and, if you have ever traveled, you get it.

I woke up to someone banging on the door, looking for “Sheila” — the suite mate I hadn’t even met yet. They asked, “Are you watching what’s happening on TV!?!”

This was the night of September 11th in Korea… the morning of the 11th in the U.S. I didn’t even have a TV yet, but I followed them – out of morbid curiosity, I suppose, and we flipped on the TV in the dayroom just in time to watch the second plane hit the South Tower. I thought it was a joke, at first. The images calling to mind scenes similar to those from the movie Independence Day. Then I tried to call home, and I couldn’t get through. All the phone lines were busy.

It’s hard to describe that sinking feeling of being on the other side of the world, surrounded by the unfamiliar while chaos breaks loose back home, unable to reach your family. My family didn’t even know I’d landed yet, because of the time difference back

in the U.S. when I arrived, and I hadn’t wanted to wake them. Feeling helpless, I eventually went back to my room and tried to sleep. I had hoped I would wake up and learn it was all a bad dream. It wasn’t.

The harsh morning light streamed into my window and roused me from my sleep. I walked outside to see if I had somehow been transported to another view of the world. But no. I could tell by the lack of traffic on the road that the military had shut down the base. As I walked around outside, I watched the Korean Army put up razor wire around their barracks, preparing for a possible attack. Everything was chaos yet still and I didn’t even speak the language. Aside from my supervisor, no one in my squadron really knew that I’d arrived because I hadn’t had a chance to report in yet and my supervisor was ‘stuck’ off base since that’s where he lived, and the gates were closed. That meant I didn’t even know where my work center was located! It felt like I’d walked into the fourth circle of hell. I wandered near the dorms until eventually someone from my squadron found me and asked, “Hey, are you the new girl?” and showed me where to go.

People look for comfort in things. When you walk into a crowded room, you look for someone you know, something familiar, some common ground. That’s how people deal with stress — they look for comfort. But that morning, there was no comfort, just chaos, panic, and the unfamiliar. I was alone and lost… until someone found me and showed me what to do.

When clients come to me, they often feel lost and alone, confused, sad, or angry. They often don’t know what to do, or what comes next. That can be extremely painful and disorienting — trust me, I know. That’s why, as an estate planning attorney, I

try to put my clients at ease: I’m here, I’ll help you through it; it’s gonna be okay. I try to be the voice of comfort for them that the person on Camp Coiner in Seoul was for me: “Come with me; I’ll help you figure out what to do. I’ll show you where to go. Here’s how I recommend we make it better.”

Estate planning and probate can feel like a foreign language, and there are lots of unknowns. But when you have someone who speaks the language to help you navigate, it makes a world of difference.

Still in the military, I worked at the Pentagon from 2009 to 2012. While I know there are some questions and theories about what actually hit the Pentagon on 9/11. That aside, it was strange to walk through the now repaired areas where the Pentagon had been hit. While my husband was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, he came across some copies of photos from that day — they’d been in storage somewhere, and someone was just getting rid of them. You can see, in the photos, the damage and charring to the outside of the building. The story I was told was the point of impact, Ground Zero – if you will – was someone’s office, but they were not at the Pentagon that day… but rather, they were on the second plane that hit the South Tower. Whether or not that was rumor, speculation, or factual, it gives me chills every time I think about it.

No one ever really knows what will happen from one day to the next, you know. That fear of the unknown, if we dwell on it too long, can be overwhelming and even paralyzing. We can’t control everything in life, despite our best efforts, but we can at least prepare for what we can foresee, and that foresight is what I like to help reveal to my clients.

As an estate planning attorney, I help prepare my clients for the What Ifs, so that even if things don’t happen as they expect, they can still have comfort that everything will turn out okay.

My next blog post will be a bit more lighthearted, a post about things that could go wrong with estate planning which I’m affectionately calling, “If Elvis Had an 8-Ball.” I hope I’ll see you back here for next month’s posts!

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