I received the autopsy report on March 18, 2007, exactly three months after my husband was killed. The autopsy comes in a FedEx envelope. Then, there is a manila envelope inside of that one with a warning taped to it:
WARNING: The information in the enclosed report is graphically described for complete accuracy in the physical details of the remains of
SSG Brian Lee Mintzlaff
It is STRONGLY RECOMMENDED that you read this in the presence of people that can provide you with emotional support during this time, such as your minister, a family friend, or a counselor.
I ignored this warning. What business of anyone else’s could this be other than mine? No, my husband deserved for me to read through these details alone. He lived them. As much as he tried to shelter me from all the shit he lived through—this was the last story. This was it—his last moments. Even though he was dead, I couldn’t leave him alone as the only one who ever knew all of this. And I sure as hell couldn’t allow someone else to be the recipient of all the intimate details of his death. At that moment, I became the keeper of these details.
Even though the Army would not let me view my husband’s body, I will forever know the exact injuries that he sustained. The exact measurements of every contusion, laceration, and abrasion that hurt my baby’s skin. From this moment on, I am able to close my eyes and know which of his strong bones were shattered, which ones were fractured, and I am able to imagine the intense severity of the pain that he must have felt as a result of these injuries.
I am left to wonder how these injuries were sustained and I am left with so many questions unanswered.
For me, there wasn’t a choice. I had to read it. I had to know. But most of the time, I wish I could forget.