On April 23, 2006, Cpl. Shawn T. Lasswell died serving in Iraq. His mother, Cathy Zehren of Las Vegas, started to make plans for his cremation and for a memorial where he grew up, but all this came to a halt when she heard unexpected news.
Zehren learned only days ago that her son had married without telling her or the Army shortly before his deployment to Iraq. She learned this, she said, from her son’s wife, who told Zehren they had wed nine days after meeting.
And the military gives his wife – not his mother – the ultimate say over his personal property, his medals, the flag from his coffin and where he is finally laid to rest.
“This woman – somebody that had known him not even three weeks – can take away the power of somebody that has known him 21 years,” Zehren said Monday in a telephone interview. “The war already took him, and now I have him taken away again by somebody I don’t even know.”
When I heard this on the radio for the first time, I instantly remarked that the person who makes these decisions is the wife, and that should be so whether they were married for three minutes, three weeks, or three decades. When people marry, their primary allegiance and concern should shift from their parents to their spouse. This isn’t a new idea; it’s as old as Adam and Eve — “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
When I was scoping out the babes looking for good wifely material, I also looked at their families because I knew that when I married, I would be both marrying my wife and joining her family. And I am very fortunate to have married into a wonderful family.
In addition to the tragedy of losing her son, I would say that Zehren has also lost a daughter-in-law.
If we claim that Cpl. Lasswell’s mother has the ultimate say over her son’s body and property because she knew him for 21 years, do we simply ignore that he was married, or the justified claims that his new wife had upon him? And at what point would his wife’s rights trump those of his mother? I can understand very well that Ms. Zehren is distraught over the loss of her son, but she lost any say over him when he said, “I do.”