Days before making an interstate family visit I became worried about leaving my husband alone.
Recently returned from Middle East deployment, I watched him privately and felt that his current work position was leaving him without purpose, resulting in a growing inward sadness. He was accessing all the help available to returned serving members, exercising all the suggested practices, keeping our communication open and remaining positive about it. Having ‘brought him home’ many times we were doing all we knew how, but I sensed something.
A risk to returned Service men and women after war, the most significant threat, is that having served in such a meaningful way, enacting life and death decisions daily, they lose hope when returning to situations that appear to serve no purpose. Recognising early signs of this, I thought carefully about what I could do - it is not always straightforward when working out how to support.
Reaching for where to obtain help, and knowing I would be away for ten days, I sought a source higher than myself. I pled for something which would restore purpose and meaning to his work - a situation that was a better fit for my husband's gifts and abilities. For me this search involves prayer, which leads me to find a path through the process; for others, it may include seeking help from different sources; whatever your choice of assistance, the critical thing is to ask.
I underestimated the power of a partner’s positive energy focussed on the process of restoring strength. On day three of my time away a phone call came about a possible posting. Cautiously, he approached the subject. The details were sketchy at best: it would involve ‘time away’; phrases like ‘high risk’ and 'high profile’ were being bandied.
We had only just allowed ourselves to become excited about going to a movie on a weeknight or taking a walk after dinner - beautiful little things you can do with a regular work-day schedule. A sincere discussion just days before my leaving explored the potential benefits of an ‘eight to five’ position in location, and what it could mean for me. It went something like this:
“You have followed my career around for the last twenty plus years, and now I have a chance to give some of that back. Do you want to shift career? Do you want to return to Tertiary study? We can seriously consider this because I am around.”
So, I did, on the four-hour flight to Darwin. I hear you screech, ‘Stop! No! You foolish girl! You actually believed that?’ To which I answer that I did because it was, at that point, a possible reality. Now, we all know that this was naive at best, but give me the benefit, wouldn't you seriously think about it?
Back on the end of the phone at the kitchen bench in Darwin, each day produced a different set of changes:
Day 3: looks like its a go but it won’t be for six months so we will still have that time.
Day 5: Ah, it’s stepped up to start a bit earlier, but we will still have three months.
Day 7: Well, it’s a bit sketchy, but it looks like a six-week start date?
Day 9: I start tomorrow.
At about day 5 I felt quite…, ripped off! I began resenting each update. Fortunately, around the same time, a pointed internal correction pulled me up short: ‘You asked for this, now get on board.’ This was right. I had asked for this. I got on board.
It meant a complete shift in personal priorities. With two children still at home my career/education change was back-burned, but if you believe that the universe somehow compensates for these course corrections and creates paths you do not foresee, then this is one of those times.
The sacrifice was easier when I reminded myself that I had asked for this. (I say easier, not easy, and that is where the ‘sticky hearts’ came into the picture, but that is a story for another time.) There is something about staying a good course for someone you love that keeps you moving forward. The new posting provided my husband’s needed purpose. It also kept me in a location which provided unforeseen family and professional opportunity - and yes, heart-shaped sticky notes gave me courage to see through three years of separation.
You often find strength where you least expect it - take courage and ask, but then be prepared to get on board!
‘The Last Straw’ was written to harmonise feelings similar to those expressed above. As with any support requiring sacrifice, it speaks through the process of arriving at a way forward - not a solution, but a path through a difficulty. You can listen to it hear.
The Australian Defence Force has excellent resources for families supporting currently serving Service men & women. Here are some links to explore: