What can Christmas mean for Defence families?
Let me see ... in our family’s experience there is the Boxing Day Tsunami Christmas while posted to Butterworth, Malaysia in 2014; or the Christmas that Mum and Dad were ill and hallucinating while the children took care of Christmas dinner — Dad left for Iraq the following day. One Christmas speaks most clearly to the heart of Defence family life, and it happened when I was expecting our fourth child.
My husband was deployed and expected to return home the week before Christmas. My father had lost his battle with cancer three months earlier. Our three boys were already interstate getting up to holiday mischief with their cousins and we were joining them a few days before Christmas. It was the first time the boys had been away from us, and us from them. Our flights were booked, and a hotel in Launceston reserved for a night of peace before careening into a week of extended family Christmas chaos.
Cruising somewhere in the skies over Asia the Air Force aircraft heading for home was struck by lightning and had to turn back. Making an emergency landing, they discovered damage in need of repair. They were not going to make it home in time for us to travel together.
So, I would fly to Tassie as planned but cancelled the hotel. The boys were prepped for Dad not being home for Christmas (we were always cautious where disappointment lurked) and all that was left to do was pack up a very un-Christmassy house and go — easy.
Gale force winds ripped across Adelaide that night throwing the top of a sizeable eucalyptus into our backyard. Seriously? A storm clean-up?! Gratefully, no damage — I decided to make the best of it.
Potted, the treetop filled the living room. Amongst its summery Christmas scent, I strung decorated gum nuts and perched glitter-covered Australian native birds and lizards along the branches — a Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo as the star. With a single gift beneath the tree, there would be Christmas if Dad had to spend it alone!
I arrived in Tasmania to worrying news: setting out for home a second time, Dad’s aircraft had an engine fire which meant another emergency landing — this time in Darwin. As they landed, Darwin experienced an earthquake. (This crew were not meant to make it home for Christmas!) The family started wondering (aloud) whether they wanted my husband anywhere near Tasmania — catastrophes were following him!
With presents to wrap and Santa’s helper duties to perform the Christmas Eve candle burned at both ends as usual. The children headed off to bed bravely knowing Dad would not be with us for Christmas. With a squeaky brass bed beckoning a phone call brought me back to the kitchen: ‘Could I get hold of a car?’
‘And get to Launceston airport in a few hours?’
While ‘visions of sugarplums’ danced around the boys heads, I braved dark Tassie roads to help Santa deliver a luminous Christmas morning. Christmas lights paled behind the brightness of Dad parting the needles of a Tassie Pine.
The loss of a loved one, lightning, engine fires, gale force winds, tsunami, earthquakes, squeaky beds! Can you imagine Military Wife life without them?!
We face our lives with great courage and commitment. Christmas gives us a yearly opportunity to hone our resilience and be grateful for the ordinary and extraordinary miracles — it’s part of the reason for the season.
Look out in 2019 for two new songs, Build a Circle, arranged by Sylvia Wang, and an older song written in 2004 called The Reason for the Season, which was written while we were posted in Butterworth Malaysia for an Australian Defence Community Christmas concert.
Enjoy this wonderful season full of change and changes.