Relying on Family

About 10 weeks into Pete’s deployment, I received an unexpected phone call. It was from one of Pete’s colleagues at RAF Cranwell. He said he just wanted to check how I was doing and wondered if I was free for him to pop over for a coffee one morning the following week. As surprised as I was, I thought it was really nice of him to check on me whilst Pete was away. I had met him a few times before and so had no issues with this. He came over the following week and we just sat and had a chat about how I was coping whilst Pete was away and if I had any questions or anything. He also told me a little about his experiences with his wife when he had been deployed and I was slightly relieved to realise that it wasn’t just me going through these emotions and it was actually quite normal. Not a nice experience but normal.

Pete and I continued to argue on the phone until one day we decided that maybe talking so often wasn’t working anymore as it led to the arguments when we couldn’t think of anything to say. Instead, we discussed it and decided that we would talk on the phone once a week as we would be more likely to have something to discuss and that we would email in between if and when the internet connection was working in the Falklands. This seemed to work really well for us from then on.

Christmas was fast approaching by this point and I started to feel more alone than ever. I celebrated with my team at work (see pic below) and I was spending the day with my family, but it was hard knowing that Pete was on his own and not celebrating. I spent most of Christmas day worrying whether he was ok and then feeling guilty if I was having a good time. I got to speak to him though which was great.

work-team-xmas-2008

By now I had my routine down to a fine art and was managing everything without constantly flapping that I had forgotten something. I calculated the bills and did the budgets for the wedding at the beginning of the month and knew what we were paying out and when it left the accounts etc. So you can imagine my shock when £250 disappeared from Pete’s account between Christmas and New Year. I could see that it was to a company that Pete had making loan repayments to from before we had gotten together, but for some reason the payment was more than double the normal instalment amount. It was at this point that I realised that we hadn’t contacted this company to give me access and so I couldn’t call them. It’s typical that the one thing you forget is the one thing you need. I also didn’t have any way of contacting Pete and would have to wait for a week until he called again. Unfortunately I hadn’t budgeted for the extra money and so this left me in a very awkward position. I had enough money to cover the monthly bills and wedding outgoings etc (just), but not enough for the weeks shopping. I ended up strategically turning up at my parents house at dinner time so that I didn’t need to do any shopping ha ha ha. I just thank my lucky stars that I still lived near them as if we had moved by that point, I would have been stuck without family or friends to turn to. Pete and I both got paid just before New Year and so I only had to keep this up for a week. Pete called a few days later and we discussed it and realised that it was the final instalment and was actually a balloon payment where you pay more than the monthly instalment. Pete hadn’t realised it was the end of the loan agreement term and so we hadn’t accounted for it. He felt so guilty that he had put me in that position and it didn’t matter how many times I told him it wasn’t his fault, he still blamed himself. It was really hard to deal with that when you can’t physically make someone feel that it’s not their fault and you only have a limited amount of time on the phone. The worst part was realising that I didn’t know how to get hold of him if there was an emergency at home. I felt helpless. It’s not a nice feeling…….

All Alone

The first couple of days after Pete left were horrendous. I had no contact with him, which I had expected, but it actually felt like he had left me. I couldn’t see him, feel him, speak to him……it was the worst feeling. I knew he was just travelling….it takes a long time to get to the Falklands. I think that made it worse though. Knowing he was flying for that length of time and having to wait for so long to find out if he had arrived safely.

I cant remember exactly how long it was before I heard from him. It was 3 or 4 days I think. He called me to let me know he had arrived and was getting settled in and finding out what he would be doing during his deployment. He had enquired about communication facilities and was told that they did have internet access but that it was very unreliable and that they received a phone card each week that had a certain number of free minutes that they could use to call home. We discussed it and decided that he would call every other day for a few minutes at a time and he would email in between if the internet was working. This seemed like the best set up as then it wouldn’t seem like he was away if we could talk regularly.

The first week or two was the hardest. Trying to adjust to being on your own is harder than you realise. It’s not like being single again where you only have yourself to consider. You still have a partner/spouse and they have to be considered when making decisions etc. You also have to maintain the way of life that you have when they are home, only it was now my responsibility to do it all on my own. I only lived 20 minutes from my parents and sisters and so I could always jump in the car and drive over there when I got a bit lonely. It was the evenings that were the worst though. Locking the front door and everything was just so quiet. It was at this point that I realised what a comfort having the cats was. They were always on hand to snuggle up with and if I was feeling low, they seemed to know somehow and tried to make it better. They were my life line.

It was nice hearing from Pete every other day and we got into a steady routine after the first couple of weeks. He would call and tell me what he had been doing and I would fill him in on wedding plans and my days in general. It seemed we had found a way to make it work for us……..then everything started to change. It happened slowly so we didn’t realise it at first. Pete would call and we would chat but then the silences started creeping in. We found we didn’t have anything to say to each other. I know that sounds awful but let me explain……..the Falklands is a very quiet place with nothing to do and nowhere to go. There are only so many phone calls that you can go over doing the same thing day in, day out before it just becomes an ‘oh I did the usual today’ and you can’t think of anything else to say. Then from my side of the conversation I was following a routine just to get through the day and make sure everything was done and that I kept on top of everything. This meant I had nothing new to add either. Occasionally I had a wedding detail to go over but not during every conversation. To start with, the silences were quite companionable. We were quite comfortable just knowing we were on the phone to each other. The silences then started to become drawn out and awkward. Then the inevitable happened in this situation…….we started to argue. It wasn’t about anything in particular and we were both guilty of starting it. I can’t tell you what Pete must have been thinking after these conversations as I wasn’t in his shoes but I can tell you how I felt. There were times when I sat and cried. Firstly, it was from guilt over spending the few minutes we had arguing when he was so far away. Then it was the doubts creeping in……I don’t think there is a Military partner or spouse who hasn’t felt this when their other half is deployed or away. I asked myself over and over again…..’oh my god, is he realising he prefers being single now that he is living a single life over there?’ and ‘what if he doesn’t want to come back after all this arguing?’ I couldn’t help it. Every time I worked on wedding plans, I always had in the back of my mind…….’am I doing all this for him to say he doesn’t want it anymore?’ We did talk about it on the phone but how much can you really discuss in a few minutes every other day. It wasn’t easy…..

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Preparing to go

So you may think that being deployed just means that they pack up and go for however many months but there is so much more to it than that. Then throw wedding planning into the mix and you have a nightmare in the making.

There are a number of things that need to be done from the Military Personnels point of view. There is paperwork, vaccinations, making sure all training is in date, preparing equipment etc. etc.

Now let me tell you about how it affects the partner/spouse left behind. You are the one still at home and you still have your normal daily routine to go through. I had a full time job and the 2 cats too. Then suddenly your partner/spouse is disappearing for 4 months (in this instance) and you have to take over responsibility for everything they would normally do too. At this point, I had no actual experience with anyone from the military as I didn’t yet live on camp or have any friends in the military or their families either. This meant I was completely blind about what we were and weren’t entitled to or what we needed to do. It was only by accident when dealing with an issue with the land line provider that it occured to me that I would need access to all of Pete’s accounts and service providers whilst he was away so that I could deal with any issues that arose. Under the Data Protection Act, I would be unable to access any of this without Pete giving me express permission with the company to do so. I don’t think you realise how many companies you have dealings with until you come up against something like this. We sat and made a list and there were about 15 to 20 companies that Pete needed to contact individually to give me permission to do anything on his behalf. Let me tell you….some of these companies can be bloody awkward when they don’t understand why they won’t be able to speak to the account holder for 4 months. It took forever to sort out. Then there are other things to consider, such as money. We didn’t have joint accounts at this point and so working out how much money we would need to transfer between accounts and how each of us would access the money was fun…….not! It would have been simpler if we hadn’t been planning the wedding but we were paying for everything ourselves and so I needed access to funds for some of the payments.

Then on top of all of this, you have to think about the length of time that you wont see your partner/spouse for. It’s not just the term of the deployment – they also have pre-deployment training which varies in length depending on trade, what post they are going to be filling, where they are going etc. Pete’s was a few weeks for this deployment plus the 4 months that he would be away. I also discovered that because it was a 4 month deployment, he wouldn’t get a 2 weeks ‘R&R’ period. This is usually where the Military Personnel can come home for a 2 week period during their deployment for some rest. This is only available on deployments of 6 months or more. I can’t even begin to explain how upset I was. Not only was I going to miss him and be very lonely and shoulder all the responsibility for keeping things running whilst he was gone, I was also terrified of having to plan this wedding on my own and the possibility of getting something wrong. We did discuss it beforehand but there is only so much we could cover in a conversation like that. It’s only later on that you see how much of the little details we never actually spoke about.

We also discussed contact whilst he was out in the Falklands and he said that he would contact me at every available opportunity. We had no idea what communication methods he would have over in the Falklands so he said he would check it all out when he got there and then contact me as soon as he could.

The last few weeks before he deployed were the worst. We had done everything we thought we needed to but then there is all the double checking of his equipment and uniform etc. Then there was the anticipation in the run up to him actually leaving. I tried to put on a brave face and pretend that everything was fine but the closer it got, the harder it became. For the last couple of weeks before he left, I barely slept and could hardly eat. I know how ridiculous that sounds but when it’s the first time you have had to go through it firsthand, it’s really hard to cope with all of the new emotions and responsibilities that go along with it.

The morning he left I was up early trying to keep myself busy so I didn’t think about it. Everytime my mind went back to the fact that he was leaving me, I ended up in floods of tears. As the clock ticked on and the time was approaching I actually felt physically sick. I’m not a clingy person as I’ve said before but 4 months is a long time to be without someone. We carried his kit down to the car and got everything loaded up and then it was here….it was time for him to get in his car and drive away from me. That was the hardest goodbye I have ever been through in my entire life. We said our goodbyes and he drove away……….I was completely and utterly heartbroken!

pete

Wedding Planning

Life couldn’t have been more perfect for a while after that. We had our little family and Ivory and Frisbee were turning out to be the best of friends. Ivory was a proper little mother hen. She took it upon herself to make sure Fris had whatever he wanted. She was always bringing him toys, rolling around with him and giving him a bath. It was beautiful to see.

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I wouldn’t say that life was easy being with someone in the military. Whenever Pete had a shift, he was away from home. If work called him, he had to go. It was never a choice, he had to do it. I think I found that the most difficult. Feeling like we didn’t have any control over our lives. In the military, you are technically paid 24 hours a day, although it only works out at a couple of pounds an hour. This means that they can call on you at any time, day or night. They can also cancel leave when the need arose and so planning anything was always done with it in the back of your mind that it may never happen. The worst thing was trying to book a holiday abroad. Although the experience is always exciting….I mean who doesn’t love a holiday……we had to make sure we took out travel insurance that also covered military personnel that had leave cancelled. That could be expensive when added to my medical condition. Everything was always just that little bit more difficult and it really stressed me out sometimes. I remember that we used to have petty little arguments because I would get mad over Pete having to be away. I was never mad at Pete, just the situation but as we all know, in the heat of the moment, things don’t always come out right and Pete felt like I was blaming him. I can guarantee that this has happened between every couple where one or both of them are military. It’s unavoidable. There was never any question that we would get through it though. You stick together no matter what is thrown at you.

With this in mind, we got to talking about the wedding and the future. We talked about what we wanted to do after we were married and after a lot of discussion, we decided that I would move with Pete into military housing. Although this meant that I would potentially have to look for new jobs whenever we were posted, it was worth it so that Pete could come home after every shift. I wont lie though. This was a hard decision for me as I am fiercely independent and had worked hard at my career to get to the level I was at and I enjoyed it. The thought of having to give up my job and career made me feel very sad and at some points very sick. It wasn’t really a choice though. On balance, being with Pete and having a happy, healthy home life was just more important.

Knowing what we now wanted to do, we set a date for the wedding for the 23rd of May 2009. We started to plan the wedding. Our first disagreement was over the fact that I didn’t want to wear a wedding dress. I am the biggest tom boy going and only tend to wear dresses when I am going out for a night out. The thought of wearing a big, white, girly dress just didn’t impress me. Pete was adamant that I couldn’t wear a white suit instead though so I had to suck it up and buy a dress. The normal wedding dress shopping consists of you going to a bridal shop and trying on dresses with friends or family and picking one that you fall in love with. My experience, however; was very different. I sat on my computer at home, looked at online catalogues, saw one that was the least girly and went….’I’ll have that one then’ and ordered it for the bargain price of £150. Not exactly a bonding experience…..although I did have both Ivory and Fris cuddled up with me so I guess I bonded with them ha ha ha.

Pete came home from work a few days later and explained that he had been having a chat with his boss and there had been word that some people were being dipped for deployments soon. This meant that they were being sent abroad for 4-6 months to do a tour of duty and it could be anywhere of the military’s choosing. The panic immediately set in. What if they sent him away over the date of the wedding? I don’t want him to go away for so long! What if they send him to Afghanistan? Pete explained that he had sat down with his boss to discuss it and he had suggested that Pete volunteer for a deployment rather than wait to be dipped. Although it still meant him being away, it was more likely that he would be sent very soon and then he would be back for the wedding. I still wasn’t happy but knew it was our best option. The next day, Pete submitted the paperwork to volunteer and we went back to planning the wedding.

Pete decided he would like to get married in his ‘Number 1 uniform’ and asked both of his brothers if they would be his best men. We had booked the Registry Office in Doncaster for the wedding as neither of us are religious and so didn’t want a church. We gave notice of our intention to marry and started planning the main parts of the wedding.

A couple of weeks later Pete came home from work and sat me down…….it had happened……he was being deployed. My heart dropped through the floor. He was being sent to the Falklands for 4 months and would make it back a few weeks before the wedding. Although this was the best we could have hoped for, it was still a huge shock as this was his first deployment.

The amount of times I have heard the following statement over the years is unbelievable ‘Well you knew what you were getting into when you got together/married him.’ I swear, sometimes I could hit people for that. Yes all military spouses are aware of this but it doesn’t make it any easier or hurt any less!! We all know that one day people are going to die…..it doesn’t change how you feel when it happens!! And no I’m not likening a deployment to death. It’s just a metaphor.

I was absolutely gutted and terrified!!