On August 1, 2000....15 years ago....my husband went away.
He didn't leave us. He wasn't dead.
He was hired by the State of Illinois, Illinois Department of Corrections specifically and left to do his 6 weeks of academy training. He would go to the academy very early Monday morning and come back to us on Friday night.
This was just the beginning of a 3 year separation for us. Why? Because the prison he was hired to work at was 3 hours away from our home and rather than remove us from our family and friends, he opted to work "away" while the boys and I remained behind. When he accepted the position we were told that he could transfer to an institution closer to home in 18 months but the state of Illinois froze transfers so it was almost 3 years before he came home.
Let that soak in.
When he left that August morning, we had 2 sons. Lee was almost 3 and Greg was 4 months old. Explaining to a 3 year old that the daddy he adored wasn't coming home that night, or the next or the next was excruciating. He didn't understand. He would cry for the first 2 days and almost every night at bedtime. Greg was spared that for the most part, as an infant, but had colic that started about the time Norman left. He would scream for hours every night. Hours. For weeks. Greg also got severely car sick. Norman wasn't allowed to drive himself to the academy so I drove 4 hours on Monday morning to drop him off and 4 hours every Friday afternoon to pick him up. For 6 weeks. My parents are farmers and this was their busy season so for the majority of the time I would drive a Geo Metro 2 hours each way with at least 1 screaming kid. Twice a week. Sometimes I would have a panic attack on Friday mornings just anticipating the drive.
But it was worth it....because we were going to get Daddy.
After the 6 weeks, Norman started his employment at Dwight Correctional Center. He stayed in some employee dorms on the ground of Pontiac Correctional Center. He would drive himself up and back on his "Monday" and "Friday" (which were never actually Monday or Friday). This left me with no vehicle. If I was desperate I would borrow a vehicle from my parents. We did all errands and shopping when Daddy was home.
For years we would celebrate birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving on whatever nearby day Daddy was home. That's probably why we don't have all these traditions in our family regarding holidays....sometimes they were celebrated a week early or a week late....but we made the best of each situation....being so thankful for the days that we were together.
I don't think people understand how hard this was on me. I became mom and dad 5-6 days a week. I suffered from depression before but I also had to deal with severe anxiety. Some days I would just huddle in bed and cry. I laugh when people say that they can't be as strong as me. I wasn't strong. I was a mess. But I did what I had to do.....
Why? Because although I missed him terribly and the workload/responsibilities were huge, I was at home. I was in a familiar town/area with my family and friends. If I had an accident I could call someone. If I was so lonely I just couldn't handle it, I had family I could visit (some of them literally saved me). I kissed my kids good night before bed every single night. Norman was in an unfamiliar town. He did make friends but it took some time. I can't imagine how hard it was for him to be away from the boys. That ache had to almost drive him to insanity somedays. I do know he worked a lot of overtime while he was up there. He said it helped the days go faster.
He thanked me yesterday, for not making it harder for him than it was. You see, I never once complained. I never told him how much we would cry while he was gone. I put on my smiley happy face when he was home (because we were so happy that he was home!) and a cheerful voice into every phone call. I determined early on that I was not going to make this any harder for him than it already was. Was there anything that he could do about the crying boys? The days my heart broke and I spent the whole day in bed? Sure there was. If he knew, he would have quit his job. The best job he had ever had. He would have come home to us. Because that is what he would have given anything to do. But he knew he had a responsibility to provide well for us and this was the path that God had given him to do it. So he stayed at Dwight and I kept my mouth shut.
I look back now and wonder how many women realize the responsibility they have in their marriage to make things just a smidge easier for their husbands. Do you really need to complain when he works overtime again? Or should you be thankful that he is providing? Should you lay out all your problems at his feet? Or should you suck it up and remember that it isn't his job to be your everything.....it is God's?
You see, those sacrifices we made those years enabled Norman to find fulfillment in a job he enjoys. He makes a wage that enables me to be home, to educate the kids and kiss the booboos and give the lovings that children need and have to get from others when both parents are employed. I'm not saying I don't wish there had been another way, but there wasn't. Sometimes you must just accept the way things are and make the very best out of them. Doing that shouldn't make it harder on the other person.
As I look back, I recognize some things that did help me cope during those long days, weeks, months and years.
1. Focus on TODAY. If today is Monday and Norman just left, I wouldn't dwell on how many days it would be until he got home. I would decide what I was going to do that morning, what I was fixing for lunch, what I was doing that afternoon, what I was fixing for supper, what books we would read or movies we would watch at bedtime. Do that the next day, and the next day and the next.
2. Find a confidant. I've never said that you should keep all your feelings bottled up. I've only said that you shouldn't burden your husband with them. Find a FEMALE friend or two to confide in when you just need to vent. It happens. Find someone that will ENCOURAGE you to keep on keeping on. Nobody is meant to do everything alone. I've offered to be that person for several people. I hope that someday they take me up on the offer.
3. Get out of the house. I spent part of the time Norman worked away with no vehicle. Having no vehicle doesn't mean that you have to sit in the house and brood all day. Go for a walk. Plant flowers. Enjoy nature. If you are blessed enough to live in town, walk to a library or park or coffeeshop. Even 30 minutes a day can improve your outlook on life. I tried to go on a walk every day I could, weather permitting. Once I had a vehicle, we would drive into town one day a week for lunch and a trip to the library. I tried to make it mid-week so that it broke up the time that dad was away a little. Schedule play dates if you have little kids. It takes effort. I'm an introvert so doing these things sometimes took a lot out of me, but in the end I needed the adult interaction and the kids needed fun things to do.
4. Find a hobby. You might not have much time. I get that. Find something that you enjoy doing and carve out 30 minutes for it. I read, knit and blog. I did cross stitch for years and I also sew (sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I don't). Do you garden? Lift weights? Fix things? Scrapbook? Play an instrument? Don't know? Then go get some books from the library. You might find some new things that interest you. When Norman worked away I learned to knit, canned my own food, had a garden, read lots of books, did cross stitch and started writing (in a journal because blogging wasn't a thing yet).
5. Try to keep Daddy days fun. This one is hard and might not always happen but it is so important. If your husband is only home 1 or 2 days a week or worse, a month, then it is important that the time be as enjoyable for everyone as possible. We would go into town, have lunch at Bonanza and then do grocery shopping. Every week. The employees at Bonanza knew our orders. We would have so much fun and get errands done and it was special time with the kids. We would spend time with Norman's mom (she missed him too).
6. Have a set routine on the day Daddy leaves. This is important. Especially with little kids, but I think that it is useful for wives as well. We would get up and do the same things every day daddy left. The routine was comforting for the kids and helped with their anxiety and the tears that tended to take place. It was easier for everyone.
We are in a slightly different place now. Those 2 little boys are almost all grown up (18 and 15). We have 2 new little ones (7 and 5). My husband works at Robinson Correctional Center now and works a lot of overtime. The thing with overtime is that you don't always know when that will happen. So I mark time by a clock. Norman will call by 2 if he is staying late at work that day. I rarely plan my evening until I know what he will be up to. The kids have learned to be flexible. I have to take on farm responsibilities and parenting responsibilities. I make a lot more decisions than I would like because I am the one home most often. I think that the early years prepared me for this. I'm very flexible. Evenings are lonely, but we have a sort of routine for when Daddy works late. I usually get more of "my" projects done when Daddy works late. We make the best of the situation.
In the end, that's all you can do. Complaining and whining don't help but you can help yourself (and your husband/children) make the best of a difficult situation. As the wife and mother, you set the tone for the home, so set a positive, joyful tone. You won't regret it, I promise.