PATRICK WAS IN THE ARMY AND I WAS WRNZAF WHEN WE MET…
…For me, I knew within weeks that he was the man I would spend the rest of my life with. We married and I was pregnant with our first child when he went to Vietnam.
When Patrick returned, he was a changed person in several ways, but I had a long history of military service in my family and was prepared for this. (Now the changes have been diagnosed as PTSD and he has had some counselling but not very effectively.) Not helping Patrick (or me for that matter) was the death of our second child at 20 months. Patrick found alcohol in large, regular quantities, was very helpful. I found antidepressant medication worked for me, most of the time.
The most obvious clues that Vietnam would remain with him were nightmares, still to this day they are like flashbacks. And physical damage to his body which will always be there.
“THE MOST OBVIOUS CLUES THAT VIETNAM WOULD REMAIN WITH HIM WERE NIGHTMARES, STILL TO THIS DAY THEY ARE LIKE FLASHBACKS.”
Patrick realised during a Moral Leadership course that what the lecturer was describing as Alcoholism symptoms was in fact his lifestyle, and immediately stopped drinking. Permanently. His career blossomed, his family life improved and he became a man with a good future ahead.
That’s basically our background.
During the latter part of his career he was posted to Sinai and the MFO. I went over for the final part of his time there and we RTNZ via Europe and London. As a result of a visit to the Tower of London we investigated the possibility of his being appointed to the post of Yeoman Warder at the Tower. This was possible and to cut a long story short, when he retired after 29 years’ service, we went on a 6-month holiday overseas to see how we managed uninterrupted life together. His career had involved many long term (3 months or more) periods on course, exercise etc. Whilst away we were interviewed and got approval to join the Body of Yeoman Warders when the next vacancy occurred in 2 years.
I was aware that Patrick was going to be lost without the military life so as he had always wanted to go to Antarctica, I had applied in his name for a position there for the summer following his retirement. He got the job and on our return from overseas he went to Scott Base. I took on the management of Brookfield Scout Camp and when he came home, he became the department of labour. This was not a well-paying job, in fact the pair of us received $13 per week less than if we had been on the dole, but a house was provided. The main thing was we were having the greatest fun imaginable working together with children and adults, working outside, and our own bosses. There was a certain degree of regulated tasks, timings etc that eased the transition from military life.
“WE WERE HAVING THE GREATEST FUN IMAGINABLE WORKING TOGETHER. THERE WAS A CERTAIN DEGREE OF REGULATED TASKS THAT EASED THE TRANSITION FROM MILITARY LIFE.”
The Tower of London was brilliant as an after-service job! Yeoman Warders were all senior NCO’s and the Constable, Deputy Constable and Governor were all Senior Military appointments. E.g. The Constable was Field Marshall. Sixteen years of this was like being in the Army again and everyone understood each other’s mindset.
The crunch came when Patrick retired from the Tower after 16 years and we came back to New Zealand. Now he really was a civilian. Forever.
I was working part time, but Patrick was ‘retired’. He had nothing to fill his days unless he chose to do it. He began fiddling and interfering with ‘my’ things. When he began to organise the pantry, I decided that was step too far. Definitely! His problem was too much time on his hands therefore the answer was to find something to fill that time. I was working as a church secretary and had struck up a friendship with one of the funeral directors who I believed Patrick could get along with. So, I got the two men together and Patrick became a funeral service handyman and gardener. Part time so he had afternoons free to potter in his workshop if he wished.
“WHEN HE BEGAN TO ORGANISE THE PANTRY, I DECIDED THAT WAS STEP TOO FAR.”
The part time employment was ideal, and Patrick had a change of attitude to retirement. He mainly stopped supervising me, and re-organising the house, and he met new people. His life underwent a change from a military environment to a civilian one with friends from both military and civilian life. A bonus for the company was that as word got out that Patrick was working for them, military families would ask for Patrick to assist with their husband’s funeral. He was delighted to do this and gave dignity to the event. It made him feel wanted and useful and, in a way, to give something back to his military past.
I noticed he found it difficult to not interfere when someone did something in a way not Patrick’s method. Giving up control was difficult.
It is now 20 years since his retirement and he still tries to give orders. He is adamant his way is correct, and he can be short tempered. He yells a lot if anything goes wrong as he perceives it. He hasn’t given up 29 years of military training. How do I cope?
The number one thing is to keep him interested in a variety of different activities. He can sing very well so he has joined a choir. He is interested in old stuff ‘so he has joined the local museum volunteers. They have a Men’s Smoko once a week with about 70 retired elderly men sitting around solving the problems of the world. He goes to the local market every Friday and chats to stallholders and other retired servicemen who sit on the benches drinking coffee. And he is the Patron of 32 Sqn Air Cadets which is overall a great thing for him except that so much has changed since he was in the military that it aggravates him to see things done ‘wrong’. Of course, his health is failing – he has lost sight in one eye, can’t hear very well out of one ear and can’t hear much at all from the other. His knees creak, he has had a heart attack and triple bypass.
Advice to other wives. Stay calm (even if medication is required to do so). Find at least one interest of your own and don’t allow him to interfere with your plans. And keep him involved with his own interests. He will still give orders because in his early life he was trained to give them. Walk away when he shouts. And live in a house able to provide each of you with a space of your own! It is sanity saving to be able to get away from each other but still be ‘’connected’’. We have an old colonial villa and if Patrick yells to me from one end of the house, I can’t hear him! Utter bliss!
For any military retiree the Veterans Affairs office is a God-send. They have been so good to us, and I cannot praise their help enough. Initially Patrick regarded asking for assistance as ‘bludging’’ but when he discovered his best friend had such practical help, he agreed to ask for help as and when required.
I hope a wife/partner may get some help from my ramblings, even if it is just to realise, she is not alone.
“ I HOPE A WIFE/PARTNER MAY GET SOME HELP FROM MY RAMBLINGS, EVEN IF IT IS JUST TO REALISE, SHE IS NOT ALONE.”