After spending all of our adult life with one set of goals and ideals, as in service to our country, there is really no preparation for beginning the next phase. My husband attended all the retirement briefings, and we were supplied with information on adjusting to civilian life. However, when real life is not covered in any of the instruction manuals, how does one really adjust?
Through the years, I had developed a set of criteria for where we would spend our years after the Air Force. My heart longed for a small town, with tree-lined streets, a flag perched on a pillar of each wrap-around porch, and white wicker laced with ferns. The reality is that we had lived in Washington, D.C., the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, near Sea World in San Antonio…places where people love to visit, and where there was always something to do. It would be a tough sell to convince two children to live in a quiet place where there were few activities with them in mind. We found a compromise by living in a small town near a big city. To sweeten the deal, I had a job offer, and we found a foreclosure fixer-upper in a very nice, established neighborhood. The plan was that I would be the sole breadwinner while my husband put his home renovation skills to work on our new home.
As is sometimes the case, those particular plans did not come to fruition, and we had to scramble around for a Plan B. After all my efforts and training, and getting licensing to start my new career, my job offer fell through. So we both renovated our home, and got our boys settled into school. We looked forward to Mother’s Day, as it would be our first holiday to spend with our Moms, without having to plan a cross-country trip.
The events of that day were totally unexpected, and devastating. During lunch, we received a series of phone calls informing us that my sister-in-law, my husband’s oldest sister, was critically ill. The waning hours of Mother’s Day, 2003, would find us at the hospital in complete shock, as we learned that there was nothing doctors could do to save her. I’m not sure when it happened, but my husband was by her side when she left the bonds of earth.
To say that he was affected by her death was an understatement: the two had been very close, despite being twelve years apart. He had spent many summers at her house, after she was married and began her family. She had always been like another mother to him, and her loss plunged him into a major depression. He was essentially immobile, and spent nearly an entire summer bedridden, while the boys and I tried to start life in our “new” home. Although we still had lots of work to do on the house, by this time we were able to live there, making renovation a bit easier.
In July, we discovered that we needed to renew our tags on the vehicles. Guess what was still in our household goods, somewhere between our new home and Texas? Our car titles! So, a good one to two months before we were ready, we had to have our household goods delivered. We had to scramble to get new carpet put in, so our furniture could be moved in. The presence of massive numbers of boxes only added to his depression, and it was a difficult time to hold everyone together. I felt so terrible that the boys essentially spent a summer on the couch, while I tried to unpack, renovate and do whatever I could to take the pressure off him.
Sometimes I feel that we failed miserably with keeping things afloat for the sake of our boys. We were just trying to make it through, dealing with the clutter of our lives and the clutter that crowded our hearts and brains. It was an exhausting time. It is only just now dawning on me that my husband may have been feeling the effects of his illness in between the visible symptoms. He was never very ‘energetic’…a fact that drove me crazy. An early bird myself, I could accomplish a day’s worth of work before he even made it downstairs for his morning coffee. I could never understand how he could sleep his days away. Now I wonder if he just felt lousy all the time. I’m not sure we’ll ever know if his lack of energy, and possibly how profound his depression became, was a symptom of his APL.
Eventually, he became well enough to find a job, and embarked on his second career. I found work as a Substitute Teacher, and we settled into the familiar routine of school, baseball, work and improving our home.
What would come next was still a few years away, yet it would prove to be a wake-up call that would shake us to our core, and make us see this illness for the threat it really was.