When you have a spouse in prison, home life is on you, period. Bills, pills, laundry and yard work; but that’s the small stuff compared to kids, your mental health, work and temptation. The stress is high, uncertainty ever present and opportunities for real joy and laughter rare. Bleak? Yes! Survivable? Absolutely!
- A few solid friends who were there for me, every step of the way: “Come on over for a bite to eat;” “No, this lunch is on me;” “Sure I’ll help unclog the drain;” “Join our family for the 4th, no this isn’t pity, just show up.”
- My late sister Elizabeth and her husband Vinnie. They were supportive and non judgmental beyond words; talk is cheap, they were there. Thanks Elizabeth and Vinnie.
- I have an understanding boss; I told her that she would be the first to know if I couldn’t do my job as an RN. Her reply: “If I was in your shoes, I don’t think I could function.” She always cared and would quietly inquire how Patty was doing, as did the owners of the company I work for.
- Select neighbors and fellow employees who covered for me when life just went over the top; heroes not zeroes, they made the cut.
- My loyal dog Chili, a rugged Malamute who tolerated cheap dog food, loneliness and harsh weather. He was waiting faithfully at the end of the sidewalk when Patty returned home at midnight after being gone two years; nothing like a good dog.
- My sons Jason and Erik who stood tall, continuing to love Patty unconditionally; thanks guys.
- Our insurance agent Roger; a compassionate, fair steady determined man, simply the best. He makes the Geico Lizard & Flo look like a joke.
- My brother-in-law Bobby and his wife Dawn who always fed me and let me sleep in their guest room on the way to visit Patty. I was always hungry and weary, they were gracious and kind, I’m grateful. They also made several trips, as did her sister Mary, to visit Patty on several occasions.
- Patty’s mother Fran, who faithfully prayed for her daughter, put money on her account and stayed by her phone at 12:30pm every Thursday to receive a weekly 15 minute phone call from her incarcerated daughter.
What didn’t help?
- A financial advisor who disapproved of me draining my 401k to pay off a second mortgage so we could make the budget every month; I did anyways. We kept the house, the bills got paid, my 401 K is gone and so is his marriage.
- The local newspaper reporter who kept knocking on our door for a year and a half trying to get Patty’s side of the story.
- Those who were too busy to write a letter or put a dime in Patty’s prison commissary account, they left us behind as time moved on; forgiven but not forgotten.
- Letting anger, fatigue and stress consume my days.
- Isolating myself, retreating into an emotional cave to lick my wounds.
- Wasting precious time with people interested in Patty and I simply out of morbid curiosity.
- Trying to keep up with everything when your spouse is behind the wire. It’s simply impossible so let it go, there’s just going to be a new normal.
- Being such a lousy cook with the stories to back it up; I ate a lot of frozen pizzas.
- Sleeping poorly month after month for several years; my sleep deficit can be measured in weeks, lots of them.
- Wanting retribution. Reflecting too much on those I suspect stacked the deck against my wife by making sure she would spend time behind bars; revenge is just not conducive to peace of mind.
- The absence of any support group for men in my situation.
So what’s the takeaway for those who might be experiencing a similar situation?
- This kind of journey is a marathon not a wind sprint.
- Eat healthy; regretfully pizza, ice cream and sugar are not food groups.
- Cherish good friends, don’t burn them out.
- Walk away from temptation, walk toward Jesus. Church is a far healthier relationship than a one night stand.
- Shame is destructive, faith is constructive.
- If your friends don’t understand or respect your healthy decisions, reassess the friendship.
- Make hard financial decisions before you go broke; we refinanced our mortgage twice in three years, emptied our 401 K’s and promptly paid all State and IRS taxes owed on monies deemed taxable income.
Patty and I made it! Our marriage remains strong plus we live in the same house. Patty is now working full-time in her chosen field doing what she loves. Our faith walk is strong and our future is good. Nobody could steal our dreams, don’t let anybody steal yours.