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Family and Christmas

This Christmas many RAF personnel will be deployed overseas, and will be sorely missed by their loved ones. Yvonne, whose husband Andy is serving in Afghanistan, talks about Christmas without him in this blog.

The Costin family.

Life as a service family can be hard, but being apart at Christmas time is doubly so. Each time Andy goes away it presents a number of different challenges for us as a family. His tour this time began in October when he deployed for seven months to Afghanistan as an Ops Officer on 7 Force Protection Wing, based in Bastion.

Four years ago, while serving in Afghanistan, Andy’s vehicle hit an IED. Sadly it killed two of his colleagues and left Andy and his driver seriously injured.

Now four years down the road after pure courage, grit, and sheer determination, he has overcome more than adversity. Andy eventually became fit enough not only to continue his role with the RAF Regiment, but to return to full front line duties.

After the usual six months of pre-deployment training, we stood at the terminal saying goodbye on a cold October night, me secretly wishing that the aircraft was delayed. I think the many tears that I shed that night were not only because he was leaving, but of pride and in some ways relief. We had made it!

I will never say that I wanted him to go away again and once more put his life on the line. But unless you know my husband you won’t realise just what serving in the RAF Regiment means to him. I will stand by him in all he does, but saying goodbye each time gets harder to bear.

Routine and life must continue. I'm once again sending letters, cards and parcels and all seems to be plodding along until something goes wrong; the car breaks down, the washing machine floods the kitchen, the Christmas tree is in an unreachable position and you are all alone. The things I would take for granted that Andy would deal with are now my responsibility. I jokingly tell Andy I am keeping a list of all the things that have gone wrong while he’s away.

Sadly you can’t just pick up the phone and call, or sit at dinner and discuss the daily events. You suddenly realise that sometimes you take each other for granted.

But when the communications do come from Andy, all the trials of the day seem to drift away, to chat and laugh once more; to simply share what’s happening seems to make them disappear.

Keeping in touch is an important part of routine. Even the dog knows the sound of messaging and gets excited to hear Andy chatter over the computer. To hold the E-bluey that's just arrived in the post, waiting for a quiet time to sit and read alone.

Our little girl attended a party in which they wrote letters to Santa. At the very top of her list was one special request: "To have my Daddy home – I miss my Daddy" with a picture of a crying face.

How I tried to hold back the tears as I read it. How do you explain to the children why he can’t come home, why when she is ill or sad we can't pick up the phone and call him or why Daddy will still be working on Christmas day and not relaxing? 

Through emails and letters we have arranged the Christmas present list involving Andy as much as possible, and plans for Christmas day contact are set. Each child has one present they will not open until Daddy phones.

Life as a wife has its own challenges but being strong as a family is important to us, to deal with things as a team, whether that’s an operational tour or the routine of running the house and dealing with the trials of life. I think we also sometimes forget the impact deployments have on children. We just expect them to carry on life as normal.

Thoughout all of this it is the immense support that we as a family have received from the RAF Benevolent Fund that in many ways has kept us going. They really are the heart of the RAF family. 

The RAF Benevolent Fund was there in the very dark days when Andy was injured and continue to offer their support to this day. We could never thank them enough for all they’ve done.

It is our time to attempt to repay our gratitude, as we know that should anyone need their support they will be there for others. What the RAF Benevolent Fund has done has changed the lives of so many people and families.

I would wish every family, especially those who have loved ones away this Christmas time, to stay strong and have a very Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2013.

Yvonne Costin

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