Volume 4 Number 11
The Years the Locusts Ate
01 December 1991

`One day I packed my bags and disappeared.

`One day I packed my bags and disappeared. It was the start of 13 years away from the family.'

Anne married John, an ordained minister, during the Second World War. Their marriage was on the happiest foundations. As well as love, they had a shared purpose in their Christian faith. After the birth of their second child, John went overseas as an army chaplain. They were apart for two and a half years.

John returned and became warden of a student hall of residence. Everything seemed to be going fine - but there was a shadow. John's experience overseas had left him with post-war trauma. The doctors reassured Anne that this was common among returning servicemen and would pass. But after the birth of their fourth child, John had a breakdown and their world collapsed. They take up the story:

John: I was in a private psychiatric hospital for eight months and was then allowed home. But I was very unsettled. One day I packed my bags and disappeared. It was the start of 13 years away from the family.

Anne: I couldn't understand it. I felt God had dropped us. I got bitter, hurt and angry. The doctor told me I must give him the power to keep John in hospital. John wouldn't admit he was ill and couldn't understand why I let the hospital keep him. He turned against me and didn't even want me to visit him. He was in a state of severe misery and depression. The light went out of his eyes. He, too, felt God had turned against him.

John: One day the doctor asked me, `Do you love your wife?' I didn't like the flavour of this interview so I kept quiet. I couldn't say `yes', because I didn't know what I felt, and I couldn't say `no' because at the back of my mind was always the feeling that I wasn't going to be permanently away from my family.

Anne: The doctor asked to see me and told me he wanted me to divorce John. I was shattered. I said, `But I love my husband and he loves me.' The doctor replied, `Well, he doesn't love you now. He hates you. My advice is to cut your losses, get a divorce and make a new life for yourself. He will never recover as long as he is tied to you.'

I went home in a state of turmoil. Divorce was something I was completely against. But what if I was a stumbling block, to John's recovery? I prayed for some kind of guidance. Then it came to me quite clearly that I had made a promise to God: John and I had vowed to take each other, `for better for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part'. I had to stand by that vow and leave John in God's hands. I was so grateful to have those vows to fall back on.

John: I suffered constant depressions. For years I was in and out of hospitals. I got a bug of moving from place to place, sometimes taking jobs for short periods and then, when it got to the point where I couldn't stand it any more, packing my bags and walking out.

Anne: They were tough times for me financially. I had a `widow's pension' but the children needed me at home so I didn't get a job. When John was working, a registered envelope with money used to arrive every fortnight without fail. I used to cling to that as a sign that he cared. But there was never a letter. The only clue I had to his whereabouts was the postmark.

John: In one place I was offered a permanent position but I couldn't bear the thought. It would have meant accepting that I was permanently separated from my family. During those years I couldn't go near the Church because I would have been known. To stay incognito was important to me - I was deeply ashamed of everything. At times I was so low I thought I'd had enough of life.

Anne: I could never have managed without my family and friends. They helped lift me out of my self-concern, and I began to refind my faith. I am convinced now that God carried us through the pain and the anguish and led us back together again.

One Christmas, 13 years after our separation, I thought I'd write John a little letter. It was hard to know what to say. I ended, `All my love, darling, as ever', and addressed it to the postmark on John's last envelope. By then he had left, but he'd had a message to call back and collect some money he was owed. When he gave his name at the post office, they passed on my letter.

John: I had been in the habit of throwing Anne's letters straight in the bin without reading them, but I was taken by surprise and opened it. Something seemed to touch my heart. I went to the nearest phone and rang Anne.

Anne: That day we were making the long journey home after a visit to John's family. We arrived early at our planned overnight stop, and paused to consider what to do. We had the compelling thought to get home the same day. As I opened the door of our house the phone was ringing. A voice said, `It's John here, can I come home?' He got on a train that night. It was absolutely incredible.

John: When I first left home our children were 10, 8, 4 and new-born. They were now 23, 21, 17 and 13. For a while there were times when I wondered if I should leave again. But I got a job and stuck at it until I retired 13 years later. And of course, after all those years apart, Anne and I had to work at our relationship.

Anne: John's depressions gradually improved. He was slowly coming right. A turning point came when he finally accepted that he had been ill.

John: That was the fall of the last bastion of pride. I had such strong guilt feelings. Then I had the thought: `Once God forgives you he means you to stay forgiven.'

Anne: God is the real hero of our story. From the beginning I clung to a Bible verse: `I shall restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.' To me it was an absolute promise. Including the War, we were apart for 17 years altogether. When it came to the point where we had been together for 17 years I got an awful feeling that perhaps this was all God meant. But I needn't have worried - we've now celebrated our Golden Wedding anniversary as a happy and united family!

The names in this article have been changed at the subjects' request.

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