‘It’s the first time I’ve been scared when he’s gone away. You see it on the TV; the chemical attack. You see the [dead] children’
Yvonne Nugent is preparing for her husband Derek’s departure to Syria
Derek and Yvonne Nugent and their children Christine (16), Holly (3) and Cian (1) at their home in Monksland, Athlone. Photograph: James Flynn/APX
“It’s the first time I’ve been scared when he’s gone away,” she says of the man she shares her life with, a 34-year-old corporal and father of three based in his home town of Athlone, Co Westmeath.
“I will admit I have really felt sick to my stomach. You see it on the TV – the chemical attack. You see the [dead] children.”
‘Your stomach drops’
“At first you hear they might be going. And then at some point he tells you it’s definitely happening. And I think when you hear that your stomach drops. Do you know that feeling?”
A mother to 16-year-old Christine, three-year-old Holly and Cian who has just had his first birthday, it will fall to her to hold it all together when her husband is peacekeeping in Syria.
He will spend six months in a country with precious little peace to keep and where the US military looks ready to strike.
A working mother, Yvonne says she accepts foreign tours are part her husband’s life, and by extension her’s and her children’s too.
“You get ready by preparing to be on your own, try to get used to being more independent, like making decisions about the family on your own. You’re going to be a lone parent for six months so you need to mentally prepare for that. It’s hard but it falls into place.”
Despite Derek having gone overseas before and her own father, John Conway (63), being posted abroad with the UN peacekeeping missing in Sinai, Egypt, in the 1970s, she is still bracing herself for Derek’s departure to Syria.
“Christine is the oldest and you just try to reassure her daddy is going to be OK.”
“Holly is three years’ old now and when Derek is away in Ireland training and doing other things he would Skype a lot. And he has deliberately done that with her the last while, even from my mam’s house, just to get her more used to it.”
“She said to me the other day ‘oh, Syria, that’s a scary place’. And you’re thinking to yourself ‘how in God’s name does she know that’.”
Baby Cian does not have to be prepared for his father’s departure but Derek will miss a major stage in his development.
“You want to witness every new thing your baby does,” says Yvonne.
“Like when they start walking. Derek is going to miss that. We’re hoping he’s going to be home for Christmas. But it’s a six-month trip and it is going to be April before it’s over.”
“It’s the winter, the kids will be in school, I will be in work. It will be long. But Christine, I think, will be able to help me out, take a bit of responsibility. Some days I guess I will be here so she can talk to me and some days I will be talking to her.”
“She knows her mammy is going to need her a bit more than now. We’ve been lucky with her; I’m lucky to have her, you know?”