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Finding new strength – Christmas and beyond

Struggling with the grief of losing her husband of over 45 years, Val* moved in with family who began to help themselves to her savings and mistreating her. She finally emerged from this dark period, after experiencing kindness and care through a range of Salvation Army services. Val says, “When my husband got sick, I didn’t have Christmas at all because everything was up and down, up and down. [When I went to the Salvos] that’s the first Christmas … I was able to stand up on my own feet!”

In her 60s and suffering from multiple health issues, Val says she feels stronger than she has felt in years. In fact, she says with a laugh, every time she passes The Salvation Army, she blows a kiss, to say, “thank you”.

Val says her life went from “being just a normal person and family” to “hell” and then back again to a new position of strength and hope.

She explains that she struggled with depression in the later years of her marriage – because of deteriorating health and chronic pain she could no longer work – but she managed.

Her husband (who she married when she was only 18) cared well for her and he always took care of their finances.

“We lived in a housing commission [home] that was perfect for us,” she says. “We were normal people. Then he got sick – with cancer – and he went really quick. In 18 months, he disappeared.

“He was a wonderful man,” she says.

Suffering from grief and ongoing health issues – and with English as a second language – Val felt lost and vulnerable. She agreed to share a house with family members.

“I got sick quickly,” Val says. “My back started playing up … and I couldn’t move. I was walking with a walker. I couldn’t go shopping or anything and they started doing [things] for me. They took my car and started helping.”

Sadly, she says, they soon also ended up helping themselves to her money. Plus, they took out small loans and contracts in her name with her savings card and identification.

Val says the relationship deteriorated over many months and she was often left in pain, with no medication and without her car.

“If I got fed, I was very lucky,” she says. “Usually I never got fed except bread. I don’t want to go into [details], it’s so horrible. Many nights I went to bed hungry.

“Sometimes they ordered in some food and then after they finished, they’d just open my door and say to me, ‘There are leftovers. If you’re hungry, go eat’.”

There finally came a time when Val reached breaking point and was able to get away. She left without her medication, clothes or money.

She was referred to Salvation Army crisis accommodation and says with another wide smile: “For me, that was like I went on a holiday. There was nice peace and quiet. I can’t believe there’s so much help in this country. I never knew, because I’d never been in that situation.”

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Val was given case management and support by the crisis service to find secure, affordable accommodation and some vouchers for the local Salvos Stores to help furnish her new home. Val also receives ongoing support from The Salvation Army’s Moneycare to help her sort through her financial and legal issues.

She says of her Moneycare financial counsellor (and her case manager and others in the crisis accommodation) that their kindness “and beautiful hearts” have meant so much to her.

She says she used to pray for help every morning in her darkest times and says, now, “I thank God”.

Val was also invited to a Salvation Army Christmas celebration two years ago. She explains she could not stop crying as she listened to the minister talk about Christmas, acknowledging she had not felt so strong for years.

And while Val always gave her good quality second-hand goods to The Salvation Army (instead of selling them) she now knows personally what a difference even a small donation of goods or funds can make in a dark time.

The support, she says, “completely changed my life. I learnt so much. I was so naive before. They made me so much stronger, they made me so much better.

“Before, my eyes [were] always crying. I would have killed myself. I was at that stage – no hope at all,” she says.

“That’s what The Salvation Army brought to me … all my hope, all my happiness, and [it has made me] a strong woman – a very strong woman!”

*This is a true story with name changed to protect privacy.

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Words Naomi Singlehurst.

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