Alan and Diane Marshall were drowning in debt and despair, then one day Alan turned to the Salvos, writes Bill Simpson.
lan Marshall lost his business, home and four members of his family when unseen financial problems struck.
There were fears he might even lose his life.
But the advice of a Salvation Army financial counsellor and the support of a church pastor helped Alan to cope and, a few years on, he is surviving.
‘Don’t make me out to be a hero,’ Alan pleads. ‘I’m not a hero. I’m just a man doing what he has to do.’
His seriously ill wife, Diane, disagrees. ‘Alan is a hero,’ she says. ‘He is a hero to me because of what he has suffered and put up with without complaint.’
Every morning Alan wakes to find Diane still beside him is a bonus, he says. There are no expectations beyond the day they have together. Diane has leukaemia.
Alan and Diane—married for 43 years—rent a house at Adaminaby, 50 km west of Cooma, in the NSW Snowy Mountains, with a population of just a couple of hundred.
They lost their own home at Cooma three years ago after a family member caused their cafe business to close owing many thousands of dollars. They also lost connection with the family member and their three grandchildren.
Their marriage and early life together was happy and comfortable. They had three children and a home in Canberra. Alan worked with the Australian Army then became IT manager for a Federal Government department.
When the department’s IT work was outsourced to a private company, Alan became a truck driver. Nine years ago, friends encouraged Alan and Diane to buy a cafe in Cooma.
After a few good years, the business started to struggle. At first, Alan and Diane didn’t understand why. They were working up to 15 hours a day to keep the business operating.
The strain was starting to show. Worse was to come. It was the discovery that a family member was responsible for large amounts of income disappearing. There were addiction issues.
They had to tell their family member to leave. Alan and Diane tried to recover their business.
The stress was overwhelming. Alan increased his drinking. Friends advised him to talk to The Salvation Army.
‘I walked into The Salvation Army in Cooma and just said, “Help”. [Captain] Louise Nicholson took me in. She listened to me for two hours. It was the first time I had unloaded my problems onto anybody. There were lots of tears.’
Two sons, who live a long distance from Alan and Diane, detected in phone calls that Alan was not in a good state mentally.
Their concern was so great they notified police, who called in at Alan’s home. There was concern, police said, that Alan was considering taking his life.
‘I don’t know if I would have taken my life,’ Alan says. ‘I just can’t say.’ There are tears in his eyes as he talks. ‘I know that I was pretty low, but I just don’t know for sure how far I would have taken things.’
The Salvation Army brought in a financial counsellor from its Moneycare branch in Canberra. She made many trips to Cooma to meet with Alan. She tried everything to manage Alan’s financial problems, but he owed too much without any prospect of paying his debts. He was assisted in closing his financial affairs.
Alan and Diane sold their home and moved to Adaminaby to afford the rent on another house.
As Diane’s health has deteriorated, Alan has become her full-time carer.
‘Captain Louise is my light,’ Alan says. ‘She regularly reminds me that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I can phone Louise any time of the day or night. She will always answer and she always has time just for me. She gives me hope.’
Alan and Diane are now at a stage where they don’t know what the next day will bring. Most days, Diane is too unwell for visitors.
On her good days, a flag flies from a pole at the front of their home. It signals that Diane is well enough to visit. If the flag isn’t flying, visitors know it’s best to stay away.
Alan and Diane know that Diane is not going to get better and, in fact, will get worse. She recently spent seven months in hospital. Alan drives the 300 km round trip every day to the hospital in Canberra whenever Diane is admitted.
‘I made a promise many years ago,’ he says. ‘I promised that for richer or poorer, for better or worse, through sickness and health, I would love Diane for the rest of my life, so help me God.
‘I made that promise to Diane—who is my life—and to God. And I will not break that promise.’
Moneycare is a free and confidential counselling service provided by The Salvation Army for people with financial problems.
Counsellors listen, analyse and assess the financial concerns of clients, providing advice on credit and debt issues. They can assist as advocates in financial negotiations.
They help people:
having difficulty paying debts or fines;
experiencing harassment from creditors or debt collectors;
facing legal action regarding debts;
dealing with car or house repossession;
worried about being evicted;
struggling on a low income.
For further information, go to: salvos.org.au/moneycare