Monday, October 23, 2017

Odes to Our Fallen

Sometimes Facebook can be hard on my head (and my heart).
This morning as I was scrolling through my newsfeed, I came across a blog post, Canada Doesn't Need Yet Another Military Memorial
The blog post was about Canada's War Memorials and referenced planning of the construction of the National Memorial to Canada's Mission in Afghanistan.
The author pontificated that war memorials and museums were part of the military's propaganda system.
"Why do we build monuments to war rather than to its absence?" he mused. (Engler, 2016)
And I, in turn, found my myself musing as to why some people are so obtuse.
War Memorials are not monuments to war, in fact, their purpose is quite the contrary.
They are built as a testament to the true cost of war.
And to remind us that we must never, ever forget that cost.
If you have ever had the privilege of visiting one of our War Memorials, you know how moving an experience it is.
Profoundly so
In Vimy, France, you can almost hear the haunting echo of artillery fire in the distance.
In St Julien, Belgium, if the wind blows just so, you can almost detect a faint pungent smell of chlorine gas in the air.
And at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, you might feel the dampness of a widow's tears caress your cheek.
At every war memorial, you will find it hard to breathe.
Your chest tight.
Heavy with loss.
And sacrifice.
And the sorrow of thousands and thousands of families.
And a grieving nation.
War Memorials do not glorify war.
They honour the sacrifice of all of those men and women in uniform who have given their lives in service to their nation.
Our nation.
Whether they served under the Canadian Red Ensign.
Or the Maple Leaf.
I am not a war widow. My husband did not die in battle on foreign soil far from home.
He died in a training accident on Canadian soil.
I am an accidental widow.
There was no glory in my husband's death.
There is no glory in any death, accidental or otherwise.
Instead, a crushing loss.
The weight of which our children and I will bear the rest of our lives.
War Memorials do not glamourize war, they are not odes to militarism.
They are odes to our fallen-- the men and women who lay down their lives so that we might live in a world where we are all free to write and express our opinions.
And where we are free to disagree.
Our National War Memorial honours my husband and all of the other courageous Canadians who came before and after him.
For our tomorrows they gave their today.
Let their names not be lost to the knowledge of our nation.
My husband's name was Dan.
And the widow's tears you felt standing at the National War Memorial? They might just be mine.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Please Accept My Sincerest Condolences

When Dan joined the military, he knew he was joining a profession that entailed risks. When I married him, we discussed those risks.
Did we ever in a million years think anything would happen to him?
No, not back in those days, long before the war in Afghanistan.
We were young and naive.
During the Afghanistan years, that naivety was shattered as the flag-draped coffins returned home to Canada.
And we were forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of war.
While he was in Afghanistan, I would brace myself every single day. Just in case. And I would pray.
"Please don't let my doorbell ring."
I would lay awake at night and visualize what would happen if he was killed.
And then I would force myself to not go there.
Because there was far too painful.
And incomprehensible.
After Afghanistan, I became complacent. I stopped holding my breath when he left home. It never occurred to me that anything would happen to him, especially on an exercise.
And then one May morning, at the bottom of a hill, a LAV rolled over.
His LAV.
My doorbell rang that day.
And my husband returned home in a flag-draped coffin.
A few weeks after he died, my phone rang.
"Hello, Mrs. Bobbitt. I have the Prime Minister on the line."
A conversation that had been rescheduled because the day he was originally going to call wasn't convenient for me.
Then Prime Minister Harper started the conversation by apologizing profusely for having taken so long to call me as he'd been overseas.
And he offered his condolences. Sincerely.
"I'm so very sorry for your loss."
I cried as he said it.
Because I knew he meant it.
I could hear the heaviness of his grief over my loss in his voice.
He was genuinely sad for my loss. For my family's loss. For the Regiment's loss. For Canada's loss.
And I was genuinely touched.
He spoke directly to my children and told them how very sorry he was they lost their Dad. His voice cracked as he said the words.
We talked about how long Dan had served. Twenty-five years, a quarter of a century. We even joked about how old we were. And we talked about Dan's father's service. And about Connor going to RMC. His son was heading off to university as well. We were both parents getting ready for a life transition.
We talked about military life and sacrifice. And, yes we spoke about soldiering being a dangerous profession.
And that Dan's death was a tragic reminder that accidents can and do happen.
Even at home on "routine" training exercises.
"Sometimes we forget how dangerous it is until a tragedy like this reminds us," he said.
He was right, sometimes we do forget.
I also received a letter from him in the mail. It was typed on the official letterhead from the Prime Minister's office.
On it, he had scratched out Dear Mrs. Bobbitt, and written in pen.
Dear Monica and family.
Please accept my sincerest condolences...
It was simply signed,
I've thought of that conversation often over the last three years.
Whenever I see a flag waving against the blue sky,
or draped over a wooden coffin.
Dan knew the risks when he joined the military, as did I when I married him.
But I didn't know the true weight of our flag.
Until it was folded and placed in my arms.
How could I possibly?
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