Friday, April 9, 2021

On the 104th Anniversary of Vimy Ridge, Let Us Not Forget the Families they Left Behind

Today is the 104th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. 


Some 620,000 Canadians answered the call to serve during the First World War.


They went to war as Albertans, Nova Scotians, Ontarians... they came home as Canadians.

60,000 of them were never to come home again; 3,598 of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy Ridge.


As Prince Charles said so very eloquently on the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge,


"Canadians displayed a strength of character and commitment to one another that is still evident today. They did not waiver. This was Canada at its best; the Canadians at Vimy embodied the True North Strong and Free."


If you have ever visited Vimy Ridge you know there are no words to describe how hauntingly sad and yet beautiful it is.


Vimy Ridge is a profoundly moving and meaningful place for all Canadians, but perhaps even more so for military families.


When I stood there, I thought not just of the soldiers lost, but also of the 10,602 wounded, and the countless thousands of others who came home with invisible wounds.

I remembered them all, and I remembered the families they left behind. Families that would never be the same.


Wives, children, fathers, mothers. 3,598 families just like ours. But so not like ours.

They were left to mourn and grieve in a time that was so different than now. A telegram arrived at their door informing them of their loss and that was it.


No regiment standing beside them to guide them through those excruciating early days of loss, no designated assistant to help them navigate the paperwork to receive their widow's pension, no MIlitary Family Resource Centre to provide support for them and their children, and certainly no counselors to help them process their grief.


Their soldiers were never brought home to them, many never even knew where their soldier's remains were; their names amongst thousands engraved on the Vimy memorial.


“Here ends the roll of 11,285 Canadians who gave their lives in the Great War but the site of whose graves is unknown.”


Grave unknown.


All they had was a telegram.


Just a telegram.


They were alone, left to get on with the business of living; their loss an unspoken shadow in their eyes.


Many of them would endure more losses as a result of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, compounding their tragedy and further complicating their grief. 


These women were the very definition of resiliency, and strength, and courage.


And I am humbled to walk in their footsteps.

Today on the 104th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, let us not just remember those brave soldiers who fought and those who were lost at Vimy, but let us also remember those they left behind— the widows, the children, the mothers, and fathers of Vimy.


Remember the soldiers’ sacrifice.


And remember their family’s loss.


For we are they and they are us.

Widows and Wives of Vimy
                                 (National Archives of Canada PA 148874) 



Monday, April 5, 2021

For Canadian Military Widows, There Is No Day of Recognition

April 5th is Gold Star Spouses’ Day in the United States in recognition of the sacrifices made by the surviving (Gold Star) spouses of fallen service members.


In Canada, we don’t have a title or a special day of recognition for our military widows and widowers. Rather, they are given a Memorial Cross "as a memento of personal loss and sacrifice” on the part of their service member.


So today, let us also take a moment here in Canada to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by our Memorial Cross Widows (and Widowers).

All military spouses (and families) make incredible sacrifices for their spouse’s career and by extension, our country.


But military widows carry the heaviest burden of all. 


They carry the weight of a folded flag and their loss with them, for the rest of their lives. 


They are the ones left to pick up the pieces of broken hearts and families after their spouse dies.


Long after the funeral flowers have wilted and the casseroles are all eaten; still, they grieve. 


They endure sleepless nights, shed countless tears, and try to make sense of it all. 


They face the abyss of loneliness and despair, and sadly, some of them don’t make it through. 


Eventually, they find acceptance and move forward with their lives.


But they are never the same.


Their loss changes them; their sadness woven into the fabric of the person they have become.


They stand up to judgment and criticism and champion change, so that things might be better for the next widow. 


They are Afghanistan widows and accidental widows. They are ALS and cancer widows and they are suicide widows.


They are the ones who gave birth alone and they are the mothers of infants left to bring up children who will never know their fathers.


They are mothers of teenagers, older children, and every age in between.


Sometimes they are overwhelmed with the responsibility of only parenting.


And some of them are left to grieve the children they never got to have.


They are army, air force, and navy spouses.


And some of them wear a uniform themselves.

They live in military communities and civilian ones. 


They are your neighbours, though you may not even know it; their loss too painful for them to ever discuss.


They are your friends and my friends. And yes, they are even me.


For them, for us, Remembrance Day isn’t just one day, it’s every day. 


Because we can never, ever forget.


We are the memory keepers— determined that our spouse’s name never be forgotten, that their sacrifice not be in vain.


We are incredibly courageous, resilient, strong women (and men). 


And though we belong to a club we never wanted to be a part of, we are stronger because of each other.


The next time you think of a fallen soldier, please take a minute to remember the spouse they left behind, for they too made an incredible sacrifice for their country. 


We were wives and husbands once. But widows we will always be.



Monday, March 8, 2021

My Marital Status Does Not Define Me And Neither Do You

As women, we are often marginalized, but as widowed women, we are even more so.

We are the invisible ones, the others.

Thrust into a role we never asked for or wanted.

We are harshly judged and criticized by many; usually by those who have never experienced such a devastating loss.

There is so much shame in widowhood.

Shame in our grief.

Shame in our brokenness.

Shame in our return to joy.

Shame in our loving again.

Shame in our living.

Either we move on too soon or not soon enough. Never mind we never actually do “move on”, we move forward.

Either we grieve too much or not enough. Never mind that it’s impossible to measure feelings of grief and loss.

I have felt the sting of shame too many times since I was widowed.

I let that judgment push me down.

I even justified my choices and my happiness to those who deserved no explanations from me.

Until I learned a valuable lesson: shame begets shame. When you shame me, you hurt yourself in the process.

I won’t let you use me to feed your own bitterness and negativity.

I won’t allow your ignorance to determine my worth or my belonging.

I won’t betray myself to avoid your criticism.

I won’t hide how I feel or who I am.

I am so done feeling ashamed.

I won’t be ashamed of my grief or my happiness.

I won’t be ashamed of my tears or my laughter.

I won’t be ashamed of my successes or my failures.

I won’t be ashamed for surviving and then thriving.

I won’t be ashamed of living MY life to the fullest.

And I most definitely will never be ashamed of my heart.

This. is. me.


Yes, I am a widow.

But my marital status does not define me.

And neither do you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

50 Things I learned After I was Widowed


Today is my 50th birthday.
And believe it or not, I am alright with that.
I am so alright with that.
I consider myself very lucky to be 50.
So many people don’t even make it to 50, their lives tragically cut short far too soon.
And so many people never truly live while they have the chance. They rush from day to day, so busy making a living they don’t even notice life pass them by.
I was one of those people until tragedy completely changed my life and me.
After my husband died, I had to rebuild my life and myself.
It took a lot of grief and a lot of hard work for me to get to where I am today.
I’m far from perfect, and I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes.
I have more wrinkles and my hair colour is now (a well-disguised) natural grey. I’ve been skinnier in my life, but I’ve never been fitter.
In fact, I am emotionally, mentally, and physically healthier than I ever was when Dan was alive.
And I can honestly say, I’m the happiest I’ve been in years.
Ironically, the best version of me was born from my husband’s death. It took a long time for me to reconcile that with myself.
Death truly is life’s greatest teacher.
Death challenged me in every way possible. It took away everything I believed in and forced me to confront my worst fears.
And yet, it also made me appreciate each and every moment.
It has shown me the power of vulnerability and the importance of gratitude.
And it has made me love more fiercely than I ever thought possible.
Death has made me more resilient, and stronger than I ever thought I could be.
And it has made me wiser.
I have learned so many valuable life lessons in the six years since Dan died.
You may say they are clichés, but there’s a reason why clichés are
I learned the truth of these 50 life lessons the hardest way possible.
1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.
3. You have to let go of the life you thought you’d have and make happiness in the life you do have.
4. No one else can make you happy. Only you can do that.
5. Those who complain the most, accomplish the least.
6. Be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through. But remember: going through a hard time does not give you a license to treat people poorly.
7. You can’t change the past. Learn from it, then let it go. Before it destroys your present.
8. Nobody can rescue you but you. Get up and be your own damn hero.
9. You have to keep laughing, it really is the best medicine.
10. Yelling never helps, it usually makes things worse.
11. Blame is the favorite pastime of those who dislike responsibility.
12. You are more than enough. When you realize your worth, it will change everything.
13. You don’t know what you don’t know. Nobody has all the answers.
14. You can’t numb the pain, and it just makes it worse when you try. Sadly, gin is not always your friend.
15. Grief demands to be heard, so don’t even try to bury it. Until you lean into it, acknowledge it, and process it, you will never heal.
16. Your grief is your grief, only you truly know what you are feeling. And you are not obligated to share it with anyone.
17. Stop caring what other people think. Seriously. There will always be people who judge you. Their opinion doesn’t matter.
18. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
19. Not everyone will be there to support you. Let them go. They aren’t your people.
20. Sometimes people show up in your life just when you need them the most. Serendipity is a beautiful thing.
21. Everyone needs a tribe to support them, in good times and in bad.
22. It’s okay to ask for help, it doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong.
23. Self-care is not indulgent, it’s necessary.
24. Material objects are just that – objects. What you own is not who you are.
25. Less really is more, except when it comes to coffee, of course.
26. Coffee won’t fix it. But it will help. Be kind to the baristas of the world.
27. Exercise is just as important for your mental health as it is your physical health.
28. Just 15 minutes of exercise will have a positive impact on your attitude. Put down your phone and go for a walk.
29. Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
30. Sometimes you need to go somewhere to discover where you don’t want to be.
31. Sometimes you accidentally find your purpose, but your purpose is never an accident.
32. You get what you give. Be there for others when they need you.
33. Gratitude completely changes your outlook and your heart.
34. There is always something to be grateful for. Even on the worst of days. You’re still here, aren’t you?
35. Sometimes you have to say no.
36. And sometimes you have to say yes.
37. Wishing things were different is a great way to torture yourself.
38. You’ll never know if you never ask. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
39. It’s okay to be scared. Do it anyway. That’s courage.
40. Stop waiting for the perfect time. There is no perfect time, there is only now.
41. Regret is the price you pay for fear. Fear isn’t worth the price.
42. Grief is the price you pay for love. Love is so worth the price.
43. Shattered hearts do heal. You will love again if you are brave enough to let love find you.
44. Time spent with people you love is never wasted time.
45. You never know when it will be the last time you say I Love You, so say it to your people as often as you can.
46. Loss teaches you the true value of time. It really is much shorter than you think.
47. Eat the chocolate. Burn the candles. Wear the perfume. Life is too damn short.
48. The little things that annoy you so much often become the things you miss the most about someone when they are gone.
49. All that truly matters, in the end, is that you loved.
50. Get busy living or get busy dying. The choice is yours.
The choice has always been yours. Just like it was always mine.
Don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t wait until something catastrophic happens to choose to live the best life you possibly can.
Live it now.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

7 Ways to Support a Widow on Valentine's Day.

Love is in the air. And in the stores. And in every social media newsfeed.

It’s as if the whole world has vomited a sappy spew of pink and red.

And for many, all of the pink and red and hearts and flowers are nothing but salt in a wound.

For the widowed, this is especially true.

For those mourning the loss of their partner, Valentine's Day can feel particularly cruel because it emphasizes togetherness, love, and romance.

It is yet another painful reminder of their aloneness.

Particularly during these Covid times when so many are isolated from their family and support groups.

There are some ways you can make this Valentine’s Day a little brighter for the widow(s) in your life.

  1. Reach out. We all need to know we aren’t forgotten. A special Valentine’s  card is a tangible way to show her/him that you care and means so much to a widowed heart. If you don’t have time to mail or drop off a card, pick up the phone, or send a message or text. She/he will so appreciate that you were thinking of them.

  1. Give a thoughtful gift. A gift doesn’t have to be extravagant or expensive to be meaningful. Chocolates, coffee, a small bouquet of flowers, a book or gift cards are all thoughtful ways to show a widow(er) you remember them.

  1. Give the gift presence. While Covid has limited our ability to gather together, you can still give a widow the gift of presence. Arrange a zoom or FaceTime coffee or lunch date. Inivite them for a socially distanced walk.

  1. Give the gift of time. Running a household completely by yourself is exhausting when you are widowed, especially if you are also working form home or home schooling do to Covid. Volunteer to help with practical chores like show shovelling or running errands such as picking up groceries or prescriptions. 

  1. Help with childcare or pet care.  Offer to spend some (socially distanced) time with the kids to give them some much needed free time. Or offer to pet sit or take the dog for a walk to give them a break. Even a few quiet minutes by yourself can make a big difference.

  1. Offer to listen. Every widow needs a safe place to vent and unload all their pent up emotions without fear of judgement. You don’t need to try to solve anything, you just need to listen.

  1. Remember grief doesn’t have an expiry date. Yes, it might have been years since our spouse died, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still miss them (every single day). No matter how much time has past, we are still going to have moments of intense grief. 

It’s difficult for the widowed to be bombarded with ads and reminders on Valentine’s Day. You can’t change the holiday, but you can do something to comfort the widows in your life on what for them could otherwise be a very difficult and sad day. 

You can't fix anything, but remember even the smallest, simplest of gestures can touch a widow's heart on Valentine’s Day.

And it's often these small acts of kindness that mean the most.

To learn more about grief, resiliency, and life after loss, follow Monica on Facebook:

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