As we got closer to today, Remembrance Day, we're encouraged to reflect on the brave acts of valor and sacrifice that secure our way of life. The pride we should feel in the way our armed forces have come to the defense of Nations mired in turmoil and marginalized citizens caught in the crossfire. We're encouraged to place a poppy on our lapel and remember the fallen soldiers, the brave men and women who gave their lives so that we could enjoy a semblance of peace and tranquility.
We all experience Remembrance Day in our own way. We think about Grandparents who may have participated in WWII. Maybe we have a family member serving now or who served in the recent past. Maybe a friend of ours has done tours in Iraq or Afghanistan. Maybe we don't know anyone but history is a constant reminder of the battles that have been fought up to this point. We all channel it in different ways.
Some of us even put ourselves in the shoes of a soldier as we reflect on what Remembrance Day means to us. We imagine soldiers ducking into dirty trenches in the cold fields of Europe or storming the shores of Normandy upstream against a hail of bullets. For a moment we might assume the stress of the battlefield. Never knowing when an enemy would fire or when chaos would erupt. Never being certain the next step could be the last with the grim prospect of an IAD or a roadside bomb. It raises our blood pressure as our adrenal glands pump out cortisol in response to this imaginary stress.
What could be worse than experiencing that kind of emotion? That fear? You can imagine the relief at the end of a long battle, or better yet, the end of a war. The joy of reuniting with family. Going home after your tour was complete. Resuming civilian life. Maybe the military is a career and the experience would benefit a career greatly. Improving rank and status within the field.
But what if that relief was only temporary? Sure you'd survived but at what cost?
What if your memories weren't moments of glory but of bloodshed? What if you found yourself consumed with guilt over a lost comrade or you saw the faces of the enemy combatants you'd put to death when you closed your eyes? What if you couldn't stop thinking about innocent civilians caught up in the conflict or that the war wouldn't end now that you were back at the base, on your side of the pond, or back at home with your family. That it would play out in your head. What if you just couldn't shut off that need to be constantly vigilante? You couldn't relax. You still felt your blood pumping. Even as it exhausted you, at night, you couldn't fall asleep. What if you had no one but yourself to endure this mental minefield? What if you did speak to a professional? Would your career be in jeopardy? If your service was complete, how would you cope? Where would you turn for help?
The questions keep mounting when you put yourself in those shoes. You really begin to feel the gravity of war. The long term impact it can have on individuals long after the last shot is fired. This is what I think about when I imagine life as a service man or woman. I don't imagine this is how it is for most, but I'm sure, for many.
On 4-Nov the Globe & Mail posted an article in a series entitled "The Unremembered". The article called "We Remember" brings to our attention that at least 70 of Canada's service men and women who served in Afghanistan mission died by suicide. It provides brief stories of 31 of those service men and women shedding a light on and "raising questions about the thoroughness of their post-deployment health screening and the psychological support offered."
This year when you get your poppy from that humble old veteran standing outside your local grocery store, as you pin it to your coat, remember that the sacrifices you are honouring come not just from the battlefield. Think of service men and women today and throughout history who's battle rages on.
PTSD Association of Canada
Founder of No Surrender Hockey Challenge.