Today, at our local Remembrance Day ceremony honouring the Canadians who fought for us, a friend of mine who saw me struggling with the kids alone initiated a conversation.
I told her how my husband was working today, and that I found out yesterday I have pneumonia. She looked at me, alone, sick, with my four young kids and said, “you didn’t have to come you know.”
I laughed. I told her I did. I came for me.
I’m hoping my children will remember this someday, and remember a Mother who took Remembrance Day seriously, regardless of what was going on at that moment, on that day, or in her own life. Pneumonia included.
It wasn’t easy, but I prepared the best I could. Snowsuits so I didn’t have to hear about how cold it was. Goldfish crackers to prevent the classic, “I’m hungry Mom” comments. The promise of hot chocolate after if they just behaved for this ceremony.
But also, the reminder of why we were going.
Their school did a project where everyone could submit a photo and story of who they remembered. I knew this was my moment to teach them about a young man I went to high school with, named Mark McLaren who died in Afghanistan in 2008 when an IED hit the truck he was in.
My husband and I went to his wake. It seemed so surreal to be there by the coffin of a man who wrote a cheque payable to his country with his life, and had it cashed in unfortunately. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say when I saw his grieving girl friend, family and close friends. I couldn’t imagine being in their position.
Remembrance day reminds me that I’m thankful to only have that one experience. Yet, so many other people can’t say the same.
I think of the Moms, who had multiple children head overseas. Some to return. Some not. Others to have an entirely different person return in the body they recognize, but the mind they didn’t.
I think of the men who overcame anxiety to fight sometimes daily. I think of the planning of missions. The sadness when they lost comrades and brothers on the field beside them. The sights, smells and sounds they endured. The choice between kill or be killed. Sleeping in the elements, not always getting a proper meal. The leaders who saw their own plans unfold, sometimes costing them their own crew members.
I think of towns reuniting with their dead constantly. Not just one person in 30 years. I think of the families who lost multiple generations, and multiple children. I think of the families who didn’t find the remains of their loved ones. I think of the families who may never know what happened to someone they cherished so much.
I picture opening the door to soldiers, knowing the news they bring is the news that their family dreaded for months only to see it become a reality. I wonder how those soldiers felt, announcing the death of their fallen brother or sister, bringing a next to kin the worst possible news but also hoping that no one has to deliver that very same news to their own families.
I think of the civilians in the towns where these wars were fought. I visited many WWI and WWII sights in 2005 on a trip called “Battlefields”.
I saw the uneven texture of the grounds where Vimy Ridge was fought. I walked on the shores of Omaha & Juno beaches, amazed at the sadness of the event in such beautiful places. I visited many gravesites for the fallen, including one for the Nazi soldiers. Photos don’t do the number of white stones justice. It tugs on your heart to see the vast amount knowing you can’t pay your respects to each one, it would simply take forever. The same guilt panged me again when we saw places where all the names are listed. Endless lives gone far too soon.
I saw places in France that still had obvious damage, a church in the countryside with a huge cannon ball sized hole in their bell tower, multiple decades later. I walked through bunkers, and even the Anne Frank house. I imagined soldiers, gun in hand looking out the tiny window. I imagined Anne silently listening to the events outside, hoping she could escape the death plaguing the world.
I think of the people who lost their homes, their businesses, their belongings and their life’s work, when war tore through their communities. I think of the people who are still farming present day, and as they till the soil, come across the remains of body parts and unexploded land mines.
I think of the people still living that life today. I cringe when I hear people say refugees “ought to go back to where they came from” not knowing that their home is no longer there. I can’t believe this is still something that people are experiencing in my lifetime.
One of the speakers said today that remembering is a past, present and future thing. We remember things in the past, like whether we took the garbage out yesterday or not. We remember the present, like we need to turn the stove off before we leave, and we remember the future, like I have an appointment next week.
That same concept needs to apply to this day. We remember the tragedy behind us. We remember those who laid down their life, and those who returned. We remember the reason they fought, we remembered the sacrifices made by the families left behind, and those who innocently were affected by a war raging on in their communities.
We remember the people still living in war. We remember their great need for humanitarian aide and mercy. We can’t imagine the events they have witnessed first hand. We remember the people serving today with gratitude. We remember their families who are left for months at a time, praying and hoping those soldiers never knock at their door.
We remember the future. We teach our kids about the importance of this day. We show up, sick, cold, raining, whatever the circumstances, grateful that they pale in comparison to the sacrifices others have made for our freedoms and the freedoms of others. We pray that our children don’t grow up to go to war, we hope they will know peace that the world has yet to figure out. We remember the injustices that started these wars and put preventive measures in place so these things happen. We watch current world events with bated breath.
Most importantly, we remember how grateful we are. We can easily forget that in our day to day lives. We can take for granted the freedoms we have. But let’s not. Let’s always remember with gratitude.
Jesus said of his own impending death in John 15:13, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I’m thankful for that sacrifice everyday when I consider my salvation. And I’m thankful for the sacrifice of many more ‘friends,’ who stepped up then and are stepping up today, ensuring my freedom. I’m thankful that there is a heaven free of war, pain, and suffering where many of these great people are now resting peacefully.
So yes, I had to go today. It was the very least that I could do for those who gave and give it all for me.
Lest we forget.