Today in Canada it is Remembrance Day, the day of poppies, services, hymns for the fallen and tributes to those who serve their country. It is solemn, but often thankful and proud as people think about those who went to war and died.
However, I have a problem with this way of thinking about things to do with Remembrance Day, the very black and white way we seem think about those who serve and those who died abroad. Often a soldier, sailor or airman is regarded as lucky because they came back alive, when in reality, sometimes they brought Hell back with them and would rather be dead.
In all my years of observing the Canadian Forces as a military child, who has gotten to see deployments and service to the country from the inside, I cannot remember ever there being a discussion about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or Operational Stress Injuries associated with Remembrance Day. As someone who lived through a member’s OSI, it always saddened me that it was never mentioned in prayers at the Cenotaph or referred to in speeches or songs.
When people talk about those who went to war and didn’t come back I want to shout, “Yes, like my dad!!!”, even though he still lives a few miles from a navy base on Vancouver Island, but it seems taboo somehow to bring that up. The inference is that I should be grateful he came back alive. In reality, it would be far easier to grieve over someone who is physically dead rather than grapple with what is truthful: someone emotionally dead who shows up every now and then to twist a knife in my heart and remind me that mental illness runs in families.
The truth about military families is often far from what people imagine. Yes, a husband, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, someone is serving their country, but it doesn’t mean that their country looks after their mind when they get back or can fix what its war situations did to the people whom they sent there. Counseling and therapy are available, but not every deployed person comes back in a state to use them or even thinks they need them. Strength is admired, not the ability to admit that you are not OK, and there’s a stigma, I think, to breaking down after a trip, as if it were cliche to feel lost when you return to normal life and upset by what you saw while you were away.
As a chaplain’s child, I have had a rare opportunity to hear about both sides of the deployment. I have seen and known the joy of someone returning after nine months away, but I have also experienced and witnessed the hardship and pain that families go through when both sides have been changed by time apart and can’t understand why the serving member doesn’t slot back into life. Often they have a hard time because the strain on the brain of a combat situation teaches it to misfire (I’m simplifying here) and, like with depression, it takes a long time to heal. Sadly, I cannot count the number of people who didn’t make it that far, or who didn’t want to accept the help that could get them on a healthful path and never got better.
So, as we remember the fallen, let’s remember too the returned who have died without dying in a foreign land, as well as those who are still struggling to survive in service of peace and on behalf of the rest of us.
You went away one rainy day,
To a country I don’t know.
We missed you all the time, Daddy
But knew you had to go.
You paid the price, you saved the day
And rescued children far away,
But yours were still alone back in
The land you went to battle for.
Waiting for you to return,
Something they’re still waiting for.
Someone came back one rainy day
After you’d been long away
He looked just like you and his name
Was yours, but still he wasn’t quite the same.
And we’re still here and still await
An explanation of your fate.
We are supposed to grin and bear,
But how can we when you aren’t aware
Of how much pain we’re still in
Because our country sent you in.