Saturday, 10 November 2012

Remembrance Day and the damaged soldier

As the child of a damaged soldier, I see Remembrance Day differently.
My father did not die in combat. He died of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, a brain disease brought on by reoccuring images of war.
The sounds and mental pictures of the battlefield never went away for my dad so he tried to silence them with booze. His life ended in a rolled car on a country road in 1957 on a cold November night. Neighbors found him pinned under his car with a six pack of beer at his side.
There was no funeral cortege for my father, only a small marker in a military graveyard. No medals or notes from the Queen. He was no hero in the eyes of his community, just a rounder who couldn't keep a job and left his pitiful wife to pay his creditors.
Instead of a ceremony, there was an inquest.
Instead of a military pension, there was welfare for his widow.
Instead of a father, there was a picture on top of the black and white television set.
And radio silence.
For years.
My mother ended up in an institution for a time, in a locked psychiatric ward with electric shocks being shot through her temple. We were handed off to my grandparents while my mom got her act together.
Imagine being a little girl growing up in the shadow of an infamous dad, the one who left his tire marks across the street from her public school. I lied to people. I made up a father. I was too ashamed of the real story.
I went to church alone because my mother couldn't afford the tithe. I feigned sickness on Father's Day so I didn't have to make a card. I had to rely on other people's fathers for a ride to the prom or a walk down the aisle.
War is not to be celebrated. There should be no statutory holiday to commemorate Remembrance Day, as some suggest. Remembrance day is a day of national mourning; it's not a day for Christmas shopping as I saw many public servants do last year.
Instead of just being a day of romanticized ceremonies and free lunches for veterans, Remembrance Day should be a day of dialogue on how to prevent war and senseless deaths and amputations. It should be a day to talk about ways to help and repair the damage solider. It should be a day dedicated to supporting widows and orphans who are the real casualties of war. A day to make them whole again.
It's too late for my family. My mother is long dead and I have made peace with my father and his legacy. But it's just the beginning for the hundreds of women and children who are mourning the loss of their loved ones in Afganistan and for the many others who are living with family members who are damaged goods.
Instead of raising a glass to distant memories, let's talk about that instead.


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