Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Remembrance Day: We the Children




The picture above shows my father Russell, in the centre, flanked by his brothers. The Simpson brothers all went to war and everybody came back of sound mind except for my father, who killed himself, the result of a drunk driving incident in 1957.

I have documented my father's story in numerous newspaper articles published over the past two decades. Writing the story of my father and mother has helped me heal. And it has helped others who write to me about their own fathers who came home either neglectful of their families or abusive, alcoholic shells who have laid waste to their futures and their families.

Oddly, sometimes I'm grateful my dad died. Terrible, I know, but there it is.

I was the lucky one.

I am an adult survivor of wartime PTSD. My mother was not so lucky.

She died, broken and bitter, at the age of 66, a woman who was never embraced by the military community because of the sad fact that my dad didn't die in combat. Here she is with Gramps.





Look at her, how sweet and wonderful, a woman of hope and good humor. Who would have known that just a few years later, she would be strapped to a gurney and given shock treatments to cope with her depression after the death of my dad.

Nowhere was her story written. Nowhere was she considered valuable to our society.

She didn't go to war, people would say.

Ah, but yes she did. And so did I.

Frankly, it makes me so angry I could cry.

My dad, he died as collateral damage a year after he was discharged from the military. My family was humiliated because my dad died drunk in a car accident unable to cope with life after service, after being a witness to carnage.

My mother, on the other hand, was treated by her community like a Salem Witch abandoned by her church because she couldn't pay the tithe, abandoned by the military because my dad didn't have the good sense to take a bullet for the team.

He died instead with a companion six pack of beer on a lonely road after a night out with his mates.

Messy, very messy.

At eight months old, I was left fatherless and motherless. She wasn't around. How could she be? She was in the hospital getting shock treatments. And him, I don't remember him, except for a small picture which sat on the television, a picture that no one discussed.

For years, I lied to my classmates, said my father was a farmer because I was so ashamed. Every year for as long as I can remember, I cried myself to sleep at night and wet the bed. The air in my house was thick with sadness, disappointment and shame. There was nobody there for me. Everybody had gone. The music had died.

Subsequent years, I lived with my mother the angry alcoholic who entertained me with nasty stories about my father. The boxes of beer made her calmer and brought me closer to her.

It was unimaginable to my friends who only saw my mother as a blithe spirit, the life of the party.

The darkness came when we were alone. I was the fly. She was the spider.

 The term "too much information", well that was my childhood.

Years later, after she had passed, I read the letters Russ wrote to my mother and I began to understand the demons he had faced. And I forgave him his trespasses.

Too late. Too bad, so sad. The dominoes have fallen. My mother is dead and I am left here to pick up the pieces.

I have spent my entire life dealing with the damage that Russ incurred on the battlefield.

I am not whole.

I am the daughter of a Canadian soldier who died as a result of PTSD. I am a victim of a war culture which celebrates the accomplishments of soldiers while ignoring the needs of the women, men and children who are left behind. Alcoholism, drugs, neglect, anger, violence. This is the side of war that others do not see.

This story is never over for me. It casts a pall over my children and their children. Because I am not whole, how can they be?

War leaves its imprint, like a scar or a tattoo on military families.

The families of fallen or failing soldiers, sailors and air personnel, we are merely a postscript. But we should not be.

Hear our voices loud and clear.

We will not be forgotten on November 11th. Wear a white poppy.

Be unashamed.

We are the children and we deserve to be heard.

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