I am a soldier’s mother.
One day in 2010, I bade farewell, heart in my throat, words choked off as my first borne, flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, my son headed off to Afghanistan. Like so many images of some many other mother’s sons heading off to war, he was full of pride, determination and confidence. He was in fact annoyingly merry! “Just taking care of business mumsy,” big grin plastered across his face, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” he chirped.
But would he? As proud as I was, I was also terrified by questions and images. Just how would he return to me? Pieces in a steel box and saluted by many? Disfigured, limbs missing with his insides protruding from a bag on the outside? A stranger, shattered in mind and spirit by invisible wounds? I was almost paralysed by such questions. I coped by rehearsing every scenario and then developing a care plan for each one. That's how I filled the first week that he was gone.
He called when he could, from Kandahar Air Field. The army had instructions for these chats – talk about all the great stuff going on, the weather, the dog, the neighbourhood. He too had a script and though there was nothing of real substance exchanged, the important questions were answered. The voice from so very far away sounded normal. He sounded okay. NO, better than okay, he sounded good, intact, but also changed. I heard a man’s voice, a man who had seen much.
A few times I stood on the Victoria Park bridge over the 401 clutching my flag and my heart, welcoming other mother’s children back home. The scene was always the same – a long black cortege winding its way along the Highway of Heroes, lights flashing, flags waving, tears flowing. Please dear God, don’t ever let it be me in that dark stretch limo following a flag draped casket in a funeral coach. Please...
Sometimes he talked about the stench of the place – open sewers and rotting garbage. He talked about the heat and the cold of the desert, and the dust, dust, and more dust that got into everything. There were no traditional Christmas crackers that year or other things that might go bang. There were no sudden movements and he sat with his back to a wall. Sometimes when he got up, he reached out for a rifle that was no longer there. But he said little about his tour. As the months passed I heard occasional snippets, half sentences: “felt the breeze as a grenade went by..., daily rocket barrage behind the wire.” and in a general discussion about first aid kits, he allowed, “Oh yeah, I strapped on tourniquets to my arms and legs before going out on patrol, just so they were there if...”
I don’t need to know any more details. I am one of the lucky ones. I can watch my son capable and strong, happily married and safely home, fulfil his vocation.
My heart aches for all Silver Cross mothers, fathers, wives and sweethearts. William Alexander Fraser, a Canadian novelist who first proposed this medal in 1916, wrote: “The mothers are the heroines of the bitter home trenches. They suffer in silence with no reward but the sense that they have answered the call with their heart’s blood...”
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them, all who gave so much.
©2013 April Hoeller (photo below courtesy of Veterans' Affairs Canada)