For the first time in my life I am choosing not to attend a Remembrance Day service, and I have received a lot of flak because of this decision. I would like now to explain myself, in the hopes that for those of you who have judged me may understand what I am thinking and feeling.
I have never missed a service. I have sat with dignitaries, laid wreaths alongside veterans, marched in parades, and cried while holding photos of my loved ones. I have drank with légionnaires, and argued with my husband over wearing his uniform. I have held hands with strangers, shaken hands with people who served alongside my grandfather, and argued with people who celebrate Christmas before commemorating Remembrance Day.
Each year I put on the equivalent of my Sunday best, do my makeup, pin poppies on my daughters, and carry a photo of my husband and my uncle, to the service at the legislative grounds. I have gone in every kind of weather imaginable, and have tried my best to present the façade of the strong, elegant, cornerstone of the military family that is the military spouse. It is exhausting, and this year I am too tired to carry on.
This year I will sit on the couch with my daughters, and the photos of our loved ones, and we will watch the Ottawa service on tv. If I feel like crying, I will cry. I will hug my babies and we will talk about our loved ones, their daddy, and why this day matters to us above all else. We will talk about all of the mom’s and dad’s of my children’s friends who are currently deployed or away for various reasons, and we will count every one of our blessings, made possible by all of these heroes. I won’t put on makeup, I will not present myself as anything that strangers or friends expect me to be. I will watch the service from the comfort of my home, where I am free to feel and express myself without feeling as though I have to “keep it together” for the sake of those around me.
After the service, we are going for a walk. Maybe we will go to the park, or perhaps the lagoon. From there we can see where their daddy works when he is alongside, and we will count the days until he is home, together. This year I am not doing this for anyone but my family. For too long I have placed too much importance on appearances, and trust me, keeping them up on a day like today is more exhausting than running a marathon.
After a decade of being a military wife, and a lifetime of being a military family member, I think I have earned the right to observe this day in a way that is healthy for both me and my girls. My love has missed countless birthdays, holidays, moments that cannot be recreated – including the birth of one of our daughters. He will spend the next year away from us, and I will be strong while I wipe the tears away from my daughters’ eyes, check their homework, take them to lacrosse, doctors appointments, and read them emails from their daddy. I spend 364 days of the year being strong, today I would like, even if only for a few hours, to let my guard down, and feel what I try to avoid the rest of the year.
So no, I’m not going to a service today, and if you disagree with my decision, I respect your opinion. I am not a bad wife, I am a tired one. If you don’t agree that I deserve to observe how I choose, I suggest you reread this post, or any of my posts, until you feel empathy for what I have to do to survive. If that doesn’t work, I will politely ask you to mind your own damned business – but I’ll only be polite once.
My Remembrance Day started a few days ago, when I asked my husband to have his uniform dry-cleaned for the service. Each year we argue over whether or not he is going to wear it, and each year he pitches a fit; but I always prevail, and he wears it to the service. This year, he didn’t, and it threw everything off for me. I tried to explain why it was important to me, but I am not always great at expressing myself when it matters. Both of our families are rich in military history, and when he wears his uniform he is a visual representation of everyone that I have loved who has served. I can’t be with them to hug them and see that they are still here (for the ones that are in fact, still here), but I can be with him and see his uniform as a representation of everyone else. That’s the best that I can explain it. Maybe I should have explained it that way to him. My mama compares my marriage to that of her parents quite a lot, and this situation reminded her of them at this time of year. Every year my grandmother would argue with my granddad about wearing his uniform, and every year he would stubbornly say no. I understand that a lot of our members choose not to wear their uniforms because they don’t wish to draw attention to themselves, but I feel like for one day a year they deserve it, and the rest of us deserve it too. We need to feel that they know how much we appreciate them. Selfish? Maybe. Don’t care. I want my pride in him to be validated by a sea of civilians who respect and admire the sacrifices he makes that others cannot. He works hard and deserves his one day of accolades, n’est pas?
Remembrance Day is emotional for me for various reasons. The most obvious being that my husband is an active member. (See: paragraph 1). The next reason is my granddad. He died in 1978 when my mother was just 11 years old. Before the war he was a farmer, and during the war he sent money home to his father to help out. When he returned from war after storming the beaches of Normandy, being shot twice, watching his friends and brothers die in front of him, he came home to nothing. The farm was gone, the money was gone. A resilient man, he worked at the CN Rail yard until his death. Every year we mourn his loss on his birthday, death-day, and Remembrance Day. It is a day of great sadness as well as pride – pride in his exemplary service and dedication to his family, and sadness that I never had the chance to meet him, ask him questions, have him brush my hair. He loved children, and even though he would be well into his 90’s now, I know that he would have loved to meet all of us, and I often think of what it would be like to have a granddad, and my girls have a great-granddad. They are lacking in grandparents on my side of the family.
He instilled in my mother and her siblings an honourable sense of familial responsibility, and they have handled their jobs as matriarchs and patriarch of our family quite gallantly. They in turn have passed that on to my generation. Pride in family, hard work, and respect for the past. We are all descendants of him, and us living our best lives is a tribute to him, and to his service as a young man.
The other soldier for whom I pray on this day is my father’s brother, the bravest man I have ever known. He served in the American Armed Forces for as long as I’ve known him and much prior (we met in 1997ish), and had an incredible career. Each Remembrance Day in which he was deployed – which was most of them – I would attend the service feeling sick to my stomach. Before the days of Skype or Facebook I would go months without hearing from him, and the terror of not knowing if he was safe or not caused me more sleepless nights than any kid needed. I’m not complaining, he deserved my worry. I would cry for him through the moments of silence, shakily sing the hymns (still crying), clutching a book of photos of him that I have amassed over the years. My worry for him didn’t fade on the days that weren’t marked for remembrance, but November 11th amplified it exponentially. He finally retired after my second daughter was born, and the Remembrance Day after his last tour overseas I cried with relief that he was finally safe forever. I am closer to him than I am my own father, and the thought of losing him still sends my stomach into a horror-spiral. He is the one hero I have had in my life, and I am so grateful that he is safe. If I weren’t blonde I would definitely have grey hair from worry!!
My life as a military wife has been a roller coaster that I keep paying to ride. I love my life, and I am so unfathomably proud of my husband. The time that he goes away is hard on my soul, because I worry about his physical and mental well-being, but I am normally good at coping with keeping our home running while he is away. I owe him that. I take good care of our girls, I pay our bills, I get on with our lives. I don’t have crying fits, I don’t need breaks from my children, I operate in survival mode so that he doesn’t have to worry about us. As strong as I can be through deployments and training, I still cry when I hear songs that remind me of him, and my insomnia gets worse when I think about him being so far away, and some nights I shake with fear from the knowledge that I am the only one protecting our house; but I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. I am so proud of how far my family has come, and it is because of the man who gives up his family time to protect us globally. He has missed birthdays, holidays, and was away for the birth of our second daughter. As hard as it was for me, I can’t imagine how it felt for him. I am so grateful to him that I don’t miss out on any milestones, although I regret that it is at the expense of him experiencing things first-hand.
I gave him a very hard time today for not wearing his uniform – I had hurt feelings and chose to take it out on him, even though ultimately it’s not up to me whether he wears his spiffy’s or not. I don’t regret cajoling him, but I hope he knows that I love him past all of the stars, and am so proud of him that sometimes I fear my chest will burst. Our daughters are proud of him whether he’s in uniform or not – he is their super hero every day. Their eyes sparkle when they think of him, and I hope that they will continue to accept and understand our lives as they grow older.
At the end of today we took some nice family photos, and I popped several Advil for the migraine that I get every year on this day. We ended our solemn day with smiles and full hearts, happy that another year of safety for our loved ones has passed. Not every year will be happy ones for us, it’s a hazard of the life that we live, but for now I will focus on the good. Everyone we know is safe, my girls are learning to respect the past and enjoy their history, and I have one day where everyone else has my husband on the same pedestal that I do.