This First Person column is written by Monica Bobbitt who comes from a military family. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
With the withdrawal of U.S. troops and personnel from Afghanistan, it felt like Canada was once again paying attention to that part of the world. But while the war in Afghanistan had long been a distant memory for many Canadians, it’s always ever-present for Afghanistan veterans and their families. The war in Afghanistan impacted our lives, and irrevocably changed many.
On May 9, 2014, a National Day of Honour was held to commemorate Canadian sacrifices during the 12-year mission in Afghanistan. As we stopped to observe two minutes of silence, my husband was travelling from our home in Petawawa, Ont., to Alberta for a six-week training exercise.
I’d said goodbye to him in the wee hours of the morning, not knowing I would never see him alive again. Twelve days later, he was crushed under the weight of his LAV III at the bottom of a dusty hill in Alberta, far from the poppy fields of Afghanistan.
His death was a tragic reminder that soldiering is an inherently dangerous profession — not just on operations, but every day.
Seven years earlier, I’d heaved a sigh of relief when he safely returned home from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. We counted ourselves among the lucky ones. And we were — for a time anyway. Dan was physically unscathed, save for a fresh scar on his right cheek. He carried with him a thousand what ifs and a duffel bag full of grief which like so many soldiers, he still hadn’t fully unpacked when he died.
As the devastating scenes in Kabul played out on our screens this August, scabs that have never fully healed were ripped open. Many experienced an upsurge in the grief they have carried with them all these years.
Once again, we are collectively grieving: for Afghanistan and its people; for loved ones lost, for time and pieces of ourselves we can never get back.
What was the point of it all? Was their blood sweat and tears all in vain? Does it matter? I can’t answer these questions. I’m not a soldier or a politician. And I’m not an Afghanistan widow; I’m an accidental one. I can’t speak to anyone’s story but my own.
When Dan died, I asked myself why someone so vibrant, with so much to give, would be taken so soon. His death seemed so pointless. It was so ironic he’d survived the war in Afghanistan only to die at home in a fluke accident.
When I told people how he died, some seemed almost disappointed, as if being crushed by a 17-tonne armoured vehicle was somehow not as interesting or as glamorous as dying in battle. I didn’t tell them there were times I’d actually wished it had been in battle because then at least his death would have been for a reason. It would have had meaning.
I eventually had to accept that sometimes, oftentimes, things don’t happen for a reason, they just happen. Dan’s death was so wrong, it is so wrong. And yet, it is.
The collapse of Afghanistan was heart-wrenching. Like so many, I’ve struggled with a myriad of emotions — anger, bitterness, disappointment, sadness. I’ve thought about all the months Dan spent training for Afghanistan and all the months he spent deployed there.
Precious time with him we can never get back. I swallow my bitterness as I wipe away tears. I can’t help but wonder what he would think of it all. It’s one of the many conversations we will never get to have. But even as I ask, I can hear his voice so clearly in my heart, “It matters. It doesn’t stop mattering now.”
These are the words I choose to believe; the ones I have to believe.
Next spring our son will take part in Exercise Maple Resolve — the same exercise his father was on when he died. And eventually, he will deploy to provide peace and stability to another region of the world.
He will leave behind a wife and child who will hold their breath as they wait for him to return. None of us can know what the future holds, but I do know this: because of the war in Afghanistan, and his own father’s death, his wife is far better prepared for the weight of our folded flag than I ever was. I just pray she never has to find out how heavy it really is.
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