On May 15, 2010, Private Kevin Thomas McKay was set to ship home after his first tour of duty in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he never made that flight, and instead ended up with a free ticket to ride the Highway of Heroes. He died on the 13th May serving our Country by helping others who do not enjoy the democracy and freedom that we take for granted.
I sat on the edge of my bed watching TV that day and I cried. My daughter came into the room and asked me what was wrong. Barely able to contain myself, I nodded towards the TV and she sat with me to watch the rest of the report. Lauren, hating to see me upset, looked at me with her wondering eyes and asked "mummy did you know that soldier?" I shook my head to indicate no, and she looked at me puzzled and asked why then, I was crying.
I was crying because I could picture Mrs. McKay cleaning her home in Richmond Hill, planning a welcome home dinner, and possibly even stocking the fridge with her young man's favourite brand of beer in anticipation of his return. This is not entirely different from my anticipation when Andrew, who is only a year younger then the youngest soldier to die, came home from college a few weeks ago. My heart broke for that woman because only a mother can understand the anticipation turning to relief that comes when her children are home safe, whether it be a school trip for 6 hours-30 km away, 8 months in college 3 hours away, or 10 months on the other side of the world. A relief that she will never experience.
And let's even suppose that my imaginary scenario is completely wrong and a little too "June Cleaver". Consider for a moment that Mrs. McKay is a senior partner in a prestigious Bay Street law firm, and she had the housekeeper clean, her favourite caterer prepare a lavish meal, and a delivery service stock their bar with the finest liqueurs and imported beers.
Either way, she'll never have the opportunity to embrace her son and tell him how proud she is of him. An even though her little boy became a man a long time ago, she will never again share in his accomplishments and beam with pride at his successes in life.
And when I explained all of this to Lauren, she cried too and gave me a big hug and said "mummy please don't be sad". But it is hard not to be.
146 mothers have experienced a pain that no parent was ever designed to endure. The youngest soldier to make this supreme sacrifice was 20 years old (I could be his mother) and the oldest was 45 (my age). And whether their mothers are 45 or 70 their pain is unfathomable.
To the 144 men, and 2 women who have died in combat roles since April 2002; to the sole female in Afghanistan in a non combat role to have her life taken; to the male civilian and the female reporter who also served and died: Thank you.
It is at times like this that I am happy to leave the political arguments about Afghanistan to the politicians, at least for a moment, while I pause to shed a tear for the human tragedy, and share in the agony and grief of 149 mothers across our great nation, while at the same time I selfishly pray that I will never totally understand how they feel.
Because they are there helping others find some kind of workable democracy, I am free to pursue my dreams and goals without fear of oppression, discrimination and persecution. Because they are there promoting peace and teaching others to become self sufficient I am free to dress as I wish, express myself freely and and participate in my country's democratic process.
We do not need to wait for November 11th to remember. In fact, we must not relegate our gratitude to one solitary day of the year, preceded by two weeks of wearing poppies on our lapels. It is only when we take our freedom for granted, that we risk losing it.
I will never forget.