FIRST PERSON | It’s been 8 years since my husband died in service, but the grief still lingers for our family | CBC News
This First Person article is the experience of Monica Bobbitt, a military widow, writer and grief advocate in Ottawa. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
Last May, on the eighth anniversary of my husband Dan’s death, our son brought his infant daughter to visit her grandfather’s grave at the National Military Cemetery for the first time.
It is heartbreaking this wee one — whose middle name, Daniella, honours his memory — will never know her Grampa Dan. He would have been such an amazing grandfather, just as he was an amazing dad.
But she will never hear him sing a ridiculous song he made up just for her, never know the comfort of his hugs or benefit from the wisdom of his guidance. Sacrifice is generational; Dan’s death will reverberate through our family for generations to come.
Dan died in a military training accident in Alberta, crushed under the weight of his LAV III in a rollover. In the days after his death, I quickly learned there was so much I didn’t know about grief.
We don’t talk about grief nearly enough in Canada. Death is still viewed as something we get over; grief a set of stages to complete. Neither is true, of course.
I know now that grief doesn’t have a timeline and it’s definitely not linear. The death of a loved one fundamentally changes us. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if my husband hadn’t died. Dan’s death forced me to make my physical and mental health a priority — something I hadn’t always done.
It’s taken me a long time to reconcile the fact that in many ways the best version of me was born from my husband’s death. And it has not been easy along the way.
Soldiering through grief
Twenty-one years as a military wife prepared me to run a household on my own, but it didn’t prepare me to be a widowed mother of three grieving teenagers. There were many difficult days and months as we struggled to navigate our new world without Dan.
Military wives are seen as strong and resilient, capable of juggling any curveballs life throws our way.
For a time after Dan died, I hid behind a stoic facade. He was the commanding officer of his regiment, and I had a duty to be strong — not only for our children, but also for his soldiers and their families. Fortunately, the regimental padre saw through my facade.
If I really wanted to help others, he argued, it was far more important to be authentic than to be stoic. I heaved a sigh of relief. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us it’s OK that we’re not OK.
I turned to writing to help me make sense of it all. Eventually, I went back to school to hone my writing skills, and then again to deepen my understanding of grief and bereavement so I could better support and care for others coping with a significant loss or death.
At the padre’s encouragement, I began sharing my story with others in our military community. I’ve tried to normalize the conversation about grief. I have been humbled and honoured that so many have in turn allowed me to bear witness to their own grief. In so doing, I believe we are helping each other heal.
Life after Dan
It’s been eight years since Dan died — a third of our eldest daughter’s life. Soon it will be a decade. “A decade. I don’t like that,” she told me recently. I don’t like it either.
I have a good life now with a new partner, a wonderful man whom Dan respected immensely. He would be so happy to know neither one of us is alone.
This is the point where a lot of people will assume I’m over his death, or at least I should be. They mistake moving forward with moving on and equate happiness with forgetting.
For me, moving on implies Dan should be left in the past. And I can never do that.
Dan is still with me. He lives on: in our three children, in our granddaughter, and in the life I’ve built since he died.
My grief is much softer now, its sharp edges smoothed by wear, but it still lurks under the surface.
Sometimes it is unexpectedly triggered by a familiar song or scent, others by a special event. Remembrance Day and the days leading up to it can be especially difficult, when images of flag draped caskets fill my newsfeed and The Last Post brings me back to Dan’s burial.
But Dan was so much more than the granite headstone that marks his grave, so instead of focusing on his death, I focus on the remarkable life he lived. He’d be so pleased to know his three children have inherited his wonderful zest for life.
And I know he would be incredibly proud of the amazing, empathetic adults they have become.
Over the years, I have been comforted by the care of so many. I am so grateful for their continued love and support. And I am especially grateful for the ones who understand, that no matter how many years pass, the pain of Dan’s death still lingers.
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