A decade ago, when I was able to attend Remembrance Day services at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, was the first time I really noticed the Silver Cross Mother. When you’re watching on TV, or listening on the CBC as I often have to do if I’m working, you only see the camera angle that the producer selects, or the captions offered by the commentators. But in person, I could watch whatever I wanted: the wind that whips down Elgin street grabbing the edges of trench coats and horsehair sporrans, the faced pinched against the cold and receding deeper into scarves and upturned collars. And you can watch whomever you want. That year, I watched the Silver Cross Mother. She took the arm of one of the cadets, walked up, past the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and placed the wreath on behalf of all mothers who have had a child die in service to Canada. Some of those children died in combat, some during their normal, non-combat duties, some in friendly fire. A few years ago, the Silver Cross mother lost her son to suicide. But it doesn’t matter how it happened. These women muster up all the grace they have, and they mourn for their child in front of the whole country.
When she returned to her seat after she laid the wreath, I watched her. I ached for her loss, and it felt like I was intruding on something very personal. Which I suppose is the point. I haven’t lost anyone in service. All my uncles returned. My dad’s time in the USMC was over before the VietNam conflict started. Childhood who I had lost track of were, at that very moment, in Afghanistan. But they returned, too. So I couldn’t dig around and find a way to empathize with the depths of this woman’s loss. I mean, of course I empathized with her loss, such as I was able. She had the whole country to support her, and by extension, all other mothers who had lost children, yet, she stood apart from all of us with a depth of grief few of us know. Honoured to be chosen to serve in her own way.
Throughout their year of service, Silver Cross Mothers attend official functions that pay tribute to Canada’s fallen sailors, soldiers, and aviators through Veteran’s Affairs and Canadian Legion Dominion Command. But her one formal responsibility is to lay the wreath.
This year’s Silver Cross Mother is Josee Simard, who lost her daughter, Karine Blais, as a result of a roadside bomb in Kandahar.
This year, may we remember the strength and commitment of military families to a life they didn’t necessarily choose.