Written by Dr. Megan McElheran
“They who are unable to remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
I remember the first client to die by suicide and how she could no longer endure the symptoms of depression she had developed while serving in the Canadian Forces.
I remember the person from whom I first learned about military sexual trauma and how that person taught me about the special kind of betrayal soldiers feel when violated by one of their own.
I remember the marriages I have seen breakdown under the pressure of operational stress and psychological injury.
I remember all of those brave men and women who cried with me, needing so desperately to express and share the emotional pain they were carrying, while also being crippled by feelings of weakness and shame that they had “broken”.
I remember those who died in service to our communities and country, whether domestic or abroad. And I promise never to forget.
There is much work to do. The faces and voices I carry with me tell me that. Until those who lost their lives, their vitality, their occupations and their hope can be honoured by systemic changes throughout the military, the public safety sectors of Canada and within our medical system, we have work to do. We must remember the history from whence we came to avoid becoming complacent or distracted by the next series of challenges we face. It is only through active remembrance that we can continue to honour those who have been lost.
Remembrance is a duty I take seriously, as should we all. A consistent feature of those who are able to stave off burnout and emotional exhaustion is that they have a well developed purpose behind the actions they take. The duty of remembrance can be just that purpose. Let’s never forget so as to ensure their sacrifices and their deaths were not in vain. Let the injuries and disabilities of those who came before be the continued motivation for us to work harder and to not give up until change has been accomplished.
Remember that change can be small and that we can’t possibly change all that needs to be changed quickly. Being willing to turn towards a difficult conversation or to ask someone how they are, and to really mean it, are the kinds of changes that matter. Being willing to notice our own feelings and thoughts, particularly when they feel vulnerable, can support the creation of openness between ourselves and others, and it is through empathic and supportive relationships that we can all heal.