WATCH: Friday was a National Day of Honour to pay tribute to those who served in Afghanistan. Mike Le Couteur has the details on how the government thanked the troops and their families.
OTTAWA – More than five thousand people gathered on Parliament Hill on Friday to thank veterans and their families for their service in Afghanistan as part of the National Day of Honour.
But for families of those who died during the mission, it was about supporting one another.
Jim Davis’s son Paul was killed in Afghanistan in March 2006. He wasn’t sure he wanted to make the trip to Ottawa for the ceremony at first. But after speaking to other families, he changed his mind.
“We decided that, for the sake of the families that are newer on this grief journey, we would all come together and support each other,” said Davis.
Peter Dawe, a retired colonel, had three sons serve in Afghanistan. The youngest, Capt. Matthew Dawe, was killed in July 2007. Dawe too feels a duty to be there for other families like his. He says he thinks it is important to speak on their behalf.
“I can do it from a different perspective having served…I guess because I’ve served, you always know that there’s an unlimited liability in service,” said Dawe.
Both men took comfort in the fact that their sons died in a mission that lived up to Canadian ideals. They acknowledged that the future in Afghanistan is uncertain, but said their sons knew it was the right thing to do.
Dawe recalled how his son Matthew had numerous opportunities to get out of the mission. He stayed on voluntarily after his term as a platoon commander was supposed to have ended. Then, he suffered a serious injury to his leg in a soccer game, which should have sidelined him for a year.
But not even that could keep him from Afghanistan.
“He was meant to be there,” said Dawe.
For men like Dawe and Davis, the bond they have with the other families gives them strength.
“You have a bond because you’ve lost someone, and if you can provide some sort of solace…quite often you just look at one another, and you touch, and you cry,” said Dawe.
Davis has found meaning in helping other families. He volunteers at HOPE (Helping Our Peers by Providing Empathy), a program for family members of fallen soldiers.
Davis said having a peer mentor gave him hope. The day Paul was killed, he got a call from someone who had lost his son three months before.
“That gave me a feeling of hope,” said Davis. “Here was a gentleman who had just lost his son and within three months he was able to pick up the phone and give me his condolences.”
Now he gives back.
But though the pain gets better, it doesn’t go away.
“The grief journey is a roller coaster ride. There’s good days, there’s bad days, and it will always be that way,” said Davis.
Watch : Extended interview with Jim Davis