Why We MUST Remember

On Saturday I went to see the incredible First and Second World War exhibitions at the Armed Forces and Military Museum of Brussels. Being the day before Remembrance Sunday in the year that marks one hundred years since the outbreak of World War One, the visit was both timely and especially poignant. I’ve always felt passionately about ensuring we remember the monstrously large number of people killed in service ‘for their country’ in the two world wars, and as each year passes and more veterans of those wars die I feel even more strongly that my generation has a duty to each and every one of those fallen soldiers, without whom we might now be living in a very different society.

It is beyond me that anyone could fail to be moved by their sacrifice, though I am painfully aware we do live in a world where people all too often turn the other cheek, caring only about themselves and their own selfish endeavours. Such people doubtless fail to comprehend the bravery and suffering of those soldiers – many of them little more than children – who went to war all those years ago, knowing in their hearts they might never see their loved ones again, that they would likely die in the dirt, riddled with bullets and alone, their lives snuffed out like the candles they huddled around for warmth on those countless and interminably long nights in their bunkers.

It saddens me that wars are still going on around the world, that children are still being used on the front line and that, in some respects, we seem to have learned nothing from the atrocities that happened in the two world wars. But this is a personal and not a political post, the point of which is not to refute the age old arguments for war but rather to remember those who have fallen in it – not just in the first and second world wars but in every war that has, and is, taking place around the world. Because in forgetting those people, in allowing war and its ghastly and tragic slew of victims to become an acceptable loss in the pursuit of a ‘peace’ that never seems to come, we are, fundamentally, denying our own humanity. And without humanity there is no hope at all – and all those sacrifices will, ultimately, be for nothing.

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Grey Skies, and Blue

Today in Brussels it is grey and rainy. I really can’t complain; since we got here last Saturday the weather has been nothing short of glorious. Both weekends were spent wandering around parks and suburbs in t-shirts with our faces raised to the sun like flowers. You’d never know it was November.

But today it seems the harsh winds and lashing rain have brought with them a kind of malaise. Or perhaps it’s a melancholy of my own making, made more prominent by the sudden onset of such inclement weather. In large part I’m caught up in sadness over the recent deaths of two people; one, a dear family friend who last week lost her battle against cancer, and the other this brave soul who yesterday chose to end her life at the age of 29 before the cancer that was invading her brain brought it to a close.

I didn’t know Brittany Maynard personally, but her story and the videos she made documenting her decision to end her life were so personal and inspiring it was impossible not to be moved. Or at least that’s how I felt. I know there are many who criticised her stance on the right to die movement, but I’d hazard a guess none of them have been in her position or been close to someone who has, or else they would most likely feel somewhat differently.

I have some personal experience of watching someone with brain cancer lose their fight, having seen a colleague pass away some years ago. And I can honestly say there are few things more traumatic than seeing a person’s personality and joie de vivre decline day by day, watching as they lose the ability to speak, to function, as their body wastes away and their face puffs up with all the drugs that are pumped into their system in a futile attempt to keep them alive. What is most distressing is seeing in their eyes that they know exactly what is happening to them, and understand how things will play out. Having witnessed this first hand I could never agree that someone in that situation should not have the right to die with dignity, should they so choose. I think the real tragedy is that more people don’t have this right.

Today I made the decision to go back to England next week to attend the funeral of a dear family friend, Fran. I have hugely fond memories of the many family holidays we took together in France and Italy when I was a child; me, my mum and stepdad, Fran, her husband Paul and son Matt, playing boules and listening to Dire Straits on repeat. I was distressed to learn of Fran’s cancer when it first reared its ugly head a year or so ago, even more so when it was discovered the cancer had returned, this time terminally. She passed away last week with her family beside her, and when I found out her funeral was next Wednesday I knew in my heart I had to attend. So I’ve booked my Eurostar and will accompany my parents. It feels right for us to be together as a family at such a sad time, and I’m so glad we will be able to show our support for Paul and Matt, with whom we share such happy and joyful history.

I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m feeling a bit homesick in light of the above. When people die it shakes your foundations, especially when those people are so close or, in the case of Brittany Maynard, so tragic and reminiscent of other sad losses.

But instead of being sad I know both Brittany and Fran would say come on, buck up, be happy; this life is short but full of love, and hope, and joy – so go out there and enjoy it, be good to people, make a difference. And don’t let a bit of rain and grey skies get in the way. There’s always blue sky on the other side, after all.

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