My experience of loss & the path towards hope
My son Sergeant Mark Salesse was killed during a routine ice-climbing military exercise in 2015. He was 44 years-old, single but in a serious relationship, and had served over 25 years in the military. He was a Search and Rescue (SAR) Technician and a certified paramedic. A storm reached the Rockies earlier than the forecasters had predicted, and the conditions turned nasty.
Mark was descending an ice-wall; he was walking on a massive snow-covered ledge when a large slab of unstable snow detached. He slid down with it. The reverberation created an avalanche. Mark didn’t stand a chance; he fell 274 meters (900 feet). They recovered his body six days later buried under four metres of snow (12 feet).
Eleven days later my brother Johnny died unexpectedly. We were close; he was two years younger than me. We held a double funeral; my son was in one of the parlours and my brother was in the next one.
My only other child was a daughter. She died 16 days after she was born; she suffocated by remnants of birth mucus which had not been properly removed at birth. I remember the fog which clouded my mind and numbed my soul, until I finally woke up to the horrific reality of life; my daughter was gone. I was 16 yrs old when my mother died; it was on a Mother’s Day. I was 39 when my father died.
After the deaths of my Mark and Johnny, I was on automatic pilot. I was going through the motions in order to bury my son and brother with respect, and to honour their memories with love. It was a chaotic time with funeral preparations, finalizing headstones and burial locations, attending my son’s military funeral at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Comox and a memorial at CFB Winnipeg, a private funeral on the Atlantic Coast at my son’s birthplace and assisting at estate closings, etc. This hectic agenda gave me neither time to reflect nor adjust to my reality, a reality that was both devastating and excruciating; a gut-wrenching agony. My world had fallen apart. My dreams and my hopes were shattered. My life would never be the same. I felt a huge empty void.
After my son & my brother died, I felt like I was dropped in the swirling ocean and caught in a whirlpool of confusion. I lost my focus. My strength would disappear in waves of depressed feelings. I stayed ‘afloat’ and resilient with the help of my husband who is my rock, my dear friends, and my family. My son’s friends and comrades also helped tremendously.
Everyone’s lives, however, soon returned to normal with their jobs and families, while my husband and I were left to pick up the fragmented pieces of our broken hearts. We supported each other, and thank goodness that we were able to discuss with each other openly about the dismal state of our thoughts and our emotions.
At the onset of this tragedy, the military supplied us with a compassionate Designated Assistant (D.A.) who was with us every day, for three weeks prior to the funerals. He supported and guided us through the ordeal of our grief and the many obstacles we faced. During this time, the D.A. had mentioned that the military’s Helping Others by Providing Empathy (HOPE) Program offered the services of a grief support volunteer should I need one to assist me on my grief journey. Having lost both my children (an infant daughter & an adult son), I was disheartened…therefore, I asked that this volunteer call me after the funerals.
It was the best decision. This compassionate Peer Support Volunteer would call me, as often as needed, during the ensuing months. Our calls were confidential which allowed me to truly give voice to my concerns.
This volunteer had also lost a son – her son and several of his comrades were killed in Afghanistan. She understood my tremendous loss and the dark valleys that I was travelling through. We were both mothers who had lost the most precious gift, a child. I gained confidence knowing that she had lost her son several years prior, yet was able to remain positive through these most difficult years. After 14 months, she asked if I would consider becoming a volunteer as well, as she had confidence that I could help someone else on their journey.
I became a Peer Support Volunteer with the military’s HOPE Program because of my experiences with loss, and because I believe in the program. I understand the different stages of grief, and the affects surrounding it. I understand the need to talk with someone who understands exactly what you’re going through. I am able to help someone because I once was where “they are at” now. I can offer support through the process and give them hope for their tomorrow.
I strongly suggest the HOPE program to anyone experiencing the horrific pain of loss and its accompanying feeling of hopelessness.