I confess that I did something I feel guilty about, or perhaps half silly / half guilty. I didn’t wear a poppy this year.
It wasn’t because I forgot, it would be pretty hard to miss that big day, not to mention that I get it off from work.
It wasn’t because I was doing some sort of protest, like wearing a white poppy (if that’s your thing, keep it to yourself — unless you’ve worn the uniform, shut the hell up would be my likely response).
It wasn’t because I don’t think it’s important or I was just too lazy. I think it is incredibly important, perhaps more than some, which is where the problem lay this year.
For me, the poppy doesn’t represent an abstract concept. Nor my brother who served, or a close friend who still serves. Or a number of other people I know who serve or served.
It represents my mom and dad.
For my dad, he was in the service. He enlisted underage, made it to Halifax, and was discharged early when his mother’s objection letter caught up to the paperwork of processing him in. At least that was the story we were told. He wasn’t a “soldier” in the normal sense. Mostly he learned to cut hair. But he enlisted, was discharged, and was a member of the Legion; when he died, they did the poppy service for him. For those who haven’t seen it, basically the serving members of the Legion have an honour guard that goes to the wake and spreads poppies all around the outside of the edge of the open casket. It’s quite pretty, actually. And when it was over, I snagged two poppies. My mom took one. I don’t know if others did. That was 19 years ago last month.
For my mom, she always wore a poppy for Remembrance Day. It was on her lapel, or her breast, proudly displayed. I never spoke to her about it…did it remind her of her brother who was killed at Ortona? Did she have friends or beaus that left and never came back? Was she around when friend’s parents received telegrams saying that their sons or husbands weren’t returning? I don’t know, it wasn’t something we ever discussed. But it always looked really sharp on her coat. Often, in my memory, she’s wearing it when she went to church. Not dressed fancy or anything, just a little spiffed up. When she died, three years ago Monday, I put one of the poppies from my dad’s funeral on her chest for the funeral. Well, actually, I had my niece do it while I was doing her eulogy (although really because I would have lost my mind doing it). For me, it was almost like a chance for my father to say goodbye to my mother, as she had said goodbye to him. Or maybe it was just a way for him to know she was still thinking of him and her family, even at the end.
Now, you could read the above and think, “Wow, that’s a pretty special connection, of course he would wear a poppy.” But I couldn’t this year, nor last year, and I don’t think I did the year before either. Because I don’t want to wear “any” poppy, I want to wear my dad’s poppy, the one from his funeral. To honour both of them.
But I can’t. I miss them too much. It is too painful to do it. I can’t “settle” for another poppy, I want to be strong enough to wear that one or none. Yet the memory is too raw, the link too fresh to do it. This year I thought, “Okay, I can do this.”
And then I couldn’t find it. Honestly, I couldn’t find it. How could I possibly “lose” the poppy? It wasn’t in my top drawer, it wasn’t on my desk, it wasn’t in my bedside table. It wasn’t in my jewelry box where it was supposed to be, I looked there first. By the time I realized I would have to look harder for it, the fear that I wouldn’t find it was greater than my desire to wear it right then, and my fear that I wouldn’t find it was nowhere near as high as my fear that I would lose my sh** if I couldn’t find it at all.
A coworker lost her husband just over a month ago, and while I didn’t know him, nor was I particularly close to her, it pushed my grief buttons. I have found myself thinking about my parents a lot over the last six weeks, and it was incredibly raw as I approached November 11th.
My son is six this year, Grade 1, and the school was having an assembly. His class wasn’t part of the “performance” for the day, and honestly, I didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to be in the school for a solemn occasion and have the kids wondering, “Why is that guy over there losing his sh**?”. I don’t mean a few tears, I mean there was a real chance I would have a complete sobbing breakdown. I was wound a little tight.
So I skipped the school event, dropped Andrea off, and headed for the river. I didn’t want company, I didn’t want a shared experience, I wanted to be alone for a bit. I sat in the parking lot and stared out over the water, just like the images from our old campsite, and listened to the service on the radio. I watched the planes fly by (they went pretty near where I was before looping back to the cenotaph). And while I didn’t completely lose it, I did let the tears flow freely. When Andrea called me a few minutes after 11:00 to say the event was done at the school, it took me most of the 15 minute drive back there to mentally put myself back together.
Today, I was looking for a highlighter and opened my top drawer on my desk, nothing there, opened my second drawer, no highlighter, but there in a little bin was the poppy. I had seen it sitting on my desk earlier this year, and I moved it down there to be a bit safer.
Maybe next year I can wear it. And then I only have to worry that I’ll *actually* lose it somewhere.
Would it be weird to have two, a regular poppy and a dress poppy?