On Anzac Day I thought it might be timely to reflect a little on the nature of loss and grief. My husband and I recently lost a baby at 15 weeks. He was a little boy and we called him Alexander. I’ve had quite a few miscarriages before and it’s always really upsetting to lose a pregnancy, no matter how far along you are. But this time I cried more for him than I did for my own loss. As I lay in my hospital bed, waiting to deliver him, all I could think about was how sorry I was that he had missed out on the chance to experience life and all the goodness that it has to offer. He will never feel his mother’s arms around him, never go to school, never make a friend, never see a sunset, never fall in love… This year I’m coming to Anzac Day from that perspective.
Losing Alexander has made me acutely aware that there was a whole generation of young men and women whose lives were cut short. They never got to grow up, get married, follow their dreams, have children, travel the world and finally grow old. I think we intrinsically understand that this was a huge loss and tragedy for the families who were left behind, but I don’t think we always realise what a huge sacrifice it was for them to literally lay down their lives, to give up all their hopes and dreams for the future. What a massive hole that must have left in society, not to have all those young men to take up work, to marry the young women, to be fathers to the next generation. It’s a huge collective loss. And if you think about the way that grief has a tendency to sort of pile up on itself and accumulate, it would have profoundly affected not just individuals, families and communities, but whole generations.
I had a number of different family members involved in the first and second world wars, at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, but I was probably most affected by the stories my grandmother told me of the second world war. My grandfather was a prisoner of war in Germany for more than five years, from when my Dad was six until he was about eleven. My daughter is six now, and I can’t imagine what it would be like to not see her until she is eleven. (It’s not like they had Skype, email and facebook in those days!) I believe my father was deeply affected by that experience, and he was one of the lucky ones whose father actually came home. His father was almost a total stranger when he returned and he only weighed about 50kg, but at least he was still in one piece. When he got back my Dad didn’t recognise him. He had to ask his Mum, ‘Which one is he?’
This is not some ancient story from the dark ages, it’s living history and like any loss, it needs to be acknowledged. That’s why we keep telling the story, every year. For me, that’s what Anzac Day is about… it’s a day to grieve, to remember the losses we experienced as a nation and to recognise that the impact of what happened is still being felt today. So even though Anzac Day might seem like a formal, solemn and reserved occasion, I consider it to be a kind of national group hug where we’re collectively saying, “Yep, we know. We remember. And we’re grateful.”
But the words we use to express that feeling are: Lest we forget.