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  • Writer's pictureGlen Burkholder

Honour, In The Eyes Of The Beholder

(2023 - Volume One)

When a Canadian veteran who saw active service; meaning fought in a war to protect our freedom or stood and fought in solidarity with other countries to protect their freedoms…when that vet dies in action, we recognize that individual with a “Military Funeral Service”. This type of service could include, honour guards of fellow peers, bagpipes, the firing of arms in moments of silence and of course a flag draped casket. However, when a vet returns from war, battered and bruised, physically and emotionally, and continues to live his/her life, in times of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal tendencies and then dies of old age, there typically is not a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding their funeral celebrations. Efforts are made by the Royal Canadian Legion to offer a service of their own, during times of visitation at the funeral home. It is beautiful; with men and ladies in their uniforms, sounds of lone bugler playing “Last Post”, then a moment of silence followed by “Reveille” (typically pre-recorded), and the laying of poppies in the casket. But, if you’re not a member of Legion, that service is not always offered. Not all veteran elect to become members. Many don’t want to recount those days of “glory”, instead they bear the brunt of brutality in silence.

Not all that long ago a soft spoken man came to the funeral home to arrange a funeral service for his father. Mr. Victorious (fictitious name, but fitting, indeed), died in 90’s, and his son wanted the very best for his dad, he wanted to honour him and his war veteran status with a "Military Funeral Service". As difficult as it was, we had to tell him this is not typical. But every effort was made to create a funeral service that was fitting and respectful. The Legion was called, and we requested the assistance of pallbearers, which was problematic to rally enough volunteers to fulfill the request. The church was booked and away we went. To my surprise on the morning of the funeral mass we were made aware that a specific Regiment in the area, was able to gather 8 pallbearers and when I arrived at the church I met the fine gentleman in full uniform, kilts and all. To compliment that there were retired veterans representing a glorious colour guard. A colour guard is a representation of flag bearers, hoisting on high regimental, provincial and country flags. Words can not exactly depict how beautiful this tribute was. I was even moved to take a photo, from the back the sanctuary, of the colour guard surrounding the casket while his faith was being celebrated. All the while, and by the family’s request the funeral was being live streamed for family members who lived overseas and could not attend in person. And that livestream was recorded with the intention of providing it to the son.

The funeral mass continued with the Rite of Committal to be held at the cemetery. My fellow colleague is a trumpet player, and he accompanied us to the cemetery and at an appropriate moment he played “Last Post” paused for a moment of silence and continued on with “Reveille”. The eight kilt wearing soldiers, honoured the casket with a moment of silence and slow salutes. A poem titled “For The Fallen” was recited. And the sun shone brightly, attempting to warm a chilly early spring day.

So moved, at the end of the day, I returned home to my wife, and over a drink of wine, I shared my day. With tears in our eyes, we remembered a veteran, a man we never met, and we talked, with sincere gratitude in our hearts, about all that came together to make this funeral event so special for a father who represented our country, his children and his grandchildren.

The following day, the son of Mr. Victorious came to the funeral home to pick up some belonging and floral tributes he wanted to enjoy at home. There was sadness in his eyes, and without exaggeration, he trembled and needed to sit down. He went on to explain that the church had taken down the live stream link off their website, and that they refused to provide the recording of the funeral mass to him. It was also explained to the son that the digital recording had been permanently delete. When the son questioned for reasoning; it was explained that the colour guard should not have even entered the church. Further, these six volunteers who surrounded the casket in honour of their comrade, and while doing so they faced the congregation, was done in an act of disrespect to the church and to the alter. As if the participants of the honour guard had a huddle up before going into the church and premeditated this act of disrepute. "We will not face the Alter". Seriously?

In the Catholic Church, before Holy Communion is served to the community, the priest will remind the congregation that if you’re not Catholic you should not take communion, but you are welcome to approach with the others, cross your arms over your heart and receive a blessing. My thoughts…If they can pause a mass for this instruction, why could they not pause a funeral mass and ask the colour to face the alter or to be excused from the sanctuary. That would have been better received, by all, than refusing a son the recording of a funeral mass, that was promised to him. Instead, he is left broken hearted. I guess; honour is in the eye of the beholder.

I was raised a catholic. I raised my children as Catholics. And, over the past decade I have struggled deeply with my faith, especially in the shadows of organized religion. Recently, my wife and I started attending the Catholic Church again, and today, I am back to square one with the question in my heart…Why? Ultimately, I will continue to have faith that there is a God, and that at the end of this adventure we call life, there will be more. But, if there isn’t more, and when the sun sets for the last time in your eyes; your after-life will be your legacy, in how you lived your life; more so how you will be remembered. So dear friends, live your life in love, for God is Love and Love is God.

Today, I remember those who served our country and died. Even if they didn’t die in the battlefield, don’t ever forget, a part of them died on their return from war.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.

An excerpt from “For The Fallen” a poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943):


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