Remembrance Week, held from Nov 5 – 11 each year, is an extremely important week in my life.
I’ve never served in a war or conflict – but I have been honoured to serve those who have.
My name is Sharon Nolan, and I am the Resident Care and Site Manager at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s.
I have the privilege of working with and for veterans of WWII and the Korean War – who, as older adults, need long-term care. Along with the staff and volunteers of the Veterans Pavilion, I make sure that care and assistance is provided to the men and women who served their country – so they can live out their lives as independently and with as much dignity as possible.
Remembrance Week may be one of the busiest times in my year – but more than that, it is a time of honour and dedication.
It’s been more than 40 years since I entered the school of nursing and I’ve had a wonderful career within many of the legacy organizations that later became Eastern Health.
It is with excitement, but a little sadness, that I will retire in March 2015.
While I never forget the impact of war on our service men and women, this Remembrance Week in particular, has led me to reminisce about my work life and how fate seems to have led me to serve veterans with whom, it seems to me, I have always had a kinship.
I was only seven years old when I began asking my grandfather, who served alongside the famous Newfoundland soldier Sgt. Tommy Ricketts, who was awarded the Victoria Cross, although I didn’t know that then, to tell me about the war. I had been admiring his photograph in his Royal Newfoundland Regiment uniform. But he wouldn’t tell me, saying “you don’t want to know about that.”
I also had an uncle in the Royal Navy and one in the Merchant Navy. Another served in WWI in Scotland – and my father-in-law served with the forestry. And the tradition continues through today with several nephews who are ‘modern day veterans.’
I had always been drawn to what I see now is the more ‘romantic’ side of the military; the uniforms, the dedication, the commitment and the marching bands in the Remembrance Day Parade. When I entered nursing, my plan was to join the Air Force after graduation.
The criterion for joining the military as a registered nurse was two years clinical experience; however, two years following graduation, I’d met my husband and my life took a different direction.
My career moved on from the medicine unit on 5 West at St. Clare’s, to cardiology at the Health Sciences Centre – and as my career grew, so did my family.
In 1988, I held my first position as a manager, working at the Dr. L.A. Miller Centre and it was then that I fell in love with “the DVA,” as it was known at that time.
There I encountered many men – and a few women – of the First World War, including Abe Mullet, the last of the famous Newfoundland “Blue Puttees,” named for their distinctive blue leggings!
Although I didn’t know what it was, a great many of the veterans I met then exhibited symptoms of what we now know is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not such a romantic aspect of war – but one that requires a lot of understanding and support.
What I did know was that I hoped that someday I would have the opportunity to work with and care for veterans on a fulltime basis.
There was just something about their stories, their service – their special brand of courage; I often thought of them as a ‘special breed.’
I really believe that working with them was meant to be, because a little over 10 years later, I was entrusted with the position of manager at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion.
Working with the veterans, their families, the Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Affairs Canada through this position with Eastern Health’s Long-Term Care Program, has been the highlight of my nursing career.
My heart and soul, next to my family, is with the service men and women of Newfoundland and Labrador.
My son asked me recently if I “glorified war.”
A good question.
In response, I would say that my thoughts on war always go to the soldiers and what they endure – mentally even more than physically. Once they have been in combat, their lives and the lives of their families are changed forever. I don’t believe a lot of what they experienced could be called ‘glorious.’
What I do know with certainty – and what I’ve emphasized over my years at the Veterans Pavilion – is that we must never forget their service.
It is vitally important that we not only remember and honour our country’s men and women who we have lost, but that we support the men and women who have served, as peacekeepers or in battle, and who have survived.
Remember, they are doing their best to live and love their families. We can never know or even truly imagine the experiences they have had. We can only continue to support them to the best of our ability.
I encourage everyone to remember during the days in November that are set aside for that purpose – but in addition, to also show your support through the year.
Consider wearing red on Fridays to show your support for our men and women who are still serving in war-torn countries.
I have had a long and great career at Eastern Health, and will remember fondly the many colleagues and patients that I have had the honour and pleasure of interacting with for close on 40 years.
However, for me, remembering will always revolve first and foremost around the veterans and their families.
For me, it would be impossible to forget! ■
This story was written by Sharon Nolan, Resident Care and Site Manager at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s.