I Will Remember

This weekend, people across the country will be gathering to celebrate the 150th birthday of the beautiful country that we call home. But Canada would not be the country that we know today, without the sacrifice that our veterans made years ago – in the first and second World Wars, and the Korean Conflict – that has allowed us to live in this strong, free, and diverse country.

But in Newfoundland and Labrador, even as we celebrate Canada, July 1st also marks Memorial Day, when we take time to remember and honour the brave men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the sacrifices they made for our freedom during the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel in 1916.

In the lead-up to this milestone Canada Day and the solemn remembrance of Memorial Day and other sacrifices of war, we’d like to share a story that highlights one Eastern Health employee, who honoured our provincial veterans every day. Sharon Nolan was the manager at the Caribou Veterans Pavilion for many years. Just before she retired, Sharon wrote about the respect and gratitude she felt for the men and women veterans who lived at the Pavilion. This story was originally written in 2014.

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.

Sharon Nolan, seated, enjoying a visit from Gen. Rick Hillier, 2013

Sharon Nolan, seated, enjoying a visit from Gen. Rick Hillier, 2013

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.

Sharon Nolan emcees opening of Jim Shields Garden, July 2014

Sharon Nolan emcees opening of Jim Shields Garden, July 2014

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.’

Sharon Nolan with veterans and Gen. Rick Hillier, November 2013

Sharon Nolan with veterans and Gen. Rick Hillier, November 2013

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.

Sharon Nolan with John Callahan, veteran of the Korean War

Sharon Nolan with John Callahan, veteran of the Korean War

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.

During her tenure as Resident Care Manager at the Pavilion, Sharon Nolan has received considerable recognition for her work with the veterans. In 2005, she was given a certificate of appreciation from the Royal Canadian Legion for her work with the Legion Action Committee, and another in 2006 for a presentation she prepared following the Annual Pilgrimage to Beaumont-Hamel. In 2010, she received a thank you note from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne following her visit with veterans in the Caribou Pavilion, along with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and in 2013, Branch I of the Royal Canadian Legion awarded her the first annual “Friendship Award” in recognition of her support within the community of the Legion.

6 responses to “I Will Remember

  1. i have had the pleasure of working with the Veterans at the Pavilion in the past. It was always a privilege to assist them with their various needs and it was with great pride getting them dressed for the Memorial services. We must not forget what they have done for us, always appreciated, always remembered.

    As for, Sharon Nolan, she is a beautiful lady who has always strived to put the Veteran’s needs first to make the Pavilion their home. She has put timeless hours into her job over the years to achieve this goal. She is a fabulous Caregiver who has put her heart and soul in trying to improve the Caribou Pavilion a better place!

  2. Very nice article, Sharon. The veterans you provide care to are certainly lucky to have such a caring and committed person to share their days. Best wishes as you retire. You will be missed by all.

  3. Sharon,
    This is a wonderful story of your own experiences. Congratulations! Most of all, I commend you for your dedication and commitment to making life better and life more fulfilling for those men and women who have come into your care at the Caribou memorial Pavilion.

  4. What an interesting story, Sharon……..how your life evolved from a young girl talking to you grandfather about Sgt. Tommy Ricketts, to you becoming a nurse and to becoming the Resident Care Manager at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion, where your heart and soul just thrives. I’ve been a visitor to the Pavilion these past three years and I have to say your pride in the place and your commitment to the veterans is clearly visible, especially on the Memorial Services days. You are a very dedicated nurse who has made life so much better for many of our war veterans and their families. For many of us, we ” will not forget” you. Good luck in your retirement. You will certainly be missed. God bless.

  5. Sharon will always take care of everyone around her, the way she looks after all the veterans is only a shadow of how she lives her life with family, friends and everyone else. Seeing how she looks after all the veterans, is an extension of how all the veterans looked afeter us and our freedom, her retirement will will be well deserved, but for out verterans and heros a sad marker of another form of hero.

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