It’s been more than three months since Cpl. James Hayward Arnal became the 88th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan. But as reporter Selena Hinds, photojournalist Joe Bryksa, and multimedia editor Tyler Walsh discovered, the life and death of the Winnipeg solider continues to reverberate, leaving both pain as well as promise in its wake.

His motto was ‘seize the day’

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Wendy Hayward–Miskiewicz has been through the most difficult 42 days anyone could imagine.

She struggles to get through a full day of work and wakes up many times in the night looking for her son’s face in the dark.

The mother of Cpl. James Arnal, whose death in Afghanistan touched the hearts of thousands of Winnipeggers in July, believes she may finally have found a way to cope with the loss of her son’s life.

"Both Andrew (James’s brother) and I feel lost, and empty. I don’t think we have fully accepted everything, and I don’t think we ever will, actually. So many people have told me that time will heal, but I don’t believe I will ever heal," said Hayward–Miskiewicz in an interview at her St. Vital home Saturday afternoon.

Her son was killed on July 18 when he stepped on an explosive device in southern Afghanistan while on a foot patrol.

To ease her heartache and help fill the emptiness, the 48–year–old woman is in the early stages of crafting a scholarship to be awarded annually to a Canadian who wants to "travel the world and save lives."

"That was his high school ambition, and exactly what James did in his short 25 years. The scholarship is going to be called Carpe Diem 88."

The Latin phrase meaning "seize the day" was one the young man used often. "It could have been his motto, so it is fitting," his mother said.

The 88 represents Arnal, as the 88th Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan, as well as all the soldiers who fell before him and all the ones after him. Since Arnal’s death, the number of Canadian fatalities in Afghanistan has climbed to 93.

Hayward–Miskiewicz said her son believed in people "living a decent life" and, for that reason alone, she hopes his legacy will be encouraging others to help those in need.

"How we make changes is up to each individual. James chose the military to do his humanitarian work, but there are a lot of people that aren’t like James. It’s all up to the individual and what their interests are – it could be AIDS in Africa, there are a lot of different places... and that’s what the scholarship is all about," Hayward–Miskiewicz said.

The savings in Arnal’s bank account will serve as the initial funding for the scholarship.

Hayward–Miskiewicz says she wants people to know there are reasons, beyond politics, that young soldiers sign up to serve in Afghanistan. She admits her son took on his first tour as a thrill–seeker and came back a changed man. She tried to dissuade Arnal from a second tour, but he had already made up his mind.

"When he got back from his first tour, he started to talk about people who couldn’t do for themselves. When he came back, he was changed. I know he hated the heat and the sand, going weeks without a shower. But he wasn’t going back for the thrill, he was going for the people. He just felt that somebody has to do something and he would put up with all of the hardships if he thought he was making a difference."

Arnal even talked about returning for a third tour.

In a wooden box in Hayward–Miskiewicz’s living room, the flag that draped his casket is meticulously folded, and has been untouched since his funeral. Photos of her son’s mission in Afghanistan line the walls of her home. A yellow "Support Our Troops" ribbon placard stands on her front lawn.

This weekend, Arnal’s brother Andrew Arnal, and two of James’ friends, are spreading some of his ashes on the Mantario hiking trail. It was one of his favourite places.

Hayward–Miskiewicz also plans to go to Afghanistan – an invitation she recently received from Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

Holding a wooden ornament, an "angel of courage," Hayward–Miskiewicz says the first day of the rest of her life began the day her son died. Things she used to worry about are completely trivial.

"I have all these photos of him holding his arms up like an angel. A girlfriend of mine brought me the Willow Tree angel of courage. I was just dumbfounded," said Hayward, who plans to use an angel for the symbol of the scholarship.

"The angel ties everything together. I truly think he is an angel among us, but then, I am his mother."

selena.hinds@freepress.mb.ca

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