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Trying to find meaning in soldier's death

Painful account of aftermath of family member not returning

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/5/2011 (3081 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For Your Tomorrow

The Way of an Unlikely Soldier

By Melanie Murray

Random House Canada, 252 pages, $30

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/5/2011 (3081 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For Your Tomorrow

The Way of an Unlikely Soldier

Capt. Jeff Francis

Capt. Jeff Francis

By Melanie Murray

Random House Canada, 252 pages, $30

When a soldier goes to war, so too do the family and friends that stand behind him or her, those left behind to hold anxious vigil until a safe return.

This well-written work of non-fiction provides a painful account of the aftermath when a Canadian soldier does not return, but instead gives his life in duty.

Like Sunray, Valerie Fortney's 2009 biography of the late Capt. Nichola Goddard, For Your Tomorrow aims to answer an age-old question of why someone would opt for military life — and why would he risk his life for his country?

This is B.C. teacher Melanie Murray's first book, an attempt to find meaning and comfort following the death of her nephew in Afghanistan.

Murray, a literary instructor in Kelowna, uses skills honed over two decades of teaching, to tell a very painful family story of loss.

Murray's nephew Capt. Jeff Francis was one of six Canadian soldiers to die in a road-side bombing on July 4, 2007, along with their Afghani interpreter. Originally from Nova Scotia, Francis was 36 and based out of Canadian Forces Base Shilo, near Brandon.

He and the soldiers he was leading that day died instantly, their lightly armoured vehicle having been blown into the history books of a particularly bad day for the Canadian military and its mission in Afghanistan, one that just happened to coincide with Independence Day in the United States.

As Murray describes her nephew, Francis was not a typical soldier. He was an accomplished student before making that ill-fated choice just days before Sept. 11, 2001.

He'd already earned a master's degree in social sciences from Carleton University before choosing military life at the age of 30. His mission in Afghanistan was his first overseas deployment, and he was just four weeks away from returning home.

By then, he'd added husband and father to his growing list of personal and professional accomplishments.

Murray provides a personal and compelling account of Francis's choices, which take him from student of philosophy and a PhD candidate in sociology to the 65th Canadian soldier to die in the Afghan mission.

The reader is not spared detail or intimacy of the family's immediate shock and pain on hearing about their loss.

The news of Francis's death strikes with the random accuracy of shrapnel — his mother at home to see the arrival of an officially flagged car bearing "grim-faced messengers of death," his father hearing the first whisper of news on the radio as he leaves his office at the end of the day, and the extended family's efforts to find Francis's sister on a backpack holiday.

This sad duty of the notification teams is played out in five other Canadian provinces that day, as the news hits home.

Murray writes with a clean, accomplished style about the nephew that was no adventurer, but rather a thoughtful, mature man who chose to go to war.

Murray describes his exploration of the teachings of Buddha, and respect and commitment to his family's military history, as providing some of the impetus for exchanging academic life for one in the military.

But it is the call to a cause larger than one's own life — joining the Canadian Forces to make a difference in the world — that takes Francis from the safety of home and family, to trying to make the world a better place.

Ultimately, it is he who is taken from his family and his country. His aunt's book does justice to his aims, and is fitting tribute to the memory of the 154 other Canadians who've made the same decision.

Jackie Shymanski is the director of communications and public affairs at CancerCare Manitoba. She has a background in international journalism.

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