Maureen Eykelenboom, mother of fallen soldier Corporal Andrew Eykelenboom added riding a bicycle to Vimy Ridge to her personal bucket list several years ago.
Bravely, she then decided to train to complete the 2015 Wounded Warriors Battlefield Bike Ride (BBR15) in Europe in June.
“Riding my bike into Vimy Ridge was huge for me. Looking up at the majestic memorial, looking sideways at the land with all the scars from the mortar attacks. Thousands of men were killed and injured on that land. It brought very poignantly home the reality that life is precious and that Andrew and all of our other recently fallen soldiers followed in the footsteps of so many young and courageous men,” said Eykelenboom.
For her the ride was part of her personal journey of healing. Eykelenboom says grief never totally goes away. She has learned new coping strategies and learned how to build new memories, but the loss of Andrew from her life is ever present.
She was moved by the inscription of the 11,285 names of the Canadian soldiers killed on the awesome memorial. The price of war is very high, but as Andrew asked her, “If not us Mom, then who? Who is going to help these people?”
Eykelenboom believes as long as evil exists, Canadians will have to ask themselves that question and respond accordingly.
Along her journey of healing she met three families of Dutch Wounded Warriors.
One family opened up their home and filled it with memorial items so homeless vets would have a safe place to sleep and a space to spend time together. The family touched Eykelenboom’s soul.
Eykelenboom also met the their 21 year old son Colin who is about to join the military, and felt like she gained another son while he gained a Canadian mom.
“They now have a Boomer’s t-shirt and even a pic of Andrew up in their place,” said Eykelenboom.
The morning she and fellow riders walked through the cemetery at Essex Farm, where Jon McRae wrote the poem Flanders Fields was very difficult and emotional. Eykelenboom found herself reading the names and ages on the headstones, understanding the pain their mother’s felt all too well. They were so young.
For her the bottom line was the enormity of the historic losses coupled with the bravery and determination of the men and women who gave all. The fact that Canada still has brave and determined soldiers that need support – for her created a full circle.
“On the plane headed to Trenton to collect Andrew’s body, I felt him say to me, ’It’s okay Mom, I am in a better place, I have done what I was supposed to do, now it is your turn. Help my buddies’ and I started Boomer’s Legacy. Now, I know for certain that I have directly helped his buddies through Wounded Warriors and I will continue to help those who have come home,” said Eykelenboom.
Next year she intends to take her husband with her on the BBBR16 so together they can spend time with the amazing Dutch people she met along the way this year. Eventually, her intention is to find a way to host the Dutch Wounded Warriors in Canada.
Maureen Eykelenboom dedicated eight years to the development of the Boomer’s Legacy Foundation in honour of her fallen son Corporal Andrew “Boomer” Eykelenboom, a medical technician killed in Afghanistan.
Get More! Receive six issues of Canadian Military Family Magazine in your mail box for only $17.95! Click here to subscribe NOW!