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The Moments That Define Us

Above image: Writer, Monica Bobbit’s husband LCol Dan Bobbit. 

There are moments we never forget. Moments that define us. These are the moments we seldom expect, they occur randomly and often tragically, and offer us no warning or time to prepare. In an instant, a regular day becomes a life-altering one.

On an ordinary Wednesday morning, I sent my children off to school and took the dog for a walk. It was a beautiful May day. A slight breeze stirred the leaves, but the sun was warming the air as we made our final lap around the wooded trail. We got home just as the crew arrived to install the eaves trough on the house we had purchased the previous summer when we’d been posted back to Petawawa for the third time. “Eaves trough is up,” I texted my husband as I made my morning coffee. I doubt he ever read it.

The doorbell shattered the silence five hours later. A doorbell is such an innocuous thing, and yet, such a powerful delineator. The doorbell rings. A wife becomes a widow. Children are left fatherless. A regiment loses its leader. Life is forever divided into before and after this moment.

My husband did not die in battle on foreign soil, nor did he die by suicide, as many automatically assume when they discover I’m a military widow. He died in a fluke accident when his LAV3 rolled over during a routine training exercise, but his death was no less shocking or devastating to those he left behind.  

LCol Dan Bobbit in a LAVIII. He died in a fluke accident when his LAVIII rolled over during a routine training exercise. As Monica writes, his death was no less shocking or devastating to those he left behind.

Universally respected by all ranks, Dan was the type of leader most people aspire to be. He was the kind of person I aspire to be. Always self-deprecating, he was humble to a fault. He never sought attention for his accomplishments, nor did he seek the limelight. Incredibly loyal and selfless, he was as dedicated a husband and father as he was a commanding officer. It was never about him. It was always about us: his family and his soldiers, always, until the end. In the final moments of his life, his main priority was the safety of the four soldiers in his vehicle, of that there is no doubt. Just as surely as if the four of us had been in the vehicle with him: family above self. He can rest easy knowing his soldiers came home to their families that day, although their lives, like ours, will never be quite the same.

Dan loved life, and he lived it to the fullest. He made ordinary moments extraordinary. He believed in working hard and playing harder, though sometimes he may have taken that to the extreme. But that was Dan, and he lived big. He was the guy that everyone liked, because how could you not like him? He was incredibly kind, generous and compassionate. He always had time for everyone, no matter what. And he was so funny. He loved to make people laugh. With a perfectly timed joke, a crazy costume, or some other silly shenanigan, he was the life of any party.

It was so hard to believe that such a vibrant life had ended so suddenly and randomly. When he’d left for Wainwright less than two weeks earlier, it had never occurred to either of us that he would never come home again. After all, he was only going on an exercise. In fact, those were my first words when they came to tell me he’d been killed, “What are you talking about, he’s only on an exercise?” 

Before he deployed to Afghanistan, Dan made me promise him if he didn’t come home, we would still have good, happy lives. He made me promise him I would not choose to spend my life alone out of some misplaced obligation to him. In order to deploy and do his job, he needed the assurance that I would be okay, that we would be happy, and that our lives would go on without him.

Dan’s death harshly reminded us all of the inherent dangers of soldiering. The reality is soldiering is a dangerous profession, not just on operations, but every day. Accidents can and do happen, at home and overseas. Every time a soldier puts on their uniform and goes to a maintenance bay or the training area, they are taking the “soldier’s chance.”

Though I’d been a military wife for almost twenty-one years, I found myself utterly unprepared for my new role as a widow. The military spends a lot of time preparing soldiers to go to battle, but there is no work-up training for wives to become widows, no joining orders with instructions to help us navigate our new lives. Without a compass or a map, we must make our own way through the tunnel of darkness and despair to forge a new life on the other side. Fortunately, Dan had plotted a course for me prior to his death.

Before he deployed to Afghanistan, Dan made me promise him if he didn’t come home, we would still have good, happy lives. He made me promise him I would not choose to spend my life alone out of some misplaced obligation to him. In order to deploy and do his job, he needed the assurance that I would be okay, that we would be happy, and that our lives would go on without him. 

Lieutenant-Colonel Dan Bobbitt, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery. Image courtesy of Monica Bobbit.

Dan knew I didn’t need his permission to move forward with my life, but he also knew that conversation would make it easier for me to stand up and do what I knew was right. He knew I would never break that promise to him.

And he wisely knew I would face judgment and criticism along the way. When I inevitably did, I stood tall and I faced it head on, knowing in my heart I was doing exactly what I had promised him I would do. That conversation, the one I never wanted to have, was the most important conversation we ever had. It has guided me every step of the way the last five years. 

I honour those promises every day, and by doing so, I honour him. I move forward, living life to the fullest as I go. I make the most of every single ordinary day, always mindful it could all change in one heartbreaking instant. Though it hasn’t always been easy, we are happy, just as he wanted us to be. There could be no more fitting tribute to the man who loved life so much. 

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Monica Bobbit

Monica was a military spouse for almost 21 years, until her husband was tragically killed in a LAV rollover during Ex Maple Resolve at CFB Wainwright in May 2014. Monica writes about her experiences as a military wife and widow in her blog, A Goat Rodeo, where she openly and honestly discusses what it's really like to be widowed and shares the wisdom she has learned as she continues to move forward with her life. She also shares her story with military members and their families at speaking events across the country.

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