Okanagan writer explores loss and war

When Melanie Murray found out that her nephew had been killed in Afghanistan, she was, of course, devastated. Why would bright, fortunate new father, Jeff Francis, voluntarily give up his PhD studies to enlist in the armed forces?

When Melanie Murray found out that her nephew had been killed in Afghanistan, she was, of course, devastated. Why would bright, fortunate new father, Jeff Francis, voluntarily give up his PhD studies to enlist in the armed forces?

To begin the grieving process, Murray needed to find answers. She drew on her skills as a writer and literature teacher at Okanagan College to begin a brave undertaking: to investigate Jeff’s life and write a book about her findings. The result is a deeply personal yet unsentimental story, For Your Tomorrow: the Way of an Unlikely Soldier. In her research, Murray uncovers the different sides of Jeff — from his family’s historical involvement in the military, to his attraction to Buddhism and other philosophical writings.

“I wrote this book to discover who Jeff was, and to figure out why he became a soldier. I had to deal with the complexity of the issue to finally understand,” she said.

“He believed he needed to serve, to do something for a greater good.”

This belief in military action is challenging for some — including Murray herself.

“When my nephew was there, I was a non-supporter. I respected his decision, but had doubts about the viability of that mission,” she said. Delving into his motivation for enlisting helped. “Writing the book took me through a process of understanding.”

For Your Tomorrow is a success, however, because it is much more than therapy for the author. Murray encases this deeply personal story in a respectful neutrality, and reaches to confront the wider question of why anyone would choose to go to war.

Although it has been four years since Jeff was killed, the release of the book is stirring old memories.

“Certainly talking about the book, and all the publicity, brings everything back in a more vivid, raw way,” said Murray. “It is hard.”

The family wanted Jeff’s story shared. But even with their endorsement, it wasn’t easy for Murray to dig deeply into their lives.

“The family trusted me, but it was a big risk to write this book. I was worried about what might happen.”

All the same, she doesn’t shy away from difficult details. It will be some time before I forget the exacting, unflinching description of Jeff’s mother waiting at the airport for her son’s coffin. She waits silently and awkwardly among strangers, also anticipating their sons’ return — even their grief choreographed by military tradition.

From the day in 2007 when Francis died, to his family’s long drive between CFB Trenton and Toronto where flag-bearing Canadians gathered in unprecedented numbers, For Your Tomorrow walks you through in the steps of a family that paid the ultimate price.

We are fortunate that Murray took the risk to record these heart-wrenching moments, laying bare what it means to be a soldier, and at the same time, revealing how difficult it is to be the family left behind.

Heather Allen is a writer and reader who lives in Penticton.

allenh@telus.net

 

Just Posted

Human remains found at Silver Creek property

RCMP have been searching the property in the 2200 block of Salmon River Road for the past three days

Rollover closes road

No serious injuries reported in a rollover off South Main in Penticton

Raven story shines light at Children’s Showcase

Season opener of the Children’s Showcase in Penticton

Student leadership conference hits home

Nearly 500 Grade 5 students taking part in leadership conference in Penticton

Penticton dancers headed to Germany for world championship

Penticton dancers representing Canada at World Dance Championships

VIDEO: Sears liquidation sales continue across B.C.

Sales are expected to continue into the New Year

New B.C. acute care centre opens for young patients, expectant mothers

Facility aims to make B.C. Children’s Hospital visits more comfortable

Search ramps up for B.C. woman after dog, car found near Ashcroft

Jenny Lynn Larocque’s vehicle and dog were found in Venables Valley, but there is no sign of her

Police officer hit by car, stabbed in Edmonton attack back on job

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, returned to work Thursday

UBC medical students learn to care for Indigenous people

Students in health-related studies to take course, workshop to help better serve Aboriginal people

Dorsett has 2 goals, assist in Canucks’ 4-2 win over Sabres

‘It was a real good hockey game by our group,’ Canucks coach Travis Green said.

Berry disappointed: Bear tries to eat fake fruit on woman’s door wreath

A Winnipeg woman has taken her berry-embellished wreath down, after a hungry bear visited her porch

B.C. search groups mobilize for missing mushroom picker

Searchers from across the province look for Frances Brown who has been missing since Oct. 14.

Have you heard about Black Press scholarships?

Up to 37 scholarships are awarded each year to students throughout British Columbia

Most Read