Each year, the last Sunday of September marks the Police and Peace Officers’ National Memorial Day. Officers from all over North America gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to remember comrades who have fallen in the line of duty. They are joined by hundreds of civilians, there to honour those who put their lives on the line every day so that ours may be a safe and peaceful society.
On the night before the ceremony, my husband polishes the knee-high boots and broad leather belt that are part of the distinctive scarlet uniform worn by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He rises early on Sunday morning, dresses, and joins dozens of his colleagues in a parking lot to practice the marching he learned in depot more years ago than he’d care to remember. Just after ten a.m., I leave the house to make the drive into town and find parking. Thousands of officers have already assembled on the lawns of Parliament Hill by the time I arrive at 10:40. On the far side of the sweeping stretch of lawn, the flag flies at half mast.
The ceremony itself, at the eleventh hour, is brief. It includes an address by the Minister of Public Safety, another by the head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and the reading of the names of officers who have died in the line of duty in Canada over the past year. This year, four names are added to the Honour Roll, joining more than 820 already there. Then, a lament played by a lone bagpiper. It’s at that point that my tears start. While I have been fortunate enough to have my spouse return home from duty time after time, other families have not been so lucky and my heart breaks for those who have been left behind: wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, siblings…children.
My tears continue through the first boom of a two-gun salute, a snapshot of the life of the last officer to die, the mournful Last Post played by a lone bugle, a second cannon, and then a moment of silence. As the wreaths are laid and the national anthems of the U.S. and Canada are played, I make my way along with hundreds of others to a place along the parade route. I will stand here as a sea of uniforms passes by, clapping until my arms ache and my hands burn, hoping that those marching past know how very much I care, how very grateful I am for their work.
The scarlet-clad Mounties bring up the rear. My husband catches my eye and smiles. In a few minutes, he will be released by his parade commander and we will go inside to the reception where he will meet up with colleagues he hasn’t seen since the previous ceremony. We will eat and visit, catch up on news and lives, and then part company again until the next year…hoping against hope that there won’t be any new names to add to the Honour Roll.