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Incidents like the Pathankot attack bring sharply to us the loss that families of army martyrs suffer. A few army wives share their darkest memories about how they coped.
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” How true these words are for the wives of martyrs- brave and courageous men who have laid down their lives for this country.
“I can still relive the day – it was horrendous and terrible” is how *Michelle Fonseca sums up her feelings on the day she got news that her husband had been killed in a terrorist attack. Michelle and her husband, *Major Gen. Edward Fonseca had been married for 22 years. They were posted in Kolkata at the time and Major Gen. Fonseca had been sent to Kashmir on a familiarization mission. He and 13 other officers were blown up during a visit to the Army Ordinance Depot.
It had started out like any other day but suddenly Michelle got the news she was widowed. 21 years later she has tears in her eyes as she recounts the events of that fateful day. “No one promises you a rose garden. When you marry into the Army this is something you must accept. Every army wife knows this,” is what she has to say when asked how she learnt to cope with the loss.
Yes, his passing away came as a big shock but her biggest pillars of support were her parents and siblings. She had two young college going daughters to look after as well. “My family has given me something to live for”. She is also quick to point out how the Army has also stepped in and rallied around. “The Army has been wonderful. From that day to this day….I still get messages and calls. They treat me like a family member. They are so genuinely supportive and look after me”.
*Shalini Kumra, the widow of *Major Santosh Kumra echoes the same sentiment. Major Kumra’s friends and Unit officers have stood by her in the 15 years since he died in an IED blast. “Till date, Santosh’s then Unit 2 IC comes to meet me on Raksha Bandhan.” This unfailing support has helped her get through some of the hardest days in her life.
Shalini had been married for 3 years when her husband died. “I could not believe it and went onto auto pilot. I was not convinced that the body they sent back was his. I saw his face but could not bring myself to say goodbye or to touch him. I carried on with this sense of disbelief for almost a year after he died.”
“It has been a tough journey,” says Shalini, “but my faith and my daughter (who was a year and a half at the time) have kept me going. Santosh had prepared me for this before we got married – the separation, the dangers – but nothing had prepared me for the eventuality of this. I built a cocoon around myself and would have carried on in this manner if it hadn’t been for supportive friends who made me see reason and made me realize that life goes on.”
Shalini had to also deal with the fact that Ria (her daughter) was a baby when this happened. “She was too young to understand why he was not coming home but one day I had to explain it to her when she asked me, “Everyone’s Daddy has come home, where is mine?” Her close bond with her daughter has helped her to deal with this loss. Ria is her link to Santosh, as she is Ria’s link to her father.
*Faye D’Souza(Michelle Fonseca’s daughter) also ended up marrying an Army officer. “I did have the background for this life and in spite of the fact that I lost my father in this horrible manner, I went ahead and married Steven. *Col. Steven D’Souza has had field postings and when he was posted to Kashmir, it hit Faye the hardest. She also admits that as an Army wife you are prepared for this reality of losing your husband, and she had also lived with this reality when she lost her father.
However, when she was in Kashmir, she went through a kind of ‘psychological fear’. This condition which gave her physical problems as well lasted five years. Many doctors failed to diagnose the cause but one doctor saw through it and helped her to deal with it. “All the old memories of what happened to my Dad surfaced when Steven was in Kashmir. It’s okay when you are in a peace posting. The fear surfaces when the field postings are given. You know it is a reality – you see your husband going and at the back of your mind you know he might not come back.”
Like her mother and Shalini, she admits that this is part and parcel of being married to an officer. “You know it and you accept it. You know when there is trouble, the Army is the first called out and you know anything can happen at any time.”
*Deepti Gupta went through some tough times when her husband *Col. Vivek Gupta was posted in Kargil. “I couldn’t bring myself to watch the news – I would just sit and cry. The fear of knowing he might face the next bullet was overwhelming.” Most of Col. Gupta’s postings were in Jammu & Kashmir and in time Deepti just learned not to think too much about it. “There was nothing to do but pray. As the years went by and communication to these areas improved, the situation got slightly better as we could communicate more often with each other.”
As we know, Death awaits each one of us. The reality of it however, seems to be so much more real for these women. We salute them and admire them for their courage and fortitude to carry on. They are perhaps, our silent heroes. Even when Death snatches away their loved ones they can still say with pride, as Michelle Fonseca does, “He died with his boots on. The very fact that he died for the nation, is my consolation.”
*names changed to protect identities.
Image source: Indian army at parade by Shutterstock
Melanie Lobo is a freelance writer. She grew up in cities across India but now
Very true….we need to respect and lend support to the wife, the children and the other family members who are the silent heroes.
Seriously, what strength the families of our defence personnel have. They are an inspiration to all.
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