Padre’s Corner: An ode and tribute to Capt Brenden MacDonald

St. Brendan’s Chapel at Stadacona.
Photo: CFB Halifax

An ode and tribute to Capt Brenden MacDonald, by observing his son in grief

By Maj (The Rev’d) Dr. Derrick Marshall, CD,
Halifax Senior Fleet Chaplain

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. – Isaiah 11:6

But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  – Mark 10:14

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”

Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1989).

I think Robert Fulghum distilled the wisdom of kindergarten very well years ago in his little book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten and I think we could all learn quite a bit from children about how to go about the most important things in life. This includes how we should grieve. Over the past several weeks I have had the duty and privilege to be chaplain to the family of the late Capt Brenden MacDonald, who was tragically lost in the Ionian Sea during Op REASSURANCE when the Cyclone Helicopter (call sign STALKER) he and five others were flying in went down to the depths.

As I have been with the family of the late Capt Brenden MacDonald, I have observed and learned much by watching Amanda and Brenden’s oldest son Brody, aged six, grieve.

Captain Brenden Ian MacDonald died, along with five others, in the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter crash on April 29. DND

Here is what I have learned in my observations. We should learn as adults to let a child lead us. In grief, as in so many other basic and important emotional cycles, children aren’t afraid to “let it all hang out” when it comes to expressing their feelings. They cry and rage and express – with startling honesty – their hurts, disappointments, their anger and feelings of loss. Children lead us in healthy self-expression.

Children often have dreams and which are an honest expression of fears and insecurities. Children lead us in being open to the intuitive side of our humanity.

Children instinctively turn to their parent(s) when they are feeling vulnerable. Jesus told His closest followers not to get in the way of children who seek Him out. Children teach us how to rely on a Higher Power with an amazing vulnerability and trust. Children lead us in seeking out a Higher Power.

Children still celebrate even in the midst of grief. Brody celebrated his sixth birthday with a party, and the local community came out to help him celebrate that significant life event and so there was still rejoicing at a significant life passage, even in the midst of death. We could and should still celebrate what is good about life, even as we mourn the passing of one who cannot be there to celebrate with us. It does the fallen honour and helps those who are grieving begin to live again. Children teach us it is important to celebrate. In so doing children teach us that we are able to honour those whom we have loved and lost.

Children seek out the comfort of friends. They automatically make friends and seek them out at every opportunity. Children lead us in building community.

Let the children lead us once again, through our grief, once more to the paths of peace.