When thoughts of horror and loss start to seep into his mind, Aubrey Francis focuses on the positive things in his life―volunteering and his faith.
“Remembrance Day is hard for me,” says the 47-year-old. “While serving in the military I witnessed some of the most gut-wrenching things you could imagine. There was so much hate and I wasn’t prepared for that. And I’ve lost a lot of friends to combat and suicide.”
Over a span of 20 years, Francis served 11 tours of duty. “I spent more time out of the country than I did in,” says Francis.
But there was a sacrifice to serving his country. For years Francis buried his anger, grief, guilt and shame. “Because that’s what you do when you want to appear tough,” he says.
Francis was eventually diagnosed with PTSD and left the military in 2008. He continued to have nightmares of frightening scenes, withdrew from family and friends, and became a workaholic in his small chip truck business. But no matter what he did or what counselling he received, he couldn’t remove himself from the flashbacks and painful memories.
“Memories are memories,” says Francis. “You can’t just deprogram them.”
Before long, Francis was asked to volunteer as a chef with The Salvation Army’s Manna Café (a bistro-style environment) in Gananoque, Ont., which serves the hungry and those struggling to make ends meet.
“The café is a place where everyone is welcome to enjoy a free meal and conversation,” says Francis. “And it’s a place that cheers me up and keeps me motivated. It’s a sense of community.
“Giving back and doing something good helps my PTSD. I often find myself in the dining area sharing my experiences to help others know there is hope. When I do that, I’ve had a good day.”