The father of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan has spoken for the first time this week about his struggle to cope with the loss of his son.
He has opened up to help a new campaign which is being launched by SSAFA, the UK’s longest serving Armed Forces charity, to mark the first anniversary of the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan (Tuesday, October 27).
SSAFA’s campaign, ‘Left Behind’, aims to raise awareness of the fact that, although the war is over, for many people who lost a family member during the Afghanistan conflict, the battle is still ongoing as they continue to grieve and face life without their loved one.
Ian Wright, from Blanefield, lost his son Gary, who was in 45 Commando Royal Marines, in 2006 when he was injured by a suicide bomb.
The explosion hit the vehicle he was in while he was patrolling in Lashkar Gah in the Helmand Province in October 2006.
Gary also left behind his mother Rosemary, sister Karen and girlfriend Joanne.
Ian says the day he was told that Gary had died will stay in his memory forever.
He said: “I was in Sainsbury’s at the time my wife called me to tell me I had to come home. I was Gary’s next of kin so they wouldn’t tell his mother anything, so I rushed home as quickly as I could. When we were told what had happened to our son that is when everything went blurry. For the first year we were all in shock, and I can barely remember the year at all.
“The one thing I remember is the loss felt, because I still feel it now. At first I tried to be the alpha male in the family and became very protective of my wife, daughter and Joanne. I think I used that as a way of coping, because deep inside I was still struggling to come to terms with everything.”
Gary’s family struggled with their grief for four years before they heard about SSAFA and attended their Bereaved Families Support Group.
Ian said: “Speaking to other people who have been through a similar situation was really beneficial for me. I could open up to other fathers who understood how it felt and I stopped feeling so alone with my emotions.
“We talk about Gary a lot, which helps us. I enjoy keeping his legacy and kind, adventurous spirit alive by reminiscing. Gary loved walking our dog in the village, so we placed a bench there in his memory. We now walk up to it nearly every day to reflect.”
Ian says he lives with a constant sadness and still finds himself overcome with grief sometimes, especially when he watches football because Gary was a talented player.
He said: “We were used to Gary being away a lot, he also was not the best at communication so it is hard for us to fully come to terms with the fact he won’t be coming back and walking through the front door.”