Mother of slain Yarmouth soldier finds comfort in shared grief

Tina Smith remembers her son for his laid-back nature, his sense of humour and his love for helping others.

Monday marked 10 years since Sgt. Kirk Taylor of Yarmouth, N.S., was killed in a bomb blast in Afghanistan. He was 28.

“It was the worst day of my life,” said Smith in a phone interview from her home in Arizona.

Taylor served as a reservist with the 84th Independent Field Battery, RCA and volunteered with the 110 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps in Yarmouth.

On Dec. 30, 2009, Taylor, four other soldiers and a Canadian journalist were killed after the group’s light armoured vehicles were struck by an improvised explosive device in the city of Kandahar.

The flag-draped coffin carrying the remains of Sgt. Kirk Taylor during his funeral service in Yarmouth, N.S., on Jan. 11, 2010. Taylor was one of four soldiers and a journalist killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on Dec. 30, 2009. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

 

Several soldiers and another Canadian civilian were also injured in the blast.

Taylor, a former sea cadet in Barrington, joined the military in his late teens.

Making an impact

Smith said he enjoyed being a member of the Armed Forces because he liked helping people and he appreciated the structure it gave his life.

She said he also enjoyed volunteering with the Yarmouth cadet corps.

Smith recently came back to Nova Scotia in November for the unveiling of a commemorative coin that honoured Taylor and marked the 115th anniversary of the corps in the area.

Tina Smith said Taylor was known for his dry, witty sense of humour, and his penchant for giving nicknames to everyone he knew. (Submitted by Michael Harquail)

There, she was able to get a better idea of the kind of impact he made after speaking to the parents of some of the cadets who were there while Kirk was a leader.

“[They] said that if it hadn’t been for Kirk, they don’t know where their son and daughter would have been because he was able to to find them a structure that they were looking for,” she said.

“I thought that was pretty nice, after all these years, to hear that.”

In his civilian life, Taylor worked at the Yarmouth Association for Community Residential Options, which provides residential supports for people with disabilities.

The 110 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps unveiled a coin in November to celebrate the anniversary of its 115-year anniversary, as well as commemorate the 10th anniversary since Taylor was killed. (Submitted by Capt. Gary Hudson)

 

In late 2008, Taylor called his mother and told her he wanted to go to Afghanistan. He was inspired after recently attending a lecture by Rick Hillier, former chief of defence staff.

“I felt like a big horse just kicked me in the heart,” Smith recalled.

“You know, sometimes as a mom you recognize some of the dangers that can happen to children. Maybe you recognize them sooner than when your children recognize them.”

Smith said Taylor went to Afghanistan because he wanted to help the people there. (Sam Augustin)

 

Still, she supported his decision because she “knew that’s what he wanted.”

“I tried to teach all of my children that it’s a big, wide world out there, go shake it by the tail,” she said.

“Well then, how do you complain about how they’re going to shake it when they decide they want to do something?”

Taylor shipped out to Afghanistan in October 2008, just a couple of months before he was killed.

Learning to live again

For Smith, the first year after her son’s death was the worst. But this past year was a close second.

“Somehow, a 10th anniversary seems way worse than a second or third, or all the rest up to nine,” she said.

“Sometimes, I feel like time stopped on that day 10 years ago. Other times, it feels like, ‘Where did 10 years disappear to?’ 

“Overall, it takes a long time to learn how to live again.”

But one thing has kept Smith going: knowing that she’s not alone.

From left: Sgt. George Miok, Pte. Garrett William Chidley, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and Cpl. Zachery McCormack, were killed in a bomb blast 10 years ago in Afghanistan. ((Sgt. Daren Kraus/DND/Canadian Press))

In the past few years, Smith has connected with the family members of the other soldiers who died that day — Sgt. George Miok, 28, of Edmonton, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, 21, of Edmonton, and Pte. Garrett William Chidley, 21, of Langley, B.C. — as well as with the family of Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang, who was 34.

“It’s just amazing to see where we all are in our stages of grief, and how we all deal with it,” said Smith.

“But we all know we have that one thing in common, so there’s been a strength that’s come with that.”

Late last month, Smith flew to Edmonton to attend an open house, organized by McCormack’s friends and family, for those connected to the five killed. There, she got to find out more about her son from the people who served with him.

Some of the family members of the Canadians who were killed or injured in the Dec. 30, 2009, bomb blast in Afghanistan gathered in Edmonton on the 10-year-anniversary. From left: Armande McCormack (Zachery McCormack’s mother), Tina Smith (Kirk Taylor’s mother), Anna Miok (George Miok’s mother), Heather Middleton (Joshua Baker’s sister), and Catherine Lang (Michelle Lang’s aunt). All but Baker died in the same blast that killed Taylor. (Submitted by Tina Smith)

 

She also shared her grief with the other people mourning their loved ones lost to war.

“There was a whole lot of pain in that room, but there was also a whole lot of healing before the evening was finished,” she said.

Learning about everyone’s experiences with grief helped her to better understand the “ripple effect” that began a decade ago when the blast happened.

‘We just couldn’t stop hugging’

One of the highlights of the evening, said Smith, was meeting a man who was badly injured in the same blast that killed Taylor.

“All we could do when we met each other was just kind of look at each other, and just give each other a hug. We just couldn’t stop hugging,” she said.

“I told him, ‘I’m so glad that you made it, that you’re alive.’ Because as hard as it was to lose the four boys and Michelle the way we did, I’m so thankful that the rest of them survived.”

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