Top News

Putting one foot in front of the other

Cadet Sgt. Tyler and Cpl. (Retired) Kate MacEachern received Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendations from Central Nova MP Sean Fraser during the annual Royal Canadian Legion Arras Branch 59 veterans’ banquet during Remembrance Week 2019. They are the first mother and son to receive the national honour. CONTRIBUTED
Cadet Sgt. Tyler and Cpl. (Retired) Kate MacEachern received Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendations from Central Nova MP Sean Fraser during the annual Royal Canadian Legion Arras Branch 59 veterans’ banquet during Remembrance Week 2019. They are the first mother and son to receive the national honour. CONTRIBUTED - Corey LeBlanc

Mother, son honoured for PTSD awareness initiative

ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — He took off his boots and his little feet were bleeding.

It happened four years ago during the first leg of Cpl. (Retired) Kate MacEachern's third long-distance walk to raise awareness of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which the former Canadian solider lives with each day.

The little feet belonged to her 11-year-old son, Tyler, who was accompanying her on the 500-kilometre trek — from Nipawin, Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta — as part of a planned 2,700-kilometre journey that would finish in Chilliwack, B.C.

Kate wondered then if she had gone too far with her latest effort, part of The Long Way Home initiative she launched a couple years earlier.

“I sucked up the tears and kept walking,” she said.

Kate and Tyler MacEachern during a leg of their 500-kilometre walk from Nipawin, Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta. CONTRIBUTED
Kate and Tyler MacEachern during a leg of their 500-kilometre walk from Nipawin, Saskatchewan to Edmonton, Alberta. CONTRIBUTED

Tyler was now in the support vehicle being cared for by their medic and support crew, who reassured her. But the conflicted mother continued to worry.

A couple of kilometres later, her pride and joy reappeared. And despite resistance, Tyler, with a noticeable limp, was once again walking beside his mother.

“I don’t know — I guess I didn’t want to let her down,” Tyler, a now soft-spoken 16-year-old said, when asked why it was so important for him to continue.

Kate noted her son watched as she prepared for the first two walks; the first, in 2012, covered more than 576 kilometres from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, while the next year she tackled 1,864 kilometres from Cape Breton to Ottawa.

“He was there during and for the aftermath and, I think, it made an impact on him,” she said.

Nevertheless, Kate struggled with the decision when Tyler asked to be part of her third walk.

“I thought that some of the best lessons in life don’t take place in the classroom,” she said, reflecting on the choice to bring along her son.

She recalled catching flak for her decision.

Kate and her support crew made the leg with Tyler more “family friendly.” 

He wore swat boots — just like his mother — and carried a reduced weight, 20-pound pack on his back.

“I just wanted to follow in her foot-steps,” Tyler said.

Side by side

With a maturity beyond his chronological age, the Grade 10 student at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School has been with his mother on every step of her healing journey, experiencing as Kate described, the “struggles and successes.”

Tyler was a toddler when his single mother joined the service and became an armoured soldier.

When he was five, Kate was seriously injured in training and two years later was diagnosed with PTSD. With her brain and other injuries determined to be permanent, she received a medical release from the army.

Kate MacEachern and her son, Tyler, share a Remembrance Day moment in 2006. CONTRIBUTED
Kate MacEachern and her son, Tyler, share a Remembrance Day moment in 2006. CONTRIBUTED

When Tyler was nine, Kate launched The Long Way Home, which she described as “an effort to give people a voice and to cast light and take invisible injuries out of the shadows."

The initiative took her away from her son for weeks at a time over the next couple years.

Coupled with the important need to bring awareness for the work she was doing, a lonesome mother gained comfort in the knowledge Tyler was home in Nova Scotia and being cared for by her family.

“No matter if it was training, exercises or the walks, Tyler has never once asked for more from Mom or, more anything,” Kate said.

“He has always sacrificed his wants for the greater need. Tyler has known true sacrifice before he was old enough to pronounce it.” 

‘So proud of him’

Earlier this month, the mother and son were honoured for their ‘true sacrifice.’

During the annual veterans’ banquet Nov. 2 at Royal Canadian Legion Arras Branch 59 in Antigonish, Central Nova MP Sean Fraser presented them with the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendations.

The annual honours are awarded based on two criteria: Service to the community of veterans where the recipient may live, or by being a veteran who serves as a role model for other veterans.

“It was very exciting,” Tyler said, adding he was “really proud” to receive the honour.

Kate noted, “we sprung it on him.”

"He had no idea he was being honoured. I think his eyes almost fell out of his head,” she said.

As both laughed, Tyler admits his sip of coffee almost landed on the floor, while remembering the moment his name was called. He thought his mother was the lone recipient.

“Seeing him receive it was so huge for me; he deserves it so much,” Kate said.

Noting people are often “so hard on his generation,” she adds Tyler is an example of the great things he and most of his peers are doing.

“They are the ones that are going to have the greatest influence on our world and its future,” Kate noted.

Almost two weeks removed from the award ceremony, she admits she can’t stop crying.

“I am so proud of him — he earned it,” Kate said.

It was the first time a mother and son received the national defense honour.  

Work continues

After Tyler finished his leg of that walk, he also followed in his mother’s footsteps in speaking with people about PTSD.

“I was a little bit nervous, but it all worked out,” he said, remembering how he felt before taking the podium for the first time at the military family resource centre in Edmonton.

Kate, who was already scheduled to speak, said organizers asked if Tyler would be interested in speaking to his peers.

Since that day, like his mother, he has continued to participate in those important conversations.

“That’s why we do what we do. We want to be part of that voice,” Kate said.

She praised her son for having an ability to decipher what can be difficult language and concepts, while delivering his message to other young people.

Kate noted Tyler doesn’t do as much during the school year, with studies the focus for the student who carries a 90-plus average.

Kate and Tyler MacEachern share a moment with first responders during their trek. CONTRIBUTED
Kate and Tyler MacEachern share a moment with first responders during their trek. CONTRIBUTED

“I do much more during the summer months,” he said.

Kate added they try “to ease their schedule” during the winter months.

That doesn’t mean the pair has much downtime.

Kate is a civilian volunteer instructor with the 285 Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps (RCACC) in Antigonish, while Tyler is a cadet sergeant.

“It’s great,” Tyler said of his more than three-year experience. He recently had returned from a 10-day, more than 400-kilometre biking adventure.

“I love it,” Kate said of her involvement with the corps.

She added she gets so much joy from “starting conversations with youth.”

‘Not scary’ 

There are also the talks they have with each other.

Although she never exposes Tyler to what she called “the adult part” of her PTSD journey, she realizes the importance of him knowing about her illness and not feeding the stigma.

“We live with it every day,” Kate said.

She noted it is crucial for people “to know (PTSD) is not scary.”

Kate said they are working towards a day when PTSD is “treated no differently than any other disease.”

“You don’t have to walk on egg shells with us,” she added, noting having the illness doesn’t mean the person is “volatile.”

Because they know each other so well, the mother and son have a heightened awareness of when something is up.

"We are always there for each other,” Tyler said. 

Kate credits her son and family for helping her reach this point in her journey.

“I wouldn’t be nearly as far along as I am without their support. I don’t know if I would be here right now (without them),” she said.

Noting she has her “mental health team,” which includes weekly sessions with her psychologist, Kate said ongoing learning has been a key.

“Education has strengthened us as a family,” she added.

And it is about moving forward.

“You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other,” Kate said.

A life of service

When asked if he is considering a career in the military, their eyes lock and smiles cross their faces.

“We have had this discussion,” Kate said.

At this point, his first choice is pursuing post-secondary studies at the Royal Military College (RMC). If that doesn’t pan out, there is the possibility of enlisting after high school graduation.

A career in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is also on the top-three radar, when it comes to career choices.

Because of his strengths and the education he has collected, Kate said she is “not as apprehensive” when it comes to Tyler following in her footsteps.

Not just her footsteps, as it turns out, but also the path trod by many in their family. 

Her late grandfather and Tyler’s great-grandfather, Malcolm, was chief when the Town of Antigonish had a municipal police force.

“They have had lives of service,” Kate said, noting many family members are volunteer firefighters, while an aunt is a registered nurse.

Whatever path he takes, Kate will be by his side — just like Tyler was when they walked together a few years ago.

“I will support him — no matter what decision that he makes,” she said.

Recent Stories