The Sounds of Silence

IMG_3109photo credit – chris cannida

A Memorial Day reflection

The Last Roll Call – a military unit’s profound measure of bidding final farewell to a fallen comrade.  If you’ve never witnessed one – and I hope you haven’t had intimate cause to do so – it is brief, yet chilling.  During Memorial services, a senior NCO (non-commissioned officer) of the unit will feign the standard procedure of ‘roll call’, or taking attendance at formation.  He or she will call the names of individual service members who will then sound off in affirmation of their presence.  After several affirmations are heard, the name of the fallen is shouted out as if in full expectation we’ll hear their voice in response.  Of course, there is silence.  It is shouted again.  Silence.  It is called out one more time – full name, rank – silence.  This deafening silence is often followed by Taps being played in the background.

Describing this event doesn’t begin to convey the weight of its significance.  The silence heard in the wake of a fallen warrior’s absence is a loud cry of sorrow for the plights of mankind. The haunting process of the moment is a reminder that war has heavy cost.  It’s a price that is not just paid ultimately in the moment the life is lost.  It is eternally paid by the family and loved ones over the course of time as they experience many more moments unable to hear the sounds of their own hero’s voice.

Finding moments of silence is not always possible amidst the bustle of daily life, but it is necessary.  There is some evidence in research that the human mind regularly needs a measure of silence in order to remain flexible and maintain its strength.  I counsel many people who struggle to tolerate silence.  They busy their lives and minds with worry, drown their emotions with substances and anger, or let so much anxiety marinate inside that they crumble in a noisy mess of their own creation.  If we’re not careful, we tend to do the same with occasions such as Memorial Day.  Drown it out.  As a society we create the noise of cookouts and drunkenness, shopping mall sales and political rhetoric – perhaps all to avoid sitting in a moment of silence or reflection on the losses for which the remembrance was built.  Without a personal reason to observe the day, many spend little time reflecting on its meaning.  Originally dubbed “Decoration Day”, we’ve now morphed into a focus more on the decorations of the day rather than the loss of men and women who gave their all for country.

On Memorial Day weekend, I try to practice what I preach and seek silent moments of respect for those who’ve fallen in combat.  Without my own personal, military-related loss to hold, that includes bearing witness to the significance it yields for countless others.  In silence, our minds can begin to search and rest on the very emotions and thoughts we seek to escape.  Silence leads to reflection that sometimes yields sadness and confusion as we grapple to understand how life rains down on us the eventual losses we all experience.  Maybe that’s why we try to avoid it.  Yet it is necessary that these feelings find space to be processed and expressed – to move through us and begin to take a shape in our souls that is easier to carry.  Silence can give our emotions that space.  We need only to allow it.

I’ve sat through multiple final “roll calls”, holding my breath fearing the rise and fall of my chest while breathing would interrupt the reverence of the moment.  There to support the Gold Star families and unit friends grieving the loss, I would find myself searching for my own internal response to the idea of sacrifice.  Sacrifice that had been paid by those who never knew me, yet stood in battlefields to give me freedom.  For several years I sat in that silence more times than should have been.  No discomfort I felt compared to that of the loved ones for whom I was present to support.  The silence of each final roll call has taught me lessons in living, losing, and honoring.  It is possibly a lesson we must all learn.

This Memorial Day take a moment and reflect on how valuable are those who would lay down their lives for others.  Set your intent to be part of a grateful nation.  In return for their sacrifice, both in living and dying while serving, invite a moment of silence.

If you are a veteran or Gold Star family member struggling to cope, please reach out for support.  

Veterans Crisis Line – 1-800-273-8255

Feel free to follow me for support and tips on coping as an active duty service member, family member, or veteran at

About chris cannida

I am a psychotherapist, trainer, and consultant hoping to help others find a peaceful and meaningful sense of self, while improving the quality of their lives. My background includes extensive work with post 9/11 active duty service members and veterans. All writings on this site are currently dedicated to the mission of helping our military community remain mission-ready and resilient.
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