As the sun rises to mark the dawn of Anzac Day 2020, Australians will not gather to commemorate our fallen. We will not attend our local cenotaphs, nor stand on the Australian battlefields of foreign lands. We will however, in the finest traditions of those who have gone before, answer the call to defend our nation from an existential threat to our people and to our way of life.
Public health restrictions introduced to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic will prevent us from observing many Anzac Day traditions, yet innovative ways to mark our national day of commemoration are emerging. The Australian War Memorial and the ABC have committed to providing a nationally televised Anzac Day service, and there are many calls across social media platforms for Australians to stand at the end of their driveways at dawn and pause for a minute’s silence as a mark of unity and respect.
Veterans and families who would normally seek to reconnect with those who understand their service may find themselves disconnected and alone. Those who usually choose to mark the day in reflective solitude may discover that such solitude is difficult to find when self-isolating with their family. Anzac Day is a day of heightened emotions for many veterans and families, and during the current global crisis feelings of anxiety, isolation and depression may be compounded.
So how do we protect our mental health and wellbeing on Anzac Day while observing measures of physical distancing?
- Recognise that this Anzac Day will be different.
- Plan and discuss the day with those who can assist you to connect with others or to find time alone.
- Watch the National Ceremony, live on the ABC, or later on ABC iView.
- Connect with others via video conference, social media or telephone, and in particular check on the vulnerable.
- Engage in activities that you enjoy and avoid activities that compound feelings of anxiety and depression, such as excessive alcohol consumption.
- Establish new Anzac Day traditions like planting a garden, baking Anzac biscuits for neighbours, or establishing an annual family challenge or competition.
- Know where to go for help if you experience distress, including Open Arms on 1800 011 046 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
As we seek to revise the what, when, where and how of Anzac Day events, may we also take this unprecedented time to reflect upon the who and the why of our commemorations. In remembering the more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives for us in war and on operations, let us think beyond the way in which they died and consider more broadly the way in which they lived. Consider how all who have served our country have lived – and are living – their lives in the service of others; facing fear and uncertainty and sacrificing comfort and convenience to make a difference.
Anzac Day 2020 will be unlike any other that we have known. It will require us to sacrifice our usual customs and stay at home so that others may live. It will not be renowned for the number of people who attend ceremonies, but for the number who do not – the Australians who recognise the call to unite in the face of a common adversary, and who willingly sacrifice their usual way of life to protect the more vulnerable among us.
Anzac Day 2020 will require Australians to do more than just honour those who have defended Australia, it will require each and every one of us to recognise our capacity to do the same.
Lest We Forget.
Article by Sharon Bown, RN, MACN, BPsychSci. Sharon is a retired Wing Commander Nursing Officer, Member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial, and Ambassador for Phoenix Australia.