It is nearly four months since Captain Nichola Goddard, 26, died in action serving with the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan’s Panjway district, near Kandahar.
But her mother, Sally Goddard, still cannot say if she has accepted her daughter’s death, the first Canadian woman soldier to die in combat. “I don’t know if I’ve reached that point, that’s she’s gone and she’s not coming back.”
Mrs. Goddard and her husband Tim are members of Calgary’s St. Barnabas church, where Nichola was married only three years ago to Jason Beam. Her military funeral in late May, attended by an overflow crowd of more than a thousand people in the church, both halls and outside on large television screens, was also held at St. Barnabas, with Rev. Jagdutt Singh officiating.
The Goddards, interviewed in early August, have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of sympathy and support they have received since Nichola’s death. A condolence book collected by the Calgary Herald had more than 70 pages of messages within a short time of the funeral. The Canadian Islamic Congress established a $3,000 scholarship in peace and conflict studies in Nichola’s name. The Canadian government donated $25,000 to the Capt. Nichola S. Goddard Memorial Graduate Scholarship, offered through the University of Calgary, where Mr. Goddard teaches in the education faculty. The scholarship will be offered to citizens of Papua New Guinea, where Nichola was born, and Afghanistan, where she died, as well as First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. (Details on the scholarship cam be found at www.ucalgary.ca/giving.)
Mr. Goddard says his daughter’s death and the months since have been a “life changing experience.” But he says his faith in God has not been shaken; he and his wife are at peace with the manner of Nichola’s death. “She was killed in action, doing something she believed in,” he said. “There’s some solace in that.”
In one of her last letters to her parents Nichola demonstrated a strong commitment to the Afghanistan mission. “I have been thinking a lot about fate lately. It was such an accident of birth that we ended up where we did when we did. That we are where we are now, with the choices we have available to us. It seems to me that we have such a burden of responsibility to make the world a better place for those who were born into far worse circumstances … It is very humbling to be here, part of something so much bigger than myself.”
Mrs. Goddard does not believe it was God’s intention that Nichola die in Afghanistan, that God allowed this to happen. It was simply, she says, her daughter being at the wrong place at the wrong time. “Maybe evil was stronger than good that day.”
Nichola’s faith was strong, say her parents. At 26, with eight years in the Canadian Forces, she saw the world in black and white. “She has taught us not to be afraid of death,” says Mrs. Goddard. “I’ve always been a white knuckle flier, but when we flew to Trenton together when her body arrived back in Canada, it didn’t bother me.”
In a letter to St. Barnabas parishioners who had been sending care packages to her, Nichola mentioned how much she missed attending Easter services for the first time this year because she was out on patrol. She was a regular attendee at chapel while stationed at CFB Shilo, Man., and she insisted on a church wedding.
The funeral was a “good send-off” which honoured and celebrated Nichola’s life, says Mr. Goddard. “It was steeped in the tradition of who she was, as an Anglican and as a member of the Canadian Forces.”
The Goddards experienced the waves of media attention which come with a military death in Canada. They had the support of the University of Calgary as well as the military and they were praised in the media for their poise. At the time of the funeral, Mr. Goddard was outspoken in his criticism of the federal government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He suggested the policy of keeping news cameras and reporters away from the arriving coffins of dead soldiers was a political move, not one requested by families of those who died in action.
Mrs. Goddard believes that her daughter would rather die herself than let any of the men who served in her command perish. Indeed, in the letter to be opened in the event of her death Nichola, as well as expressing love for her family, said, “Tell Sergeant Red I didn’t mean to lead the charge – but sometimes it just happens.”
Bob Bettson is editor of The Sower, the newspaper of the diocese of Calgary. A longer version of this story appears in The Sower at www.calgary.anglican.ca