The mother of a Winnipeg soldier who died in Afghanistan is easing her pain by sending comfort to the war zone.
Wendy Hayward's 25-year-old son, Cpl. James Hayward Arnal, was killed by a roadside bomb in July 2008. He was on night patrol in Panjwaii district near Kandahar city at the time.
Hayward is involved in a campaign called, Pillows for Troops, which was launched in memory of Arnal.
More than 5,000 pillows are being sent to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. Each pillow includes a personalized postcard from the person who sponsored the pillow.
The idea came from Arnal's former boss, John Lopes, vice-president of JS Furniture Gallery.
Arnal worked at the Winnipeg furniture store before enlisting in the military. When Arnal was shipped overseas, Lopes gave him a small travel pillow. Arnal took it on patrol with him and wrote about it in the last letter he sent to Lopes.
"The last paragraph was about the pillow, about the pillow being the comforts of home, and how he was the envy of all the troops," Lopes said.
That gave Lopes the idea to somehow provide a pillow for other Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. The goal was set at 5,000 pillows, each of which sold for $5 and would come with a message for the particular soldier to whom it was being sent.
Hayward loved the idea and was on board from the start. She said the pillow, which was sent home with Arnal's belongings after he died, made an impact on her.
"[It was] very emotional," she said. "You picture him laying his head on it and you get a sense of some comfort and home when he was so far away."
Hayward has handwritten hundreds of postcards, which are then tucked into the plastic wrapping protecting the pillows being sent to Afghanistan.
The postcard messages are from people who bought the pillows from the campaign's website and sent an email version of their greetings to the troops. Copying the emails has helped to keep Hayward's own pain at bay.
"The holidays are really, really tough but this is making it easier, I think," she said. "When I think about all the guys that are going to getting a pillow, especially around Christmas, it's very, very special and heartwarming for me.
"I think Jim would be so proud."
Campaign goal expanded
Thousands of pillows were sold in the first week of the campaign, Lopes said. In fact, the initiative has been so successful, the goal was expanded to 7,500 pillows.
People have lined up to help the cause. One of those is Gilbert Mielleur, whose 24-year-old son, Cpl. Josh Meilleur, is also a soldier. Josh volunteered to go to Afghanistan the same week Arnal was killed and is there now.
This is the family's first Christmas without him, Mielleur said.
"Emotions got pretty high sometimes and it feels good that you're doing something to help out this cause," he said.
The first shipment was sent on Monday in hopes of reaching the troops in time for Christmas.
Pillows can still be purchased in Winnipeg at JS Furniture Gallery on Ellice Avenue and at the offices for CJOB 68 on Portage Avenue.
They can also be bought online through the Pillows for Troops website.