Melanie Zukowski has always found it easier to express herself through song than in words, so when she found herself grappling with loneliness due to a husband constantly away in the military, she decided to use her voice to create a kind of family of her own.
A vet herself, Zukowski is familiar with the demands of military life. But with her husband, who works search and rescue, always gone, she drew on her passion for singing to combat the feelings of isolation she says are all too common for the families of those in the armed forces.
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"With the military we have to create a bit of a non-traditional family group. We're usually separated from the extended family ... so we're pros at making our own support. And part of that is the choir," she said.
Zukowski spoke to CBC Toronto Friday ahead of the Trenton Military Wives' Choir performance at the opening ceremonies of the 2017 Invictus Games. The international competition for wounded, ill and injured veterans and service members was first established by Prince Harry in 2014. The games are set to launch in Toronto Saturday.
'Sing it out'
While the event is an opportunity to honour and inspire the men and women who have sacrificed their time as part of the armed forces, for its 18 members the choir provides a way of coping with the absence of those loved ones.
"We know that we can show up and have an ear. If we've had a bad day, we can sing it out and have a chat afterwards and there's always somebody who's there to listen," Zukowski said.
It's a feeling Jenna Babin, currently the president of the Trenton chapter, can relate to firsthand.
Babin, who works as an early childhood educator, found she needed something for herself when her husband was posted to Ottawa.
"Halfway through the posting I was like, 'I'd really like to have some time for mom.'"
Singing in the choir, she says, is her time.
"I do it for myself. It's my therapy," she said.
'You just come back energized'
For Heather Landry, the group has been a way of finding solace, with her husband away serving.
"Sometimes you're not having a great day… but as soon as you go there and you're surrounded by all that joy and song, you just come back energized."
But with her husband, a pilot, retiring next week, it's also a chance to hold on to a world she's been a part of for more than 28 years.
"I wanted to maintain connection to the military community, so that's why I joined," Landry said.
Landry acknowledges there wasn't always as much support for military families when she was first married, but says there's been a significant change over the years with more military family resource centres being created and supports becoming more readily available.
And while it's only a year old, she says, the choir is a big part of that.
"It's just a great sisterhood of song and friendship."