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Investigations ‘My dad was my best friend’: Daughter of Afghanistan war veteran who died by suicide

A family photo of Warrant Officer Jowel Fils-Aimé with his daughter, Janice, taken in 1995 near the Jacques Cartier River at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. Warrent Officer Fils-Aimé took his own life in the river on Oct. 8, 2008.

Photo courtesy Fils-Aimé family

This article is part of The Unremembered, a Globe and Mail investigation into soldiers and veterans who died by suicide after deployment during the Afghanistan mission.

My dad, Warrant Officer Jowel Fils-Aimé, was my best friend. Even though he passed eight years ago, I still think about him every day.

He took his job very seriously and was a very loyal soldier.

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From a young age, I knew my dad was gone a lot, was stressed out and slept little.

My father had all the typical signs of post-traumatic stress disorder. He had mood swings, flashbacks, behavioural changes, but what really affected him was his sleep. He whispered prayers to God to let him have some rest.

Read more: Warrant Officer Jowel Fils-Aimé, 1st Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment

Read more: The Unremembered: Remembering 31 Canadian Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide

Once I had a nightmare and was heading toward my parents' bedroom. I was just outside their room when I saw my father scream and jump right up. That was the moment I knew something was wrong, but I didn't understand how serious it was and what the consequences would be.

My mother eventually forced him to get help. He received sleeping pills, but they did not make the nightmares go away. I believe my father was disappointed when he finally took a step toward recovery and got little help.

His career and illness eventually broke up my parents' 10-year marriage. My mother, my younger brother, David, and I moved to her homeland of Norway in 2004.

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We would still talk to our dad on the phone every day, celebrate Christmas together and spend the summer with him in Quebec. It was very sad every time we had to say goodbye.

His last trip overseas was in Afghanistan from July, 2007, until March, 2008.

We visited that summer and it was harsh. I woke up in the middle of the night and saw my dad sitting in the living room by himself with a glass of rum. I sat down next to him and asked if he was okay. He just looked at me and said, "No, but you should go back to sleep." I sat there quietly anyway. I could feel him calm down when I put my head on his shoulder. I think it helped just to feel close to someone he loved and who loved him back.

On Oct. 2, 2008, my mom told me my father was dead. I was 15 and my brother was 10. I screamed and cried for a long time.

My father was the glue in our family. He was funny, had a good heart and was intelligent. He was a wonderful father. It took a while for me to ask how he passed away. My Norwegian grandfather, a retired major, explained how he had been ill.

I wouldn't wish what my family has been through on anyone. It is important that close family members get more education on PTSD, how to recognize it early and how to cope.

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I am very disappointed in the Canadian army for not helping my father more. They tried to hide the fact my father died by suicide on the base, although the military did eventually take some blame.

My mother once told me that it would have been easier if he died in the line of duty. At first I agreed, but then I realized that my father had already died in combat. He was physically present when he came home, but the person he was before was long gone.

Janice Oterholm Fils-Aimé is the daughter of Jowel Fils-Aimé, 1st Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment.

If you would like your relative included in the commemoration project of Afghanistan war veterans lost to suicide, please e-mail remember@globeandmail.com

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