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Algonquin College social work graduate perseveres despite tragedy

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Marcie Lane remembers the excruciating pain of losing her husband. Master Corporal. Scott Vernelli was a career soldier, committed to the cause of the Canadian Armed Forces to bring peace and stability to people around the world and he volunteered for missions many times. In Afghanistan, he would lose his life, just six months after he and Lane welcomed their first child into the world.

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The couple had met while they were both in uniform. Lane was a photojournalist, working under former Chief of the Defense Staff Rick Hillier when she met Vernelli at a banquet in Ottawa. Soon they were dating and making plans to start a life together. This plan moved forward when Lane landed a posting to Garrison Petawawa.

In early 2008, Lane was pregnant. The parents-to-be eagerly awaited their daughter’s arrival as Vernelli trained for his third military service in Afghanistan, a mission in a war-torn country that had already claimed the lives of many Canadians.

Canada had joined other nations in Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Ironically, Olivia Vernelli would arrive on the seventh anniversary of the day the World Trade Center collapsed in New York.

Vernelli would leave for his final deployment to Afghanistan, 12 days after the birth of his baby girl. During the Christmas holidays, Vernelli was able to come home. Lane put his photography skills to work, capturing special family moments. This would be the last time Lane would spend time with her husband.

On March 20, 2009, just weeks before his scheduled return to Canada, Vernelli and another Canadian soldier were killed in action by an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol. Vernelli was only 28 years old.

The tragedy left Lane broken. As she mourned the loss of her partner, she became angry and then depressed.

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“There were days when I felt like killing myself. The grief was so blinding and debilitating,” says Lane, who recalls breaking down at a grocery store, feeling rage and pain that brought her to her knees as she watched others military families in the store.

Master Corporal.  Scott Vernelli and Marcie Lane with their baby girl Olivia.
Master Corporal. Scott Vernelli and Marcie Lane with their baby girl Olivia. jpg, PM

Unable to cope, she eventually contacted a bereavement counsellor, an opportunity available to her through the Canadian Armed Forces. Gradually, Lane tried to get her life back on track. She accepted a posting to CFB Borden, but living away from her family with a young child was difficult and her mental health again declined.

It was exercise and fitness that helped change her life. As she began to train, her mood improved and she regained her confidence. When she left the military, she enrolled in a fitness and health program at Georgian College, then in 2018 she found work at the Canadian Armed Forces Morale and Welfare Services in Gagetown. , in New Brunswick.

It was a dream job. She was happy to be engaged again in a military community, helping soldiers stay fit, but three months later, after she and her daughter had traveled halfway across the country to allow her to start a new post, she was on her way back to Petawawa. . Lane was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. It was devastating news.

She knew she needed to be closer to her family, so she and Olivia moved back to Petawawa as she began cancer treatment. She lost her hair, shed a few tears, often felt very tired and struggled emotionally over whether she would be able to beat cancer. As she reflected on her life, she wondered why such horrible things had happened to her. But, she was about to wake up as her illness brought her face to face with someone who would become a kindred spirit.

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The turning point for Lane came when she was lying in a hospital bed in Ottawa undergoing treatment for her cancer. She had a roommate who was facing the same battle and the two women quickly bonded, calling each other “pink sisters”, but their socio-economic status was very different.

The woman from whom Lane drew strength as they simultaneously suffered the side effects of chemotherapy was about to become homeless. She had given up her job while undergoing treatment, she had no health care benefits and the loss of income left her with no money to pay her rent and risk losing her vehicle.

“Nobody came to visit him. She tossed and turned often at night, not entirely because she was sick after a day of grueling treatment, but because she wondered how she would survive if she survived,” Lane explains.

In contrast, Lane had the support of her parents and daughter who often visited her in the hospital and cared for her pets while she focused on her recovery. She couldn’t help thinking that life was unfair. She thought of those who had helped her in her darkest days and found her calling. She wanted to be a social worker.

Lane had joined the army in 2000, following in the footsteps of his father, Harry Lane. During basic training, she kept a picture of her father in the inside pocket of her army fatigues. In the photo, his father is curled up in his army sleeping bag, exhausted after a hard day’s work in the field. Scribbled on the back of the well-weathered photo was a message from her father that has always inspired her. He said, “Quitting is not an option.”

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Marcie Lane is definitely not a quitter. She experienced the raw pain that life can sometimes throw at her and overcame a life-threatening illness. She takes life day by day and works hard to help others, including helping her daughter learn more about the father she never knew.

Master Corporal. Scott Vernelli is buried at Beechwood, Canada’s National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. On Father’s Day, Marcie and Olivia stood at his grave. Olivia was wearing a cadet uniform. Marcie brought a graduation gown. It was a moving but beautiful private moment, which mourned the loss of a husband and father, but also celebrated Olivia following her parents’ military journey and Marcie’s recent graduation from Algonquin College.

Last fall, Olivia became an Army Cadet with the 3rd Division of the Royal Canadian Regiment, embracing the family’s military tradition and joining the same regiment in which her father had served. Two months ago, Marcie walked across the stage at the Pembroke Memorial Center, graduating with honors from Algonquin College’s social service worker program, a title she earned during a global pandemic. She also received the WT Eldon Craig Memorial Award for “Most Outstanding Graduate of the Social Work Program”.

But that’s not the end of Lane’s educational journey. She was recently admitted to a Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work program at Laurentian University. She will begin her university studies this fall.

Lane’s story is still being written, but her response to the tragedy is what drove her to help others. The “pink sister” she met while watching cancer remains her inspiration. She will never forget her, nor her husband who died a Canadian hero. She found a way forward, demonstrating that “we can all overcome adversity and succeed in life”. This is the message that she will transmit in her career as a social worker.

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Rodney N.

The author Rodney N.