Portrait of Author Derrick Nearing

Submitted photo

New book part of veteran’s healing journey

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday February 27, 2020

As a Physician Assistant, retired Petty Officer (PO) Derrick Nearing has seen the brutality of war and its devastating aftermath.

Serving overseas in Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Afghanistan has taken a toll on him, and he left the military suffering with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and other physical injuries.

For a while, after retirement, he was lost.

He spent 13 years as a field engineer as a reservist and another 22 years in the Canadian Forces Medical Branch as a Medical Technician and Physician Assistant. Then he left the only world he had ever known.

But he built himself back up, little by little, finding salvation in his creativity.

“It is objectifying (the pain),” said Nearing. “It is outside of me. I can sit back and talk about it.
“You heal and you get stuff out,” he added.

Though he is quite adept at the visual arts, he also turned to the written word as a way to cope with his trauma. He found he could revisit the violence of his past safely when it was on the page.

He uncovered his old diary that he had kept while in Rwanda, and decided to turn it into a book, one that he hopes will shed light on a soldier’s mental state while deployed, and perhaps even encourage leadership to change the way they address mental illness.

From his intimate thoughts, “Walking Them Home: A Soldier’s Journey in Postwar Rwanda” was born.

It covered a difficult time in the country’s history, as Nearing arrived not long after the aftermath of a genocide that saw 40 per cent of the country’s people murdered or displaced.

From the start, it was a difficult mission. He had been given a day to deploy. They arrived on location, expecting help from the United Nations (UN).

“We had anything but help,” he said, adding both the military and the UN were fighting for the same scant resources.

Then came the people as they walked hundreds of kilometres to return to their villages. Many of them were wounded, or sick, and all of them had seen or experienced a nightmare.

Healing and accompanying them, and helping them get reestablished was no easy task. Cruelty from former combatants wasn’t unusual, and at all times, a fine line had to be walked to ensure the safety of patients as well as Nearing and his comrades. Disease was constant. Tensions were high.

He writes about how they treated over 22,200 people in a just couple months, moved mass graves and created a hospital from the ground up, all while dealing with people who were weeks away from having committed, or experienced, war atrocities.

To keep it as authentic as possible, he took his diary as is and then added notes to explain the context, and how he sees things now that it is all in the past. A part of the book is also dedicated to healing and helping people cope with their own traumas.

“It took two years to write, but it is 25 years coming,” said Nearing.

It isn’t his first foray into the world of writing. He produced a memoir entitled “Anchor of My Heart: Memories of a Cape Breton Childhood,” a collection of short stories that offer a window into the life of a young boy growing up in Cape Breton.

His new life as an artist and writer is only possible due to the support of his wife, Maureen, and their children, Hannah and Reilly. He is eternally grateful as he admits he wouldn’t be where he is without their support.

More information and details on where to purchase the book can be found at www.derricknearing.com.