Sutherland Shire war widow Bree Till told the Anzac Day dawn service at Woronora River her husband's death in Afghanistan "burnt a hole in my soul".
However, the wound had made her cherish their time together, their family and the wisdom she had gained through anguish, she said.
Ms Till and her son Ziggy, 11, with whom she was pregnant when Sergeant Brett Till was killed, were the guest speakers at the ceremony organised by Woronora River RSL sub-Branch.
With the sun rising through the gum trees a stone's throw from the banks of the "Wonnie", there is no more fitting setting for an Anzac day commemoration.
The only difference this year was the kookaburras were silent.
Ms Till works with Open Arms, a counselling and support service for veterans and their families, and uses art therapy and her experiences to help those suffering trauma and grief.
Ms Till said she and Ziggy were "grateful for the opportunity to be gathered in company... with a sense of connectedness and humble togetherness unyielding, the warmth of compassion and commitment of our community, to rise again with the brisk morning air and unfolding darkness into day".
Ziggy said they wished to commemorate all those who had given their lives, those who had suffered, or continued to suffer, as a consequence of war.
He hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would "be the closest we will ever know of a constant state of threat to our entire community".
Ms Till said her husband, whom she called JT, was an explosive ordinance disposal technician with the Incident Response Regiment.
"He was responsible for clearing insidious explosive devices buried beneath paths, under roads and in the fields," she said.
"On the 19th of March 2009, he travelled the lonely path, armed with a paint brush, a stick, and unmeasurable quantities of patience, courage and faith, and he did not return.
"JT's death burnt a hole in my soul. I cherish that wound with gratitude for the moments we had, for the family we grew, for the wisdom I earn through anguish."
Ms Till said the final withdrawal from Afghanistan would "no doubt instigate debate and opinions - a privilege we are afforded in Australia".
"While my soul may be scarred, I've been privileged with a position of reflection and hindsight as an observer having never stepped foot on a path, weary of charges underfoot," she said.
"Please, when it comes to debate and opinions, be mindful of those that have served with distinction, carrying the losses of their brothers in country, and their brothers and sisters at home.
"Be the safe place. Inquire genuinely and listen without agenda.
"To our veteran family, to all who have lost and to those who gave the most, thank you for your service.
"Let's make the final withdrawal from Afghanistan an opportunity for closure, and the concept of war one of storytelling only, at days like Anzac Day.
"Today, and on every day, Lest We Forget."
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