Life after the death of a child

For parents who have experienced the pain of losing a child, moving forward can be daunting. But one Ottawa couple worked through the grief of losing their young son by reaching out to help other parents, and in doing so, found renewed purpose

just-for-parents-w2014Eileen and Andy Bond experienced a parent’s worst nightmare when they lost their son Kevin 19 years ago.

Kevin, who loved the outdoors, had just started his second year at Trent University when he collapsed after an intense bicycle ride to a friend’s house. The autopsy showed Kevin had an enlarged heart, the cause unknown.

When Kevin died, the Bonds were not aware of any community support resources other than individual counsellors or psychologists. So they struggled, virtually alone, with their grief.

Four years later, they were invited to attend a national conference of The Compassionate Friends, an international volunteer organization offering friendship, understanding, grief education and hope to families who have lost a child.

They soon decided to start an Ottawa chapter of the group to help other parents in similar circumstances.

Andy Bond described the time since their son’s death as an “emotional roller coaster,” but said focusing their energies on connecting with other grieving parents has given them a renewed sense of purpose, and some comfort.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to reach out and help others who may suffer the extreme misfortune to experience the death of a child.”

The first monthly meeting was held in May 1999. Now in its 15th year, TCF Ottawa participates in many memorial activities in the city, and was instrumental in creating and maintaining The Butterfly Garden at CHEO.

In December 2012, the Bonds were awarded Queen Elizabeth ll Diamond Jubilee Medals for their work.

While the Bonds took comfort in helping others, many parents may feel at a loss with how to cope with the traumatic experience of losing a child.

Dr. Dino Zuccarini, clinical director of The Centre for Interpersonal Relationships in Ottawa and head of the Grief and Loss Service, said parents vary in terms of how they deal with their loss – and most will cycle through a wide range of emotions.

He suggested several key coping strategies for grieving parents, including freely expressing emotions and needs, reaching out for support and care, and preparing to deal with questions about their loss.

He said it’s also important to acknowledge that healing takes time, to ensure the emotional needs of all family members are addressed, and to not make any big decisions in the time immediately after the death.

And honouring memories of the child, seeing a psychologist and joining a support group are some of the most important steps in beginning to heal.

There are several Ottawa-area options for those seeking a support network. Bereaved Families of Ontario-Ottawa is a volunteer-based bereavement support organization that provides programs and services based on peer support to individuals, families and groups.

BFO offers a monthly drop-in peer support group, seasonal loss of child closed groups, and art therapy programs. TCF Ottawa members are united in their desire to share their painful experiences in the hopes of helping others begin to heal.

After Arthur Cordell’s daughter Louise died at the age of 33 in a drowning accident while hiking in New Zealand, his wife was supportive, whereas his son “doesn’t talk much about the loss, although I know he feels it deeply… this also seems to be the case with other bereaved families; parents grieve deeply and the siblings…grieve silently.”

And after her son Jesse’s death in a plane accident at age 27, Ingrid Draayer said, “our lives were dissected in half – the ‘before’ life and the ‘after’ life.”

Draayer had longed for others to “just come and be with us with no expectations…allow us to talk about our child.

Many would change the subject when you talked about your child, this hurt.

“The friends who helped the most allowed us to be ourselves.”

Lynda Frost is a facilitator for TCF Ottawa and co-founded the Ottawa chapter of Helping Parents Heal, a non-profit dedicated to helping parents who have lost children. Her son Justin was a healthy 17-year-old when he died in his sleep.

Recalling her pain and feelings of helplessness, Frost said was driven to help other parents. “I wanted to give them hope.”

“I remember exactly how I felt in the beginning, and how I looked for a lifeline.”

Photo: © Monkey Business

Editor’s Note:

In the winter edition of Ottawa Parenting Times Magazine, we featured an article about how parents cope with the loss of a child in our Just for Parents department. It is a heart wrenching topic, but we shared their experiences in the hopes of helping other parents.

Due to the space constraints of the magazine, we couldn’t include all of the stories and detail we received from those parents who generously shared the stories of their children’s lives and their grief experiences with us — but we can do so here.


As shared by Andy Bond 

When Kevin died, we were not aware of any community support resources other than individual counsellors or psychologists.  We were referred to Bereaved Families of Ontario (BFO) by a friend who had lost her husband a year before. 

After attending a The Compassionate Friends (TCF) conference in Kelowna, we felt that the specific focus on the death of a child was more appropriate to our needs, and presumably also to other bereaved parents. 

Many of the parents who attended our early meetings were also attending BFO meetings, and we specifically scheduled our meetings on the third Tuesday of each month to complement the BFO meetings on the 1st Tuesday. We also have parents who are active members of MADD and Canadian Parents of Murdered Children (CPOMC) was started by a couple who attended our meetings for several months.

Part of the opening (ground rules) for the Sharing Circle states that this is a safe place to share your own stories, beliefs, experiences and opinions without judgment. We emphasize respect for the opinions of others in the group even if you disagree with them. Some members find their faith provides the answers; others find the death of their child raises unanswerable questions. 

­­The discussions often turn to signs, dreams or other indicators of possible connection with the child who has died. We encourage open discussion of any topic that either worries or intrigues any member. In many cases, it triggers a “me too” response from others that reinforces the original “feeling” and often creates the positive atmosphere of a shared experience. 

Of note for relationships: we read early on that a very high percentage of couples whose child dies end up separating or divorcing. I believe that it is important that, no matter what transpires over the following weeks, months and years, to try and confirm a mutual commitment to each other while working through your individual grief.

In some cases, it may be staying together for the sake of other children, but having an underlying knowledge that you each want to get through this terrible experience together, although on separate paths, which can provide an emotional anchor during a very stressful and trying time.

Regarding the memorial garden at CHEO – we had seen memorial gardens out West. One of our members facilitated a partnership with CHEO which became “For the Love of our Children.” The idea was that it would be therapeutic – our members would have a place to go and release emotions by digging and planting in the fresh air. It was also a social activity; we encouraged them to go in groups and take a potluck lunch.  It gave a sense of reward and accomplishment. The overall butterfly design and layout, ramps, concrete, wooden arbors, etc., were donated by various contractors. TCF donated gifts of plants, benches, and ornaments.


As shared by his mother, Patti May

August 5, 2006 was the saddest day of our lives.  It was the day we lost our youngest child, our loving son Adam. He was 17 years old and driving his friends home, not wearing a seatbelt when the unthinkable happened … fooling around, he lost control of his car and was killed.

Our perfect world, our close loving family with our three beautiful children came crashing down. Adam’s father John, Adam’s best friend and sister Stephanie, big brother Derek and I, his mom, were all on a free fall to hell − our hearts completely broken.

He was the love of our lives, full of adventure, curiosity, mischief, fun and so much love. He loved and appreciated life and lived it full speed ahead, fitting so much into his short 17 years.

He was an affectionate boy, always saying “love yam mama” and “love ya papa,” opening his arms for a hug and then would kiss the top of your head. He gave pet names to everyone, Stephie, DJ, all of us.

His good-natured attitude was sweet and forgiving, never really getting mad at anyone. He especially took pride in being a loyal friend, never speaking poorly about anybody or telling on anyone. He had his best friend and his dog move in with us during a difficult time and wanted to know if a few others could move in too. Being generous to a fault, I worried that he’d give everything he owned away.

He was my buddy, my pal, and best friend − we just clicked. My little sidekick and I did groceries and drove everywhere together. He’d often help me repair and build things. Sometimes he would give me advice and just be a good listener − without judgment of anyone.

His humor was the best. He was a great comedian. He called himself “Adam the Great.” He had a quick, witty, sense of humor, and always perfect timing. He would get me to watch his funny shows and get a kick when I laughed at the rude parts saying, “I saw you laugh ma!” He’d hang off my neck, poke me playfully and blow in my hair, he’d put his face in my face nose to nose, make his eyes huge until I couldn’t help laughing − he would do anything to make us laugh.

When he was small, he got an Easy-Bake Oven for Christmas so he could bake cakes and cookies. He didn’t care if anyone teased him. The funniest was when he was little and Stephanie and I admired his long black eyelashes. We told him how long and beautiful they were and he went to the bathroom and cut them all off.

I really miss telling my Adam stories the way they used to be, but they haven’t stopped completely − just changed. I now think of Adam as my Adam angel and I am grateful he has given me many signs to let me know he is still with me. 

The night he died, I’ll never forget hearing my wind chimes ringing as I slept. Annoyed at being awakened, I pushed my eye mask off to see who was ringing the chimes and for a split second I saw Adam sitting on my feet at the end of my bed.

My life was shattered when I lost Adam and I needed to talk about him all the time.  I held onto hope he was still with me in spirit. I knew he was and I had a few extraordinary experiences (I’ve never had before) that led me to know he was still with me somehow. I also attended regular The Compassionate Friends meetings and it helped me to talk about him and feel supported by other parents who understood.

My daughter and I grieved with an understanding of Adam still being with us in spirit and we also talked about our feelings and cried together, which helped enormously. The greatest help for me was seeing a respected medium, Marc Jade.  My husband does not believe in the afterlife or anything and he is not in the same place as us. We all grieve differently.

Two years after he passed, I got the visit of my life.  Mother’s Day was always a time when Adam would do something special and I thought he’d give me a sign.

I was completely overcome when the day before, he appeared to me, full body, shimmering and smiling his beautiful smile, wearing his white hoodie and white ball cap tilted to the side the way he always wore it. He looked deeply into my eyes and the look he flashed me was electric − I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

I held my breath in case he’d leave. He was standing behind his best friend Jay. I didn’t say a word; stunned, I just held my breath. Jay, having no idea, bent over to pet our cat when his hood fell over his head and when he looked up at me, Adam’s face flashed in his face − a high-voltage current went through me.

It always lifts me when people mention Adam’s name and talk about him. When we first lost him, the worst thing was when people didn’t mention him or changed the subject when I brought him up − that created an unseen awkwardness and tension. The people that helped the most for me reached out, listened and asked about Adam. Often letting me go on with my story and cry or laugh − they just showed they cared.

My grieving has transformed over time. My pain has lessened and I now feel drawn to reach out to other parents and be there for them as others were there for me. I am a facilitator for The Compassionate Friends for parents to share grief and I have started another group called Helping Parents Heal for support in sharing afterlife discussions about signs, mediums, dreams or whatever helps us to stay connected with our child.

We have done many things to honour Adam, including:
–  Adopt a Road in memory of Adam May
–  St. Mark High school graduation bursary every year
–  An Adam Garden with a tree planted for him by friends in our backyard
–  A tree and a plaque at St Mark’s High School
–  Every summer, a TCF/CHEO balloon release
–  Christmas candle lighting service.
–  A roadside memorial
–  A bench for Adam at the cemetery

All of these have given us something good to honour Adam.

The Compassionate Friends helped me so much for the first few years, but my husband didn’t attend − it was not for him.  Now I feel a need for validating my afterlife signs and am fully involved with Helping Parents Heal as a facilitator.

As shared by their mother, Louise Berube

My first daughter, Francine, died of cancer at the age of eight (Jan 5, l970) at the old Ottawa General Hospital on Bruyère. She suffered horribly during 15 months and she weighed less than 20 lbs. when she died.

My second daughter, Denise Lacasse, 30 years old, my most precious best friend, was an analyst at the Passport Office in Hull-Gatineau, and always travelled by bicycle. She was hit from behind and pushed into an oncoming van, the mirror broke her neck, and she died on Nov. 19, 1993.

I buried myself in work, gardening etc. to the point of exhaustion so that I could not think of this tragedy, of the pain in my heart. After three years, I stopped and decided that I had to face it.

I created a comfort zone in the house, a comfortable chair where I could look at my pain and allow myself to cry for a certain time, like half an hour, then I forced myself to focus elsewhere, get up and do something.

I do not remember seeing my husband grieve in any way for my first daughter. I was divorced when my second daughter died.

Communication between the couple is the key. When good communication is not established in the relationship prior to any such losses, then it’s a disaster and couples break up – my case.

After Francine died, frankly, I hardly remember how I coped and how I was able to help my second daughter, who was six and a half. I remember that she cried and asked to go to heaven to be with her sister. They were 19 months apart and very close.

I joined Bereaved Families of Ontario, and met my lifelong friends, the Bonds, and then we organized the specialty, The Compassionate Friends, only for bereaved parents.

BFO covers all types of losses, parents, aunts, uncles, etc. TCF is special. Sharing our stories at the meetings when The Compassionate Friends organization came into being and by listening to other parents share their story has helped me cope, I also became a sculptor and fashioned my daughter’s face in clay. It is hanging in my studio still. Later, I returned to my first love, painting and still paint today.

As shared by his mother, Ingrid Draayer

My husband and I live in an old farm house near Pakenham. We moved our family here in 1994 after living with our three children in the Glebe.

My husband was a contract editor who worked out of our home and was a stay-at-home dad since the children were babies. I worked as a professional librarian at Carleton University; I am now a manager and will retire within two years. My husband now has a small bicycle shop in Almonte.

Our daughter, Caitlin is the middle child, now 30 and our younger son Brodie, is now 25. Caitlin graduated from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax with a fine arts degree and is a textile artist. Brodie graduated from Carleton University and just competed in the World Championship for bike polo. He has worked as a cook in various restaurants in Ottawa. Brodie lives in Ottawa and Caitlin has been living in Asia, going to Laos for a weaving internship.

Jesse was our oldest child, born in 1981. He was always advanced for his age, in many ways – “an old soul.” He was wise beyond his years but didn’t do especially well in school (December birthday, did not thrive in the regular school system and graduated from Frederick Banting Secondary Alternate Program in Stittsville).

That is where he discovered he wanted to be a pilot and enrolled in the Algonquin College program for commercial pilots. He got his private pilot license in 2003 and his commercial license about two years later.

He was a natural leader, very social and outgoing, always laughing and smiling. He made friends easily from an early age, was interested in having fun and never stayed in one place very long – his friends said he was with them one minute and then off to meet other friends, he had so many groups to keep in touch with. He packed so much into his 27 years, as if he didn’t have much time.

He was an active child from an early age, liked to climb up on roofs, trees, climbing walls, he was physically agile and energetic. He was a beautiful blonde blue-eyed boy.

We bought a small four-seater airplane so Jesse could get the flight hours necessary to get a job as a commercial pilot – when he died, he had around 800 hours. He was trying for 1,000 and had to have many night hours too. He left for a flight at 2 a.m. It was planned that he would fly a friend to Saint John, New Brunswick from Arnprior so that he could meet the ferry to go to his family in Nova Scotia. Another friend joined and brought a cousin along. They flew to Quebec and re-fueled.

The weather was fine, but in the Laurentian Mountains there was a snow squall, and Jesse lost control of the plane and crashed. He and his friend in the front seat died, and the two in the back survived, one with hardly a scratch.

My husband, the owner of the plane, got the call at around 6 a.m. that the plane had crashed. I thought Jesse was in his room and I was being quiet getting ready for work (I didn’t know about the flight, though; my husband did). It was difficult for the rescue team to get to the crash site and we learned around noon that day that Jesse had died.

Then the media started to hound us, phoning, arriving with long lenses aimed down our (thankfully) long driveway. The next day there was a snow storm and Bill and I had to go by train to Quebec City to meet with the police and identify our son. Everyone at the train station was reading our story and there we sat watching, in shock.

Even the hotel in Quebec City had tabloids outside the dining room, the cover showing snowmobiles with two stretchers with body bags, and we knew one contained our son. At the police station we talked to the coroner over speakerphone and did not actually have to go to the morgue (thank god). 

We said good-bye at the funeral home, all we were able to see was his hands (he had beautiful hands, which had been used by a local artist who molded them for one of her sculptures). His injuries were too severe. 

At first people descended, leaving food (I now know why – you simply cannot look after yourself but you still need to eat). Close friends of ours and our sons paid us visits. So did parents who had lost children before us. There were hundreds of people (and the press) at the memorial service we held, and hundreds of cards. Jesse had friends and acquaintances all over the world. 

In the first days, you have to force yourself to perform the small things, like getting dressed. We could only eat porridge and soup. We stayed close to home and tried to go for walks.

My husband is a cyclist and I have run for fitness for decades. We hardly had the energy to walk up our driveway and along our country lane. It felt like we were walking under water, it felt heavy and we were out of breath!

You feel out of body, looking at yourself from afar. Sleep was elusive, and in the wee hours the video loop of the horror plays over and over. Each morning I could not accept that the worst happened; you have to process the information over and over. The last thought at night was of what happened and the first the next morning was the realization that it wasn’t a bad dream, it really did happen. 

I tried to keep myself as busy as possible, because idle time was too much time to think. I could not read novels as was my habit, but I bought some books on losing a child or a loved one and felt validated that my symptoms were common and I wasn’t going out of my mind. The books provided ideas for coping.

My mother had had surgery a month after and I had to move in with her and help her with everything. That was hard, but we could be together in our grief (although my husband was home alone with our dog and joined me on weekends).  I went back to work part-time after two months and found focusing on my job helped. Although I had memory lapses that made it difficult to work – did I send that email? I can’t remember…

Some people at work were good support and allowed me to talk about my son as much as I needed to, and others avoided me, no eye contact, not even a word of condolence. Five years later, some still can’t talk or make eye contact!

During my commute, I listened to audio books, as music made me cry. The car and the shower were my crying places, private and contained.

I also found that writing in a journal − random thoughts, memories, really helped. I still do that but not as often. 

When Jesse died, my husband chopped wood for days. He did a lot of physical stuff. He continued to work as an editor from our home and I think that helped him. We actually hid our bad grieving from each other, I think, so that we didn’t upset the other even more.

The children were careful around us, and they were asked more often how we were doing, not how they were doing. They joined a support group for siblings and went a couple of times.

I went to Bereaved Families of Ontario a few times, but found that Compassionate Friends worked better for me. Many couples attend, but my husband never wanted to join me. When I developed friendships with other parents in the group, he did like talking to other dads one-on-one and still does. Bill and I would often go for drives; we had to get out of our house. 

For those who want to help a grieving parent, just come be with us with no expectations, just distract us for a little while, give some relief from the heaviness of grieving. Invite us over, but only very small groups. Allow us to talk about our child.

Many would change the subject when you talked about your child, this hurt.  The friends who helped the most allowed us to be ourselves, and did not talk extensively about their happy family life and go on about their happy children.

Our social circle has diminished now, many so-called friends and family deserted us, and in some cases, we found that some relationships no longer had meaning or the friends had changed towards us, so we chose not to pursue the friendships. People just don’t know what to do, so they end up doing nothing and time goes by and it get more and more awkward.

The ones who continued to just show up, to check in on us, or called just to say they were thinking of us – those are the best friends. And no matter how long it has been, it is still important to acknowledge the loss – or it becomes the elephant in the room. And don’t tell us to “get over it,” we never will – we learn to live with it.

To cope, I still keep busy, but with day-to-day things, like cooking. I live in the moment now. I cannot look back at my old life and I don’t have expectations for the future, because to quote John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Not much is important, I see the world with new eyes, and can’t stand it when people get in a state over trivial things.  

I can go for longer without being sad all the time – except around anniversaries. The winter is my dark time, Jesse’s birthday is Dec. 18 and Christmas is everyone else’s happy time and I hate it, and then the anniversary of his death is on Jan. 6, 2009.

I actually seek out fiction and movies dealing with the loss of a child. Some have a deep understanding and it helps validate my life now.

Travel helps – you can get out of your life and no one has to know. It is a vacation from grieving, sometimes. 

We undertook several special projects in his memory. We paid for a bench with a plaque in Almonte. We have a small scholarship at the Banting school that we award every year (that is always hard). A well in Nepal was built in his memory at a school funded by Child Haven, the charity we used for memorial donations.

I take small pouches of Jesse’s ashes and have many little ritual scatterings, in beautiful and meaningful places. I have done this on trips, places he loved. His friends have done this all over the world too.

In terms of Ottawa-area resources for parents who have lost a child, for sure, The Compassionate Friends, and I also took an eight-week closed session for parents who have lost children with Bereaved Families of Ontario. You cannot be an “expert “unless you have lived it.

Counsellors and doctors have text-book knowledge and it did not help – in fact, I ended up helping them to understand more than they helped me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the dramatic change in our social life – I never expected to be deserted by so many. We have made new friends who accept us for who we have now become.

­­Our lives are dissected in half – the “before” life and the “after” life. I don’t even like looking at “before” photos of me, I don’t recognize the person I was.  I also cannot look at any family photos from the “before” life, it hurts way too much. I avert my eyes to photos in our home.

As shared by his mother, Lynda Frost 

My name is Lynda Frost, I am 50 years old and I am married to David Clow, who is 54 years old. I am the mother of two children, Ashley Clow, 25, and Justin Clow, who would have turned 23 in December.

We have our own business and have for about 15 years. We live in the south end of Ottawa.

My husband loves to fish for bass and enters tournaments in the summertime. In the winter, he goes ice fishing as much as possible.

I like to read, go to movies, out to restaurants and travel. In the summer I play three-pitch on a mixed ball team. 

My daughter Ashley is very active in sports. She plays slo-pitch, ball hockey and volleyball.  She is currently employed in the family business. She has many friends and is a beautiful person, inside and out.

Our son Justin was and still is my best friend. As a young boy, we knew he was special in that he started to read at the age of three. He would sit with our friends and have a conversation with them and they were always amazed at how young he was.

He was very inquisitive and would ask very smart questions about things. He wanted to know everything and needed an explanation. Just because wasn’t a good enough answer.

He loved to play with dinky cars and could sit for hours lining them up one behind the other.

He grew up to be a very intelligent, kind, caring young man who had many friends. He was tall and good-looking and had a smile that would light up his face. He loved to play sports. His favourite was ball hockey. He loved comedy. He had a great sense of humour. 

He would watch a skit on television and repeat it word for word and make me laugh all the time. His favourite show was Family Guy.

He was not a troublemaker and he had great respect for other people. He was not judgmental. Justin touched the lives of everyone he met.

We were very close and we did a lot together, he and I, and as a family. We ran the business out of our home for many years, which allowed me to be there for my children. I am very thankful for that.

On March 25, 2008, I went to wake my son for school as I always did. When I opened his bedroom door, I found him lying sideways on the bed, with his feet touching the floor. I was puzzled as to why he was lying like that. His room was in the basement, so it was dark. I turned the light on outside his room and noticed his legs. At first I thought they were very hairy.

As I got closer to him, I realized that they were discoloured and at that point I knew something was wrong. I called his name and touched his arm to wake him up, and that was when I felt how cold his body was. I screamed at the top of my lungs.

My daughter came running down the stairs asking me what was wrong. I told her to try to wake her brother, I think he’s dead. I grabbed the phone in his room and dialed 911. I explained to the operator that my son was not breathing and that his body was cold and blue. 

She told me we had to get him off the bed in order to perform CPR. My son was six-feet-tall and 220 lbs. My daughter had to help me get him onto the floor, at which point I tried to perform CPR. She went back and forth upstairs to the door, waiting for someone to arrive.

They arrived within five minutes from what I was told, but it felt like forever. They took over trying to revive him but it was too late. This happened at 9 a.m. and they said he passed somewhere between midnight and 5.a.m. 

The autopsy came back inconclusive.  He did not have a problem with addictions of any kind. He was a healthy, active, happy l7-year-old boy who loved life. To say I was in shock is an understatement.

Initially you are numb. There are so many things that need to be done to prepare for the funeral and so many people around that you don’t have time to really process what has just happened. I walked around like a zombie, following directions from those around me who wanted to help. Eat this, drink this, you need to sleep, etc. 

I lost my appetite. I couldn’t sleep because all I could think of was how is this possible? He was healthy and only l7. This doesn’t happen. I’m going to wake up from this nightmare.

Once the funeral is over and everyone goes back to their lives, you wonder how it is that life is going on all around you. Don’t you know that my son has just died? 

The numbness and shock are I think God’s way of helping us in the beginning because once that clears, the excruciating pain sets in and that’s when the really hard work of fighting for your life when you don’t necessarily care if you live begins.

I have a daughter and a husband but at that time, your pain is so raw and all-consuming that you don’t think it’s possible to survive. This huge hole you now have in your heart is going to swallow you up. As a mom, I had this need to know where my child was and if he was all right. It doesn’t stop just because they are no longer in the physical.

My nieces arrived the day after my son passed and they brought a book by Sylvia Browne called Life on the Other Side and Back. I had never heard of her before and they were telling me that she was a medium and that she was on the Montel Williams show all the time.

They proceeded to tell me about readings that she had done on the show and how she explained what happens to us at the time of death and how life continues for the soul just in a different way. 

At that point I was ready to believe anything other than that he was gone forever. It took me a while to pick up the book and read it. I’d say probably a month or so after. I’m not sure why it took so long.

The book gave me hope. I bought more of her books and in doing so, I learned about other mediums and their books. From that, I started to read books on near-death experiences, after death communication, the afterlife, you name it. I read books written by different mediums but also by scientists, doctors and so on.

I wanted different points of view. I was looking for more and more validation with each book I read.  Books were my drug. They saved my life. I calculated that I read approximately 150 books in the first year. I had educated myself on the subject and was convinced that all these people did not make all of this up. 

I did call a psychologist in the beginning because I thought if they are trained in grief counselling, that might help. When I was told it was $150 per hour, I decided against it.  I thought if I am going to pay someone that much money, I want it to be someone who knows what I am going through and that is another parent.

I also went to a support group for families coping with a loss. We were put into groups based on relationship to the deceased.

The facilitator for our small group had lost a child l7 years prior and was still not coping well. I went there looking for a lifeline, but left there worse than when I arrived. I did not return. It took me a long time to contact the Compassionate Friends because of my experience with this other group.

Both my husband and daughter grieved differently than me. My husband drank heavily and I guess for him, it numbed the pain.  My daughter kept busy with sports and her friends and didn’t talk about her brother.

None of us were capable of helping each other in the beginning, we could barely help ourselves. It was very difficult as a mom to not be able to help my daughter. She deserves a lot of credit.

Siblings hear all about the child who has died day in and day out and how wonderful they were and how you just want to be with them again. They not only lose a brother or sister, but they lose their parents as well. 

The advice I would give to couples is to not judge the way the other is grieving just because it’s different than your way. Men and women grieve differently.

Women are verbal and we show our emotions, whereas men tend to try to keep busy with work and not talk about it. This can be taken as they’re not hurting as much as we are. We wonder why they aren’t crying all the time like we are. Don’t you care about our child?

This can cause women to become upset and resentful towards their husbands – which only makes matters worse.  As a couple and parents who have lost a child, it’s important to realize that we are all dying inside from this horrible tragedy. Be patient with your spouse. Give each other whatever amount of time the other needs and don’t make any major decisions as far as your relationship goes in the first year.

Try to keep in mind what your relationship was before this happened. If it was good, then most likely it will survive, because you have that connection. If not, it will be much more difficult to save it. Respect for each other will go a long way.  

In terms of looking back at the ways of helping my spouse or child, it was out of my control. In the beginning, I was trying to keep myself alive and that was all I could do. It’s very difficult to fight for your life when you don’t care. If you die, then you’ll see your child. It’s not a bad thing. You miss them so much that you just want to see them again.

You’re not thinking straight because obviously you don’t want to leave your other loved ones behind. This is so foreign to us that we have completely lost ourselves. Our ability to think rationally or make decisions about anything is gone.

As a quick example, once I was able or thought I was able to do groceries, I was walking down each aisle, thinking “what do I need?” I’d come across my son’s favourite foods and reach for them only to realize that I don’t need to buy them anymore. This was something I did every week and could have done in my sleep.

I didn’t buy what the rest of us like to eat. I asked myself “what am I doing here?” I left the basket there and left the store. It was like I was doing groceries for the first time ever. As much as I would have liked to be able to be there for my daughter and husband, I wasn’t able to.

So for me it’s not a matter of what I would have changed, because my frame of mind would not allow me to. As time went on and I became stronger because of my knowledge of the continuation of our soul, I was able to pass on this information to my daughter and husband.

At first they were happy to see me getting stronger, but were not into what I was talking about necessarily. Eventually my husband read a couple of books I left lying around and he is now doing very well.

As for our daughter, she also went to see a medium who gave her validation that her brother lives on. She is also doing very well, knowing that he is still with us and we will be together again one day. She now has her parents back. 

I think in the beginning, people could be there to lend an ear and let the grieving parent talk about their child as much as they need to. Don’t try to give advice on anything because unless you are going through it you will never know how we feel. Don’t treat us like what we have is contagious by avoiding us. We need friends and family to be there, not stay away.

Talk to us about our children. We want to talk about them. We are so afraid that people will forget them that we want to talk about them all the time in the beginning. 

Some have said to us, we don’t want to talk about Justin because we don’t want to remind you and make you sad. First of all, we never stop thinking about them, so you are not reminding us and second, not talking about them hurts us.

In the later years, don’t tell us that we should be over it by now. We will never get over it. We will grieve for our children forever. Some of us will cope better than others. Although we feel bad for other people’s losses and understand that they hurt as well, there is nothing worse than the loss of a child. So please don’t go on about losing your pet or your 90-year-old relatives in front of us.

My way of coping has definitely changed over time. I have become spiritual since losing my son. I am not a religious person. I’ve always believed in God and still do. I have had several readings with world-renowned mediums and they have brought me messages from my son that could not have come from anywhere else. They have proven to me without a doubt that he is indeed alive and well in spirit and that I will see him again.

There is nothing more life changing than at the moment you receive that validation. It gives us hope and we can now continue on our journey for however long that may be. Not only can we cope but we can be happy again and still have a relationship with our deceased child just in a different way.

We started a foundation in our son’s memory and our daughter has held many small fundraisers in her brother’s honour —mostly ball hockey tournaments as this was his favorite sport. We hope to one day make a substantial donation to a cause that deals with sudden death in children and young adults.

I would recommend The Compassionate Friends to grieving parents because it is an organization that deals specifically with the loss of a child. All loss is different. It is a safe environment in which to share your thoughts and memories of your children without fear of judgment with people who know exactly what you are going through.

There is no better person to talk to than another parent who understands your pain. We don’t need a degree because we have first-hand experience and can relate to everyone.

Also I have connected with a group of moms that I met through the Compassionate Friends and we meet for coffee, dinner and we have taken road trips together.  We have become very close and are great support for each other. For this I am very grateful. 

There is one other thing I would like to see change — the time that parents are given off work to grieve. I believe it is at the discretion of the employer. Parents are given one year when a child is born. They can decide how they want to split that up. Parents should be given a year when a child dies. We are fighting for our lives.

We are not ourselves any longer. We need to re-learn a lot of things that were natural to us. We have to go through the first of many things without our child — birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Day, the holidays. These are very difficult things to face in the first year and beyond for most.

I would have thought that this would be obvious to those in the government who make that decision. It’s very disappointing that it isn’t. It’s treated like every other loss and yet it is so different. I lost my mother the year after my son and my father the year after that and I was very close to my parents. I can tell you it was not the same.

In closing, I would like to say that what is most helpful for me is the knowledge that I have of the continuation of the soul. I have been given a true gift in that I know my son is still around me, helping me and giving me many signs.

He continues to be a part of my life, just in a different way. I know I can speak to him at any time because our loved ones can hear us. While the topic of mediumship may be controversial to some, it has changed the lives of many grieving parents, me included.

This is my story as well as that of many parents that I have met. I am now a facilitator with the Compassionate Friends and I see parents all the time. I can tell you that those who have seen a medium and received validation from their child are coping much better than those who haven’t.

This holds true for parents I have met outside of the Compassionate Friends as well. There are parents who are only months into their grief who are coping much better than some who are years into theirs. The difference in these cases is always the same. They’ve had a reading and their child has come through to assure them that they are fine and still with them. We have been given HOPE. I would also like to say that Compassionate Friends is not a group that discusses these topics. As facilitators, we are there to listen to parents share their stories, but if it does come up we do not discourage any topic.

I believe it is very important to bring awareness to people who have not lost a child. A lot of people are afraid of this topic and feel talking about it might cause it to happen. Of course we really have no control over our lives the way we think we do. Nothing proves this more than when you lose a child.

You teach them right from wrong. You teach them all about safety and everything else they will need in life to succeed. One day, when you least expect it they are taken from you. There is not a darn thing you could have done to stop it. 

I became a facilitator with the Compassionate Friends to help other parents. I wanted to give them hope. I remember exactly how I felt in the beginning and how I looked for a lifeline. The first bereavement group I attended scared me more than anything.

Once I found the Compassionate Friends, I saw how it helped me and others to be able to talk about our children with people who had survived it.  This organization was geared specifically to the loss of a child. Without hope, there is nothing. I felt I was in a good place. 

Not only could I help them in that I could listen, but also I had survived and I am living again. Everyone shares their story. We sit in a circle and everyone gets the chance to speak.  There are people who attend the meetings who are years into their grief who are still not doing very well. When someone new to grief arrives, it’s crucial that they see and hear those of us that are. In my opinion, facilitators should all be at a place where they can give hope to someone instead of scaring them. Unfortunately this is a volunteer position and is not always the case.

It means a lot to me. It helps me as well.  I feel I am doing what was intended of me after this tragedy. Everything happens for a reason. I needed to have something good come out of it.  It makes me feel good when a parent comes to me after a meeting and tells me how much I have helped them. I have also made lifelong friends with other moms from the group. I am truly grateful for that.

On another note, my friend Patti May and I have started an affiliate group of Helping Parents Heal. This is also for parents who have lost a child. The difference is that we have open discussions on any topic, mostly spiritual experiences – signs from our children, after death communications, as well as mediums. There is no topic off limits. 

We can discuss our experiences with like-minded parents without fear of judgment. This group is more lighthearted because we all know our children are still with us. We still have our dark days and always will but with this knowledge, it’s easier to get up and fight another day.


As shared by her father, Arthur Cordell

My daughter, Louise, was an outgoing, enthusiastic person. She had an international MBA and had worked in Japan. She was the first westerner to be in the executive wing of the Japanese company. She was excellent in languages − fluent in French and nearly fluent in Japanese.  The company offered her lifetime employment. 

While working in Japan, she met her husband, who was from England.  At the time of her death, she was living in England with him and working in market research for Yahoo.

My daughter died in 2002 at the age of 33. She was on a hiking trip in New Zealand. 

My wife (second wife and not the parent of my daughter) and I were awakened in the middle of the night to learn that my daughter had drowned while on the hiking trip. 

On a remote path in a national park, an underground stream broke through and swept my daughter off the path and into a nearby river. At first she was listed as missing, but after about 12 hours we learned that her backpack had been found and later her body was recovered. Bringing her body back to Canada for burial is a whole other story; difficult but was done with the help of our Ambassador in NZ.

She was with her husband during the trip.  Her husband’s mother had died that summer and he didn’t want to be in England at Christmas.  So they went to New Zealand. They had hiked and camped in the past, but they were really city people.

Oddly enough my daughter was a very easy traveler and due to her work, went all over the world.  But before this trip, she felt uneasy. One of those things that sticks in my mind, but if the trip had been ordinary and she had returned OK, I probably would never have remembered her ambivalence about the trip.

After her death and after the funeral her husband came to Ottawa and we talked in great detail about the day of the accident and her death. (I am a researcher by background and have a real need to know). And so I think I have a reasonably clear picture of what and how things happened.

My initial coping mechanism was to say to myself that I may always walk with an (emotional) limp but I intend to go on walking…

 My present wife was supportive in the extreme. I often worried that she didn’t pay enough attention to her own grieving. My son, who is now in his 40s, really doesn’t talk much about the loss, although I know that he feels it deeply (this also seems to be the case with other bereaved families; parents grieve deeply and the siblings are largely silent or grieve silently).

I think that unless someone has lost a child, they have little to say. The best thing is to know that the bereaved parent will always be a bereaved parent and will likely never be “their old self”. I have compared the loss of a child to a physical wound. I have called it an emotional amputation and like a profound physical wound; there is healing, but the patient is never quite the same.

In the first five years or so, I would stay home on the anniversary of her death and look at videos and pictures of her. Now I mentally note the date and go on. The mental pain has gone from critical to chronic. I do go on.

I went online within a few weeks of my daughter’s death and found The Compassionate Friends and went to my first meeting shortly thereafter. I found the parents telling their stories and feelings helped me to access my own feelings. I credit The Compassionate Friends with helping me to continue to cope. 

The leader, Andy Bond, has an annual pot luck at his home in the summer. About six months after Louise’s death, my wife and I were at the pot luck and Andy mentioned that one day his dream would be to have a Butterfly Garden somewhere to honour the children who have died.  Somehow the Children’s Hospital came up as a possible location.

I said, “my wife is here, she works at CHEO, is part of the executive team and perhaps she might have some ideas.”  They talked and, along with Andy’s wife, worked out the ideas together.

There is now a Butterfly Garden at CHEO and credit should go to all the people behind the scenes who made it happen − the director of the physical plant at CHEO, the landscape designers who donated time, the many trades people who donated skills and materials, and of course CHEO itself, which gave the “green light” to go ahead with the project.  The garden is maintained by volunteers from TCF and from different areas, one year the local Home Depot donated time and materials.

I think that the loss of a child is so different from any other loss that only other bereaved parents can empathize and understand. 

It’s interesting to use the word “coping” with the loss.  Coping is a word that I began to use when people would ask me how I was doing. Coping, I would answer. This meant I am here; I am functioning, and not much more to talk about (unless the other person was also a bereaved parent).