My son Chris and me: A mother’s tale of grief

By: Elaine Dean

For most of us, Christmas is a time when family and friends gather to celebrate the many joyous gifts that life offers. Sometimes, though, the gifts of life are taken from us, without warning and without explanation. The following firsthand account submitted by Old Ottawa East resident, Elaine Dean, is a case in point, reminding all of us that the holiday season is also a time of compassion for those around us who have suffered grievous loss.

This Christmas will be the first one in our new house in Old Ottawa East. My son Christopher and his younger brother Julian went to Lady Evelyn elementary school here in the neighbourhood. For me, it feels like moving back home after 15 years in Hunt Club. It will never be the same as it was before, though, because Chris is no longer here to celebrate the holidays with us.

We lost Chris in 2014 after he was hit by a car while at university. Chris enjoyed life. He made lots of friends. He did well enough at school and that’s okay because he loved to spend time with his friends, who were always important to him. He looked out for them, and together they enjoyed many good times together. When Chris was applying to university, he put together his art portfolio, just as he had done when he applied for the Visual Arts program at Canterbury High School, only it was a much better portfolio now. I cried happy tears when I saw his portfolio, because he is so talented. He really wanted to study architecture at the University of Waterloo, and after taking a year off, that’s exactly what he did. He loved it, and thrived there. It was like the elastic band between us, connecting us, had grown longer. Now it’s longer still.

Christopher brought so much joy to my life. I missed him so much when he went away, but at the same time I was happy for him because he was living his life, just as he wanted. In his second year at university, days before Christmas, he had finished his exams and was getting ready to come home. He had just turned 20, his birthday being December 10. His friends had a get-together before they broke for the holidays, and they were excited about their first co-op placement that would begin in January.

Chris went out to pick up a bottle of wine and never made it back. He was hit by a car when crossing the street.

At home, I had made his favourite meals for him, waiting for him and the holidays to begin. Instead, we took a flight to Toronto and then drove to the hospital in Hamilton during an ice storm. When we arrived, the surgeon told us that he had done all that he could. Over the Christmas holidays, we saw surgeons and nurses come and go. Then Chris had a stroke, and we were forced to make the decision to take him off life support. I slept with him, I sang to him, and I could not believe this was happening to my beautiful boy. But it did. He passed away at the beginning of January 2014. Even though I prayed for a miracle, there wasn’t one for us.

Chris never got the chance to graduate from university, to get married, to have children or a successful career.

Early on in my grief, I went to dropin sessions, met with a counsellor, and joined a support group with Bereaved Families of Ontario, Ottawa (BFO Ottawa). This is not a group that any one of us would like to join, but saying that, I am glad I did. In our support group, we decided that at family gatherings we would toast our children. We knew we had to do something to help others talk about our children for us. I didn’t know then that both my love for Chris and my grief would last a life time, but now I know this with certainty.

Throughout my life I have experienced difficulties. I now know I have resilience, that I can recover through introspection and because of my strength. It’s not like I have a choice, though. Chris is a part of me and always will be.

Some of the parents in my support group wrote chapters in the recently published book, Always With Me: Parents Talk About the Death of a Child. Individually and collectively, we knew that there weren’t enough books available to help us, written from the perspective of a parent. We wrote this book so that we could talk about our children, and so that we could share our experiences in the hope that doing so may help others.

Several days before Christmas, we have a special gathering for Chris on the grounds at Canterbury High School, around the tree that is dedicated to him. For us, it is a special time to catch up and spend time together remembering Chris. If Chris was still with us, I know that he would have loved our new home in this community and would also have been happy to be back living downtown again. For my mum, Julian, Sean and me, Christmas will once again be a quiet time.

Most people will experience grief in their lifetime. BFO Ottawa is an organization run by people who have lost a loved one. Its trained facilitators know first-hand what it’s like because it has happened to them. Everyone at BFO Ottawa believes that no one should have to grieve alone. To find out more about BFO Ottawa’s unique programs, or to make a donation, please visit bfoottawa.org. To pick up a copy of Always With Me: Parents Talk About the Death of a Child, you can drop into Octopus Books, 118 Third Avenue, in the Glebe, or you can order it online at demeterpress.org.

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