Last night Grace was asked to sing O'Canada for a big presentation at our hockey arena. She was both excited and nervous. She was extra nervous because she had a cold and was afraid that her voice would crack. I expected to go to the arena and be cold and feel pride in my daughter, I did not expect it to bring up feelings that I work hard daily to repress.
There was a presentation of a new score clock in memory of Christopher Thurston. Christopher was a local boy who died May 28, 2011 in a car accident on Marlbank Road (the same stretch that we had our accident that took Gabe). He was only 21 years old. His family had fundraised to purchase the clock in his memory, and to remember his love of hockey. After Grace sang the national anthem, Christopher's parents, Robert and Lisa, spoke to the crowd. They spoke about how the community had supported them during their grief, and how that support had helped them. They spoke of their son and his love of hockey. They also spoke about the immense support that they had received from Donna and David Palmateer. Donna and David, lost their son Christopher, October 19, 2003. He was only 11, and had fought a difficult battle with cancer.
As Robert and Lisa spoke, I could hear that agony in their voice, that familiar pain and longing. I remembered being at that place in grief. For us we were terrified that the world would forget our Gabe. We spent hundreds of hours trying to think of things that we could do to memorialize Gabe, things that we could do that would force people to remember Gabe. Our Gabe was only 9 years old, he had not been able to make his mark in the world, we had to do it for him. For us it was almost a panic feeling. The grief was almost unbearable, doing things to memorialize Gabe, gave us something other than pain to think about. As I listened to them, I could almost go back to that point in grief, to that
all-encompassing panic/ pain/ that feeling like the pain will never ever go away.
There is web of connection between all of our families, ourselves, the Palmateers and the Thurstons. Robert Thurston was Gabe's first soccer coach. He coached Gabe through that embarrassing stage where he lay on the grass, just picking grass, and throwing it up in the air like it was green snow. I remember asking Robert if there was anything I could do, he just gave me a patient reassuring smile and reminded me that this was about fun. I was young, I was new to this parenting thing, and was a single mother, and was bent on Gabe being the perfect child. Robert was patient and kind with Gabe, and all of the other kids, including his own son Cody, Gabe's teammate (who didn't lie in the grass and throw chunks of it in the air). I remember seeing a little Christopher Thurston at the games cheering on his little brother on the sidelines.
Robert spoke last night of the emotional support that they had received from Donna and David Palmateer. When Gabe died, the Palmateers sent us flowers. A few days later, Donna came over with book, and words of comfort. The book was wonderful. It was book that someone had given her, that had helped her, and she wanted to pay it forward. Over time Donna would call and check in with us. There are no words to adequately express how much that meant. There were all too many people around us who had stupid words, stupid advice, people who had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. There is great comfort in speaking to someone who has known your Hell. Donna knew what we were going through, she knew our pain, she had survived. No one knows the pain of losing a child, unless they have. When we did public things to memorialize Gabe, Donna and David were there to support us. They are such kind and good people. I also discovered through them that there is comfort in reaching out to other parents who have lost their child. We have words of wisdom, we have things that we did that helped us to survive. We form a club, that one wants to be a member of.
Last night I watched my daughter sing the national anthem. I had tears of pride. Those tears of pride, became replaced with tears of sympathy. They were also tinged with tears of my own pain. It took me back to a terrible time. It also reminded me how far Christopher and I have come. There are times that are worse for remembering and longing for Gabe, Christmas time and his birthday. There are also times where grief just appears, drowning me unexpectedly. It might be a smell, a face, a boy wearing a jacket that looks like Gabe from the back. There are times where that grief chokes me, but it is no where near as bad as that initial painful grief that we felt almost 8 years ago. The grief does not go away, but it makes itself known less often, and with much less pain. It seems fitting that Grace sang the national anthem for their big event.
This is Grace's rendition of O'Canada. We did not know that she would be directly below us, and that there would be no way to capture her on film, so I did the best that I could.