About callumrussellmaclean

Callum's mom

Callum’s Classroom

I realized that I haven’t been keeping people on this blog up to date with our project.  In case you haven’t heard, we are building a classroom in Callum’s honour through a P.E.I. group called Farmers Helping Farmers.  The fundraising started in April 2014 and will continue for a year.  A classroom costs about $6,000 to build.  If we surpass that goal, we will build a second classroom!

While we are still raising money and will be for the next 8 months, construction has started.  We received a photo today from Kenya.  This will be Callum’s Classroom!

Kamuketha classroom construction

To read more about the project, you can visit another blog that I am writing: calllumsclassroom.wordpress.com

In other exciting news, Tristan and I will be travelling to Kenya as part of a trip in July 2015 through Farmers Helping Farmers.  It’s being led by two P.E.I. teachers who are bringing a group of 12-14 teens from the Island to eastern Kenya.  As part of the trip, we will be visiting Callum’s Classroom.

This will take a lot of fundraising – both for the project and for the trip.  But it feels good to be doing something meaningful in Callum’s honour.  As you will read on the Callum’s Classroom blog, he had a connection with Farmers Helping Farmers and with fundraising for Kenya.  We even found a couple of letters that he was sent from students in Kenya.

Healing takes time.  The grief and pain will never go away.  But I am trying through this project to focus my energy on something positive.  I think that’s what Callum would want me to be doing.

Asante — thank you –for being part of our journey. Callum will now be celebrated and remembered by generations of kids in Kenya as well as by those who knew him and loved him.



Looking for Some Sunflower Magic

sunaug4 sunaug1 sunaug2 sunaug3

This is my first time visiting the sunflower field after two weeks away. The weeds have certainly grown!  Now you know what I will be doing next week….

Some of the sunflowers are quite large and have blooms.  Others are following close..or not…behind.

But it’s time to commit.  So we’re going to aim for our Big Sunflower Sale on Saturday September 6th…with a rain date of Sunday September 7th.

And that’s the tough part of doing an event …out doors….relying on things to grow.  I’m hoping they’ll be ready :)    

Here is the news release that will soon be going out to local PEI media.  I hope my team of volunteers on PEI is getting revved up for Saturday September 6th.  Please, please, spread the word.  We want this to be a big event…for a great cause.

Sunflowers for a Kenya Classroom

Pick or purchase a bouquet of sunflowers on Saturday September 6th and you will be helping to build a classroom in Kenya.

   The event is taking place at Wood’s Farms in Tea Hill. The Sunflower Sale is part of a year-long fundraising campaign for Callum’s Classroom.

   Callum’s Classroom is a new charity founded in honour of a Stratford teen who passed away from cancer last year. Callum Russell MacLean was an ordinary kid who showed great strength and courage in his battle with cancer. He passed away on April 9, 2013, at the age of 15.

   Now his mother and brother have teamed up with the P.E.I.-based organization, Farmers Helping Farmers, to build a classroom at Kamuketha Primary School in eastern Kenya.

   “Growing up, Callum was connected to kids in Kenya through fundraising at his Sunday School for mosquito nets to prevent malaria,” explains his mom, Nancy Russell. “When he attended Stonepark Intermediate, his school was twinned with a Kenyan school and he wrote letters back and forth with some students in Africa.”

   “Callum had a kind heart and was always looking for ways to help others,” Russell continues. “I know that Callum would be honoured to have us build a classroom in his name so that generations of kids in Kenya can learn and have a chance at the kind of life that our kids in Canada sometimes take for granted.”

   “Callum had wonderful teachers and schools in his lifetime journey.   So this is a way to give back,” she adds.

  The idea for the sunflower “field of dreams” came from Della Turner Wood, of Wood’s Farms. Last year, she grew a field of dahlias which were picked and sold with the money going to the Canadian Cancer Society. When she saw a field of sunflowers, she thought of Callum.   Sunflowers were a special flower for his family because they bloom around his birthday. Friends and family plant seeds in his honour every year. Wood approached Callum’s mother with the idea and the Sunflower Sale was born.

     “Growing a field of sunflowers is harder than it looks,” admits Callum’s mom, Nancy Russell. “Thanks to Veseys who donated the seeds we had lots to plant and a real seeder. But getting them to grow was another thing.”

  The dry weather made for an anxious summer, with Russell constantly visiting the field to see if the sunflowers were growing.

  “They are beautiful flowers,” observes Russell. “I love the way they move over the course of the day to keep their faces towards the sun.”

     “They remind me of Callum,” she adds.   “I think he’d be happy to have lots of people enjoying the sunflowers and helping to build a classroom in Kenya.”

     Nancy and Callum’s brother, Tristan, will travel to Kenya with Farmers Helping Farmers in July 2015, marking the group’s 35th anniversary. The group, primarily made up of P.E.I. teens, will visit Callum’s Classroom at Kamuketha School.

     “It will be emotional, for sure, seeing what we have helped to build in Callum’s name,” says Nancy Russell.   “But we will get to share that moment with all of the people who have supported us on the journey towards building Callum’s Classroom.”

     The one-day Sunflower Sale takes place Saturday September 6th from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m at Wood’s Farms at 180 Georgetown Road. After that, you can drive out to Wood’s Farms during regular business hours and pick your own. (closed on Sundays) The sunflowers will also be available for sale at Now n Zen Coffee Shop on Glen Stewart Drive in Stratford, until they run out. They are $5 for 5 blooms.

  To read more about Callum’s Classroom, please visit http://callumsclassroom.wordpress.com/


Happy Birthday Callum

callumhammockWords cannot describe how broken my heart feels today.  These milestone days are so hard. On one hand, I am heartened that so many people are thinking about him and sending him love today, on his birthday.  But it is also another day that he is not here with us. And never will be, except in our memories.

Tristan and I are fortunate to be here on the Ottawa River with family. This is where Callum celebrated most of his birthdays and will always be a special place.

Please send him love and talk about him and remember him.

Callum – I love you as much today as I did the day you were born, and I always will.

xo Mom

PS – We bought another hammock on this visit because the other one broke.  But I wanted one to be here, to remember this day and his smile.

The Price We Pay For Love


Grief is the price we pay for love. 

As soon as we open up our hearts, we risk being hurt. And with our children, our hearts are more open and vulnerable than for anyone else. And so the pain is even more profound when they leave us.

But I wouldn’t trade away one single minute that I got to spend with Callum. Even if the price is my broken heart. He was worth it…

Thank you to everyone who lit up their homes for Callum last night.  I wanted to share a couple of photos.  greenhouselightsforcallum

The MacKenzies have a farm about a five minute drive from our house, on the Trans-Canada Highway, just past Stratford.  Tania worked for a while with us at CBC.  She and Greg are great farmers and I love going to their farm stand for fresh produce.  Last night, the MacKenzies turned on the lights in their greenhouses in honour of Callum.  There is nothing planted there yet.  They just wanted to shine as big a light as they could for him.  Thank you Tania and Greg.


From greenhouses to candles. Christmas lights to house lights.  You warmed my heart by showing your love for Callum.

quiltycandlepatonlightsAnd so the question is: what happens now? Another year of sadness begins.  Another year of missing Callum.  It seems unbearable at times. But I have no choice but to go on.  Someone asked me if the pain has lessened at all.  No. It can still sneak up on me and stab me in the heart, as deeply as it ever has.  And the moments when I forget the pain, on the yoga mat for example,  I pay for them later when reality sets in yet again. Callum is gone.  It’s a grim cycle …of slight release and then a blow of pain.  I don’t know what I expected.  I realize that I never thought that much about grief before this.  It is a powerful force.

I’m realizing now that one of Callum’s greatest gifts was in helping me to raise Tristan.  Callum was always telling Tristan to say please and thank you and sorry!  Callum was Tristan’s best friend.  And he showed Tristan what it means to be brave.  I think that is what has carried Tristan through this year.

I will go on. I have to go on, even if it is another year of sadness.  I will do it for Tristan…and, always, for Callum.

Grief is the price we pay for love

About Grief



As we head towards Wednesday  April 9th, I hope that you are planning to leave a light on Tuesday night in honour of Callum.  We will have our house lights and Christmas lights on.   Readers on P.E.I. know the story of the dad from North Rustico who lost his son in an ATV accident many years ago.  Every year, he puts on a magnificent Christmas light display that gets bigger every year.  Callum and Tristan and I got to see it several years in a row because they had hockey games in Rustico around Christmas.  This dad said he wanted his son to be able to see their house from heaven.  The dad also collected donations for Children’s Wish.  So this is our mini-version of that light show.   Let him see the lights of everyone who loves him and misses him.

  I know that everyone is trying to figure out what to say to me or what to do this week as we approach the first anniversary. I don’t even know myself how to get through it.  It feels as if a massive emotional storm is approaching and I just have to keep my head down and hold on tight to Tristan and Kai and Penny and my friends and just ride out the storm.  Nothing is going to be any better on April 10th.  Callum will still be gone.  And he will have been gone for a year.  I still wake up every day in disbelief that this is my life now.  That’s still going to happen on April 10th.  And on every day after that.  This isn’t going to “go away”.  The grief is never going to leave.  My friends who are bereaved parents themselves say that the pain does start to ease….every so slightly at first.  Yes, I have gone on for a year….put one foot in front of the other….gone through the motions of living.  But my heart is still as broken today as it was on April 9th.  Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand what it is like to think that you will not see your child….the person you have loved since the day he was born….you will never see him ever again.  

To the people who think I’m magically going to be better now that one year has passed, please don’t make me feel as if I have somehow failed.  I can’t just snap my fingers and be the person that I used to be.  My world has been shattered.  Everything that I believed in has been shattered.   I can’t just pick myself up and dust myself off.  My heart has been ripped in half.  Those captions you see on Facebook that say “don’t put a timetable on grief”…they are right.  Please stop asking me when I am going back to work.  That I am still able to take care of my house and Tristan and Kai and Penny…and am trying to learn to teach yoga….that is all I can handle.  My life has changed forever.  I still struggle to get through the days without Callum.  He was my rock.  He was my son but also my friend. He and Tristan and I were a team.  There is a massive hole in our lives.  Rebuilding my faith in life is going to take a long, long time.  Please be patient with me.

One of my friends sent me an article today written by a grieving mother: http://www.mamamia.com.au/parenting/ten-points-i-wish-every-person-knew-about-the-death-of-a-child/   It’s long, so I’d like to share some of her key points.


The soul-destroying agony of your child dying is only truly known and understood by those who have endured it. Four years on, I still glance down at my daughter’s grave in disbelief. Visiting my child’s grave is surreal. It’s almost like I’ve vacated my body and I’m watching someone I don’t know standing there putting flowers down.

Is this really my life?

Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that by about a trillion and you’re probably not even close.

On the surface it appears society is accepting of this unbearable sadness and people are supportive and open to talking about it. However, in my situation I’ve been surprised by people’s genuine kindness and empathy as much as I’ve been repeatedly shocked & disappointed by their lack of it. It’s necessary for bereaved parents to be able to talk and, most of all, be able to talk openly. I’ve found it’s the only thing which dispels the trauma.

Sure, friends and family have been supportive, but it’s proven to be the case with me that there is a mandate as for how long their unwavering support, patience, understanding, concern and empathy lasts. The truth is, the situation is so unbearably sad that it becomes incredibly emotionally draining on the other person.

The realization that they can’t fix your sadness sets in, the frustration builds because not even they can see an end in sight, then gradually it starts to impede on the happiness in their life. They haven’t lost their child so why should they spend all their time sad about yours?

I will, for the sake of all the other parents out there with empty arms, write ten things I wish people knew about the loss of a child. Maybe one of my ten points might make a difference to a bereaved parent’s life.

1. Four years on I get up every day with the exact same sadness I had the day Ella died. The only difference is I’m more skilled at hiding it and I’m much more used to the agony of my broken heart. The shock has somewhat lessened, but I do still find myself thinking I can’t believe this happened. I thought that only happened to other people. You asked how I was in the beginning yet you stopped, why? Where did you get the information on what week or month was good to stop asking?

2. Please don’t tell me that all you want is for me to be happy again. Nobody wants that more than I do, but it’s something that can only be achieved with time. On top of that, I have to find a new happiness. The happiness I once felt, that carefree feeling, will never return in its entirety. It also helps to have the patience and understanding from loved ones.

3. Please don’t say ‘I want the old Sam back!’ Or, I can see the old Sam coming back! Sam’s not coming back. This is who I am now. If you only knew the horror I witnessed and endured you would know it’s not humanly possible for me to ever be the same person again. Losing a child changes who you are. I’ve been told my eyes look haunted.

It’s a strange thing for someone to tell a grieving mother, but it’s true – I am haunted. My views on the world have changed, things that were once important are not now and vice versa. I feel as though you’re telling me two things here. Firstly you don’t like the person I am and, secondly if the old Sam’s not coming back I’m out of here. By the way there is nobody that misses the “old Sam” more than me!!! I’m mourning two deaths here; my daughter’s and my former self.

4. If you chose to acknowledge my daughter’s birthday or the anniversary of her death on the first year, it’s terribly gut wrenching when you didn’t bother to acknowledge the second or third or fourth. Do you think any subsequent birthday or anniversary is not as sad for me? It also says to me in very big neon lights that you’ve moved on and forgotten about my daughter.

5. Please stop with the continual comments about how lucky I am to have my other children particularly my daughter. Do I say this to you? Then why say it to me? I’ve buried my daughter do you seriously think I feel lucky?

10. Grieving for a child lasts until you see them again. It’s a lifetime. If you’re wondering how long your friend or family member might be grieving for, the answer is forever. Don’t rush them, don’t trivialize their sadness, don’t make them feel guilty for being sad and when they talk to you, open your ears and listen, really listen to what they’re telling you. It’s possible you’ll learn something. Don’t be so cruel as to give up on them remember it’s not about you it’s about them.

The bottom line is people are uncomfortable with the situation and I really don’t know why. My feelings tell me it is such an horrific thing that most people don’t want to know about it. Maybe they fear through knowing so much they might become obsessed with their own children dying. Parents worry enough about their children already. Do they really need the added worry about knowing how your child died?

What I have had to give emotionally to get through it has dwindled away all my mental strength – just like twenty cents pieces in a kid’s piggy bank.

I’m broke – not broken – I’m broke emotionally. I know all the energy I’ve needed over the last four years has not just been spent on my grief for Ella.


Back now to me and Callum.  I’m not as angry as this mom.  I know how hard my friends and family have tried to understand and support me.  And I have had some incredible support from the bereaved parents I’ve met over the last year. 

I just want everyone to understand the depth of the pain that I still feel.  One year feels long. 365 days without him.  I will never seem him again.  Some days I have to suppress that thought because it’s too much to bear.  Some days I say it over and over, as if to torture myself and try to build up my pain threshold.  But then some little reminder of him creeps in through my armour and I’m back to where I started.  A mother with a broken heart. Forever.

I hope this week that people will talk about Callum and share stories about him. Please let him know that he’s not forgotten.  And that he was …and is….very loved.  

Love you Call Call.  xo Mom 



A New Project for Callum


I haven’t been writing much over the last couple of weeks.  I’m trying very hard just to get through these days.  I think it’s going to be like this until we get past the one year anniversary on April 9th.

At the same time as this sad day approaches,  I have been working on a project that I’m hoping is going to give all of us strength and hope in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Tristan and I are teaming up with Farmers Helping Farmers on a project to build a classroom in Kenya in Callum’s honour.  I’ve created a new blog all about the project that you can visit here. As you will read, Callum had some pretty cool connections to Kenya when he was growing up.  This feels like something that Callum would want to do.

The ultimate goal is that Tristan and I will travel to Kenya and visit Callum’s classroom in 2015.  All of the money that I make teaching yoga will go towards our travel.  But the rest of the fundraisers will be directed towards building the classroom.

These are going to be dark days as we all re-live the memories of Callum’s last days.  But I hope that this project will help bring some light into our sadness.  We all know that this is what he wanted, more than anything.  I am trying to be true to his strength of character and generous heart, even as my own heart breaks…again.

The night of April 8th, I’m hoping that all who loved Callum will leave a light on in his honour.  We’re going to plug in our Christmas lights….just like the dad in North Rustico who created the amazing Christmas display for his son who passed away.  Even one of those battery-operated candles…or a night light…  Just a light for Callum.

We hope that Callum’s Classroom will spark a light in some bright young minds in Kenya. And help bring even a little bit of peace to all of us who miss him so much.

Love you Call-Call.


Hockey Memories


This is Callum celebrating the bantam A hockey championship 3 years ago.  Tristan will be playing in the same tournament starting tomorrow….bringing back a lot of memories.  We were in Summerside then, and will be again this weekend.

This team was a “dream team” in the 2010-2011 season.  These players were hand-picked to play on the checking team in A hockey.  The other team was non-checking.  Callum’s team won almost every game.  They won three championships.  Those are the banners that hang above the doorway at the Pownal stadium…and haunt me every time I have to walk under them.  But as you can tell from the expression on his face, Callum was happy to be a champ.  This is his “I’m not going to truly smile, but I am secretly smiling” face.

I am so happy now that Callum ended his hockey career as a champion.  The championship game was his last.  The following September, he went to a tryout, after his cancer diagnosis.  But he had an unrelated pneumonia, and could hardly breathe as he skated.  He only skated one other time, at the New Year’s Eve fundraiser at Pownal for the IWK Children’s Hospital.  

Callum made fun of Tristan and me that same September, when we cried because Tristan was the last player cut from the AAA team.  Callum said that there were a lot bigger things that could go wrong in life than getting cut from a hockey team.  He was certainly right.

This hockey season, Tristan was the captain of his hockey team and scored more than 50 goals.  He could have been playing at a higher level, but most of all, he wanted to be with his friends.  He emerged as a leader on his team.  One of his team-mates even wrote an essay about him at school, on the subject of leadership.  

I’m only mentioning this because Tristan has faced a tremendous loss in the last year.  He lost his only, very beloved, brother.  And he has been still able to achieve his goals.  It’s not as if I have forgotten him in all of this.  But, to his credit, he has proven to be so much more resilient than his mother.  I know that young people are often more resilient. But I would also like to think that he has learned from Callum, about what strength really is.  It’s about carrying on, despite adversity.  

I will be thinking about Callum this weekend in Summerside.  It doesn’t matter if Tristan’s team wins or loses.  With or without a championship, Tristan has shown great courage and character.  He never wants to talk about what happened to Callum.  But I know that he carries his brother in his heart.  As we all do.  

You were a champion, Callum….more than we knew when this photo was taken.  You will always be a champion.

Love Mom


Eleven Months Later: What I Still Don’t Understand About Grief



Eleven months.  Time is so hard to comprehend when you are grieving.  It feels like eleven life times since Callum left us. Or eleven minutes.  The pain certainly feels as if it happened eleven minutes ago.

Everyone else’s life has gone on…as it should.  His friends are turning 17.  In September, they will be entering Grade 12.  His brother is turning 15, the same age Callum was when he died.  Time moves on.  

I’ve been reading a lot about grief recently…trying to figure out the perfect thing to say and write on the one year anniversary.  Some way to explain what this year has been like, and what Callum still means to me.  I know there will be not “perfect” words.  But I have to try.

“Grief is like the ocean.

It comes like waves,

ebbing and flowing.

Sometimes the water is 

calm, and sometimes it

is overwhelming.  All we

can do is learn to swim.”

-Vicki Harrison

I’m not swimming yet.  At best, I’m treading water.  And in the really bad moments, I’m just trying my hardest not to go under.

Eleven months later, I feel as if I’m stuck in some evil version of the movie “Groundhog Day”.  I open my eyes, desperate to find out that this isn’t really happening and that it’s going to the a different day.  But no.  Callum is still gone.  And the band-aid is ripped off my heart again.  Every morning in fact.

I’ve also described my grief as being on a merry-go-round.  If you’ve been reading the blog, you know the basic themes. They go over and over in my head daily.   Why didn’t I know something was wrong?  Why did this happen to us?  Did I do enough to take care of him in those final weeks?  Why was I in such denial about what was happening?  Why should I go on?  Especially when I am walking the dog, the tears flow behind my sunglasses as these thoughts swirl through my head.

Yes, there are sound, rational answers to all of these questions.  There was nothing I could have done.  It happened because one random cell mutated and created the cancer that took over his body.  Yes, I did everything I could and was the best mother I could be under those circumstances.  And yes, I have reasons to go on.

But…oh….the darkness sometimes.  The deep, dark valley of grief as one writer described it.  This is not where Callum wanted me to be.  But he had no idea how much this was going to hurt.  In his mind, everybody would go on and forget him.  He was humble to a fault in some ways.  He always worried more about everyone else around him than he did about himself.

I know I have to put my head down and face the weeks ahead as time marches on towards the one year anniversary on April 9th.  It will just be a day.  A sad day.  A day when I hope everybody will remember what a caring and extraordinary person he was.  But he’ll still be gone on April 10th.  And perhaps that will be the hardest day of all so far. 

“My mind knows you are in a better place,

where there is no pain.

You are at peace.

I understand that, I just wish

I could explain that to my heart.”


Love you Call Call.  Today and every day.  xo Mom

Eleven Months of Missing Callum


“Do not judge the bereaved mother. 

She comes in many forms. 

She is breathing, but she is dying. 

She may look young, but inside she has become ancient. 

She smiles, but her heart sobs. 

She walks, she talks, she cooks, she cleans, she works, she IS, but she is not, all at once. 

She is here, but part of her is elsewhere for eternity.” 

- Author unknown


Lost Treasure



Whenever I find a new photo of Callum…it is like a piece of lost treasure! This photo was taken by my cousin Amelita. It was in August…before the first diagnosis in September 2011. Life was good then! I’m so happy she took this picture.

I thought about this photo a lot today.  I was at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where Callum and I spent so many hours together. I was there for a routine colonoscopy.  I have one every five years because my father died at age 65 of colorectal cancer.  It was well advanced by the time they found it.  If he had been screened, it is likely that the cancer would have been very treatable.  So I am diligent about getting screened.  

But it was hard to be lying in that hospital bed.  And then, one of the nurses is the mother of a girl who had gone to school with Callum since Grade One.  So of course we talked about our kids, and about Callum.  His friends are now turning 17.  Their lives have continued on.  He was 15 when he died, the same age that Tristan will turn this April.

Time is so confusing that way.  Callum is frozen in our memories….like in this picture from the cottage. But everyone else has moved on.  Except for me. I seem caught in this never-never land of grief.  How is it that almost a year later I still can’t believe this is happening to us?   

I came across this poem today….and it describes where I am right now.  I am caught in the vise hold of grief….but if I really love Callum, I have to find a way to go on.  The poem is originally titled “She is Gone”, but I’ve changed the she to he.  I know this is the next step, where I have to get to if I am going to make it through this.  It seems impossible, but I know I have to keep on trying. For Tristan.  For my family.  And for Callum.  I love you and miss you Callum. 

You can shed tears that he is gone
or you can smile because he has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that he’ll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all he’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember him and only that he’s gone
or you can cherish his memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind,
be empty and turn your back
or you can do what he’d want:
smile, open your eyes, love and go on.