Broken Glass

marlene 1

I lost a very dear friend on Monday. Someone so special that even as she knew she was dying sent me a note to make sure I was okay on Callum’s birthday on Saturday.

Here is what she wrote:

I know this weekend is being celebrated as it should be remembering one amazing young man. Life is unfair by times and there is nothing we can do to change it, darn it. I hope through your tears of sorrow that you will have some smiles of joy remembering how he would punch you in the arm and all of his Callum’isms. Moving forward through your tears I wish for you this birthday brings a small piece of peace. Talk to him because he is listening, he will never leave his Mommy.

Love and Hugs, Marlene

That is what she was like. Her last words were to thank me for everything over the many years. I only realize now that she was saying good-bye.


She passed away on Monday after more than a decade after first being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She was famous for leading the warm-up at the Run for the Cure events on P.E.I. every year. Her spirit and enthusiasm were epic.

marlene 2015 run 1

We became friends a long time ago, after I did a story for CBC about her return to teach her aqua fitness classes at the old Y in Charlottetown after her first bout with cancer.

marlene 2015 run 2

When she moved to the CARI pool, I started going to the early morning classes. We would often talk at pool side, long after the class ended. We became friends.

The cancer came back. Marlene did chemo again. And she was back on the pool deck.

She was an advocate for cancer care and for the QEH. And an inspiration.

marlene knitting

Callum and Tristan and I became regulars at the Run for the Cure because of Marlene.

marlene run 2009


When Callum was diagnosed, Marlene was there with us every step of the way. The two of them had a connection beyond what any of us could understand.

On the first anniversary of Callum’s death, Marlene and her husband David invited me to their house. They were the only people in the world that I could imagine spending that day with, other than my family, who weren’t on P.E.I. That is how much Marlene and David meant to me.  I could cry, I could remember. I could talk about Callum.

me and marlene

Every year since then, that is how I have spent that day. They were my rocks.

Marlene was also the one who inspired the messages on the beach every year on the Ottawa River for Callum’s birthday.


And now, how I will miss her.

I want to share what she wrote after our last visit, on April 9, 2017. Another gift from her, along with her last words to me: Love you and thank you for everything over the many years! Love, Marlene

Broken Glass

Thank you so much for the beautiful plant and mostly sharing part of your day with us. You once talked about broken glass how the edges cut, hurt deeply. Only through time do the edges lose their sharpness, the glass is still broken, can never be fixed. We who loved and knew Callum will never ever forget him, but you and Tristan will feel always feel the hurt.

Four years later I am grateful to still be alive to share this day with you and moving forward I want more. We all want more, human nature we always want more of what we love. Callum lived life large, as his Mom you made sure he did get an awesome life, he was loved and he was special.

So glad to hear that Tristan is doing well, that life is unfolding in a positive direction for him, for you. I know Callum is proud of you both.

May love, family, friends and Callum help guide you through the broken glass.

xo Marlene

Love you too my friend. I already miss you so much. But will never forget you.


marlene run 2015 3



The story of Pooh

I sent my mother a quotation from Winnie the Pooh that I had posted on Facebook in 2014 and she insisted that I had to share it here as well. And then something strange happened.

First, the quote:

pooh saying

I had a particularly bad day yesterday and my mom was trying to help by getting me to focus on this saying.

Then I opened a drawer in Callum’s room today and found this.

pooh hat

And then I was looking for a picture of him wearing the Pooh hat, which I didn’t. But I found this.

callum toronto easter

Maybe all just a coincidence? Or maybe Callum giving me a nudge?? That punch on the arm that he used to give me and a “chin up, mom. You have to keep on going. You can’t quit now.”

Thanks Call. I’m trying. I just miss you very very much.

Love Mom

And here we are again…

me and callum


Four years. How is that even possible? I will not even estimate how many days. That could crush me right about now.

I have no wisdom about grief to share this year. Except, it still really really hurts.

For the last 364 days, I have tried to shut it down. I have even tried to start to change his room. Baby steps.

I run into his friends, who graduated two years ago. They are all 19 now and can drink—legally. I even run into them in the liquor store. Awkward!

We talk about what they’re doing. I desperately want to ask them about what they remember about Callum. But that’s not fair.

I will, for the first time, watch Tristan graduate from Grade 12. Something my family and I didn’t get to experience with Callum. He didn’t get to go to semi-formal in Grade 9. And he didn’t get to prom.

I try not to be angry. Or sad. But it’s a challenge. Every day. I just hide it really well.

Callum’s nickname growing up was “Bunny”. That’s what I called him. I realize now that he had a gentle part of him, a kindness, even from the time he was little. I think that is what people saw in him. It sometimes made him vulnerable to bullies. But it also made him an amazing friend.

I will try to honour him in this, the fourth year since he left us.

I went to the cemetery today, just to make sure everything looked okay, just in case anyone went there tomorrow. Still his mom.

I know Callum would be so proud of the man that Tristan has become, and everything he has accomplished. He will always be a better person because he had Callum as a role model.

Callum – you made us all better. I just wish we had more time with you.

I will always love you and miss you.

Love you Call-Call.


To see the slide show about Callum:







Sunflower thanks!


We had an amazing Sunflower Sale on Saturday, raising about $500 for the QEH Pediactrics Unit. Thanks to all my wonderful friends who came out to help as they do every year -and the yoga girls, who not only helped, but also kept us entertained singing from the Mamma Mia soundtrack.



It is always bittersweet for me to see so many of Callum’s friends and their families on Sunflower Day, but also lovely to hear people talk about him. I even had a visit from one of his Grade 8 teachers and her very cute kids. I wore one of his sweatshirts, to mark the occasion.


A special thanks to Della Wood who generously hosts us every year and who suggested planting Sunflowers for Callum in the first place.

There will be more blooms once this rain passes. If you’d like some, you can pick your own between 9 and 12, 1 and 5 at Wood’s Farms, 177 Georgetown Road. Or if you don’t mind walking in, you can drop by any time. Just bring your own clippers and leave the money in the mailbox at Della’s shop.

Thanks for celebrating the kid who brought so much sunshine to our lives.

Love ya Callum, and so do a lot of other people.

xo Mom


Spending the day with Callum

sand 1Out on the water is where I feel closest to Callum.

This afternoon I spent paddling along the Ottawa River where my tears could drop into the river water and drift away.

Then I made this on the sand.

sand 1b

This is how I am expressing my grief this year. No less deep, no less love for my Callum.

I found this beautifully written expression of a parent’s loss today. If you want to know where my heart and soul are, this is it.

I hope everyone will take a minute today on his 19th birthday to think about Callum and remember him.

keppoch 2011

Love you Call-Call!

xo Momsand 2



No one ever gets good at grief

keppoch 2011

As darkness falls on April 8th, and we head towards that time, in the early morning hours of April 9th when Callum left us, I wasn’t sure I wanted to write anything on this 3rd anniversary.   I have no insight to share – as if I ever did – other than, crap, it still hurts so much.  Why didn’t anyone warn me?  Probably because humans would be extinct if we ever stopped to analyze how much it could hurt if we had a child and he died.

garden 7

Since the last anniversary, Callum’s friends have graduated from high school and moved on to whatever the next stage of their life will be.  I thought it would be easier as they moved on and away.  But, no, nothing really helps.  Every time I see one of them, I see how they have become adults, accomplishing things in their lives.  And Callum is still back in Grade 10 where he left us.



Before this gets too depressing, I will highlight our trip to Kenya.  What an incredible gift that trip was to Tristan and me!  Not everyone in my family was thrilled that we were going there, at a time when the country was somewhat unstable.  And it wasn’t an easy experience emotionally.  The day that we dedicated the classrooms at Kamuketha in Callum’s honour was one of the hardest days yet in our grieving process.  But, someday, I hope we will realize how important that was – to us and to everyone who helped make those classrooms happen.  It was part of the grief journey for all of us.

garden 3

In June, as Callum’s friends were all graduating, they came and helped me plant a garden in his honour, here on Glencove Drive.  Sad, again, but so kind of them to be part of it, along with some of my amazing friends.   I also went to the party before the prom and posed for photos with all of his friends.  And then I went to his grave and cried my eyes out.

prom 1

And there it is.  Time goes by. Lives go on.  People watching me probably think – oh, she’s doing so well.  No, I’ve just become the best actor on the planet, along with every other parent who has lost a child. You shut down those thoughts that hurt you so you can survive.  You do your best to appear “normal”.  There are special days – Christmas, New Year’s Eve, their birthday – that are absolute torture.  Those are the tough ones, where you just want to crawl into bed and never get out.  The rest of the time you just do the best you can.

callum trist new years

I’m still hoping to get to that place where I can honestly say – I am lucky to have had him in my life for 15 years.  I say it over and over again, more than you can imagine.   But I still go through all of those emotions: anger, sadness, denial – the usual – but also resentment, envy, failure, desolation, depression, numbness, emptiness.  There are a few to add to the Kubler-Ross stages of grieving.

callum hammock smile

Where does that leave me, three years later, without my beloved Callum?  His last days still play over and over in my head and I scream at myself for everything I did wrong.  Then sometimes I have other glimpses – of our life together before cancer and remember a funny story about him.



Last year at this time, I reprinted the lyrics for “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.  A wonderful woman, Cara DeCoste, the co-leader of our trip to Kenya, sang this at Kamuketha.  I’m sure she had to imagine steel in her veins to get through it, but she did.

This is the last song that Callum played on the trumpet.

callum band
The band at his high school played it at the Celebration of his life.

And now it has been sung in his honour in Kenya.

This song also sums up Callum.

“You’ve Got A Friend In Me”

You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy you’ve got a friend in me
Yeah you’ve got a friend in me

You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
You got troubles and I got ’em too
There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you
We stick together, we can see it through
‘Cause you’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me

Some other folks might be a little bit smarter than I am
Bigger and stronger too
But none of them
Will ever love you the way I do
It’s me and you boy

And as the years go by
Our friendship will never die
You’re gonna see it’s our destiny
You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
You’ve got a friend in me
We hope that we have given you a picture of this boy from Prince Edward Island named Callum.
We miss him very much.
Asante. Thank you.

We are blessed to have had so many friends in our lives. And a special thank you to the people who took care of me today.  And to everyone who reached out to show that they remember and care.

Love, above all, to you Callum Russell MacLean


To conclude…

The title of this post really says it all: you never get good at grief.

Love you forever Callum.