About callumrussellmaclean

Callum's mom

A Week of Weeping

I could put on a brave face. But the truth is that the past week has been filled with tears.

Callum’s friends had their prom last Friday and on Wednesday, they had their Grade 12 graduation.

These were such meaningful milestones.  For the French Immersion group, they had been together for 12 of their 18 years.  For me, it was a week of missing Callum and wishing he was here, with his friends, where he was supposed to be.

My friend Stephanie and her daughter Abbey, Callum’s friend since Grade 1, invited me to the pre-prom party at their house.  I instantly declined, saying it would be torture.  But Abbey persisted.  And I knew that I didn’t want to have regrets. So I went to the party.

I arrived late and the group was buzzing around taking pictures because the double decker bus would soon arrive to take them to the Confederation Centre. Stephanie sent a few of the boys to round up the others.  And then I had to step up beside them for the photo.

prom 1

I can tell you that I was channeling every bit of Callum’s courage to stand up there with his friends and smile for the camera. I was filling in for him…the spot where he would have been.

I left the party shortly afterwards and drove a few minutes away to the cemetery.  I sat there and cried.  As they were all loading onto the bus to go to prom, I was sitting in my car, in the rain, staring at the place where he was buried.

prom 2

A few days before prom, I had the idea of creating a garden for Callum, to mark his Grade 12 graduation.  Thanks to Joanne and the Town of Stratford, we were able to create the garden at Lantz Park, just up the road from our house.

On the night before the graduation, his friends arrived with their plants and we got to work.  Within half an hour, we had created what I think is a beautiful bed.  We even think it’s in the shape of P.E.I.!

garden 0 garden 1

garden 2 garden 3

garden 4

garden 5

garden 6

garden 7

garden 8

garden 9

What I have learned from this week of sadness is that I need to actively do something to deal with my grief.  When I’m feeling crushed by sadness,  I have learned to try to create….find something tangible to do to replace being overwhelmed by grief.  And I think other people are feeling the same way too and that’s why everyone has been so supportive.  We are all looking for a way beyond the sadness and loss.  To show him — and to show the world — that Callum Russell MacLean mattered.

There is such a loss of control when you lose someone you love.  I keep talking about making sure that people remember him.  And now I think I understand why.  I can’t control what happened to Callum.  But I can continue to talk about him and write about him and do things in his honour.  That is in my control.  It feels good to understand what has been propelling me.  I’m not going to stop. But I understand, just a tiny bit more, why I’m doing it.

And now, to Kenya. To see the classrooms that we have — collectively– built in his honour. Callum’s story will now be shared with more people, as will the love that we all have for him and how he lived his life.
Asante sana. Thank you very much for supporting me through this week of emotional turbulence.

I love you Callum.  xo Mom

A Garden for Callum

It is prom day for Callum’s friends.  I’m sure we will all be thinking about him a lot today — and next Wednesday when the kids will graduate from Grade 12.  Oh how I wish he was there with all of you….

To help us all remember him, we’re going to plant a garden for him as part of graduation week.  We’re going to plant shrubs and perennials…and, of course, lots of sunflowers.

My friend Stephanie Drake and her daughter Abbey are helping me to organize the garden and we’re inviting all of Callum’s friends to come out and contribute a plant.

We had thought about having a garden at Charlottetown Rural but decided it should be in Stratford.  So it’s going to be in Lantz Park, on Glencove Drive, just a short walk from where we live.

The Town of Stratford has kindly agreed to dig the bed for us. And Wood’s Farms is delivering dirt and mulch.  Our plan now it to meet at Lantz Park on Tuesday June 23rd at 8:00 p.m. to fill the garden with plants.

Della Wood at Wood’s Farms has offered to make suggestions of shrubs for the garden.  They’re in the range of $20-$25 so maybe a couple of kids can chip in towards one!  Della is also offering 20% off the shrubs.  She’s recommending one large forsythia and 5 shrubs such as golden mound spirea or burning bush.  We also have a smoke bush in our yard and it’s really neat!

We’re also hoping for some perennials to plant.  They’ll be in the $10 range for a good sized plant.  Della doesn’t carry these but you can get them at VanKampen’s or Jewell’s.

Here are some ideas:  hostas / coral bells/ astilbe/ sedum/ phlox/ purple coneflowers/shasta daisies.   Just make sure they are perennials not annuals!

If you don’t have time to get a plant, please still come out and help us create the garden.  We will have mulch to put on the bed so many hands will help.

If you can’t come out on Tuesday but want to contribute a plant, just contact me directly.

We hope this will be a meaningful way for all of us to remember Callum.  It will bring joy for years to come for the people who see it — including me.

Thanks, Nancy  *you can text me at 902-394-3297 or email: Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

Announcing…The Story of Callum…in print!

book cover

We have created a book that celebrates the life of Callum and our classroom project in Kenya in his honour.  There is both an English version and one in English and Swahili.  We will be taking copies of the English/Swahili book to distribute at Kamuketha School when we visit in July.

I wish I could afford to give a copy to everyone who has supported us along the way!  But they are $25 each so I can’t do it.  However, if it is something you would like to have, I can order one for anyone who is interested.

You can check out a preview of the book on the website addresses below.



This was an incredibly difficult project to put together.  But we hope it will help everyone to remember the amazing kid that he was, and still is, in our hearts.

Asante.  Nancy and Tristan

To Callum – Another Mother’s Day Without You

c t and me bonfire at cottage

To everyone who thinks I am strong, please read this beautiful essay below to get a glimpse of what this is really like.

I love this mother’s words that she says every year: “I will always love you.” “I’ll always be your mother.” I say those words now to Callum and always will.
Love you Call-Call.

Being the Mother of a Child Who Died — On Mother’s Day
by Claire McCarthy, M.D.
Pediatrician, Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School
I am the mother of a child who died. And that makes Mother’s Day very hard.
Recently I was talking to a mother whose child had just died. “What about Mother’s Day?” she asked, through tears. It was hard to know what to say, because it’s a terrible day for those of us who have lost a child. Other days of the year you can maybe make it a few hours without thinking about your loss; other days of the year you can pretend that you are an ordinary person and that life is normal. But not on Mother’s Day.
On Mother’s Day it’s in your face that your child is gone forever. On Mother’s Day you can’t pretend you are ordinary or that life is normal. All the hoopla, all the Hallmark hype, the handmade cards and flowers and family gatherings, make it almost excruciating.
Our town has a Mother’s Day road race for which I am eternally grateful — especially because, in a demonstration of grace’s existence, the start and finish are next to the cemetery where my son is buried. On my way I can visit his grave and say what I need to say and look yet again at the name we chose for him carved into stone. At the end of the race, they give all the mothers a flower; on my way home, I go back to the grave and lay my flower there. And then I move forward with the day.
See, that’s the real challenge after losing a child: moving forward. It’s almost impossible to envision in that moment of loss; how can life continue after something so horrible? But life does continue, whether we like it or not. There are chores to do and bills to pay; morning comes, again and again. So you pick yourself up and you live, but you are never the same.
At first, we are different because of our raw sadness. But over time, the sadness moves from our skin into our bones. It becomes less visible, but no less who we are. It changes into a wisdom, one we’d give up in a heartbeat to have our child back. We who have lost children understand life’s fragility and beauty. We who have lost children understand that so many things just aren’t important. All that is important is those we love. All that is important is each other. Nothing else.
It can feel very lonely, being the parent of a child who died. Especially on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. We feel so different from those around us, all those happy people with children the same age our child was, or would have been. But over the years, I’ve come to understand that I’m not alone at all.
There is a wonderful Buddhist story about a woman whose son gets sick and dies. She goes to the Buddha to ask him to bring her son back to life; I will, he says, if you bring me some mustard seed from the home of a family that has not known loss. She goes from house to house but can find no family that has not lost someone dear to them. She buries her son and goes to the Buddha and says: I understand now.
That is what I understand now. It doesn’t make me miss my son any less, or Mother’s Day any easier. But it helps me make sense of it; loss is part of life. There are no guarantees, ever. Our children, and all those we love, are gifts to us for however long we have them.
I understand now too that we are together in this, all of us, in joy and in loss. It’s the connections we make with each other that matter — it’s the connections we make that give life value and help us face each morning. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”
Years ago, I chose words to say each time I go to my son’s grave. It makes it easier to have a ritual. And over the years, the words have come to mean more to me. They aren’t just about grief anymore. They are about who I am, what I have learned, and what I can give.
“I will always love you, ” I say. “And I will always be your mother.”

And so begins another year without him…..

This is when reality hits.  Nothing has changed as we pass by another anniversary date.  It is the bitter truth.  I spend so much time dreading this day.  And then it’s almost worse when it’s over.  Because we still don’t have Callum.  Only in our hearts.


And I say “we”….because I have been so touched by everyone’s kindness over the last 48 hours.  I sometimes get so mired in my grief that I forget how many of you knew him — watched him grow up — go through treatment — become a man.  And you lost him too.  And miss him too.


One of Callum’s buddies dropped by with a card, that four of them had signed.  It reads “April 2015. To Nancy and Tristan.  Thinnking of Callum and wishing he was here with us.”   Of course, I sobbed when I read that.

And his poor friend who dropped off the card.  I started to get teary and he gave me an awkward hug. (Because seriously, who wants to watch your friend’s mom cry!)   I’m sure Callum was super embarrassed!

Again, this year, many people left their lights on overnight.  (Ours are still on!)  It meant so much to me to see the photos from across North America…literally…including so many here on P.E.I.   The first one is my sister in San Diego last night. The second one is from Florida — thanks Tania and Greg.  And the third one is from A.J.’s house in Stratford. lights for callum 2015 4 lights for callum 2015 2 lights for callum 2015 3

April 9th will never be an easy day.  But I hope it will always be a day where you think about Callum….and talk about Callum….and can tell a favourite story about him.

I’ve been writing the program for the celebration of the three classrooms we have built in Kenya.  Tristan and I hope to be there in July as part of the Farmers Helping Farmers P.E.I. Kenya Youth Tour 2015.

Here is part of what I hope we will do as part of the program:

This is the last song that Callum played on the trumpet.
And the band at his high school played it at the Celebration of his life.

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



Lights for Callum 2015

lights for calllum 2015

This is why we have our lights on tonight.

From April 2014:  “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.”

Our lights are on for you tonight Callum Russell MacLean.  We hope you see them and know how much we love you. Always.

xo Mom April 8, 2015

Two Years


There are no new pictures.  That’s one of the things you notice when you are dealing with grief.  There will never be any more pictures.  A simple fact, but it hurts.

To be honest, everything hurts right now.  On February 13th, the anniversary of the cancer returning, it was as if a scab was ripped off.  The last six weeks have been full of flashbacks — reliving our last days with Callum.  And two years later, it is still unbelievably painful.

I often wonder what people think when they see me.  I seem to be doing “okay” — back at work, at Tristan’s hockey games, shopping for groceries…all the “normal” stuff.

I try to explain that it’s like being put in an emotional coma.  I have to block out all of the grief and the sadness and the loss so that I can function.  Every once in a while, I ease out of the coma, and it’s all still there.  But to survive, it has to go back, deep inside me.  It’s like a constant ache.  I know it’s there.  I visualize a Callum-size hole in my heart.  That’s a lot of pain.   And that’s how it feels.

I sometimes worry that I am too busy, just to keep the grief buried. . But Tristan — and Callum — always knew me to be busy.  That’s just who I am.  And I have tried over this past year to have something positive come out of our grief, by building the classrooms in Kenya.

We have now built 3 classrooms at Kamuketha school.  It has been quite a rollercoaster of emotions watching the community support and seeing the excitement in Kenya.  It has meant that I have had to learn to talk about Callum without crying.  I would give anything to have him here, giving me a punch on the arm again and saying, “Good job, Mom.”  Now, I just have to remember that moment, as we walked out of the IWK for the final time.  He had chosen to stop treatment, and I had accepted it. It is still one of the hardest moments of my life.

We have been honoured by all the people who have helped us to build the classrooms in Callum’s memory.   From the very moment I said what we were doing, people jumped on board.  Teresa Mellish at Farmers Helping Farmers has been my constant guide.  Diana Tutty and Maggie and Owen Brown started our first fundraiser at Stratford Elementary.  And then it took off from there!  The 4H Bingo.  Stonepark Soccer.  Della and the sunflower field. Tonya and the pumpkins.  Arm knitting!  There were so many amazing moments.  I hope that all of you realize how important those moments were to me…helping me to get through another year without Callum.  I would not have made it without you.

As we move towards the 2 year anniversary, I hope that everyone will again leave on a light for Callum on the night of April 8th and into the 9th.  It was wonderful to see that last year. And please think about him, and talk about him, and write about him.

I am still a bit angry with Callum that he thought people would forget him.  “Not you, Mom,” he said, thankfully.  Because I hope that he understood that my love for him is imprinted on every cell in my body.

But I hope that no one else has forgotten him. Callum was a very special person. I know that we were lucky to have had him in our lives, even for a short time.  I hope that someday I can just feel the joy of having known him and less of this pain.

Love you forever Call-Call.

xo Mom