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.





Callum’s Garden

girl with sunflower

We created a new garden for Callum on Glencove Drive earlier this year.

Just before their Grade 12 graduation, his friends came out and helped us to fill the garden.


We also planted a lot of sunflower seeds.  The garden was overflowing with sunflowers all summer.

But what made it all more special was this photo that a friend sent today. And the offer to help plant the garden next year.  It has become, I hope, a special spot in our neighborhood.

And, for this little girl, Callum’s sunflowers were magical.

For me, too.

Love you Call-Call.

girl with sunflower

Four Years Later….

keppoch 2011keppoch 2015

The Thanksgiving weekend will, forever, be a challenging one for me.

The first photo remains my profile photo on Facebook.  It is sometimes painful to look at. But to change it?  How could I? It’s like the message on our answering machine. I’m not going to remove Callum’s name.  I can’t explain it. That’s just the way it is.

The second photo is the sunset this past Thanksgiving. Same place.  Four years later. Without Callum.

How many more times can I say it?  I miss him every minute of every day.  I looked at that sunset and I cried.  How was it possible that – a mere four years later – I am standing here without him?

There was a news story this week – a farm family where 3 girls died when they fell into a truck full of canola seed and were smothered. Tristan and I listened – horrified. We didn’t say anything but I knew what he was thinking.  We couldn’t even imagine their sadness.  Because just losing one person we loved was horrible enough.

On Thanksgiving Monday, I wrote that we are – and will always be – thankful for Callum.  Our time with him was not enough.  But someday, really, I just want to feel gratitude for having had him in our lives.

Until then, I have a 5 foot ten 180 pound hole in my heart.

I love you Callum. More than ever.

xo Mom

A Wonderful Day to Celebrate Sunflowers – and Callum!

sunflowers 8 b

We were raising money today for Children’s Wish – an organization that brought great joy into Callum’s world with the delivery of that Laser Sailboat!  It is a day that none of us who were there will ever forget.

Thank you to everyone who helped us today…too many to name personally.  But special thanks to Ed and Anne – who have also been on this same journey.  And to all of my friends – I am truly blessed.  You are always there for me.  And thanks to the Yoga Girls and their families, who have become a very important part of my life.

And thanks to Tristan and Josh – who raised almost $150 at the Bake Table.  Tristan – you should be proud of the way you are putting what we learned in Kenya into action.  I am proud. Asante sana.

We still have lots of sunflowers (and baking) to sell.  So if anyone on P.E.I. would like to jump in and take orders for sunflowers, let’s keep raising money for this amazing organization.

And to everyone who talked about Callum today – he says thank you.

xo Nancy

Sunflowers for Children’s Wish – Saturday September 19th

callum children's wish 1

Sunflowers for a Wish

A field of sunflowers is a Stratford mom’s way of saying thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation.

   In April 2012, 14-year-old Callum Russell MacLean was halfway through his treatment for a soft tissue cancer in his hand. An SUV pulled into the driveway with a boat on the roof rack. Callum’s wish had arrived.

   “It was truly the happiest I have seen him since his diagnosis in September,” his mother, Nancy Russell, wrote at the time, on a blog chronicling Callum’s journey. The caption of the blog said it all : The Happiest Kid on P.E.I.

     Beth Corney-Gauthier is the executive director of Children’s Wish on P.E.I. She works to raise the money for the wishes. But she also has the joy of seeing them delivered.

     Callum loved to sail so a sailboat was the obvious choice for his Children’s Wish.   He could have picked a sailing trip.   But the idea of owning his own Laser😄 was even more exciting.

   “The process of applying for a wish is easy,” explains Callum’s mom, Nancy Russell. “And when you are already going through so much with your child’s illness, easy is good.”

   Callum’s pediatrician at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital helped with the application. And within weeks, the process of finding Callum a boat was in full swing.

     “We met with Beth and Julie at Children’s Wish who instantly got up to speed on sailboats and what Callum was looking for,” Russell continues.   “It was fun to watch Callum explaining to Beth about the boat and all the specifications.  She learned a lot really fast.”

   Angus Buchanan of North Sails, a sailing store in Halifax, also jumped in to help.   He called the Laser factory personally to place the order – and even travelled to the U.S. himself to pick up the boat and deliver it to Callum on P.E.I.

     “Getting the boat, with four months left in his treatment, was a great motivator for Callum—and for all of us,” says Nancy Russell. “We couldn’t wait to see Callum finish his treatment and get to try out his Laser for the first time.”

callum young with tillercallum sailing for book

   Callum had been a junior sailor at the Charlottetown Yacht Club since he was 8.   And so that’s where he headed on June 25, the day before his Grade 9 graduation. Still in treatment, he was determined to get his boat on the water.

callum children's wish 2callum children's wish 3

     “He was still very tired from the chemo,” recalls Russell. “But the pride of owning that boat carried him through any pain and fatigue.”

   The video and photos from that day show a young man doing what he did best – out on the water where he grew up.

callum sailing laser

callum children's wish 3

   “It was magical,” says his mother. “Not perfect. But it was his boat. That was all that mattered. And I will never forget watching him sail it that day.”

   Sadly, Callum Russell MacLean only got to sail his boat twice. He returned to Grade 10 in the fall of 2012, and the Laser went into storage with hopes for many more sails in the future. But the cancer returned in February 2013 and Callum passed away in April.

callum sailboat babycallum sailing sunset 2

   Now Nancy Russell wants to raise awareness and money for the organization that gave Callum motivation – and some good memories – amidst days and weeks of time in hospital being treated and harsh side-effects.

   “I want to thank Children’s Wish for the hope that they gave us with that sailboat,” explains Russell. “And that’s why the money raised from this year’s field of sunflowers will be donated to them.”

   Last year, Russell grew a field of sunflowers in Callum’s honour for the first time. The project was suggested by Della Wood, of Wood’s Farms. She remembered that Callum’s mom had encouraged his friends to plant sunflower seeds in his memory, because they bloom around the time of his birthday.   And so, Wood contacted Russell with the idea of growing a field of sunflowers for Callum, with the proceeds going to charity. Last year, the money raised was sent to Kenya through Farmers Helping Farmers, where three classrooms were built in Callum’s honour.

     “I love the sunflowers because for me they have become a symbol of Callum for many people in the community,” says Russell. “Even better, that we can grow them and sell them and put the money towards something that reflects his courage and kindness.”

Callum’s Sunflower Sale for Children’s Wish will take place Saturday September 19th, between 9 :00 a.m. and 2 :00 p.m. at Wood’s Farms, 177 Georgetown Road in Tea Hill.

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.

The Kenya Youth Tour will also be doing a bake sale on Saturday September 19th with the money raised going towards purchasing books for a school in Kenya.

For more information, you can contact The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada | Prince Edward Island Chapter | 375 University Avenue, Unit 7 | Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island | C1A 4N4

t: 902-566-5526

Della at Wood’s Farms at 902-569-4215

Nancy Russell at 902-569-1771


“We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.”