About callumrussellmaclean

Callum's mom

Four Years Later….

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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!

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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

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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 XD 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.

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     “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.

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   “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.

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   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.”

Happy Birthday Callum

callum trist new years callum hammock smile callum sailboat baby callum sailing sunset 2There is No Finish Line for Grief

I’m learning that one of the most difficult parts of grief is that it doesn’t end.   There is no finish line. Yes, it changes. But it’s always going to be there. And that’s hard on the head and on the soul.

When we returned from Kenya, the grief hit again, in a different way. Tristan and I had done what we said we were going to do : we built the classrooms in Kenya. Now it felt as if, in return, we should get Callum back. But, as you know, it doesn’t work that way. It is still like being stabbed in the heart to stop and think that I am never going to see him again. That is such a painful thought, that I can only still let it in for a few nanoseconds at a time. Then I have to shut those thoughts away and find something else to busy my mind.

I’m a « doer ». I like to get things done. So it’s very hard for me to have something that can’t be fixed, no matter how hard I work. Grief is very humbling that way.   There is no escaping it. I read that somewhere : you can’t go around grief, you just have to go through it. It is sometimes a very bumpy road.

Yes, the grief does change. I would never have been able to travel to Kenya 2 years ago. I could hardly get out of bed some days. So to go halfway around the world was unimaginable.

But, somehow, with the help of a lot of people, I have been able to pull myself together to the point that I was able to make the trip, and see Callum’s classrooms in person. He was there with us, and so in spirit was every person who was with us on this journey.



I still find that I can’t adequately explain how grief feels as it evolves.   Like a dull ache? Always there but you occasionally are distracted by something else. But when something reminds me of Callum, that sadness is still there.

I like walking by our garden that we have collectively created for him. But that makes me sad. Again, I was trying to deal with how I was feeling about his friends graduating by « doing something ». I’m glad we did. But it still hurts.

And then there is his birthday. Again.   The third birthday without him.

He would have been 18. He became an adult, in my eyes, so we got a glimpse of what he would have been like. He was the most mature 15 year old I ever met, because of what he went through.   He would have been a kind and compassionate and thoughtful man, because that’s what he was like all of his life.

I miss him every second of every day. But I am learning to treasure second that we had with him. Yes, I would trade all the pain, but not ever any moment that I got to spend with him.

Please think of him, and share a story or look at a photo of him on his birthday.   He will feel our love, as I promised him he would.

Love you Call-Call!
August 12, 2015

VIDEO – Ribbon Cutting and Dedication at Callum’s Classrooms in Kenya

I share this moment with everyone who helped us raise the money for these classrooms over the last year. Asante sana to you all. I think Callum would be really proud of all of us. And he was definitely the one who gave me the strength to be able to read that plaque in front of 500 people and not cry.


Thanks to Sadie Milner, Daniel Whalen and Cara DeCoste who made the ceremony at Kamuketha very personal for us.


Celebrating Callum’s Classrooms at Kamuketha School


Our day at Kamuketha School was a rollercoaster of emotions for me and Tristan.  For the families at Kamuketha, it was a day of celebration.  As one student put it, her school had gone from “laughing-stock” to one she was proud of.  At the same time, it was heart-breaking to read Callum’s name on the plaque on the side of the wall and know that he can only be with us in spirit.  But I certainly felt his presence there today in so many ways.

Getting to Kamuketha is the first challenge. To call it a “rocky road” is an understatement. Taylor was walking ahead of the Combis, rolling boulders off to the side and filling in giant potholes. We had to walk about 3 kilometres once we got out of the vehicles so they weren’t riding so low to the ground.  A cart pulled by two oxen sped by us at one point, filled with the plastic chairs that we would soon be sitting on!  When we were about half a kilometre from the school, a welcoming party of Scouts came out to greet us, marching , singing and playing a drum.  It was a foreshadowing of the colourful celebration that lay ahead.

The students were all in their burgundy uniforms but their mothers were dressed in a dazzling array of colourful prints.  You could instantly tell this was a day of great importance in their community. And the women started to sing as we walked onto the school grounds.  The song seemed to be a mix of every Swahili word that we might know: Habara gani (how are you?)  Rafiki (friend), Karibu (welcome) , asante sana (thank you).   Some of the braver students came up and took the hand of members of our group.  The others just watched us, wide-eyed.

Our first order of business at Kamuketha was planting sunflower seeds.  Sunflowers are very symbolic for me:  they bloom around Callum’s birthday and so every year we ask people to plant them in his honour. We also grew a field of sunflowers last year at Wood’s Farms.  We raised $1800 in one day selling the sunflowers – and that money was sent to Kenya to finish the 3rd classroom at Kamuketha.  So now giant sunflowers will grow around the entrance to Kamuketha school, as well as in our gardens on P.E.I.

Then it was time for the official program to start.   We knew from Buuri school that there would probably be some singing and dancing.  We soon realized that the Kamuketha students had obviously been preparing for a while for today.  There were poems including one entitled “Education, education, education” about the importance of school.  There were dancers in tribal outfits, doing a fierce dance right in front of our tent.  And then there were some great young dancers.  And when they got us up to dance, well, let’s just say that Miley Cyrus may have learned some of her dance moves from Carolyn Francis!

When the principal introduced the performance by the parents, just two women got up to start.  And no one seemed to want to join them.  But then they started drawing us up from the crowd, one at a time. And then all the women joined in. Soon we were all dancing.  And these are not short songs, let me tell you, especially under the equatorial sun!  We were all grabbing for our water bottles when we finally sat down.

The formal part of the ceremony involved the principal speaking about the history of Kamuketha, which started in 1997 with just two classrooms.  He spoke very kindly about what the new classrooms mean to the community.  He was followed by a stream of ministers,  speaking in English and Kimuru (the local dialect) about the importance of doing good.  They were quite dramatic in their presentation – waving the bible and shouting!

Then it was time for our part of the presentation.  Sadie and Daniel, who both knew Callum, read a short script about him.  Two students read the same script in Swahili.  Cara from our group then performed a beautiful solo version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.  They all did a fantastic job and I thank them so much for doing that for us.

Tristan and I cut the ribbon to officially open the classrooms and unveiled the plaque. Somehow I was able to read it for the audience and not cry.  (there is a photo of the plaque below)  Then we went inside the classrooms and took more photos.

The final part of the celebration was a surprise for all of the families of Kamuketha!  The Sunday School at Kensington United Church has been twinned with Kamuketha for five years now and has sent money for many improvements at the school.  They decided they wanted to donate a solar light to every family at Kamuketha.  The lights are really important because it gets dark at 6:30 p.m.  So students have no way to do homework!  Many families had been using kerosene lamps in the past.  But they cost money for the fuel and the fumes are unhealthy. The solar lights also double as a phone charger.   There are lots of cell phones in rural Kenya because they are relatively inexpensive and they use them for banking and commerce.  But they usually have to pay to charge them at a local store.   The women burst into cheers and some even jumped up and danced around when Jennifer Murogocho announced they would be getting solar lamps today.  *Farmers Helping Farmers has advanced the money so we could give all the families a solar light today.  But Kensington United and me, through Callum’s Classroom, will be continuing to raise money for them in the months ahead if anyone is interested in helping to pay for one!

We had lunch in one of Callum’s Classrooms before saying good-bye and heading back down the rocky road to Meru.  The women sang again as they waved farewell.  The entire event was a flurry of colour and sound and energy that will stay with all of us.

There were some tears shed today, by me, and by some others.  But I feel as if Callum was there with us. And so were all the other people who were part of creating these classrooms in his honour.  There was so much appreciation from the families of Kamuketha.  We have given their children an opportunity that they would not otherwise have had.  It’s expected that the school population at Kamuketha will grow because more families will want their children to be at a school with nice classrooms and a cookhouse and a healthy garden.  The future of this school is secure, and that can only mean good things to come.

One of my favourite memories of Callum is one time when we had to absorb some difficult news and I got through it without crying.  On the way, walking out of the hospital, he punched me on the arm and said, “Good job Mom.”   I think I felt that punch again today.

Asante sana to all who have been with us on this journey.


PS: We will be heading on safari tomorrow.  We will be heading out on our first “drive” as it is called at 4:00 Friday afternoon.  Then we have two drives on Saturday, at 6:30 a.m. and again at 4.  And one more early morning drive on Sunday before heading back to town.  We are not sure what the Internet situation will be there so I may not be posting to the blog until Sunday afternoon P.E.I. time.  But hopefully I will have some amazing photos to share when were are connected again!  Kwaheri – bye for now.  Nancy


Originally posted on P.E.I. Kenya 2015:

Our day at Kamuketha School was a rollercoaster of emotions for me and Tristan.  For the families at Kamuketha, it was a day of celebration.  As one student put it, her school had gone from “laughing-stock” to one she was proud of.  At the same time, it was heart-breaking to read Callum’s name on the plaque on the side of the wall and know that he can only be with us in spirit.  But I certainly felt his presence there today in so many ways.

Getting to Kamuketha is the first challenge. To call it a “rocky road” is an understatement. Taylor was walking ahead of the Combis, rolling boulders off to the side and filling in giant potholes. We had to walk about 3 kilometres once we got out of the vehicles so they weren’t riding so low to the ground.  A cart pulled by two oxen sped by…

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