Nathan Williams was awarded the inaugural Zach Sutherland and Kaya Firth Resiliency Scholarship. A student at CTK High School, he is continuing his education at Ryerson University in the RTA Media Production Program. At 18 years old, Nathan is an incredible young man and although he has faced more adversity in his young life than most people experience in a lifetime, it is his response to these ongoing adversities that really resonated with us. Through a willingness to recognize and deal directly with all aspects of his compounded pain and loss of his parents and beloved grandparents, he has committed to a lifelong process of personal growth. Having experienced deep loss at a young age, he acknowledges the grief process is highly individual and unique to each person and set of circumstances.
Nathan himself emphasized very eloquently how in telling his story, he is willing to share enough background to give context, but wants to focus on the resiliency, not the tragedy, as that is where healing happens. Despite his losses, Nathan has found purpose and meaning in his own life and a desire to help and support others, which is exactly the hope we wish to inspire in other young people.
Nathan describes the journey through grief to resiliency as often like a rollercoaster and feels that being willing to ask for and accept help from family, friends and counsellors that you can trust helps to deal with the inevitable ups and downs. Grief is an individual journey, but is not one that must be travelled alone. He states, “I have learned that to ask for help does not come from being weak, but rather shows that I am strong enough to know I don’t have all the answers myself.” Nathan no longer allows his unfortunate circumstances to define him but rather choses to incorporate his personal growth from his losses in making him the motivated, vibrant young man he is today. Nathan’s devoted aunt and younger sister are also incredibly proud of him.
A lifelong resident of Guelph, Emily studies biological science at the University of Guelph. She courageously shared her story of “resiliency in the process of growing into a young adult while being immersed in intense grief and sadness.” At just 12 years old, her older brother Aaron died by suicide. She shared a close sibling bond with him and describes him as her role model. Sadly, within 18 months of this tragedy, she also lost both of her grandparents. Despite strong support from her parents, these losses plunged Emily into a state of hopelessness where she was unable to envision a positive future for herself.
Emily found her resiliency by choosing to “take time to grieve and to have the courage and strength to allow myself to experience painful emotions. I knew that if I wanted to heal from the pain and to stop hiding in a shadow of quiet darkness that I needed to stop running from the sadness.” By allowing herself the time and space to feel her grief, she came to understand “that if I wanted to create meaning for myself amidst my overwhelming sadness I needed to continue to be involved in activities that reflected my values and interests.” Emily believes “one aspect of resiliency is being able to continue living a meaningful life amidst one’s grief by having the courage and strength to be engaged in the community, so sadness is not the only thing that defines you.” By finding ways to engage in life on these new terms while making space for her painful emotions, Emily has given back to her community through volunteer activities, her beautiful writing and speaking presentations. Having the courage to share the story of her grief experience in such an authentic way has already undoubtedly helped others with their own. “I am grateful that I now deeply understand the importance of deliberately making choices to surround myself with kind and caring people and to engage in activities that help others. The pain from the loss of my brother Aaron will always be a part of who I am, but the beauty of resiliency is that I have learned to find peace in my sadness.”
Emily explains that her resiliency has allowed her to “find the strength to look into the dark coals of an old fire and see the bright flame that can be cultivated from the subtle warmth that still exists. Now, I can look into the shadows of the night and see, with great clarity, the sweet sunrise that will soon make its way across the sky”. Emily has come to believe that “one aspect of resiliency is learning how to let our places of darkness and pain be the source of the light we radiate to others”.