Dana’s father lost his lifelong battle with mental illness when she was only 7 years old. Anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide struggles with complex emotions, and this is only amplified when a child’s mind is forced to grapple with these unanswerable questions. Dana lived with these difficult emotions throughout her childhood and adolescence, eventually developing her own battles with depression and anxiety.
During her first year of University, her emotional state and sense of hopelessness escalated to the point that she was unable to fully engage in or enjoy life. Dana bravely asked for and received help, temporarily stepping away from her schooling in order to heal and regain control of her future. She successfully returned to school at Queen’s and was able to experience what she calls “some of the most joyful and fulfilling years of my life.”
Sadly, Dana experienced another shocking and unexpected loss in January 2019 when her boyfriend Josh passed suddenly. She continues to navigate this fresh grief with the unconditional support of her family, friends and “the love of two incredible men that I will carry with me always.”
Dana graduated from Queen’s University in June with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in English Literature. She will be attending Ryerson University in the fall to take part in their Literatures of Modernity MA program.
Dana states, “It may not be perfect, but I have fought very hard for this life, and I will live it fully for those who are with me, for those who can’t be, and most importantly – for myself.”
Ross describes his childhood growing up in Glen Williams as “idyllic”. His parents were supportive and involved in all of his athletic, academic and personal accomplishments. When Ross was 11, his dad, Dave, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Ross grew up quickly and the family came together to support Dave and each other through his illness. No sooner had they adapted when a short 14 months later, Dave passed. Ross describes the “wilderness of grief” that ensued and feels that his greatest accomplishment has been the relationships he has forged, particularly with his mom Amy and his two sisters; “I am most proud of what we have faced together, staring adversity and grief in the face.”
Ross has excelled in academics, athletics and stage productions and he states, “I know I have made both of my parents proud.”
Ross has been accepted to the Commerce program at Dalhousie University for the fall.
Meghan describes her family growing up as “strong, loving and seemingly unbreakable”, and idolized her older sister Emily and brother Taylor. In February of 2014 Taylor passed suddenly as a result of a snowboarding accident and her family was catapulted into very individual paths through their grief. Meghan very honestly states “our grieving process was spent adjusting and learning each other’s way of coping with the loss of Taylor. We all shared the same terrible loss but we each seemed to have very different ways of managing it.”
Meghan made a series of difficult choices, including changing schools in grade 10 and evolving in her thinking from not wanting anything to change to choosing to live in honour of Taylor and “encompass some of his incredible qualities.” As she was focusing on establishing goals for herself, she had a series of losses of other members of her extended family. She states, “these wonderful people wanted the world for me and now I want to experience the world for them.”
Meghan is in the Medical Radiation Sciences program at McMaster university. Her academic accomplishments as well as the compassion and presence she brings to the patients in her care, as well as the way she brings people together show the impact Taylor’s life and presence has had on the person she has become and on her choice to be resilient.
Maddison grew up admiring her dad, his contagious smile, easy humour and his gift with horses. Sadly, when Maddison was only 12 years old, her Dad passed away unexpectedly. She expresses gratitude for the outpouring of love and support for herself, her brother and her Mom as they dealt with the shock and disbelief that accompanied their grief. What really marked this time for Maddison was the lack of resources available for young people experiencing grief. She has gone on to focus a semester long school project on researching and developing some early grief resources for young people in an effort to help others in similar situations. She shares her father’s love of horses and volunteers her time with several community organizations, including horseback riding classes for people with disabilities.
Maddison will be studying Recreation Therapy at Waterloo in September. She states “living daily life and seeing milestones go by without my dad here will never be easy and I have accepted that but I have also made it my goal that I will help others, I will make him proud and he will forever live on through me.”
2018 Scholarship Recipients
Emily describes her three brothers as her support system, her whole heart and her world. She recalls how after their home burned down, her mom Cathy rebuilt a new home for them with what Emily describes as her “beautiful mind”. Sadly, the house fire was only the beginning of the adversity Emily was to face in her young life. When Emily was 11, her older brother James 13 and her younger brothers Nathan and Tristan just 6 and 5, their mom passed from a sudden and devastating infection. After her passing, Emily’s dad was unable to adequately care for the boys and Emily, still a child herself, stepped into this caregiver role and devoted herself to her brothers. Despite her best efforts, the children were removed from their father’s custody and Emily was faced with the reality that she would no longer be living with her brothers.
Emily wrote that “When we lost our mother, we lost warm arms and a kind voice, a contagious smile and our constant blanket of comfort, but most of all we lost the kind of love only an overworked, tired mother can supply”.
Through her teen years, Emily continued to focus on her relationship with her brothers while she worked hard in school and at her job. She learned to accept the love and support of people in her life, who were there for her unconditionally, giving her a place to live, loving her and helping to show her that she is so much more than her life circumstances. She describes her mother’s friends, some family members and her own friends as her “circle that is my rock”, stating “they are there for me through my fears, through my sadness and they share my happiness.”
Emily has remained dedicated to being present in her brothers’ lives. She attends Lakehead University in the Concurrent Education program.
Emily has been told many times how strong she is, but she herself would rather focus on how happy she is. She wrote “We struggle but we also thrive, and we find the things that make us happy. I live because others cannot and I love because I have people who also love me. And I am happy.”
Alicia Marrows is the middle child in her family, between her younger sister Rachel and her older brother, Jeremy. In May of 2014, when Jeremy was 21 years old, he was on a camping trip in Algonquin park. He went missing for two weeks after a canoeing accident and the search ended with the worst possible outcome. Her entire family, surrounded by Jeremy’s friends, cycled between hope and fear for those two interminable weeks. At this time of unbearable pain and grief, Alicia focused on her younger sister Rachel, who was only 11 at the time and idolized Jeremy. She also focused on her parents, ignoring her own grief and healing.
Alicia’s journey through grief’s emotional turmoil was happening at the same time she was finishing her final year in high school and starting her freshman year at Seneca College studying Behavioural Sciences. With the best of intentions and trying to “be strong”, she pushed through and completed her program in 2016. Having experienced so many changes in such a small amount of time, she never took the time to allow herself to process her loss, and her feelings surrounding Jeremy’s death. Then it all caught up with her. Her unprocessed grief came crashing down on her and she lost her focus, her motivation and her way. Still desperately trying to “cope”, she sought help from many traditional and non-traditional sources.
A turning point for Alicia came when she herself turned 21, the age Jeremy was at the time of his accident. She refocused on her need to heal herself, finding resilience within both herself and through her love for Jeremy. This is what led her out of the dark space of deep grief. Believing that she is living and experiencing life for both herself and her brother, allows Alicia to carry on and find happiness.
After working as an Educational Assistant and learning from children who face adversity every day, she found a new focus for her own future. She attends Seneca College in the Honours Bachelor of Behavioural Psychology program. Alicia also plans to one day honour Jeremy’s memory by helping other people as they cope with loss and grief.
Malcolm has faced multiple adversities in his young life, beginning with a tenuous family situation. His mother struggled with drug addiction and serious health issues and as a preschooler Malcolm was removed from her custody and placed with his grandparents, who faced struggles of their own.
Although Malcolm’s Mom faced difficulties with her addiction that unfortunately affected her eligibility for the kidney transplant that she required in order to save her life, Malcolm passes no judgment on her. He recalls telling his mom as an 11-year-old that as soon as he was old enough he would give her one of his kidneys. Sadly, his mom passed only months following this conversation.
Malcolm describes the time he lived with his uncle as the first time he had experienced a genuine family. However, at age 14, Malcolm’s uncle placed him in foster care for reasons that Malcolm does not understand but has accepted. He continues to have a relationship with his aunt and uncle. Instead of becoming bitter and resentful, however Malcolm chose to continue to make the best of his life circumstances, becoming involved in sports and experiencing teamwork and the support of friends, teachers, coaches and his Social Worker. He has been involved in the Mentor Program at Christ the King, providing support and listening to younger students who are struggling with various challenges. Malcolm has used his life experience to help others to find their way. This is true resilience.
Malcolm speaks with such warmth in his letter to us of his foster Mom, Maggie Secord, who has treated him in a way that he feels truly cared about. He expresses such genuine gratitude to all the incredible people who have supported him along the way.
Malcolm attended the University of Windsor and will be continuing his education in the field of Social Work.
Eion Campbell Memorial Scholarship
Eion’s Dad Kevin passed unexpectedly when Eion was only six. His mother Andrea raised Eion and his older brother Richard to be compassionate young men who knew from a young age what matters most in life. Eion formed enduring and meaningful relationships with those close to him and cared about how others felt.
When Eion was 16 he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma. He bravely faced chemo and radiation along with their painful side effects, never complaining and always remaining sensitive to the fact that his suffering was incredibly difficult for his family and friends to witness. Never one to feel sorry for himself, Eion was always ready with a funny comment or one-liner to put others at ease.
Remission meant a return to high school then on to Algonquin college to learn the plumbing trade, where Eion further increased his circle of friends and continued his involvement in sports. He was a genuine listener, accepting of each person’s individual experience and choices, his favourite phrase being “You do you.”
At the age of 20, Eion was diagnosed with leukaemia and once again had to endure months of intensive treatment to battle this disease. A bone marrow transplant was his best hope and the joy of finding a perfect match was quickly shattered by the discovery that a second, more aggressive form of leukaemia had set in. His only remaining treatment option was a clinical trial in which he received a stem cell transplant from his mother, Andrea.
Eion remained hopeful and positive throughout this uncertain time, providing support and connection to his family and friends, however in January of 2018 his disease progressed and his doctors informed him that his prognosis was poor. Eion faced this news with grace and calm, telling each of his close friends individually and participating in a Casino weekend of fun with his friends. Only three days later, on January 23, Eion passed away.
Eion was the essence of resiliency, lived his life true to his genuine nature and has left an indelible mark on the lives he has touched. In honour of Eion, a Resiliency Scholarship was awarded in 2018 to someone who had faced difficult personal adversity.
Recipient of the Eion Campbell Memorial Scholarship:
Ruby is a Georgetown resident attending Dalhousie University in Halifax, studying Sociology and Social Anthropology with a certificate in Disabilities Management.
Ruby suffered childhood sexual abuse and, after the legal system failed to provide justice, her experience was dealt with through secrecy and silence, leading to many encounters with therapists, doctors and counselors over the years. Ruby’s childhood trauma was reignited during her second year of university when she experienced recurrent trauma. Once again she accessed the traditional avenues of support, however despite doing her best to follow the treatments and advice of the experts, she found herself coping as best she could with medication side-effects as well as social isolation.
From this low place, Ruby sought out resources that she felt resonated with her own experience and slowly built up her resilience. She “learned the distinction between fault and responsibility and accepted that although what was done to me was not my fault, it was my responsibility to choose recovery.”
Through her determination to heal herself, she has healed and deepened the relationships with those closest to her and has gone on to work closely with her Student Union at Dalhousie to create meaningful supports for students who have experienced sexual or gender-based violence. In future, she hopes to develop and teach workshops on how to use writing, art and personal expression to heal from traumatic experiences. She wrote “I want to help people discover safe space within themselves.”
Ruby eloquently stated, “I will always carry the ghosts of all the broken versions of me, but instead of feeling bound to them as if they can still weigh me down, I carry them with all the lessons they have taught me and as a reminder of all the pain I will never need to feel again, because I am resilient.”
2017 Scholarship Recipients
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. When Emily was 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 has found great healing through writing and has her own blog in which she openly and generously shares her grief journey. Visit Emily’s blog https://growingthroughgrief.weebly.com/