At the age of 17, Alyssa’s world was broken when a cannabis-impaired driver killed her dad and uncle and injured herself. To help navigate the trauma and grief that ravished her and her family’s lives, they turned to MADD Canada for the provision of ongoing support and resources.
To honour the lives of her incredible dad and uncle, Alyssa has chosen to be actively involved in helping prevent other families from having to live through similar tragedies.
Alyssa explains that “When it comes to impaired driving, education and awareness are the first steps in prevention.” Over the past 2 years, Alyssa has worked closely with both MADD Canada and Weed Out the Risk, and has offered her time, story, and voice to help bring awareness to the impacts that impaired driving crashes have on the victims and survivors. It is Alyssa’s hope that by sharing her story, it will help others to understand the dangers associated with driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and help prevent other families from losing loved ones at the hands of an impaired driver. As Alyssa explains, “If my story can help even one person to think twice and stop themselves or a friend from getting into a vehicle while impaired, then that in itself could be saving a life.”
Alyssa is currently studying to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance, with a minor in Psychology, at Ryerson University. Upon completion of her program, she plans on dancing professionally while continuing her education in sports and performance psychology.
Clare wishes she did not have such a heartfelt story of resilience, but she accepts and embraces her story, as it is, and continues to work hard, persevere and even flourish. She inspires many with her open and positive mindset to create for herself the life of her dreams, finding the good in the hardships and obstacles.
In 2019, Clare experienced a close family death, by suicide. Cousin Andrew’s tragic passing brought on tremendous growth for Clare, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. It took a few weeks of pain-filled grief to help her discover positive ways to cope. The more Clare talked with her mom about the concept of death and its unavoidable presence, the easier it became for her smile to return. She learned quickly that healing comes through feeling, not hiding or shoving down the emotions.
On September 28, 2020, Clare’s father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack and her life was changed forever. Unspeakable, deep pain consumed her and the days were a haze. She applied her new found coping skills and began talking about her feelings right away. Joining a grief support group has given her tremendous hope and an outlet for her heartache. At this time of mourning, COVID restrictions resulted in a positive twist. With her Mom and siblings at home full time during the pandemic, the family bond became stronger, the love grew and the healing began.
In the midst of grieving, Clare continued taking steps forward, still focused on meeting her goals. Queen’s Commerce, her top pick for university programs, became a reality – the acceptance arrived and Clare was ecstatic! She is looking forward to delving into the business world and pursuing her various career goals in the coming years.
Indu recognizes that the unexpected passing of her dad in 2019 due to his mental health battle with depression had a profound effect on her during her high school years. She emphasized the conflicting burdens grief has on young people by stating, “ I grieved this profound loss while trying to still live the life of a normal teenager. I experienced many complex emotions that were difficult to comprehend and process all while trying to navigate high school.”
Indu credits the professional assistance of a counsellor to help her work through her grief, emotions and anxiety, as well as the active support of her teachers who assisted her in overcoming new academic challenges. Indu is especially grateful for the love and encouragement provided by countless family and friends who continue to be present for her.
Indu reflected that remaining involved in activities, such as the school swim team, and participating in her community as a swim instructor and lifeguard were all important contributors to her healing. Eventually, all these aspects of her life enabled her to regain confidence and academic abilities once again.
Indu stated, “Although losing my dad at a young age created new difficulties in my life, it also taught me important life lessons that I could not have learned any other way.” It took Indu a long time to get to this point in her healing journey. She went on to say, “ I know that my perseverance of working through my grief and it’s challenges shaped me into the resilient individual I am today.”
Indu is embracing the next chapter of her life as she heads to her dad’s alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University, in the fall to pursue a dual degree in computer science (BSc.) and business (BBA). Indu is looking forward to advancing her academics but is especially excited to discover new passions by immersing herself in university life.
As she moves into her young adult life, Indu remains devoted to her healing journey and self discovery. Indu knows her dad and the lessons his death taught her will continue to guide her through whatever obstacles she encounters.
Elham’s mother passed away when she was 16 after a short battle with a rare uterine leiomyosarcoma. Up until that point, they were inseparable. The seemingly sudden loss of Elham’s mother was not a part of the plan for an otherwise very plain, traditional, ordinary life. It was a difficult shock to process this quick loss because of how her mother and extended family chose to hide the illness through well-meaning wishes of nothing but positivity and hopeful prognoses. Taking no days off, Elham started her undergraduate degree specializing in Art & Art History at the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College, with the goal of realizing her mother’s dream of working in the education system as a secondary school Art and English teacher.
In the years following, Elham wasn’t able to process her grief in a way that made sense to her. External pressures from familial expectations reached a breaking point, requiring Elham to take multiple semester-long breaks to recuperate spiritually, financially, mentally, and academically. She spent those breaks taking many steps backwards and forwards: she returned to her studies on a part-time basis, worked a lot, volunteered her time in ways that would strengthen her interests in visual art, education, and communication, as well as finding ways that honoured her mother’s legacy of extending kindness and a caring nature in whatever it is that she chose to do. A key turning point was discovering the benefit of seeing a therapist regularly and putting words to the feelings and confusions surrounding the weirdness of unpacking grief and loss. It was a decision that Elham didn’t know was an option, and a decision that she took for herself. It solidified the importance of putting her physical and mental health first before anyone or anything else.
Elham soon found that education isn’t quite the path she wanted to take anymore, and instead worked towards becoming a graphic designer and illustrator. She’s found early successes in doing so and has been lucky to have the opportunity to work at some national publications early on in her career.
Elham credits her dedication to her education and passions to her mother’s strictness and diligence in whatever it was that she did. It was through a lot of self-assessment, exploration, and extended kindness from others that Elham returned to her full-time studies with a renewed sense of academic and career-minded success. She is concluding her Bachelor of Arts degree double majoring in Art & Art History and English with a growing interest in considering graduate-level studies that somehow combine her passions in design, education, and communications. For now, Elham is happy to focus her attention on embracing the final semesters of her undergraduate degree; a journey that has taken 10 years and is a true testament to her resiliency.
Growing up, Sydney was a very high achieving individual, excelling as a student and athlete. Her mother, Marlene, was her idol and constantly supported her achievements. Beautiful, funny, and caring, Sydney’s mother was her number one supporter and raised her to have a solid work ethic, treat everyone with kindness and respect, and enjoy life to the fullest.
That all changed in 2013 when her mom was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. All of a sudden, Sydney’s world revolved around hospital visits, filling prescriptions, and taking care of her mother. Sadly, in May of 2014, her mother passed away. The absence Sydney’s mom left in her life was felt daily, in everyday small activities. She began to feel emotionally detached from everyone and everything. Accomplishments didn’t matter anymore. She distanced herself from friends and family, and was never home, as it reminded her of her mom.
Sydney attended McMaster University, where she recently graduated with a B.Sc. in Kinesiology. Using her time at McMaster to address and process her grief, and begin her journey of self-love and self-acceptance, Sydney was able to make her mother proud as a high achieving student, with a strong record of professionalism and community involvement. With support from her father, sister and extended family, Sydney has demonstrated the remarkable outcome of what can happen when you’re able to come together, and try your best.
Sydney continues to make her mother proud as she continues her education at Yale University, where she will pursue her Masters of Public Health. Sydney will honour her mother by taking time to take care of herself, her family and by instilling values of gratitude and positivity.