Zach and Kaya’s lives have been intertwined for so long, we believe that their two souls were destined to be together.
Their first “introduction” came at the tender age of 3 weeks old. Jeff, Zach’s Dad, was the Firth’s family doctor and when her parents, Jennifer and Duncan, brought her in for her first baby check, Jeff said to Kaya, “I have a little guy your age” and proceeded to show the picture of Zach that sat on his desk.
Several years would pass until they were once again reunited in kindergarden at Harrison Public School.
Zach’s family moved to Glen Williams for the remainder of elementary school, however he and Kaya were reunited at Centennial Middle School. Zach being a young naive 12-year-old thought a good way to express how he liked Kaya would be to tease her. The day he made fun of her reused cream cheese container that her lunch snacks were brought to school in was the breaking point for Kaya. She marched home and let her Mom know that only proper Tupperware was to be sent to school to save her from social embarrassment, and instructed her Mom to contact Zach’s parents to put an end to his “bullying.” Jennifer opted not to make the call and eventually with some input from friends, Kaya was awakened to the fact that Zach actually liked her. And so ended the “bullying” as their pre-teen relationship began. They enjoyed fun and simple things together and had a great time on their school trip to Ottawa and at their grade 8 Grad celebration.
During their first year at high school, they opted to take a break in their relationship but remained friends. Zach’s close friend David Parkhill, who was also a kind and loyal friend to Kaya, was instrumental in bringing Zach and Kaya back to each other in grade 12. They began a more mature and meaningful relationship where they shared their intellect, humour and deep love for each other. They both integrated easily and naturally into each other’s families, sharing many laughs and conversations with their brothers and parents. In particular, they both loved the time spent in PEI with the Sutherlands and at the Firth’s cottage up north.
They were both so excited to experience University, Kaya starting at Laurier and Zach at Guelph. Kaya decided after first year that she wanted to make a program change and felt that Guelph was a better fit for her, which it truly was. They both thrived at university and their personalities blossomed. Kaya was the dedicated and studious student whereas Zach was the fly by the seat of your pants and last-minute kind of guy. Despite being polar opposites in their approach to school, they were both incredibly successful students. Zach did, however, have Kaya to thank for editing all of his last-minute papers. She drew the line, however when Zach once sent her a blank page to “edit” an essay for him. Apparently, there was a limit to what his charm could get him!
Zach being more stress-free, extroverted and spontaneous, enjoyed partying and socializing into the night with friends. Kaya was more introverted, preferring quieter evenings, one-on-one deep discussions and girls’ nights with her lifelong best friend Kara, and smaller groups. He was always late for everything and she was always organized and on time. When trying to plan a trip into Toronto for a documentary film festival, Zach’s wise words to Kaya were “How about we plan the general framework for the day and let spontaneity fill in the details.” A great life lesson.
Zach and Kaya’s differences brought out the best in each other and both were incredibly caring, generous and genuine. Both deep thinkers and free spirits, albeit in different ways, the summer before their final year of University they were contemplating their values and dreams for the future. This deep conversation led to a consideration of how their quite opposite traits may impact each other in the unknown future beyond University. They knew they loved each other but were trying to figure out if their visions for their individual futures were convergent. The talk went late into the night and ended in an agreement to “take a break” to try to figure it out. They each confided in their parents, who found them both to be so lost, sad and confused at the prospect of not having the other in their future. The very next morning, they talked and decided that the one thing they both knew for sure was that they wanted to be together – they would figure out the rest as they went. Their “break” was short-lived but served to clarify the direction of their relationship for them both.
Kaya and Zach deeply understood and “got” each other, and they truly made one another better people. He understood her anxious moments and the high standards she set for herself, and he instilled in her the confidence to trust in her abilities and to push herself beyond her comfort zone to reach her potential. He loved her natural beauty and enjoyed shopping with her and buying her nice things that she wouldn’t buy for herself. Kaya also made Zach a better person. She got that Zach loved to spend time with his friends, Ben and Nathaniel or just hang with his parents. She never put demands on him or made him feel guilty. They both knew the value of nurturing all of their close connections and didn’t allow their relationship to eclipse others in their lives. She helped keep Zach grounded, teaching him how to organize his workload, express his thoughts and feelings and balance play with work.
The morning of their fateful kayak trip, they spent hours talking with Jeff and Darlene in their kitchen over breakfast about their vision for their shared future. They were so excited and full of life and energy. Zach knew his business plan, which included Ben and his good buddy Brendan Haynes. Kaya knew she would work for a year and then go back to get her masters degree. Zach talked about building the man-cave at the new house with his brothers. They were discussing plans to visit their friend Robbie in Banff in the summer – Kaya always talked about wanting to see the mountains. Kaya had recently been invited to speak on the CBC for the Sunday morning show to give student input to the debate around the quality of university education. Hesitant at first, after hearing encouragement from Zach, Jeff and Darlene, she firmly decided that morning to participate and make her voice heard. She steadfastly believed that “you get back what you put in”, and their unwavering confidence in her gave her the confidence in herself to accept the invitation. She never got the chance to be on that panel, but we can all embrace her message for life – you get back what you put in.
Having agreed to buy each other “fancy footwear” for Christmas, they had come home from a trip to the outlet mall with a pair of Cole Haan’s each. Kaya only got to wear hers once or twice, but she loved them and said they made her feel fancy. During this lengthy talk over breakfast, Zach was inspired about living a simple, meaning-filled life after visiting the home of a Cuban local he had befriended on his trip to Cuba with his Guelph University friends the week before. He talked about taking Kaya “camping off the grid,” an idea she was attempting to substitute with a much more comfortable trip to her family’s cottage. Darlene joked with Zach about his off-grid plan, saying “…in your Cole Haan’s?” They shared a laugh at the time, but we all now recognize the deeper message about balance between the material and the meaningful and that joy can be found in simplicity.
Being the first-born in each of their families, Zach and Kaya shared a protectiveness towards their younger brothers Ben, Nathaniel, Jackson and Isaac. This concern for their brothers’ well-being and futures was also a topic of discussion that morning. They appreciated the uniqueness of character that each of the boys have, they celebrated their differences (and were endlessly entertained by their various antics and adventures) and openly expressed their love for them – uncharacteristically so in our society for people their age.
Opposites in many ways, Zach and Kaya shared the same important values. They dearly loved their families and knew the importance of close family bonds. A coworker of Kaya’s said, “I don’t know her favourite colour, but I know about her mother and father; I don’t know her favourite band, but I know about her brothers.” They both cherished their friendships, and considered many of their close friends like family. Their default setting was friendly and positive, whether to a salesclerk, coworkers or the head of a company. They loved the outdoors and preferred being close to nature and especially out on the water, be it wakeboarding, slalom skiing, swimming, canoeing or kayaking. They shared a love of children, each choosing to work with kids in their summer jobs. Most of all, they shared a passion for living life to its fullest; in Zach’s own words, “Go all in…don’t worry.”
Although devastated at their physical loss, their families and friends take comfort in knowing two things: Zach and Kaya deeply felt in their young lives what it is to be truly loved unconditionally and knew how to give and express their love for others. For this, we are truly grateful. They knew what it was to live and to love, and despite not having been given enough time themselves, they have taught us all the value of both. Zach and Kaya were so fortunate to have found their soulmate so early in life and we have no doubts that they are eternally together and at peace.