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The life my wife, Tory, and I had built over almost fourteen years was gone as we knew it with just a few words on a July morning last year.
We started our vacation at our cottage preparing to see friends later in the week and celebrating the end of the school year for our daughter, Kate, who had just finished grade six.
Tory asked me to go to the dock for a bit to talk, and I made some lame joke. Once we sat down she told me she suspected that her breast was inflamed with a tumour, and from what she could tell it was aggressive, and that in her research it meant that she’d be gone by Christmas.
She was wrong, but only by a few months. Kate and I kissed Tory good night for the last time on February 28. That night Kate lost the best mom a girl could ever have, and I lost my best buddy.
I had just a few days earlier told Kate for the first time the severity of her mom’s illness, and we both sobbed in the car while I emphasized that we’d make it through the toughest times together and that the things she held dearest—our home, friends, the rest of our family, our dogs—would still be part of our life no matter what.
I’ve heard from others who suffered through similar loss who told me the first year is horrible. Ours hasn’t been, though. I searched for a playbook that would guide us on the best path through our grief, but of course one doesn’t exist. So I set out to create our own, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
The experience has brought us closer than ever, and I’ve used our “year of firsts” to create positive life experiences for both of us.
I’m determined to ensure that while her mom’s death will always be part of Kate’s life story, it won’t be the story. The experience has brought us closer than ever, and I’ve used our “year of firsts” to create positive life experiences for both of us. On our first Mother’s Day, we joined a few of Tory’s girlfriends for lunch at a new fried-chicken-sandwich place (Kate’s favourite), followed by ice cream. We held Tory’s celebration of life on her birthday and made it a night we’d never forget. And this Christmas we’ll head to Vail for a ski vacation with Tory’s family.
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With Tory’s friends and family, we created a charity in her name, the Tory Day Fund, to raise money for programs that improve the comfort of cancer patients. This is especially important because comfort is in short supply during chemotherapy and radiation. The fund also enables us to create a positive legacy for Tory.
Surrounding ourselves with loved ones has been our salvation.
We don’t say no to an invitation, and thankfully we’ve had no shortage of them—to dinner, vacations, weekends away … it doesn’t matter. Surrounding ourselves with loved ones has been our salvation.
As much as life has changed for us, I’ve been true to my word about stability. I’m fortunate that Tory’s death didn’t cause the financial hardship it could have, and we’ve been able to maintain our home and cottage. Kate’s school and my employer have been very supportive. Kate still goes horseback riding every week. And thank goodness for our dogs, Willow and Jack—regardless of what we’re going through, they still need to be fed, walked, and loved. That consistent routine is key.
And we’ve turned the typical bucket list into a “f*cket list” and do things we would’ve otherwise passed on before. Like when Kate said she wanted to do the EdgeWalk and hang twelve hundred feet in the air off the side of the CN Tower. She’s no daredevil. I’m not exactly sure why she wanted to do it, but she did. And who the hell was I to say no—especially after what she’s been through.
And she rocked it. Kate and I were talking on the way home about how the anxiety was way worse than actually doing it. Walking out of the tower onto the platform and staring at the clouds was almost comforting. It was a really odd feeling. Then Kate told me why, and it made all the sense in the world: “I guess it’s because we were closer to Mom.”
Turns out though that just as I was giving Kate the tools to be more resilient after her mom’s death, I was learning to use those same tools myself.
Building resilience in kids is one of the most difficult parts of being a parent. We want to keep them from harm, make them feel comfortable. And as much as Tory and I tried to do that for Kate, we couldn’t protect her from tragedy at such a tender age. Turns out though that just as I was giving Kate the tools to be more resilient after her mom’s death, I was learning to use those same tools myself.
We’re still on the early pages of writing our playbook, I guess. Kate and I have many more years of dealing with our loss, and it’ll never really be complete. But with this beginning, we now have a few chapters that—so far, at least—have more laughs than tears.