Like many children, I’ve felt happiness and love, sadness and loss. My name is Hope and here is my story…
I was a regular kid. My parents were amazing, and my older sisters were always there to teach me stuff. We played, laughed, and teased each other. Sure, we had the odd disagreement, but really, we were just a normal “happy” family. Then, when I was six years old, there was a terrible car accident, and suddenly, I became an only child, as both of my sisters didn’t survive.
Thinking back, it feels I have lived two lives: one before, and one after the accident. And in those lives, there are two different versions of me. I know now that neither one is better than the other because of that which has always been true – the love I carry for my sisters. I’ve done everything to hold on to that, yet some days I feel too angry or sad. And in those worst moments I was afraid that I would forget them. My parents tried to protect me, from all these big feelings, but no matter what they did or didn’t do, I think I felt every kind of emotion – even though I didn’t know how to describe them in words.
In those first weeks I didn’t understand what was happening, other than I knew my sisters would never be coming home. I felt awful, and confused, and that made it hard for my parents as they didn’t want to say too much or traumatize me further with details of the accident. All these other people were around too, coming and going, some crying or acting like zombies. No one would look at me, and those that did seemed afraid to talk. There was a lot of food and cards from people I didn’t know, and I didn’t understand how any of it would help.
Mommy and Daddy tried their best to plan “a service” for my sisters’ burial. I didn’t know what that meant so when they planned, I would go to my room. That’s when the bad thoughts were at their worst. I worried I wasn’t being a good daughter. I was also afraid something like this could happen to me, and I didn’t want us to ever drive in a car anywhere because of these fears. Each day was filled with lots I didn’t understand, so I did my best just to get through them, and to try to make sense of all that was going on.
One morning, some people dressed nicely, one, all in black, arrived at our house. They seemed kind and concerned, but I had no words to share with them, as I didn’t know what I was feeling. Would they understand my tummy felt inside out, and that my legs wanted to run but were frozen? Would they say something was wrong with me if they knew I wanted to break all my toys? I wanted to tell them my heart was bursting out of my chest, and that every day I found it harder to breathe. But I stayed silent, staring at the floor, focusing on its twists and cracks. When people tried to talk to me everything felt too big or unsafe, and only when I made myself small, quiet, or unseen, did I believe I could contain all of these feelings.
I avoided everything as much as possible, staying in my room with the door closed. I didn’t want to eat, play, or see anyone. I watched some shows on my tablet, and hugged my stuffies, but that didn’t help much either. I only wished my sisters would come back, so I stared at their pictures, begging them to talk. I strained to hear their voices: “Hope you’re so funny”, “I love you Hope”. I committed their laughter to memory. Some nights, while Mommy and Daddy were asleep, I would sneak into my sisters’ rooms, and lay on their beds, so I could feel them. I would smell their pillows hoping that being with their stuff would make me feel better. It didn’t, and I cried a lot, still sensing that nothing could help.
The hurt and anger were real; I couldn’t stop those emotions, or “acting out”. That’s what the grown-ups called it, yet all I knew was that the feelings were getting too big, and I couldn’t control them. I wanted to go back in time, before the accident, to see my sisters in our playroom. I wanted Mommy to smile again and my dad to tell his silly jokes. Part of me knew that nothing would ever seem normal, and I was afraid the future would give us nothing but heartache. A fun-loving family of five had become a broken-hearted trio.
I also wished to be with my friends, but I rarely had the energy, and they never seemed to know what to say. It was all so awkward, and after a while I stopped trying. I was always tired and didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want people looking at me, or to feel the need to repeat my sad story to whomever I met. I wasn’t sure if my life would get better. Would I ever laugh or have fun, like all kids were supposed to? There were so many questions, feelings, answers I didn’t know. I felt alone, especially when people said, they hoped “time” would make things better for me. They hoped the nightmares would go away, hoped I would soon return to the things I loved. They hoped I would start to heal. What was all of this “hope” they were talking about?
To me “Hope” wasn’t just a name, but a wishful word that other people, happier people, were able to use. I had done a lot of wishing and hoping in my life and nothing ever resulted. I didn’t think I needed any “hope” because it didn’t work, and besides everything seemed so bleak. I couldn’t explain it, and I certainly didn’t understand it. What was going to happen with me and our family?
Well, I don’t know exactly when it was, maybe near my seventh birthday, but one morning, when I was too glum for school, my parents found a place for us to visit. It was called the “Seasons Centre for Grieving Children”. Seeing the sign outside I doubted this place could help me, yet I wondered if someone there might understand what I was feeling. Part of me said no, but a greater part, desperate to feel better, decided it was worth a try, so I followed my parents to the entrance.
We were given a tour by a friendly person they called a “staff member”. I later learned that meant she worked there. I was reluctant at first, staying quiet and unsure, as I had kept my feelings inside for so long it took me a while to remember how to share them. And even though I didn’t let on, I thought the place was quite cool. We discovered that the downstairs is for parents, caregivers, and teenagers, and upstairs is just for kids like me – it’s awesome! There’s a ball pit, craft space, and volcano room where you can hit things, or “explode”, my dad said. I liked that room the best. There are also many handprints from other kids who’ve lost loved ones, and hand-written messages everywhere. It was obvious so many people needed the Centre, some even younger than me. I decided I’d give it a try.
During my first group meeting I realized there were other kids with similar feelings. Each of us had a story of losing a close family member, so I figured this was a place where people could understand me. There were trained grief facilitators to answer our questions, especially the ones we didn’t feel we could ask parents or guardians. Group sessions were held in private, and that made me feel even safer. Safe to explore and understand my grief, safe to have a chance at hope. For the first time since losing my sisters I felt heard, and I started to let some of my deepest feelings go. If I got overwhelmed, which happened a lot in the beginning, I knew I’d be supported by my Seasons Centre buddies. I was in a better place every time I left; my heart felt special, lighter, as though it was leaving the sadness there.
Best of all, the Seasons Centre taught me that “hope” can come in different ways, not just the wishful hope I had known before. I now see hope as an action, a positive change, even joy. Once I felt free and let my fears go, “hope” was like the warm sun shining upon my life. The Seasons Centre facilitators and volunteers also helped me embrace grief instead of shutting down or shutting the grief out. They taught me coping strategies for when I start to feel sad. They taught me to accept this newfound hope and pointed me in the direction of positive change. The rest was up to me, and I felt empowered enough to look to the future and take the next step.
So, I’m here, your friend Hope, sharing with you what it took for me to be ready. Yes, the first step was hard, a bit scary, but the Seasons Centre taught me that doing difficult things is what helps us find our greatest strength. My sad feelings are still real, and now that I have accepted grief, the dark moments don’t consume me. My heart has space for my sisters, my parents, and all of our memories. It also has space for grief. I’ve learned that grief is an expression of deep love and that a part of grief may stay with me for a long time, until the darkness is healthy, and limited to shades I can recognize.
That grief comes back at different times and when it does, I take the time to let it pass. I sometimes cry and keep to myself, and I’ve learned that this is both normal and okay. The key is to not let the big feelings, those anchored in my past, get in the way of creating a brighter future. When I feel those big feelings coming on, I tell people that I love and trust, and I ask for the time and space to let me process.
Grief is the loss of love, and of something that’s never coming back. I love my sisters very much and that’s why it hurts so badly. We had so much fun, shared so many laughs, good times, whether on vacation to Disney or the East Coast, or after an outing with the Girl Guides. I feel my sisters are still guiding me, like they did when we went skiing, or fished and swam in the summer. We were a good troop! These memories are in my heart forever, and the grief is there too, subsiding, as hope has started me on a new path and given me what I need to create a better tomorrow.
That brings me to today, where I’m a volunteer mentor at the Seasons Centre. What better way to celebrate the lives of my sisters than by helping others experiencing the same pain I went through. It gives me joy to see smiles on those who never thought they would smile again. And so, when the staff at the Seasons Centre decided we needed a symbol, mascot, something you could anchor to, or connect with the Seasons Centre for Grieving Children, my namesake, Hope, was created. You’ll see me everywhere, as I’m kind of famous! Hope appears on our signs, memos, our flags, and even on mugs, stickers, and clothing. Hope, for me, started a few years ago and now it’s time to bring Hope into the world.
At the Seasons Centre we want to create awareness for children suffering from grief, to know they are not alone. Let’s give hope a chance – in a safe environment, a space where help is always accessible. Our current project is called, “Hope Around Town”. Hope has been designed and built for all to see! She’s grown too, and can be transported by trailer to various places, or functions, events around Barrie and surrounding area. Wave to Hope, take a picture with Hope, talk to the volunteer helpers when you see them, as you might just win something invaluable.
Be sure to check our website https://www.grievingchildren.com/hopearoundtown/ to see the events Hope will attend.
My story is one of many, and by sharing it, I believe others can benefit. It is true that when you believe in hope, life becomes a little brighter.
I look forward to meeting you!