There is NO TIMELINE for grief

At BFO-MR, a significant aspect of our work is centred around grief literacy. For us that means educating our community about grief to encourage empathy and understanding.

We talk about the importance of language and advocate that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, only your way. There are no five stages or a finish line to cross. Grief isn’t something that needs fixing – it’s a natural response to loss.

The inclusion of Prolonged Grief Disorder in the DSM-V feels like a step backwards in grief literacy and we have major concerns for what it means for folks who are grieving. It risks pathologizing what is a universal human experience. It has the potential to make people feel like they’re “doing it wrong” or that there’s something wrong with them if they continue to grieve 12 months after a death.

We acknowledge that there are people for whom the grief journey is complicated, and we fully support the need for greater understanding where that is the experience. But it’s also important to note that this is the experience of approximately 10-15% of the population.

That leaves at least 85% who are now seeing in national media that if they’re still grieving their person after a year, they could possibly have a disorder. Continuing bonds tell us that it is typical and healthy for a person to grieve for the rest of their lives. There is NO TIMELINE for grief.

We need to talk more about grief and what it can look and feel like. We need to acknowledge there is no right or wrong way to do it. There are also no quick fixes that the promise of a diagnosis might imply. When we have the ability to recognize and understand grief, we can do more to support ourselves and each other.

We can create support networks built on the transformational knowledge that we’re not alone in our experience.

Grief needs to be normalized, not pathologized.

There is no timeline for grief.

Erin’s Story

It is said it takes a village to raise a child, but Erin shares it also “takes a community to help support someone who grieves the death of their child.”

Erin’s daughter Ava was only six weeks old when she died in 2010. She experienced what many bereaved parents do when a child dies. She felt “there is no end in sight and I will not get over it. I will never feel whole again.” But she discovered that sharing her grief, coupled with a compassionate and openhearted community of others on the grief journey, was paramount in processing and healing.

I wanted to give to a community
Part of the healing process for Erin included sharing her experience with others, as both an author and openly speaking about her daughter, her grief and the aftermath. In 2018, Erin decided to combine her lived experience as a bereaved mom along with her work experience as an intuitive bereavement coach, and applied to become a volunteer facilitator with Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR). “I wanted to give more to the grief community that clearly needs more support. Every human being will face grief at some point in their life.”

Erin contributed to BFO-MR’s community of support by becoming a volunteer facilitator for its program for parents grieving the death of an infant.

Hope, community and understanding
Erin says when you come to a BFO-MR group, you are gathering people together at their darkest and often most hopeless moments. “As a peer facilitator, our goal is for members to have a feeling of hope, community and understanding among them.”

“When sharing experiences, threads of everyone’s stories are woven together. This helps to connect as a group and support each other through the difficult and challenging emotions and situations that come with grief,” Erin shares “You don’t get through the hardest struggles and loss in this life without support. When we have support from others who have been there, we are given hope that not only can we walk through the pain, but more importantly, it can and will get better.”

Facilitating provides additional purpose and meaning to your own loss.
Erin shares that facilitating aids in giving meaning and purpose to her experience and is fulfilling in a way that cannot be tangibly measured. Facilitators and members are connected through their shared experience and the process of participating in a group that is healing for both members and facilitators alike. “I understand what they are going through because I have been where they are. You can see it in their faces and through their body language – it bonds us together.”

She reinforces that the goal of the group is not to help people “get over it, but rather to provide a safe place to acknowledge, honour their loved ones and move forward in life, integrating their loved one’s memory. This allows the bereft to feel whole again and is an integral part of them working towards a place of happiness and peace.”

“BFO-MR does an exceptional good job in supporting their volunteers. They provide us with the tools and support to help us help others,” Erin says.

Coming back to the “it takes a village” philosophy, facilitating a peer support group is not an individual endeavor. It is a team effort that requires all hands on deck to ensure participation is a positive and healing experience for everyone. BFO-MR provides that safe container for the bereaved.

Erin offers these final reflections on being a facilitator: “Know your boundaries. Be aware of your triggers. Reach out and ask for what you need to support you. It is very special to be part of other’ journey through grief.  It is an honour to be a witness for others. To those who are just beginning to traverse the grief road, you are hope.”

Andrea’s Story

In 2008, Andrea watched her mother’s valiant battle with cancer end. She was just 10 years old.

Andrea comes from a small community near Peterborough, a community she credits with providing tremendous support to her family. Even before her mom died, the whole community rallied together to support them, even hosting fundraisers to help to contribute to towards cost of her cancer treatment.

This support didn’t end after her mom died. Andrea’s community continued to be there for her family, but she drew the most strength and support from her father.

Supportive in every way

“My dad was incredible. I slept in his bed for a week after my mom died. He never complained. He even changed his work hours so he could be home with us more. He was so supportive in every way.”

Fast forward to 2018, Andrea was attending university in Waterloo and wanted to get involved in her local community. She began with an online search for volunteer opportunities and came across Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR).

Andrea met with BFO-MR staff to gain an understanding about its work and mission and learn about possible volunteer opportunities.  Andrea immediately knew BFO-MR would be a great fit because the organization aligned with her own personal values and she would be able to use her own lived experience. She registered in the fall training and became a facilitator for BFO-MR’s Living with Loss group.

Make connections with other people who just get it

Andrea explains that part of a facilitator’s role is to help navigate a topic for group. The group members participate by contributing their own personal experiences or simply listen to others share. Often, they help each other by sharing their own insights and provide ideas and techniques that have helped them in their grief journey.

“They make connections with other people who just get it,” says Andrea. “It is hope.”

Reflect on my own experience

Facilitating is a great experience, says Andrea.  It allows you to help others in their grief journey as well as reflect on your own experience.

“I can reflect on my personal lived experience and it gives me an opportunity to think about what happened in my own life and gain new perspectives,” she says. “I recently came to the realization that I’ve now lived longer without my mom than I lived with her. And I am ok.”

Andrea has always been very grateful for the support from her hometown during her mother’s illness. Through facilitating, she was able to reflect on that experience and have a new appreciation for her community and just how much they did for her and her family.

 “I reflected on myself and looked back at things and started remembering personal memories I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It gave me another level of appreciation for everyone but especially my dad who did so much for me and my sisters and was such an incredible support while he was grieving himself.”

Andrea continues facilitating BFO-MR’s Living with Loss group and also volunteers with its Healing Little Hearts program. She also took her new skills and shared them with her home community. She has seen first-hand the impact BFO-MRs grief support programs have had, and she wanted to bring these opportunities for hope and healing to Peterborough. Andrea became a board member for the Peterborough affiliate and was instrumental in helping to launch a program in her hometown to support those who are grieving.

“The support of BFO-MR helped make this happen, and I am so grateful and proud of this accomplishment,” she says

Andrea’s journey continues. Her experiences both past and present have helped shape her future career goals. She is now moving towards a career in psychotherapy as well as research in the treatment of grief.  She has quickly learned there is so much more work that can be done to help understand, support and connect with people who are grieving to help them mourn and to help them heal.

This is a part of life

“Grief does get easier. It is always there, but you learn new ways to cope. This is a part of life.  Participating in a peer support group creates opportunities to relate to others with a similar experience, connect and grow.”

5 ways to support someone grieving pregnancy loss or death of an infant

This guest post was written by:
Melissa Reid, MSW, RSW, Owner/Counsellor, Calming Tree Counselling

When a family experiences a pregnancy loss, neonatal death or death of an infant there are multiple people in a family system trying to make sense of this unimaginable event. In addition to the devastation of the loss, parents are reconciling physical, psychological, emotional and social changes that have disrupted and interrupted their anticipated future. It can be even more challenging to navigate this grief when faced with well-meaning but insensitive forms of support or the complete absence of community or compassionate care.

I have been providing grief support to individuals and families for over sixteen years. In this time the bereaved have often discussed what was helpful and what was hurtful to them. While the following list is not exhaustive, there are some themes that have emerged from listening to the bereaved. If someone in your life has experienced a pregnancy loss, neonatal death or death of an infant and you want to be a support person for them, the following suggestions can provide ideas for compassionate care and two things to avoid saying.

Compassionate Care ideas:

  • Look for ways to provide practical support to newly bereaved families. This can include getting groceries, taking young children for a day, completing household chores (cleaning, laundry, etc), cutting the grass or shoveling the driveway. It is common for people to bring meals for the grieving family. This is a kind gesture that can become overwhelming when the freezer is overflowing with casseroles and another casserole appears on the doorstep. If you would like to provide a meal for the family, consider arranging a prep-to-table meal at a designated time with the family.
  • Communicate how you would like to be supportive (i.e. practically, emotionally, etc.). Organize and articulate the form of support and follow through. All too often, newly bereaved individuals are asked what they need or how people can help them. This can be an additional burden for someone already overwhelmed by grief. Often times people will suggest they don’t need anything to avoid having to expend energy to consider and articulate a need. By suggesting what you can do and what you are capable of, you relieve the bereaved person of the responsibility.
  • Check in often but first check in with yourself. Not everyone is capable of providing emotional support to a grieving person and family. Reflecting on whether you are that person is important for your mental health and the care of the bereaved. It is okay if you are not capable of providing emotional support, there are plenty of other ways to be supportive. If that is a role you are capable of, check in often in a non-judgemental, actively listening capacity.
  • Be patient and kind. Grieving is a full time, all-encompassing experience. It can feel very abnormal to the person in the midst of it. Bereaved individuals often lose a sense of time and space. They forget appointments, dates of importance and lose concentration and focus. Not to mention experiencing the tidal wave of emotions that crash in and recede, just to crash in again. What expectations do you have for your bereaved friend or family member? Do they line up with an understanding of grief and are they compassionate?
  • It is okay to say their child’s name and/or acknowledge dates of significance to them (i.e. due date). These dates and their child are always on their mind and knowing others think of them too can be validating. Your bereaved friend may experience or express emotion at the acknowledgment of their pregnancy and child and that is okay. Obviously follow their lead, if they need to change the direction of conversation, that is okay too.

Two things to avoid when communicating with someone who is bereaved:

  • “At Least”– Two powerful words that act to minimize the validity of the bereaved person’s pain and suggest that they redirect their attention to something that we believe is the silver lining in their experience. The bereaved person may make meaning out of their loss, but it will be in their own time and emerge out of what they believe is significant.
  • “Should” – This word is often used to articulate an expectation that does not correspond with what is realistic for the person’s needs or their current capabilities. We often use should to influence, move or push ourselves or others out of feelings of discomfort, pain or shame. Checking and challenging expectations and approaching bereaved people with compassion will provide opportunities for connection and support.

Experiencing a pregnancy loss, neonatal death or death of an infant is devastating and impacts individuals, families and their community. Grieving these losses can be disenfranchising if they are not acknowledged and given compassionate care. Bereaved individuals are faced with reconciling the life they anticipated and the future they had hoped for in the midst of pain and sorrow. With the care and compassion of friends and family members and a community focused on providing support, bereaved parents can take the time and energy they need to grieve.

August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day – Here is What BFO-MR Is Doing


In commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2020, we are launching an education campaign during the month of August. We hope to reduce the stigma and prejudice associated with deaths by substance use, build awareness and educate the community about the impact it can have on individuals and families who are grieving, and promote access to supports. 

Each week through the month of August, our education campaign will focus on various aspects of substance use and the grief associated with this type of death. We will be discussing 

August 4-7: Stigma and the importance of language 

August 10-14: Complicated grief and how it relates to deaths by substance use 

August 17-21: Member stories and finding meaning 

August 24-28: Resources, supports and International Overdose Awareness Day events 

 All of our campaign and discussion materials will be available through our social media channels (@BFOMR on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) and weekly emails through the month of August.  

 So, How Can You Get Involved? 

Attend one of our ‘Death by Substance Use and Community Impact’ Virtual Workshops: 

Tuesday, August 4 – Idea Exchange (Cambridge Library), 7pm 

Tuesday, August 11 – Kitchener Public Library, 7pm 

Monday, August 17 – Waterloo Public Library7pm 

Tuesday, August 25 – Guelph Public Library, 7pm 

Send Us Photos of Your Loved Ones for Our Memorial Page 

We are inviting you, the community, to submit a photo in honour of the people in your lives who have died by substance use. The image can be a photo of the person, an item that represents them or just their name. These images will be featured on a memorial page on our website which will be launched publicly on August 31, 2020. Watch for more information about this, coming soon.  

Be Part of the Conversation and Help us Spread the Word 

You can help amplify our voice! Follow the campaign on our social media channelsshare our posts, tell your story and be part of the conversation.  

Use the Hashtags 




 Follow and Engage with These Community Resources 

  • Waterloo Region Integrated Drugs Strategy (@DrugStrategyWR) 
  • Region of Waterloo Public Health (@ROWPublicHealth) 
  • Sanguen (@SanguenHepC) 
  • Wellington Guelph Drugs Strategy (@WGDrugStrategy) 
  • House of Friendship (@hofwatreg) 
  • Ray of Hope (@ROH_1967) 
  • Stonehenge (@StonehengeTC) 
  • Thresholds (@Welcome2THS) 
  • Lutherwood (@Lutherwood) Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre (@KDCHC) 
  • Cambridge Food Bank (@CambFoodBank) 
  • One Roof (@oneROOFYouth) 
  • Waterloo Regional Police Services (@WRPSToday) 

Our International Overdose Awareness Day Education Campaign is made possible with support from the Cambridge & North Dumfries Community FoundationOur education workshops are generously supported by the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation – Weiland Family Fund and ware fortunate to be able to provide peer grief support for individuals in our community who are grieving a death by substance use because of the generosity of the Ontario Trillium FoundationWe thank you for what you are helping make possible.  

At Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region, educating the community about grief is an important part of our mission. Through grief literacy initiatives like this International Overdose Awareness Day education campaign, we normalize the experience, encourage empathy and understanding, and create more compassionate communities for all. Thank you for being a part of this vital work.  




An update from Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region

It is hard to believe that July is almost upon us and that we will soon be in midst of the dog days of summer. It is less difficult to believe that summer is absolutely going to look different for everyone this year. As we look ahead to the fall, we know it will as well.

Our spring groups were on the cusp of getting underway when everything shut down because of Covid-19. Fortunately, we were able to transition our programs for parents grieving the death of an infant and parents grieving the death of a child over to virtual. Our Living with Loss and Living with Loss for adults grieving a death by substance use programs also made the move to virtual so we could continue to provide peer support to individuals and families during this difficult time.

  • Unfortunately, our spring Healing Little Hearts groups had to be cancelled. We were very conscious of the strain already being placed on parents and caregivers juggling working from home, schooling from home and other stressors. We did not want to add to that pressure so we deferred our groups to the fall. We are working now on what those are going to look like.
  • Good Grief, our teen support group being offered as a joint initiative with Hummingbird Centre for Hope has evolved from its intended in-person closed group, to an open “drop-in” group being offered virtually through the summer months. Planning for future groups is underway.
  • Our annual Butterfly Release Walk to Remember memorial event has also evolved from an in-person gathering and we’ve loved hearing about how families will be releasing butterflies and walking in memory of their loved ones at home.
  • We’re currently considering if and how we might be able to host our annual golf tournament which is our biggest fundraiser of the year. Naturally, not hosting the event will have a significant financial impact on our organization, so we’re also working on how we might be able to fill the funding gap if the tournament doesn’t happen.

Our staff team has been working from home since March 16 and will continue to do so until September at the earliest. We will continue to offer our grief support groups virtually in the fall. With so much uncertainty about a potential second wave of Covid-19, we feel it is in the best interest of our members, staff and volunteers to proceed this way.

In thinking about how the last few months have unfolded, and how our path is going to change moving forward, we feel it is important to acknowledge the silver linings at BFO. No, it isn’t ideal to be separated from our co-workers every day. It’s been hard. No, it isn’t ideal to be supporting each other over Zoom. There is much to be said about being in a physical space together when sharing our stories.

But it’s working, and going virtual has meant that for the most part, our services have gone uninterrupted. It has also meant that geography or transportation are no longer barriers to accessing support. It has meant that now we know, if we have to cancel a group in the middle of winter due to inclement weather, we can quickly and easily go online and ensure support continues regardless of what Mother Nature throws at us.

We do acknowledge that going virtual has created a different barrier to support however – access to technology and the internet. Our Professional Advisory Committee and staff are keenly aware of this challenge and are working to address it.

In looking to the future, it’s easy to keep our heads down and get stuck in what tomorrow, or next week or next month looks like. What we don’t want to lose sight of is how the pandemic is affecting people’s grief experiences and what that is going to mean for them on the other side of this. As things go back to different (there will not be a normal to go back to), we’re foreseeing the demand for grief support will increase.

As we have said before, we will keep looking forward with hope and optimism and we thank you for your ongoing support.

Take good care of yourself and each other.

Jaime Bickerton, Executive Director
Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region

Kevin’s Story

On October 6, 2017, Liam reminded his dad that he didn’t have to work in the morning, so he didn’t need his usual 5 a.m. wake-up call. He said goodnight and told his father that he loved him before going to his room to sleep. That was the last conversation Kevin shared with his 18-year-old son Liam. Liam died that evening, in his home, from an accidental overdose from fentanyl poising.

Liam’s death caused Kevin a lot of anger. Anger that he died. Anger that he now must raise his sisters without him being there. Anger that this one choice cost Liam his life. Kevin was left with so much anger and grief and needed to try to find help to work through this tragedy. He found his way to Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region’s Living with Loss group for adults grieving a death by substance use.


No big surprises

When a loved one dies by substance use, no one truly gets it. Kevin says when he tells his story, people can be kind and sympathetic, but they don’t truly understand what it’s like. When you come to Living with Loss, they get it. “There are no big surprises with each member’s tragic story. Each story is similar with just a few different details.  This familiarity brings feelings of comfort as you are all in the same boat.”  Needing to be part of a group where they just know, with similar experiences connect them and Kevin feels comfort and support being a part of the group.

“What did surprise me is how much I like to talk and share my stories of Liam,” he says. In group, Kevin feels very comfortable sharing something that happened while Liam was alive, or after his death. He says “it is common for someone to jump at the end of your sharing and say ‘oh ya, that happened to me, but then this also happened me’ – it connects us.”

Kevin says there is so much respect for each other in the room and gratitude for the freedom to share without any judgement. “Hearing other people’s stories brings clarity to your own thoughts and feelings,” he says. When people are sharing, they are saying things about their own situations and emotions he is thinking and feeling himself.

Step out of the bubble

The one thing that Kevin knows with certainty today is that no matter what he does or what he wants, he can’t change the final outcome – Liam died.  “I am living in this bubble. I am staying with group as long as it takes to help me step out of the bubble and begin life again.”

While he hasn’t quite found the “tools” that he often hears people talking about to navigate his journey and he isn’t quite sure how it will help him mold himself into who he is going to be without Liam. Kevin is sure he’s in the right place, “I just know that I need to be there.” Kevin works in many locations, so he has driven from cities as far as Oshawa to make the group meetings.

“If Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region did not have this specific group, people would have nowhere to go. Other support groups are not the same. You don’t get it unless you have experienced it. “

Barbara’s Story

Empty space, empty place, empty time

These are the words that echo in Barbara’s life after her 29-year-old son died of an accidental overdose in 2017.  That year everything changed forever. She describes that an emptiness in her heart, in her home and in her life now that her son is gone.

Barbara was overwhelmed with grief and didn’t see how or if she was going to get through this incredibly painful tragedy. It had been recommended she go to counseling, but she wasn’t the type of person to “open up” and share her feelings.  She had already felt some judgement from a few people around her.  When Barbara ran into a friend who knew about her son’s death, she suggested Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR) might be able to help.

Feeling freedom to let go

Barbara started attending BFO-MR’s Living with Loss group for adults grieving a death by substance use. Going to group has given Barbara the element of acceptance when sharing her story, and she can do so without judgment.

“I am feeling free to let go and share as there is openness, understanding and encouragement from everyone that has allowed me to be open and vulnerable.”

During group discussions, Barbara talks about the life of her son, and the loving soul he was, not just his death.  She is given a safe space to honour and remember who he was as a person, not just the choice he made that cost him his life.

“I get to remember the 29 years of blessings with my son.”

Heartfelt listening

Both facilitators and group members alike have brought a calmness to the chaos of Barbara’s life. When she opens up and shares, she can feel them listening.

“It is heartfelt listening- not pity, but truly empathetic listening and understanding from those who have experienced this kind of loss. This has comforted me and has helped me to work through my grief and work towards healing.”

At group Barbara knows that she is not alone.  There is no shame or embarrassment.  Hearing the stories of other members have allowed Barbara to not only receive empathy but to give empathy.

“I have learned to let go and allow myself to shed tears in public and know it’s ok. I still have bad days, but I feel now I am moving forward in my grief journey. “

What’s happening at BFO-MR

Nothing creates an opportunity for reflection quite like the start of a brand new year. And what a year 2018 was at Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region.

  • We celebrated our first full year of Living with Loss in Guelph. This group continues to grow and we are honoured to be providing support to this community.
  • For the first time, development opportunities were made possible for our volunteer facilitators to build their skills and ensure they are providing the best support for the bereaved community.
  • We were able to double the number of communities in which we delivered our Anything But Merry education session and provided tips and strategies for coping with grief over the holidays. In total, 80 people participated in these sessions in Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, Fergus and Elmira.

We are proud of everything that was accomplished and incredibly grateful to everyone involved in making 2018 an amazing year.

Thank you to our facilitators who are the front line of our organization and provide such important support to families. Thank you to ALL the volunteers who help with our events, deliver educational presentations, provide support in the office and act as ambassadors for BFO-MR out in the community. Thank you to our donors for your confidence in us to support the community. Thank you to our Professional Advisory Committee who ensures we continue to meet the needs of grieving families. Thank you to the Board of Directors for your leadership and willingness to shake things up and take risks.

And thank you to our members for the privilege of walking with you along this journey.

As we look to the year ahead, we are excited about a number of things happening at BFO-MR that are going to change the way we serve the community.

  • We were successful with an Ontario Trillium Foundation GROW grant which is enabling us to hire a full-time Outreach Coordinator to build awareness and grow our Living with Loss program for adults grieving the death of a loved one by substance use. Having someone dedicated to being out in the community and talking about that program as well as everything else we do at BFO-MR will help ensure grieving individuals and families are aware of and can access the support they need.
  • We were successful with a Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation grant to launch a grief support program for children ages 8 to 12. There are currently very limited resources available to families with children in this age bracket and we are pleased to be filling this gap in the community. Watch for more information about this new program coming soon.
  • BFO-MR offers a biennial conference and 2019 is a conference year! This year’s topic is traumatic grief. We are in the early planning stages and look forward to sharing more information about this and other educational opportunities we are working on.
  • With thanks to some amazingly generous supporters, there are LOTS of other really exciting and incredible things happening at BFO-MR. We can’t wait to tell you all about it.

The photo included with this post was chosen with purpose. It speaks to growth, opportunity and a renewed sense of determination. It is representative of hope, strength and potential. It speaks to everything being made possible in 2019. We look forward to sharing more as we embark on an awesome year for BFO-MR and the community we serve.

Jane’s Story

They say it takes a village to raise a child or build anything worthwhile. But who brings the villagers together? For that, you need a very special person. Someone who is willing to share their enthusiasm, energy and experience. You need someone like Jane Hale-McDonald (pictured third from right).

Jane might be described as a “super-volunteer”.  She regularly contributes to the community through her work with United Way and many other causes. And Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR) has been fortunate to count her as a volunteer for more than 20 years.

“My parents were good Irish Catholics,” she says. “They taught me to give back. So that’s what I do.”

Sharing a journey
Today, the busy mom of four works long hours as Vice President of Human Resources and Safety at Energy+ Inc. She’s involved with her church and has a far-reaching network of family, friends and professional contacts.

But in 1990, when Jane’s four-month-old daughter died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), there wasn’t much support available to her. It was a lonely time.

Jane found comfort in her friendship with Dena Moitoso, a neighbour whose daughter died in a car accident.

“She was a good social support. She told me about her journey and I told her about mine. Building those bridges helped me cope.”

And when Dena and Marilyn Hollinger founded what is now Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region, Jane was one of their first volunteers.

Jane also worked with Rev. Rip Kirby, former Director of Pastoral Care at St. Mary’s, the hospital that had cared for her daughter. He would ask her to speak with families who had also lost a child to SIDS.

“Everybody takes a loss differently. Some people can’t function. And other people get active and busy and try to make it easier for the next person. I’m one of those. I try to share what the impact of BFO-MR was for me,” she says.

But she didn’t stop there.

Support through sports
When a good friend and fellow human resources professional lost his son, he reached out to Jane. She directed him to BFO-MR.

Before long, he too was involved and looking for ways to support the organization. Drawing on their shared love of sports, they launched a charity golf tournament in 1998 and the next year, a curling bonspiel.

“We reached out to our network and our family and friends. I have a large family and bring them in from far and wide,” Jane says with a chuckle.

The events gradually evolved and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for BFO-MR families over the last 20 years.

Jane continues to be an ambassador for BFO-MR, guiding those looking for support in their grief to the organization.

“Friends have told me that the support from Bereaved Families has saved them,” she says.

“I feel the same way. And I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to build relationships and, through that, to support this very worthwhile agency and to see its impact on the community.”

Cecily’s Story

Cecily Kowalik wants you to say her daughter’s name, out loud. Her name is Kyla.

When you say Kyla’s name, you give permission for Cecily to say the name out loud again too. And you also create a warm, safe space for Cecily to talk about her daughter, her firstborn, the first child ever to call her ‘mom’.

Kyla was the infant who ushered in a whole year of firsts for Cecily and her husband, Rick; birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, summer vacations and family gatherings that all swelled in meaning and love with a precious newborn in tow.

“The sense of loss is always ‘right there’, just under the surface,” says Cecily. “So when you say Kyla’s name out loud, I know you remember her, too.”

And remembering Kyla is how Cecily works hard at making meaning of her unimaginable, devastating loss.

Cecily remembers her daughter’s widely eclectic interests including all kinds of sports and a fervor for environmental causes like recycling. She remembers the interesting chat with Kyla’s kindergarten teacher to talk about how she needed to be at the front of every line. She remembers Kyla’s tendency towards perfectionism and how hard she worked at absolutely everything she did. Cecily remembers her as bold and decisive yet nurturing.

“I remember our last family trip the summer before Kyla’s knee surgery when she was 17 years old. And our ongoing disagreement about the timing of that surgery. I remember it all,” says Cecily.

Soon after Kyla died from a pulmonary embolism following the surgery, a determined Cecily quickly mobilized ways for her daughter to be remembered. In this spirit, Cecily contacted Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR) to ensure there would be someone else who would remember Kyla. BFO-MR keeps record of Kyla’s death and acknowledges the anniversary of that day each year.

BFO-MR’s vision is the ‘bereaved helping the bereaved so that no one has to walk alone through their journey of grief’. “It was BFO-MR’s logo of a family who has experienced a loss but still has all their family members together that was so compelling to me,” says Cecily. “And, even though it would be years before I would join their program for parents grieving the death of a child, I knew they would be there when I needed them.”

For Cecily, it’s important to do more than just remember her daughter. She wants Kyla’s unique contribution to the world to live on. So she agreed to tissue and organ donation so Kyla could positively affect the lives of others. Even now, 12 years later, Cecily is still instrumental in getting the word out about how simple it is grab your health card, go online to the Trillium Gift of Life Network and sign up to become a tissue and organ donor.

Cecily’s life has not been diminished by her devastating loss and, in fact, her life has expanded greatly to create room for the profound pain of her daughter’s death, and to continue to make a difference in the lives of others. As a retired, passionate educator who still mentors young people while officiating soccer games, she is coming to terms with her own vulnerability and can now cry in public.

As the grief became a little less intense, she found comfort in attending BFO-MR peer groups where members share their stories, offer support but don’t give advice. And just recently, Cecily completed the BFO-MR’s Facilitator Training volunteer program and she plans to continue to walk with others along their own grief journeys. Her advice to others would be not rush, that the grief process takes its own time.

“Walking alongside others as they make meaning of their grief is an impactful and beautiful way to remember someone,” says Cecily. “I will always remember Kyla and will always say her name. I’m grateful for BFO-MR for their role in my journey.”

Breana’s Story

“It’s always been really important for me to give back,” Breana Walker says. “I feel like we live in an ‘I’ generation. I think it’s vital that we are out there supporting each other and making sure that no one has fallen through the cracks.”

And give back she does through her job as a fundraiser at a local university, her volunteer work with the National Ballet School, and her recent appointment as chair of Bereaved Families of Ontario – Midwestern Region (BFO-MR). Even her dogs are rescues.

Looking to become more involved in her community, Breana joined the board three years ago as a director, drawn by BFO-MR’s messaging and programs.

“I’ve been around loss a fair amount in my life. So, I knew how important it was to have programs such as these.”

Breana served on BFO-MR’s board for about eight months before she had the chance to attend one of the organization’s memorial events. What she found gave a whole new depth of understanding to what BFO-MR offers to people moving through loss

While BFO-MR’s Butterfly Release and Tree of Bright Stars are very different in some ways — one’s held in summer, the other during the Christmas season, one is more joyful, the other a little more solemn — both events allow families to gather together to remember and celebrate the loved ones they’ve lost.

And those losses don’t have to be recent. Many families come back year after year.

“You see grandparents, parents and little kids (who may not even have met the person who died) at these events. The families are here to lay another memory down, to keep that connection with their loved one alive,” Breana says.

Part of what makes these events so meaningful is the dedication of volunteers who pour their time and talents into the details. Like the woman who creates beautiful scrapbooks to commemorate the lives of loved ones who have died. Or another volunteer who handwrites names onto stained glass star ornaments for the Tree of Bright Stars.

BFO-MR volunteers often begin coming to these events as part of their own grieving process, Breana notes. They attend year after year and then decide to volunteer as a way to give back, devoting countless hours so that others can be comforted.

“Their passion is inspiring,” she says.

In her role as chair, Breana hopes to spread awareness of BFO-MR’s programs and engage community members, including those who aren’t grieving themselves but who want to learn how to help friends or relatives who are.

And she wants to encourage more people to attend BFO-MR events and see how the organization can help them.

Although most people have suffered from some form of loss, many don’t think to seek out support groups, or even know that they exist.

“There is that apprehension. They say ‘I don’t want to be around a bunch of people who are crying and who are sad. I’m not ready for that.’ Or, ‘they won’t understand me.’ And so, they suffer silently.”

But by simply attending events like the Butterfly Release or Tree of Bright Stars, those who are grieving can get a sense of the support that’s available, in a welcoming environment with no expectations.

“They can meet individuals who are at different stages in their grief journey. They can talk with them and share their experiences. Or they may simply choose to quietly reflect,” Breana says.

“There’s a sense of companionship just being around those who’ve been through similar situations. We want people to realize that BFO is a safe place to grieve, no matter how they choose to do that.”