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.”