Tragedy and Humanity


Today is a day that as a city we grieve. I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t touched, if not heartbroken by the news of little three-year-old Elijah. Dressed only in a light t-shirt, pull-ups and winter boots, in his beautiful innocence he decided to go for a walk at 4:30 in the morning. It was minus 25-degree weather and, sadly, the outcome was tragic.

I’m sure that most of the city was holding its collective breath, praying for good news every hour of the day. When the news of his death came, many of us cried.

The family is devastated and in shock. Their hell has just started and they will continue to need our support, not just now, but for a long time to come.

It will stir up old grief within some who have experienced the tragic death of a child. It will frighten new parents of young children and steal the confidence of many for some time to come.

My partner and I were among the many who searched for Elijah today. It was terribly sad and the feeling of utter helplessness was overwhelming.

Yet, as with all tragedies, it brought out the best in so many people. Many times we can become disillusioned with the state of society as a whole. It seems that there is never any good news, that we are becoming more and more egocentric and self-serving.

But today, we witnessed the complete opposite. People from near and far came to help. It was an incredibly humbling, uniting force. The beauty in the outpouring of support was unprecedented. One might expect it in a small town or community but this is a city of three million united by one common goal—to help a family bring their baby boy home.

For those of us not directly affected, we have the luxury of reflection and thanksgiving for the abundance of goodness that was present today.

Although my heart aches with a deep sadness, it is also warmed by the knowledge that when it truly matters we are a people united by a love that transcends all else.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Elijah’s family.


Posted in Beginnings | 6 Comments

Betrayal and Grief

friendship-betrayalSo, I ask you, do we grieve when someone has betrayed us?  Think of a time when someone you trusted or believed in, turned against you.  It doesn’t have to be something as big as losing your job or marriage.  It could be as simple as a friend who abandons you.

I think we grieve many times during our life experience and for a myriad of reasons.

A couple of months ago, someone I thought of as a friend turned out to be the opposite, a betrayal that shocked and saddened me deeply.

I was also extremely angry and resentful, and yes, I am ashamed to admit, wishing I could find a way to even the score. Fortunately, there was no possibility of acting on this desire for revenge without making matters worse.

Somehow it would be up to me to figure out what underlying insecurities might have been behind this betrayal and to find the compassion to forgive. This was necessary for my own emotional well-being so that I could be at peace again and move forward free of resentment…so easy to say, but not so simple to achieve.

But then, as with most things in life, the answer was given to me at exactly the right time.

The simple truth came to me as I was listening to one of my favourite speakers, Rev. Cheryl-Lynn McPherson.  However unintentional, what she said was what I needed to hear, just when I needed to hear it. My eyes were opened to a completely different perspective.

The bottom line of her message was that no one owes us anything.  …Pretty simple really, but totally profound when you get to the heart of it.

We live in a world now that can be extremely egocentric. This sense of entitlement is all pervasive and is desperately unhealthy. If we are not happy with our situation it must be because someone owes us something. We may complain, sulk, place the blame on anyone except ourselves or choose the most popular option by far these days and pay some happy lawyer to sue someone on our behalf.

The problem with all of this is that it hinders our ability to see the truth. No one owes us anything.

Imagine truly believing that for a moment.  Our governments, parents, children, family, friends don’t owe us a thing.  How freeing is that?

It allows us to take full responsibility for our own lives.

Betrayal is hard.  It always feels personal but in fact, it is really all about the needs of another person.

No one owes me either approval or support.  Both of these may be my needs, but they must be manifested within myself.  What a great lesson to learn from something that at the time left me feeling undervalued and frustrated.

And, as with all types of grief, gratitude is the cornerstone to healing.

I am grateful to have heard and understood the timely delivery of that message from Cheryl-Lynn.

I am also grateful that I now understand the reasons behind the hurtful actions, which makes forgiveness so much easier.

Yes, I think we do grieve when we’ve been betrayed and that’s OK.  But it’s our job to get through it without belittling anyone.  Embracing the idea that we are owed nothing and finding gratitude for the lessons learned will make it all so much easier.

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What Is The Meaning Of Life?

meaningoflifeHave any of you ever asked yourselves that question?  Why am I here? What does it all mean?  Why do some people seem to have it so easy and others so terribly hard?

I’d like to say I have the answer for everyone, but I don’t.  However, I do know what the truth is for me.

Bottom line…I think we were given life to enjoy and to grow—sometimes a pretty difficult thing to do when life isn’t so rosy.   But I believe that the good and the bad are all part of it and that the struggles make the victories so much sweeter.

Certainly as a mother, much of the time it feels like an uphill battle, constantly hoping that one day all the hard work will pay off.  It’s all front end work that can seem tedious, monotonous and endlessly confrontational with a few fun times thrown in…hard and mostly thankless work. Especially tumultuous are the middle school years.

Then, when the light at the end of the tunnel seems almost close enough to touch, we can lose everything, such as when my daughter Stefanie died…all that love, frustration, heartache, and the endless days of waiting until we could be friends, more than mother/daughter—all seemingly so pointless.

But was it really?  Most of the time, I think to myself, “What a waste!” But Stefanie has given me more gifts through her death than I can count.   She has taught me the most important lessons in life; primarily that life is to be lived in the most positive way possible, loving greatly without hurting others.

She also taught us that no matter what life throws at us, we will be fine and we can be better by using that experience to help those we love and strangers alike.  It is incredibly empowering to know to my core that this is true.  Once one’s faith is shattered, it takes awhile to get that confidence back, with or without “God”.

More that that, I am deeply grateful that I can instill that belief in my remaining children so that when they face adversity, they will KNOW that eventually they will be better for it.

We all have “stuff”, little or big, that we have to work through.   Trusting that all will be as it should is extremely comforting.

We are wired to be of service, all of us, one way or another.  When we make someone else’s life better, we improve our own.

Now, that’s not to say we can’t all have our guilty pleasures and have great fun in many different ways, but that’s all part of enjoying life.

Balance is the key.

So for me, the purpose of life is simple.  I believe I have been placed on this earth to enjoy each day, accept my struggles and learn from them, indulge myself when I can but most importantly share the gifts I’ve been given for the betterment of others.

How would you define the meaning of your life?

Posted in Hope, Parenting, Positive thoughts, sucess | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Power of Thought

mindFinding two minutes of mental alone time doesn’t exist in my everyday life.  I’m sure many people with busy jobs or a few kids, especially in the summer, find finishing a thought a challenge.   So, I’ve made a commitment to myself to walk each day—alone—even if only for thirty minutes to be sure I have time to think.

Today’s main mental preoccupation, along with a few other things, was on an upcoming interview I’ve been asked to do with Avery Haines on the “Inside Story”.    At work I’m part of a unit whose mission it is to enhance the capacity of the Toronto Police Service to respond effectively to the needs of victims and witnesses of crime.

It’s almost as if the position was created especially for me.  It wasn’t, but I’m so grateful to have been asked to be part of it.

But it brings with it a balancing act between my personal life and professional life and this interview is a perfect example of that.

Ms. Haines wants to tell the story of the unit and needless to say, my daughter’s homicide brings an extra “twist” to the story.

But it’s not about our family. It’s about our (the Service’s) deep commitment to improving the lives of victims and witnesses of crime.  My challenge is to do it in a way in which everyone can relate—regardless personal circumstances or socio-economic status.  It matters to me that I get it right. Hence, my pensiveness.

This morning as I worried about how to do that, I walked past an elderly gentleman.  His pace was slow and he shuffled with a distinct hunch.  His pants were too short, his shoes well worn and he used a wooden cane with a rubber tip on the end for balance.

But there was mischief in his eyes as he played with a rock that he was pushing along the sidewalk with his cane.  He was quite enjoying himself.  At first I think he was a little embarrassed but then shrugged it off and we laughed together at his fun.

I smiled to myself because it reminded me of our boys a few days earlier running down the street doing the exactly same thing.

But in that moment I had a choice.  I was going to go back to my concern about the upcoming interview, but it suddenly felt so weighty compared to the levity of the interaction I had moments before.

It was my choice and I chose to think only of him for the rest of my walk and I realized that he had improved my mood immensely.  Maybe he and I ran into each other for a reason, not the least of which was to stop me from obsessing.

Our thoughts are really all we have any control over.  Today I choose to think about fun things and leave the rest to work itself out.  How about you?

The mind is everything.  What you think you become. –Buddha

Posted in Positive thoughts, The Media | 3 Comments

Paul Bernardo…The Media…Re-Victimization

paul-bernardo-5I believe that right minded people generally try to put themselves in the shoes of others and do so graciously.

Of course, we can never know exactly how another person is feeling but we can imagine and act accordingly.

A few weeks ago I was at a symposium for victims of homicide hosted by the Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.). One of my co-presenters was Donna French (Kristen French’s Mum). It was the first time I had met her and her charming husband. As she spoke my heart ached for her, as I’m sure the entire country understands.

For those of you not living in Canada, Kristen French and Lesley Mahaffy were beautiful young girls abducted and tortured by Paul Bernardo. He and his wife video taped these sexually sadistic acts of torture and it’s those tapes to which I will be referring.

Sadly for the girls’ families, Paul Bernardo is front page news again because he has been corresponding from his cell with a young woman and plans on marrying. Certainly the families and probably most Canadians can’t understand why this is possible for a dangerous offender and are deeply disturbed.

In her presentation, Donna French’s voice betrayed her as she expressed the guilt she and her husband felt for not protecting Kristen. But she regained her resolve and conviction when she emphasized how much they needed to protect their daughter even after death.

Now, they alone, must be her voice. They could not save her but they would fight with their last breath to preserve her dignity. The video tapes could never see the light of day—end of story.

Of course I understand this completely, but still, I wonder if I would be able to comprehend this all-encompassing primal protectiveness if I hadn’t “been there” to some degree, or indeed, if we had no children.

I sure hope so.

Rosie Dimanno from The Toronto Star wrote an article on women who marry convicted felons but felt the need to add this bit at the beginning as a dig to the justice system and the family.

“It should be simple enough to convince one of Paul Bernardo’s witless devotees that the convicted schoolgirl killer committed the horrific crimes for which he’s serving a life sentence.

Show her the videotapes.

Oh, right. Can’t do that. Six hours of home-shot tape, played for a jury — only the audio part was heard by the public gallery, in a Solomonic decision rendered by Justice Patrick LeSage — doesn’t exist any more.  

Despite howls of protest that the evidentiary record should be preserved, Ontario’s government of the day authorized the tapes’ destruction in 2001, for which the families of two slain teenagers had campaigned tirelessly. The unbalanced swing towards victims’ rights can be dated to that event.”

Now I understand the common sense behind Rosie’s reasoning, and have not forgotten her sympathy and understanding for us, as victims, during our own time in court, but this is one point on which we vehemently disagree.

More than anything it’s the flippant tone that gets my blood boiling. How dare she?

Those of us who believe in the equitable treatment of victims are fighting to change a system rooted in favour of the accused, a system that bends over backwards to be sure that each alleged felon is treated fairly and with every possible understanding. I find her comments incredulous!

Even if you, as a reader, have no children of your own, I ask you: would you, in this internet age, want to take any chances of having horrible phot0s or videos of a loved one, stripped of clothing, in degrading and tortuous situations, going viral? Wouldn’t you want to protect them from this horrendous indignity, even more so, after they are dead and unable to speak for themselves?

We asked that the jury not be allowed to see the autopsy pictures of Stefanie, knowing how it would have made her feel.

Is it any wonder that the French and Mahaffy families campaigned tirelessly, hiring their own lawyer to fight for this right, even at the expense of their own health?

My mother summed up the unbalanced swing towards the accused in the victim impact statement she wrote and read at Stefanie’s trial.

“Throughout the course of this trial Melissa has been given every possible courtesy, respect and concession. Yet, when she decided, for her own imagined reasons, that Stefanie was getting in the way of her happiness, the decision was made and the sentence, carried out.

There was no trial for Stefanie, no jury, no judge, no solicitous defense, no careful weighing of evidence, no concessions because of her youth, no pity, no six-hour long closing argument, no new chance at life…just a brutal, calculated, cold-blooded execution, and afterwards, a bizarre re-enactment and a sexual reward, freely given, for a job well done. God help us all.”

If only Rosie Dimanno could put herself in the shoes of those who have suffered what she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. To get back to the common sense of her argument, however, I do not believe that Paul Bernardo’s intended—the “witless devotee”—would be persuaded by videos or any other form of proof, because you simply can’t fix “stupid”.

Posted in Criminal court, Guilt, The Media | 7 Comments

The Murdered Child Club

I’m part of a club—one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and yet one I wish everyone could join.  The members have learned to take the worst that life can throw at them and still thrive…such an amazing example for all to see.  This club should be called the “resiliency club” but, of course, it’s not. It is the murdered child club.

Over three days I participated in a forum hosted by the O.P.P. to address best practices and mistakes made in homicide investigations.   I must say that it took a lot of courage, especially for the investigators of each case, to face their mistakes in an open forum for the benefit of future victims.

I have met other homicide survivor families over the years but these I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting.   Any interactions I had with the mums I’d met previously were on a professional or social level.  Although we discussed our cases and our children, we were always careful to keep our deep pain from surfacing.

But this forum was different.  The purpose was to educate the officers, and no one held back.  The raw, gut-wrenching wounds were opened up for the greater good and we were all left somewhat sick inside—or, at least, I certainly was.

I can only liken it to the movie “The Green Mile” where the character, John Coffey, was able to ingest the illnesses within people so they could heal, and then later exhale the evil and continue on.

This is how I’ve been feeling for the past 2 days except that I couldn’t free myself from the unsettled feelings within me—until this morning.

As I went for my morning walk in the beautiful sunshine I started to think about how amazing and resilient my fellow club members are.

Through the worst situations imaginable, these people are champions for their own families, their communities and Canada, in general.  They are true heroes.

There were a few reccurring themes for the police, some good and some not.  But what was evident in all the families was the desire to help others in order to make sense of the evil that had visited their lives.

One mum has a prison ministry. Believe it or not, she visits with people already convicted of violent crimes and talks to them about how their actions impact their victims, and helps them to change their ways.

Another family fought for eleven years to bring the provincial and, later, the federal sex offender registry into existence.  The list goes on and on but each found advocacy of some kind to be a healing force.

Looking beyond ourselves and focusing our energy on others might not bring about complete healing, but the positive influence we have and the difference we are able to make in the lives of others somehow helps us to deal with the horrors our loved ones faced. If their suffering was senseless, we can, at least, make certain that it was not in vain.

It was so humbling to be in the company of such wonderful people, and I have never felt so completely validated in my feelings and actions before.  But more importantly, I am re-energized to step up my fight for the fair treatment of victims everywhere.

Congratulations to the O.P.P. and all the participants—victims’ families and my fellow officers as well.

Posted in Giving of yourself, Hope, Positive thoughts | 10 Comments


patience_cardPatience is not, perhaps, my strongest personality trait.  It might even be my weakest.  I always feel a bit sorry for our kids because they have known from their earliest years that when I want something done, I expect them to comply immediately and without hassle. I am aware that sometimes these moments of impatience can be hurtful and that my own rattled nerves are no excuse for forgetting that they are just children. Looking back, I often want to kick myself for an impatience that seems petty in hindsight.

A very long time ago, at a church I didn’t usually attend and, quite frankly, thought was a bit whacko, I, nevertheless, received some great advice.  The pastor said, “Don’t ever pray for patience because God will just give you more things to test your patience.  Once you’ve overcome whatever it was, you’ll realize you are more patient than before and your prayers will have been answered.”

Somehow that made a lot of sense because, at least in my experience, it was true.  As I looked back at how far I had come, I was a lot more patient than when I was younger.  The solution was simple. Stop asking for patience.

In a way, it did help because as I stopped asking for more patience, terrified I would get more tests, I learned to find it within myself to relax and know that as I worked through whatever it was, I would be stronger afterwards.

There is a young woman at work whose father has recently passed away.  She, like most of us when we grieve, is asking how long it will take until she feels better.  I remember that feeling so clearly.  I was impatient with having to wait until I felt better.

Recently I have been feeling that way again as we wait for a decision from the appeal court on Melissa’s application to have her conviction over-turned or her sentence changed from an adult sentence to that of a youth.

Every day when I wake, the first thing I think about is if this day will be the day that we get the call.

At first I was sure we would have a decision right away. Then, perhaps it would come before Christmas, and then before my birthday, none of which has come to fruition.  Regardless of the outcome my overwhelming desire is to have a decision now. I need to know what the future holds, and my impatience with the courts grows with each passing day. I am terrified we will have to start all over again, but impatient, as always, to be put out of my misery one way or the other.

As I reflect back on how hard it was to wait for the initial decision—those four long days of utter agony, I know that very few things have ever tested my patience like that time in our lives.  But I know, also, that the kindness of family and friends and even total strangers got me through this terrible testing time and I am a better person because of it.

If the appeal goes against us, we may wait years for a new court date, a new decision, and experience who knows what added stressors.   But these, too, will serve to give us new insight and new strength.

Nothing in my life has taught me so much or been the catalyst for such personal growth as Stefanie’s murder.  Today I must constantly remind myself that whatever is ahead will also bring with it more compassion and insight into the plight of others, and this is the only way I know to beat back the anxiety and impatience of not knowing.

We all have things in our lives that produce similar feelings—some big and some small.  If we look back and remember that we are better because of these tests, it is easier to tackle the beast inside and trust enough to not allow it to take over our lives.

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Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

untitledLife has a way of working itself out.  I saw a presentation once by former Attorney General Michael Bryant. He had been charged with manslaughter after hitting a cyclist and killing him.   Needless to say, his life was in turmoil for quite a while but in the end he got through it and came out the other side a better person. One of the slides in his presentation was in jest, but with a serious underlying truth. It read: “Everything will be OK in the end; if it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”

Today, our ten-year-old came home from school and told me about his friend whose grandfather had died.  He qualified his next statement by saying, “No one likes to go to funerals, but I think it would be nice for my friend if I was there for him.”

How many kids ten years of age say things like that?

This unusual understanding and empathy in such a young boy reminded me that there are so many good things that have come from his sister’s death, and as I listed them in my head, this seemed particularly heart-warming.

However, if someone had told me shortly after Stefanie’s brutal murder that, eventually, all would be well and that someday I would be able to see the good that would come out of something so horrific, so evil, I would not have believed it.

But there he was, more mature than many adults, able to relate to his classmate due to his own life experience.

As I look back throughout my lifetime at the most difficult moments, it’s easy to see now all the good that resulted from those incidents—friendships that have formed, relationships that have strengthened, a less egocentric view of life, renewed faith, a desire to do good, a more humanitarian lifestyle… and the list goes on.

Of course, at the time, none of that would have mattered to me and, in the case of Stefanie’s death, I would have gladly given up any future “benefits” to have her back.

Sadly, we cannot change the past, but to listen to a little boy and realize that he truly understands the impact of loss enough to want to help his friend, gives me a happy glimpse into his world and his future.

If I were to die tomorrow, I would be at peace knowing he will be a caring, upstanding and productive member of society, and that my job—at least the hardest part—is already done.

Of course, I’m grateful most of all to Stefanie for the gift of kindness she has given all the people whose lives she touched, but particularly her siblings.  They have learned to thrive in adversity and will use those skills for the rest of their lives.

Life continues to throw curve balls at us all, some minor and some not.  I’m not immune to life’s ups and downs just because of our tragic loss. I still get wrapped up in the smaller injustices of life.

But today was a beautiful reminder that if we can trust that we will be OK in the end, we can all get through the tough times.

And as the comic strip said, “If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.”  Be patient, and all will be well.

Posted in gratitude, Hope, Sibling experiences | 7 Comments

A message for the holidays.

A short time ago I was asked to speak on ways to support those who grieve and on taking care of ourselves when life gets tough.

Although I was speaking to a particular group, I would like to share it with all of you, particularly at this time of year.  There are many people who struggle during the holidays and I hope my message will reach those who need it.

From my family to yours, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!


Posted in Beginnings | 7 Comments

Feeling Overwhelmed?

overwhelmedFeeling overwhelmed to the point of distraction has been the dominant theme of life lately—and not just mine. As I speak to friends, family and co-workers, the weight of every day life seems to be increasingly heavy.

With too many balls in the air one becomes lost in a sea of confusion and paralyzed to take action because there is no clear starting point.

I find that I spend most of my time thinking about all the things I need to complete rather than acknowledging the progress that I’ve made on so many fronts.

When I think about those “to do” items that remain on my endless list, I feel anxious and overwhelmed. But, when I take a few moments to make a mental list of everything that I’ve accomplished, the anxiety subsides and life doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming.

Dr. Tedeschi, who coined the term “Post Traumatic Growth”, says that one of the most important ways to promote healing after a traumatic event is to acknowledge one’s progress, regardless of how minimal.

It occurs to me that this is transferable to all areas of life, and it supports the theory referred to as the Law of Attraction, or, as my friend, who is much smarter than I, reminds me…the law of quantum physics.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Law of Attraction, it is the belief that we attract things and circumstances into our lives that correspond with both our conscious and subconscious thoughts and beliefs.

We are all pure energy—body and mind—vibrating at difference frequencies. The basic premise is that like energy attracts like energy, so we attract into our lives anything with which we are a vibrational match—good or bad. This happens because we are already connected to everything energetically but we are physically unaware of this due to the limitations of our five senses when interpreting energy fields.

The trick is to become a vibrational match to what we need and desire by making it our dominant frequency, and we need to change our thoughts and beliefs if we’re going to change our dominant frequency.

The best way to become a vibrational match to something is to act as if we already are. Simply put, we need to focus our energy on the belief that whatever we want, we already have, and then we can attract whatever that is into our reality.

Sound like a bunch of nonsense?

You know those days when you stub your toe and then the rest of the day goes down hill from there and inevitably someone asks if something distasteful happened to your cornflakes that morning? You’ve become a vibrational match with negativity and that’s what the rest of your day brings.

Perhaps, instead, it’s a day when everything goes right, so much so that other people notice and tell you to go out and buy a lottery ticket. Once we start to see the world with this in mind, it becomes abundantly clear that it works.

When we acknowledge our successes, more success is bound to come—something similar to the old adage “nothing breeds success like success”. That’s why positive reinforcement is a power tool to combat feelings of anxiety and depression.

I have been busy with a full time job, five children, a part time business, learning to build a website in HTML code and creating and trade marking a tool for promoting resiliency, and those are the big things. What about all the little, less glamorous things like the dishes, the laundry, car maintenance, paying the bills, filing papers, getting the kids to all their sporting events, keeping a house running etc…. Everything we do in a day deserves celebrating.

What accomplishments have you made? Write them down, look at them and congratulate yourself. Then think about what you have left to do and see if you feel less overwhelmed.

Life moves at such a quick pace that it’s even more important to take the time to acknowledge our successes. This is paramount to overcoming a loss, but when we become overwhelmed we begin to lose the joy in life, and that is most tragic of all.

Posted in Beginnings | 5 Comments