I remember the day so vividly. I was 38 weeks pregnant. I was already off work, preparing for the arrival of our second, Aliza. I was feeling off on the morning of October 29th. Lots of aches and pains coupled with a lot of anxiety. I had asked Matt if he could leave work early to come home. I just wanted to be comforted. Matt arrived home mid-day and checked-in with me before deciding to head out to grab us some food. I was lounging upstairs in our bedroom and I could hear him about to step out the door when suddenly he received a phone call. I heard a lot of muffling going on, but I didn’t think anything of it. Until Matt came upstairs, opened the bedroom door and uttered the words to me, “I need to go to the hospital, I think my dad just died.” I didn’t believe him, my response back was, “you’re joking, don’t say that.” And he just stood there still.
That moment in our lives felt surreal. I thought it was a nightmare. Matt left to go to the hospital and I left to go pick up Amia from daycare. I just needed her home. There was some hope in my soul that maybe just maybe Matt’s dad was okay. That Matt would get to the hospital and call me to tell me everything was okay. Meanwhile, when I arrived at daycare, Amia was pleasantly surprised to see me at pick-up. I didn’t say anything to her yet nor did I say anything to her educators. I still had hope. We got home and I was anxiously checking my phone waiting for a phone call or text from Matt. It was just before dinner and Matt called me to confirm that his dad, Michel Vadnais had passed away. I couldn’t believe it – none of it made sense. It still doesn’t make sense.
To respect the family, I will not get into the details of how it happened, but I will say it was tragic and unexpected. Losing a loved one hurts in so many unexplainable ways, especially when it happens with no proper goodbyes. As a parent, I now had a responsibility to explain this loss to our daughter. I didn’t shy away from it. Amia had just turned 3. She’s intelligent and comprehends what’s going on – I knew she would understand to some extent.
As soon as I got off the phone with Matt, I sat Amia down and attempted to explain to her what had just happened. I explained that her Grandpapa was now a star in the sky. She could look at the stars at night and see him shining down on her. The toughest was answering her questions, “So, I’ll never see him again?” or “When will he come back?” — questions that even me as an adult would like answers to. Over the course of the next few days, as a family we planned a funeral. Contacted and notified extended family and friends about the unfortunate news. We were constantly talking about the incident over and over again. It was difficult. But important. Especially for Amia. We walked her through everything. She attended the funeral with us. But much like her other cousins, she was playing around and slightly oblivious to what we were all gathered there for. And there we were, a few days before delivering our second, we were saying farewell to a soul who made all of us laugh and chuckle in the darkest of days. And in the same breath, we welcomed a soul who has brought us nothing but joy and laughter, Aliza Vadnais graced us with attributes and reminders of her Grandpapa. Aliza was born on November 6th at 11:12 AM. Matt has this thing about adding up numbers to see if they mean anything. The second the doctor called the time of birth, I looked at Matt and told him to add up the numbers. The numbers equate to 23 and Matt’s Dad was born on the 23rd day of June. Is it coincidental or the universe telling us something? Either way, we felt it.
Michel was a kind-hearted individual. He was quiet but he observed everything. He knew how to have fun and enjoy life’s precious moments. He loved his wife and his sons, and especially his grand-children so very much. He was a man about experiences – he loved witnessing his grand-children pick up some of the same hobbies he enjoyed like gardening or driving his machinery – it made him smile from ear-to-ear. We know wherever he is, he is watching from above. Guiding from above. And just like we tell Amia daily, shining from above. And as Aliza gets older we’ll be sure to talk about her Grandpapa to her and let her know that I’m sure he helped guide her to us as she joined us on that day. His presence protects her.
I know much of this blog has been sharing these moments of rawness. Grief is a tough pill to swallow. Time doesn’t make grief easier. Grief is traumatic and it’s important to speak about it and acknowledge the emotions. We must sit with the stillness. We must respect how others react to it. We must be gentle with ourselves. If I can, I would like to leave you all with a few takeaways in case it resonates with someone today:
- Be honest with your children: Our children know everything and witness much of what we’re feeling. The best thing we could’ve done was to be upfront with Amia. We felt comfortable with her attending the funeral because we would never want to hold her back from being there.
- Show your emotions: We cried. We laughed. We teared-up. And we cried again. We never shied away from these emotions in front of Amia. We wanted to show her that it’s okay to cry that it’s okay to be sad. But it was also okay to be happy at the same time. Remembering moments and sharing them with her was okay. And a year later, it’s still okay.
- Always talk about it: This is a tough one. Speaking about our loved ones who have passed can trigger many emotions from within. However, speaking about Grandpapa to Amia is the best way she’ll remember him. We talk about the little things. The big things. She’ll value and hold these memories close to her forever. And when Aliza is old enough to understand, we’ll do the same.
And finally, be present and check-in with yourself. Resources are available and speaking to a professional can help with the process of coping. I want to share a helpful resource that I came across called Bereaved Families of Ontario – Ottawa Region. They offer many support groups and resources through their page (https://www.bfo-ottawa.org/). I humbly ask if you’re feeling alone, please reach out.