Staying connected in grief

Elaine Dean and husband Sean O’Brien volunteer with Bereaved Families of Ontario – Ottawa Region (BFO Ottawa), after losing their son.
Elaine and Sean decorated their son Chris’s tree at Canterbury High School with solar lights.   Photo: Elaine Dean
(Originally published in Mainstreeter.)

Bereaved Families of Ontario – Ottawa Region can help

By Elaine Dean

In December 2013, my son Christopher was supposed to come home for Christmas, but he never made it. The day before his return, he was hit by a car while crossing the street. He was a second-year architecture student at the University of Waterloo in Cambridge. He had just turned 20. We spent that Christmas and New Year’s in Hamilton as he fought for his life. A fight he lost on January 7, 2014.

I will always feel the pain of losing my beautiful son. I was devastated. My whole world was turned upside down. I know now that I will never be the same. Nor would I want to be. I’ve learned to take things one step at a time and to forgive more. As time goes on, the pain lessens. But the love that I have for my son always shines through. He will always be part of me, and he will always be in my thoughts and in my heart.

It is because of the love I have for my son that I became involved in Bereaved Families of Ontario – Ottawa Region (BFO Ottawa). My husband Sean and I participated in one of their closed groups led by trained facilitators who have lost children of their own. Over 10 weeks, we met with the same group of parents, to work through different aspects of our grief. I can’t tell you how much this helped me during the most difficult time of my life. The parents from that group have become good friends of ours because we share such a close connection to each other.

Sean and I both chose to become volunteers with BFO Ottawa in memory of Christopher. We have become part of a small, local charity that is committed to helping others deal with their own grief.

When our government asked us all to stay home because of COVID-19, we did so. For BFO Ottawa, that meant people who are grieving could no longer come to our peer support groups. I know firsthand how hard it was for me when I first lost by son. Now people experiencing grief have the added burden of having to stay at home, in isolation and alone. Some of them can’t even celebrate the lives of their loved ones the way they would like to.

Sean and I worked with board members and staff to offer our support and share programs weekly using Zoom video conferencing. In April, more than 40 people joined our first monthly webinar about grief during a pandemic. We are also running weekly support groups for many types of losses.

Every year at Beechwood, Canada’s national cemetery, we hold a butterfly memorial event. Last year, more than 250 people came to the ceremony to remember their loved ones and release live butterflies in the botanical gardens. On July 12, we will hold our ninth annual butterfly memorial event at Beechwood; however, this time we will broadcast it live, knowing this is the best way at this time for us to gather as a community to remember our loved ones.

I wish people didn’t have to experience grief but if they do, I know it is better if they stay connected to the people around them. When I think of my son Chris, there will always be both sadness and happiness. Sadness because he is no longer here with us living his life, happiness because I love him so much and I will always be so proud of him. I know what I’ve experienced is not something anyone else should have to go through. But if they do, I hope I can help in some way.

To sign up for BFO Ottawa’s support and share programs or this year’s butterfly memorial event, visit or @bfo.ottawa on Facebook.

Elaine Dean lives in Old Ottawa East with her husband Sean. They lost their son Chris in 2014.

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