Bereavement Week Series: Elizabeth’s story

Personal Stories | November 20, 2021 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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A photo of Elizabeth and her children

November 16 is National Grief and Bereavement Day. In recognition of this important day we are sharing a series of stories submitted by DWDC supporters about their grief and bereavement experience and process. For some, writing down the memory of a loved one is part of their bereavement process, for others reading the stories is comforting. We hope you find solace in the stories shared in this series.

This is Elizabeth’s story.

I lost my daughter, Margie. She was eight.

It was flu season, February. The whole family – her father, myself and our three small girls – had all been sick with the flu. She was sent home from school because she had vomited in the classroom. She walked home, half a mile through the bush. It was -12F. She developed pneumonia.

In a few days, she had a very high fever. She became delirious. We took her to the hospital at 11pm. She died later that night.

She had an undiagnosed staphylococcal infection. The doctor had missed it; it was discovered at the autopsy. It was 1971, there was no treatment, even if it had been diagnosed.

What I felt was devastation. Shock. Anger. Incredulity. Healthy children just didn’t die in Canada in 1971.

My coping method at first was to hide from it. Try to pretend it never happened. Not talk about it or her. There was no help or grief counselling then, especially if you did not belong to a church where the minister might have helped. We also had no elders in our community who could offer us wisdom or support.

The loss reverberates through the generations. In many ways our family became dysfunctional. I have also lost another daughter through a prolonged estrangement; it relates back to the death of Margie and all the unresolved feelings attached.

The only thing that helped after I lost Margie was sitting on a rock at the beach, watching the waves come in.

The worst thing that happened was people who had not lost a child saying, “I know how you feel.” I wanted to hit them.

I wish I would have been allowed and encouraged to talk about Margie. To tell stories of her life. And for our other children, Margie’s siblings, to have been encouraged to express their own hurt.

Over time, I found some kind of acceptance. The raw hurt became internalized and while it never goes away, it only surfaces intermittently. I will often get a sharp jab of pain at an unexpected image conjured by a passing child or after finding an inscription in a forgotten book.

We coped as best we could. My husband and I were brought up to be stoic.

I wish I knew then what I know now: that to try to imagine it didn’t happen was exactly the wrong thing to do. Talking about her would have been difficult at first but more healing for us all.

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