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After the Fire – the Community of Grief

On August 22, 2017, my life, and that of my family’s, changed forever. You probably heard about it in the news – the fire in southwest Edmonton that claimed the life of a 5 month old baby and put his mother in life-threatening condition. That baby is my nephew, and his mother is my sister-in-law. As I wrote about on my own blog, I am Hunter’s aunt.

In the days that followed, our family was in a state of disbelief, shock, devastation, grief. When we found out the fire was the result of arson, and that my nephew’s death was a homicide, it made things even more surreal and complex.

I always remember what Mr. Fred Rogers said – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
I always thought this applied in situations like natural disasters, big public crises. But now I’ve experienced firsthand the community of grief that has surrounded our family. Helpers who have stepped out to try to make it easier. Helpers who have reached out to offer support in any way possible. Helpers who have truly made an impact in our lives during a truly horrific nightmare.

And so, while I grieve, I am also so thankful.

Thankful for the community who rallied around my sister-in-law when she was in the ICU, and we weren’t sure when she would get out. The outpourings of donations for her, the comments and condolences from people we knew, people who lived in her neighbourhood, and perfect strangers. The messages and emails from friends, acquaintances, and strangers asking how they could help. Offers of clothing and household items for her because she had lost everything.

Thankful for the people who really went the extra mile to make a difference. When I put up messages on my local swap page looking for specific baby items, I was overwhelmed by the response. People I had never met in person went out of their way to make phone calls, to pay for shipping, to search for special baby outfits and toys for Hunter so that my sister-in-law could have her special last moments with him, and have things to remember him by. The people who coordinated getting a photographer from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep so that my sister-in-law could have remembrance photos of Hunter when we saw him for the last time.

Thankful for the people who made sure we were taken care of. Groceries and pre-made meals that came to our doorstep when we were trying to balance taking turns at the hospital.

Thankful for the people who were thoughtful enough to reach out and send us cards and flowers expressing their condolences. For the people who sent us messages sharing their own experiences with grief, with losing a child. For the person who had a tree planted in Hunter’s name. For the people who told us “I don’t know what to say”.

Grief is a scary thing. They say that it’s in tough times that you find out who your real friends are. We have been so overwhelmed by friends, acquaintances, and strangers who have reached out during this time. Because it’s often easier to stay away, because you really don’t know what to say, you really don’t know what to do. We truly appreciate the support, the honesty, the presence of this community of grief that has surrounded us.

So if you ever find yourself in a situation where something horrible has happened to someone, and you’re not sure what to do, it’s okay. Reach out. Even if they don’t respond, they will appreciate it. They may be completely overtaken with everything that has become their life, but they will appreciate the time you took to reach out and be part of their community of grief.

Judith is an eco-mom in Edmonton who is passionate about green, toxin-free, healthy living. She shares her journey and experiences on Juicy Green Mom You can follow her on Instagram , Facebook , Twitter and Pinterest.