On Saturday, September 26th, 2020, at our first-ever virtual Gift of Time gala, Canuck Place mom, Katie Jameson, shared the story of her son, Lochlan. Lochlan passed away at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice at just 22 days old. Katie’s powerful speech captured memorable moment’s of her family’s time at Canuck Place, recalling the often-invisible details that allow families to feel comfort and care during their darkest moments.
Katie’s speech, in full, below:
Hello everyone, thank you so much for taking part in the gift of time gala, from home this evening.
First, I would like to acknowledge with respect that I am speaking tonight on the unceded, ancestral territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. I live, work and raise my family with the privileges afforded to me through colonialism. I offer this land acknowledgment tonight as a commitment to learn more, and hold myself accountable to change. I do not say these words to alleviate the guilt that is rooted in the ground we stand on. These words help me understand and teach my children the history of Canada, and I share them with you tonight as an invitation for us all to also learn more.
My name is Katie and I have the incredible honour of sharing my son Lochlan with all of you tonight. I’d like to tell you a story, full to the brim with words of deep love and heartbreak. Not a typical speech I realize, but the best way, I think, to unveil the side of Canuck Place you rarely get to see. The parts of Canuck Place that you couldn’t possibly see, unless you yourself, were caring for sick child. For me, I consider this a gift, me telling you these best kept secrets. And I hope you see it that way too, an offering from the other side, so you can truly and deeply know, what you generously help to do tonight.
Usually stories start at the beginning, a round circle that brings you to an ending that fits, and usually that ending makes sense. Unfortunately, our son’s story doesn’t work that way. The beginning quickly became an end faster than made any logical sense to us, or to our doctors. There was no rule book to the birth of my first, my entrance to motherhood was terrifying.
So, I think by starting at the end, you might get a better picture for how it all came to be, the love and loss of our child, and how a beautiful big house came to save us.
We walked up the path of the old heritage home in the morning, it’s slate roof shining in the sunlight. A trail of balloons fluttered behind me with black ink written across each one – remembered, loved, missed.
The sunglasses I wore did more than shade the sun, a deliberate addition to my outfit that day, knowing how swollen my eyes would be by the days end. We were greeted by friendly faces and gentle hugs, mixed in with emotions that prickled my skin and made some of our family members shift around with unease. This house holds great meaning to us all, but the root of its significance was birthed in death, and unease simply comes with the territory on a day like this one.
My husband Andrew and I stood close to each other, not quite touching but feeling the energy of the other, using it greedily to make it through the next moments together. I unfolded my piece of paper and started reading; a letter to my son.
Through sobs and wiped noses our family gathered close to hear my words, followed by another letter from Andrew. Warmed by the sunlight on our backs, we huddled close together on the lawn of this big house, the place where Lochlan finally said goodbye.
Each one of us held a balloon that carried more meaning than the $2 price tag could possibly shoulder, 5 simple words were spoken “we miss you so much” and we let them go. A sea of white balloons floated up into the sky, and as they drifted, the one-year anniversary of our son dying was marked.
The first time we came to Canuck Place, it was all much different. We didn’t walk up the front steps, we didn’t enter the way a visitor would, or a family being shown the space for the first time. In fact, a few hours before we arrived at the house, I had no idea what Canuck Place was. A few hours before, we were in the NICU, being told our son wouldn’t live more than moments after we ended life support. We were living through devastation, grappling with a diagnosis that was only 1 day old.
You see, no one knew what was wrong with Lochlan, no doctor or specialist could figure out what was happening inside of him after he was born, it was a mystery that plays out and fogs my memory to this day. At 34 weeks pregnant I took myself to BC Women’s Hospital because I was in crippling pain, and the next day Lochlan was delivered via emergency caesarean. We spent exactly 22 days in the NICU with him, standing next to his bed, alternating naps in the one uncomfortable chair in his room, listening to doctors explain new medications, and watch him get sicker and sicker. This was our first experience of parenthood, and it wasn’t what we imagined.
When I think back on it, I wonder, if there was any joy, were there any moments of happiness? And when I dig past the heartbreak, the answer is always yes. When he opened his eyes for the first time, or when he moved his hands… there were moments of joy wrapped into the pain, hard earned memories and irreplaceable pieces of time.
The doctor from Canuck Place entered our tiny room in the NICU about 8 hours after we extubated Lochlan. We knew that at any moment he might pass away, every minute he kept breathing was a miracle, so Andrew and I spent that time memorizing and logging each movement, each eye squint, each gesture into a memory bank we were told we would never get.
It was exhausting, and it was a gift.
This doctor came in quietly, a distinct difference from a doctor within the NICU, and kneeled next to me while I sat in a chair holding my son on my chest. My eyes were raw and blood shot – I had barely slept, not wanting to miss a single moment of my son in my arms – and even though that time is very confusing and hazy for me, I remember her smiling. The first thing she said was “what a beautiful boy”, my darling, bruised, swollen, skin pierced in every spot possible boy… but she saw it too, he was perfect.
When the doctor asked if we wanted to go with her to Canuck Place hospice, Andrew and I were very confused. Go? Leave the NICU? Leave the place that had been keeping our boy alive? Why would we do that, especially now, when the end was so close. She tried to explain to us that they would care for Lochlan and nurture us, but I couldn’t grasp it. What was the difference?
We had spent almost his entire life in this hospital, what would a change of venue do at the very end? She pulled out her phone and began silently showing me photos of the house and the room, like a seasoned veteran who knows parents in this grave state don’t comprehend words, but a photo can speak endless amounts of comfort. When she slid her finger across the screen and showed me image after image, do you know what I saw?
I saw sunlight.
I saw large windows.
I saw bright walls and wooden beams.
I saw warmth.
I saw a saving grace.
I don’t remember the ambulance ride.
I don’t remember being wheeled into the house.
I can’t truly recall the specifics.
There are many aspects about our stay inside those walls that can be ticked off a list, things that are complex and beyond my understanding, things that need to be done with great care and a practised hand.
But what I can tell you, what I can describe in great detail, is how we felt inside that house. What we touched, what we saw, moments we were given that could never be held against a dollar figure.
The joys we were handed in our few short hours at Canuck Place were simple;
A soft bed, big enough for my husband and I to both lay in.
Large windows with a small breeze.
A warm cup of coffee in mismatched, handed-down mugs.
A side table that could have been from my own home.
Stairs that creaked with the weight of our bodies.
Blankets that were soft and washed with care.
Pillows that felt loved and worn in all the right places.
A warm shower in a room painted yellow and bright.
Gentle nurses with soft voices.
Tender care in terrible moments.
Space to cry, and safety to laugh all at once.
A guitar that my husband played for our son.
So much sunlight.
These are small and simple details, and I’m sure they don’t seem like much in a busy day, but for me and my husband, holding our son in his final hours, these joys are our best kept memories. I will remember that coffee mug and the cookie that sat next to it for the rest of my life, a pairing of comfort in my worst moments.
We come back to Canuck Place each year on Lochlan’s birthday, which might actually seem strange, because he wasn’t born there, he died there three weeks later.
But the way we remember this house is with a re-birth, a second chance at saying goodbye, one where we saw his hair touch sunlight and move in the breeze. A goodbye far different than the one written for us in the NICU, a goodbye surrounded by family, tears and laughter. We remember the way we were encouraged to celebrate Lochlan’s life, not just prepare for his death.
What I’m describing to you is the way Canuck Place took action for a family that had hours to love their child. We didn’t receive a diagnosis and spend years or months caring for Lochlan. We had 21 days and 17 hours – almost exactly.
Canuck Place is palliative care in its purest form, there is space for everyone. The child that lives within the walls for medical respite, the children that pass away after long battles, and the child that is gone only hours after arriving.
When you enter the doors of Canuck Place as a parent with a living child, it can feel terrifying. The mere fact that you are there, means the end is coming. That’s a terribly difficult sentence, but it holds a lot of truth. A family receiving care at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice is there to learn about, and tend to, the letting go of their child.
What could be a more important or more enormous task in life?
What effort could possibly need more support than what Canuck Place provides?
Could there be anything more important than changing the way a family can let go of their child, or how that child is cared for at their absolute sickest?
“What a terrible place to need, but what a gift it was to go there”.
I’ve written these words before, and for me, for my family, this summarizes our time at Canuck Place. When you arrive, it’s for the worst possible reason in the world. But when you stay, it writes a completely different ending to the story of your child’s last days.
As my speech comes to its end, I’d like to admit to you that this story was not easy to write. As you can imagine, I have spent hours crying over these words, wanting to get the sentiment just right, to explain in detail why a night like tonight is so important. Raising money for Canuck Place is indescribably important, and not always conveyed in its entirety. In any sum, funds you give can help for both in-hospice care in the home for families facing incredible challenges and loss, and that gift if tremendous.
But tonight, from me, I hope you realize and remember the simple things that go into making Canuck Place a paradise. Your gifts go towards complicated things a parent or family member can’t see in a time of tragic grief, all so that there is time, to lovingly attend to the things a parent losing a child can see.
All of you watching tonight make these things possible; the big windows, the breeze, the sunlight, the coffee, the cookie. I watched an entire lifetime pass while I was in that house, and I carry that with me always. But the feelings and the memories I walked out of that house with will stay with me for my lifetime, and you truly do make that possible.