Margot lives in British Columbia, Canada. When Margot first emailed me about sharing her home and story, she introduced herself by saying “we our raising our boys, two in our arms, one in our hearts.” My breath caught. What a simple, beautiful way to describe something as difficult as the loss of a child. I’m so grateful for the chance to read her perspective.
My name is Margot. My husband Brendon and I are parents to three boys. My husband and I met 16 years ago at a summer party hosted by a friend of my sister. Brendon and I stayed up talking until dawn. The next day, I wrote him a letter expressing how sweet I thought he was, and he wrote me back (oh the romance of snail mail!), signing off “love you”. We’ve been together ever since, and married for 13 years.
I am a registered nurse working at our provincial tele-health line, and Brendon is an economist. Our boys are Jacob who is 11 and Henry who is 9. They are very into basketball and music. We find them alternatively “recording” albums in the basement and shooting hoops outside. Our youngest son, Andrew was five and a half.
Living these days is learning to live with loss. Our youngest son died suddenly on Christmas Eve in 2014. Our lives however, were changed before his death. Determining how to tell my story, to be true to all my feelings has been a challenge. How to describe the depths of love and loss?
The pictures I am sharing are a blend of the past and now — some of my very favourite photos — showing the spaces I lovingly created for our boys, a most treasured family photo of the five of us, and how we’re honouring Andrew now throughout the house.
We’ve lived in Pitt Meadows, which is a small city in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada, for about 9 years. We are about 45 minutes from Vancouver. We’ve been in our forever home for 4 years and absolutely adore our neighbourhood. We are a 5 minute walk to school, and we have a lovely park with tennis and basketball courts, a playground, and access to trails, just down the street. My best friend, my sister, and my parents all live within a few minutes’ walk or drive from us.
Pitt Meadows is a bedroom community, as well as an agricultural hub, producing a significant amount of Canada’s cranberries and blueberries.
We bought our house 4 years ago, taking a loss on our townhouse in order to get into our dream home. Our house was lived in by an older couple who had been married for 70 years, and passed away within two weeks of one another. It was updated with fresh paint (in grey, my fave!) and new floors throughout.
My décor style is a blend of IKEA, with vintage pieces, inherited pieces, and consignment/street finds. Much of our artwork is paintings by my maternal grandfather. I have my Dad’s childhood piano, a vase that my grandmother brought from England when she moved to Canada in the 1920’s, and some treasured mementos from close family friends in the Netherlands.
Our home ticks every box on our wish list. It’s large at 3700 square feet. Four bedrooms. Open floor plan in the living, dining, kitchen, and family room. A home office. A sunroom. Four baths. A laundry room. Two car garage. A full basement with a TV room. An art room. A workshop. Space for a home gym. Storage. And a large flat yard with room for the requisite basketball hoop!
Four years ago we bought it for $627,000, and since then, it has increased by about 35%. Our neighbours just sold for $949,000, and a much smaller house across the street is listed for $820,000. (Note: For all our friends in the states, if you’d like to do the math, the US Dollar currently is worth about $.80 to the Canadian dollar.)
So much of why we are in this house, our forever home, was thinking about the long term health and support of our youngest son, Andrew. Andrew was born in 2009. After he made an unexpected early arrival, he was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, AVSD heart defect, and Hirschprung’s Disease. Hirschprung’s is a bowel disease, and it required Andrew to have surgery at 7 days old to place a colostomy.
We always said that everything about Andrew was unexpected — from getting pregnant when I was still breastfeeding our second son, to his early arrival and unexpected diagnosis. (My prenatal blood work and ultrasounds didn’t note any abnormalities.)
In his first two years, he had three open heart surgeries, four bowel surgeries, and several lengthy, complicated stays in the Pediatric ICU of our provincial Children’s Hospital.
With Andrew’s birth, and subsequent complexities, our priorities became crystal clear: our time and energy needed to go to our marriage, our boys, and our family.
We realized who was in our village, and I envisioned everyone we knew who was sending love holding up their hands and allowing me to float along. My husband changed jobs and was able to be at home more. I worked part time evenings and weekends so we didn’t have to have the boys in daycare. We wanted them to be cared for by one or both of us as much as possible. We kept our schedules simple and didn’t have the boys in very many formal activities. We ate a lot of tacos!
There was a steep learning curve, and it was a fairly tumultuous beginning to Andrew’s life. Our family and friends rallied around us to help with meals and childcare. There were so many referrals to specialists, and services that it was overwhelming. We knew we loved Andrew. I didn’t dwell on the diagnoses, I just got on with the business of caring and loving. I drew strength from my maternal grandfather’s unwavering faith, and
Organizationally, I had Andrew’s room set up like a mini NICU, we had a baby gate across the door and Jacob and Henry would play on the other side while I cared for Andrew. The boys fell in love with their baby brother, especially Henry, he looked on Andrew as an extension of himself. We explained everything to the boys in terms they could understand. We also had the same set of expectations for all three boys as far as good manners, behaviour, etc.. My doctor reminded me that all children have needs that are special.
We were determined to lead as much of a normal life as possible and as soon as Andrew was stable, we began to take little trips. Starting at first with jaunts within driving distance of the Children’s Hospital, then within a ferry ride, and finally getting the okay for a week away to Disneyland and a cruise when he was almost two years old.
It was the third open heart surgery, in February 2010, that gave Andrew his best heart, the cardiac surgeon replaced his mitral valve with a dime sized metal valve, it was just what his body needed to make sure the blood was flowing in the right direction.
Andrew thrived from age two onward. Despite the occasional serious illness and hospitalization, he worked
hard to keep up with his brothers, crawling, walking, dancing, singing, riding a tricycle, climbing up to the slide, anything and everything we were doing, Andrew wanted to try and we helped him.
He attended preschool for two years with support, and was thrilled to start kindergarten. Andrew was a superstar in his classroom, and adored seeing his big brothers in the school and on the playground. We knew he’d face another open heart surgery to replace the tiny mitral valve with a bigger one around age 8, other than that we were told to live a “normal” life.
We realized that we were among the lucky few to see clearly the joys in the simplest of things, to hear music in new ways, to dance, to laugh, to hug hard, to love harder. Andrew thrived on keeping up with his big brothers who he affectionately called Gake and Ri-Ri.
I never envisioned myself as a Mom of boys. I was over the moon when Jacob was born, and then Henry and Andrew. I had always wanted a big brother growing up. Learning all about sports, super heroes, and Star Wars has been awesome! I love seeing the world through their eyes, and exposing them to many different experiences. Establishing traditions and getting their input has been super fun. We are always on the lookout for new root beers to try wherever we go. We get salt water taffy every time we go to the States.
I do find it challenging to be raising future men; I want them to be hard working and kind. I feel like I am holding my breath, and won’t be able to exhale until they are leading their own successful lives.
I adore seeing their personalities develop, their interests, their sense of humour, likes and dislikes. I miss having them sneak in to our bed at night and cuddling up. I miss their innocence.
Andrew was ill with a stomach bug the night before he died. We were preparing to take him to the ER at about six in the morning when he started having trouble breathing and collapsed in his Daddy’s arms. I ran to call 911, and we began CPR. An amazing group of firemen and paramedics arrived to our home and tried everything they could to help our sweet boy. They transported him to our local hospital where we were told there was nothing more they could do.
Telling the boys that their little brother had passed away was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. We gathered them to us in a hug and I swear I heard a crack, as though a huge branch had come crashing onto the roof. I remember in that split second thinking, abstractly, well, the roof didn’t collapse, we can handle this.
We spent time with Andrew’s body, and offered the boys the opportunity to kiss him and lay beside him to say
goodbye. We learned after the autopsy, that Andrew’s heart was about double in size. Our dear sweetheart was pure love.
We bought our house thinking that Andrew would grow up and live semi-independently in the basement. We love our house — our first year in it was the best year of our lives. We have so many wonderful memories and some hard ones too. It still seems like the best house for us. It is comforting to know we were together in this place. We hold each other close, taking each day as it comes, and the grief ebbs and flows.
Our home is a place of peace, and joy. We have something in each room of that reminds us of Andrew. In December we have a weekly Christmas movie night with foods themed from the movie. To honour Andrew, we light sparklers in the quiet dark of Christmas Eve, on his birthday, we eat all his favourite foods, and listen to all his favourite songs.
I wish someone had told me that being a Mom is the greatest most heart-filling, and simultaneously heart-breaking, adventure one can ever embark upon. Before Andrew was born I was leading a blissfully ignorant life trying to create an idyllic childhood for my boys. Having Andrew forced us to reexamine our priorities, to choose love, to choose each other at a time where leaving, or shutting down could have been easier.
As a grieving Mom, I am acutely aware of how short life is, and that we are given one chance. I hug my boys until they let go of me; my husband and I start every day with a hug and a smile. We end up making each other laugh every night before we fall asleep spooning.
I hope my kids remember that despite enormous heartbreak, at the heart of everything we do, is family togetherness. That my husband and I are the steady rocks and our home is a place of love and light, peace and laughter. That together we can handle anything.
Thank you, Margot. It’s so easy to see that this is a home full of love. I would love to spend a day in that sunroom, curled up on the big sectional, reading a book and chatting with Margot about the surprises life sends our way.
What an honest and peaceful perspective on grief and loss. Losing a child is an impossible situation, and no doubt there are people reading this who have faced a similar challenge. When we have the ability to hold space for people and to be honest about our stories I think we are all better because of it.
Have your kids ever lost someone close to them? How have you taught your kids about grief and mourning? Have you found any good ways to commemorate loved ones who have passed away? How do you teach your kids to “choose love, choose each other” as Margot says?
Paint throughout is Moonshine by Benjamin Moore.
Franciscan Ware Apple Pattern Dishes.
Credits: You can follow Margot on Instagram here. Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.