Surviving after the loss of my precious son

Sometimes one person can be missing and the whole world feels empty
~ anonymous ~

JoniBouchard.jpg Welcome to my Love Letters to Will. I am the mother of three boys; two who run and one who soars. Tragically, on the long weekend in May 2011, I lost my youngest son, Will, at the age of 12 1/2. Losing Will has changed me and life as I knew it forever. To imagine is one thing, but to have to live it is another. 

In the first year, I wrote Will a daily love letter. I talked to him everyday for 12½ years and I wasn’t about to stop. I couldn’t stop. This daily ritual helped me to, quite literally, survive. I looked forward to some time each day to be with him, to talk to him, to write to him, to imagine that he was sitting with me talking like we used to.

I still write to Will, though not every day. Sometimes I sit in my comfy chair, sometimes I lay in his bed propped up against his pillows like when we used to read together before his bedtime. I’ve taken my laptop down to the river and sat on the banks, written to him while I waited in a waiting room or an office; I’ve written to him as I sat in the passenger seat on our way to Fernie, woken in the early morning before the busyness of the day to write to him, and sometimes made it the last thing I did before I climbed into my own bed. It doesn’t matter where I am or what time it is… I look forward to my quiet time with Will and to writing him a letter.

I’ll need to explain a couple of things that won’t make any sense if you have no background of my relationship with Will. First, Will had many nicknames and I often refer to him in my letters as Willy (obvious), and the WillBilly (I’m not even sure how and when that started, but we called him that often), and “Little Mr. Blue Sky” (after his favourite song, Mr. Blue Sky by ELO). Secondly, for as long as I can remember, Will and I ended each day with a tuck in and the words “love you like a bus”. I know it doesn’t make sense, but when he was little, buses were huge in his world and he believed that you could never love anyone or anything bigger than a bus. And so, this phrase evolved and we used it always. So when I end a letter with that phrase which Will and I sometimes shortened to “lulab” (love u like a bus) you’ll get what I mean.

If you, too,  are a mom who is living the unimaginable loss of a child I hope that through sharing my Love Letters to Will you will find comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  You  might find parallels in your own journey and are looking for a way to continue a relationship with your child, even though it is not the physical one that we on earth only know.  Thank you for allowing me to share my Will with you in this way.

To those of you who have your children I hope that my Love Letters to Will will remind you that Motherhood is a labour of love and that your children are gifts.  There are days when mothering is difficult, when we sometimes wish away the hard parts, but here is what I know for sure. Nothing will ever be as difficult as losing them.

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It Feels Like May…

May 2, 2021

My dear sweet boy,

May is heavy. The heaviest of all the months for me. It is weighted with undeniable sadness, with silent tears, with the unendurable pain of losing you and with the loss of our own lives as we knew it almost 10 years ago. 10 years on May 22nd. Wait… sometimes it still feels like yesterday.  And yet in the deepest part of my heart I know you are still with us. I still see and hear you – though in different realms. And Willy, I continue to feel your presence every day because it is just impossible not to.

Every May I place the book I compiled of your Celebration of Life on our coffee table in our living room and after re-reading every word over and over, year after year I think I almost have them memorized. To this day I am deeply grateful for the heartfelt messages and stories captured on that day and if I didn’t fully comprehend what a treasure it would be to be able to re-read them year after year I surely know now. As part of my lifelong healing, in those first few months I assembled every word spoken, every lyric sung and every memory shared into a book so that I would have it in one place, in something I could hold in my hands and revisit on a whim and, of course, every May.  I am ever grateful for the blessings and tributes written and shared by cherished friends and family and appreciate the support and the heartfelt love that we continue to receive even still.

As I was re-reading “your book” this morning I wanted to share one of the tributes with you. I know you heard every word that John spoke at your celebration all those years ago but they made my heart smile this morning and they capture your essence in a way that was/is so “you”.

Here’s John’s words…

John Griffin Tribute

THE LITTLE BIG MAN

I have been asked to speak today on behalf of all the friends of the Bouchard family. Considering how many of us here today share a close friendship with Murray, Joni, Justin, Ben & Will, it is hard to know where to begin. I can safely say though that we all share memories of happy times, that will last forever. Much of what I can say speaks of our family’s countless memories that we have shared with such a wonderful family.

Our family has known the Bouchard’s since they moved to Redwood Meadows in 1996, a couple of years before Will arrived. It seems as if we’ve known them forever. However, many of their friends here today share memories with Murray & Joni that go far beyond that.

I know all of us are at a loss for words right now. How can you not be? But when you really take the time to celebrate Will’s life today, the countless memories we have are comforting, and even heart warming. I know that the Bouchard family would love nothing more than to know that we all focus our thoughts today on the memories of a playmate, a ski buddy, a classmate, a brother, and a son who made the world and the lives he touched a better place. Memories can never be taken away. Let me share a few.

I’m not sure how many of you have done the “kid exchange” thing with another family, but it’s a great system….one couple gets away by themselves, while all the kids get to hang out in the same house together for a few days. And then you repeat the event a couple of months later. Everybody wins!! My wife Nancy & I shared this arrangement on many occasions with the Bouchards.

I will never forget when Will stayed with us for a few days when he was just a little guy. He refused to wear anything but his Spiderman underwear. The problem was, Nancy & I didn’t know the rules of how he wore them, and it resulted in many tears for little Will. You see, he wanted the underwear on inside out, with the Spiderman picture pointing in so when he lifted out the waist band, he could look down and see Spiderman’s face. He was not a happy camper.

It is so appropriate that Murray & Joni chose the name Will. Not only was it a great name, there were so many nicknames that could come as a result of it, “Willbilly” being one. As a little guy, Will was an explorer, hence the nickname “Willy the Wanderer”. Will decided one day when he was about 2, that he needed to go on a walkabout. After a frantic search by many, Will was found on the banks of the Elbow River by a dog and his walker.

Many of us in Redwood Meadows remember the commotion during one of our local ball tournaments. “Willy the Wanderer” decided to climb into the family van which was parked by the ball diamond, with the keys in it, and proceeded to lock the door. I can’t quite remember how we eventually got him out, but I do know that the process lasted a couple of hours, and Will had spent every tear he had in him. On that day, he was known as “Free Willy”.

You may think that Will was always an adventure seeking child, living life on the edge. Well, I would like to dispel that myth. Of the countless memories we have sharing happy times with the Bouchard family, at the top of the list are the houseboat trips we took together on Shuswap Lake over 3 consecutive summers, from 2002 through 2004. They were, without a doubt, the best of times.

For the first 2 trips, when Will was 3 & 4, he did not let the waters of Shuswap Lake touch his feet. This had nothing to do with a dislike of water, but had everything to do with the creatures that lurked under the surface, otherwise known as fish. He spent most of his days in the hot tub, getting out occasionally to drop his drawers to his ankles and pee between the bars on the upper deck.

Unfortunately for poor Will, there were a couple of incidents that didn’t help his courage. On one of our trips we decided to explore the recently discovered cave of the infamous “Bushman of the Shuswap”. Will of course did not join us on that venture, but just the thought of the Bushman ensured that he had nightmares for the rest of the trip.

Just as he was beginning to overcome his fear of those fish creatures in the lake, didn’t the other kids happen to catch one. Will was actually quite fascinated by the sight of it, and stood by the counter as I prepared our catch for dinner. With his eyes at about level with the counter, I proceeded to chop the head off as Will stared in disbelief. I think it prolonged his fear of water for yet another year, and to this day he never ate fish.

I’m sure anyone who has been on a houseboat trip has had some misadventures, and tales to tell. Over 3 trips, we certainly had many. But the one that tops them all is the time that Nancy & Murray actually lost the houseboat. Will, known as “Wilson” at the time, ended up stranded on a deserted beach with a few other castaways. Fortunately for “Wilson”, who then became “Willigan”, Joni & I executed a successful rescue & recovery of all involved, including the houseboat.

The name that I will forever remember Will by though is the “Little Big Man”. It fit perfectly for Will. He was a smaller than average boy, growing up in a family with brothers 5 and 10 years older who he adored and looked up to. He tried so hard at times to be bigger than he was, and keep up with the older boys, and at times he pulled it off. Deep down though, he was a softie, who would gladly switch from being the “Little Big Man” to cuddling with his Mom. He was famous for his hugs and affection, and loved painting rocks with Joni.

Our daughter Kathleen and Will shared a very close friendship, and never tired of each other’s company. They preferred not to call each other friends, but would rather be referred to as brother & sister. Kathleen would willingly take part in full on wrestling, while Will would gladly succumb to Kathleen’s world of imagination. As so-called siblings, they shared their fair share of disagreements. When Kathleen reached her limit, you commonly heard the “Will, Will” scream, followed by shouts of “What the Heck Kathaleen” in that distinctive Will voice.

Many of Will’s summers began at Whispering Pines campground on Mara Lake with several families that are here today. I have seen many photos from these trips, and have heard many stories of those happy times. Some of his closest pals were part of those vacations, and they will miss the close friendship they shared with Will.

And then there’s Fernie. The “big man” that Will looked up to more than anyone else was his Dad. Fortunately for Will, he had more opportunities to share in Murray’s passion for skiing than most get to experience in a lifetime. I know there are many here today that will find it hard to replace the companionship of their ski buddy. If you are one of those powder pals of Will’s, and you look ahead to the ski seasons yet to come, remember to take some time on an epic Fernie day, and think of Will. Take him down that run with you, and give him the ride of his life. He will be smiling with you all the way.

Murray, Joni, Justin & Ben. On behalf of all of your friends, we are heartbroken, and can’t imagine how difficult this must be for all of you. There are so few words that we can say that can help make sense of this. I truly believe that Will’s spirit lives on. You have provided him with a wonderful life in a loving home and raised him in an incredible community. I do believe he is still smiling that sweet smile, still laughing, and spending his days in a paradise that is beyond the one that he shared with us. Forever young.

We all want to thank you, Murray & Joni, for accepting our love and support. Your community of friends has been drawn together through a love for Will. You need to know that we will continue to be there for you in the days, and years ahead. You have so many dear friends that want to help you on your journey, and I know you know that. I can think of so many times when it was you reaching out to help others. Now it’s our turn to reach out to help you.


Oh, how special you are, my sweet boy. No wonder I miss you so much. I hope you never underestimate how “big” your life was to us down here.  Please continue to shine your little, big light down on those of us who continue to celebrate every day of the 12 1/2 years we had with you.

I love you beyond words, WillBilly. Like that big bus we always spoke of. And then some more.

Momxo

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