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Grief, Bereavement, and Unexpected Legacies

I have been surrounded by loss over the last year. Every type of loss imaginable—loss of the elderly, loss of a family pet, loss by suicide, the perpetual loss of dementia, loss from cancer, and so on. One no worse than the other…all painful and all different. Each loss carries a story of great love and deep sadness. Whether or not folks could prepare for the impending loss or not, the moment the soul of our loved ones leave us, our hearts feel heavy. 

Photo from Wix.

My connection to the souls who left varied from former teacher to best friend. My role in the lives around these souls also differed. One family’s loss particularly stands out for me—a young family. The dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and died within 8 months. It was tragic, awful, unimaginable. I live in a small community, and every step in their journey was public knowledge. That was okay with them. They shared on social media every detail of every appointment.


It was all very interesting to me as an individual entering into the world of end-of-life doula work. I stood back and observed. They had LOTS of folks offering support and opinions, so they certainly didn’t need me. Then the day came. He was gone. His service filled an entire arena. So sad. Time passed. The kids went back to school. People moved on with their lives.

Something stood out for me… “the casseroles stopped.”

My neighbour is closely connected to this family, so I frequently checked in with her. I was correct in my assumption. The casseroles had stopped, and mama was struggling.


Side note… My neighbour had lost two family members the year prior, and I had knit her a blanket for comfort. She loves that blanket. I had decided to knit one for this family as well. It was perfect timing. I had just finished the blanket when I checked in to find out that the mom was in fact struggling. I had also coached the mom in cheerleading twenty years prior and happened to have a picture of her.


This is the unexpected legacy... I found the picture. She was a flyer in a stunt team. I had a photo of her way up in the air with a huge grin on her face and her team below with their arms ready to catch her. I wrote to her recalling how not every day was like this. She did not fly every day. She did not smile every day. We fought, cried, and some days we didn’t show up. Our teammates changed.

It’s okay not to be okay.

You find your team and they’ve got you and you will fly. You just need to practice, and to fall, and to ask for help.


I sent the picture, the note, and the blanket along to the family through my neighbour. I received the most beautiful note from the family telling me how impactful this message had been and how they had laughed and cried at the note and the picture. They also mentioned how her dad (grandpa) cried, and he never cries! 


I titled this grief, bereavement, and unexpected legacy because I think this story has it all. There was a lot of grief and bereavement in my world this year. I supported a lot of folks in their journey, and I continue to do so. The most profound thing was the unexpected legacy found in the picture from 20 years ago. Legacy work doesn’t always have to be done by those who are leaving us. We can provide living legacies too.



Elaine Johnston is an HHA death doula candidate.



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