Vigils and Remembrances can allow students – and us all – to Grieve Well and to Love more deeply, Together

In response to the loss of several beloved students, and members of their families, in the recent crash of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752, the York Region District School Board is hosting a public community vigil to honour them on the evening of Monday January 13.

It is so important for students, staff, families, friends and community members to have dedicated time like this to be together to honour the lives of those that died, and to honour shared grief.

School is not just about learning and teaching information and marketable skills. It is also about learning how to live: how to cope with adversity, challenges and loss. Activities and social interactions in our schools provide opportunities, moment by moment, to practice love, kindness and empathy to ourselves and to one another. This practice helps students to become resilient and compassionate members of our community and our world. The value of connection is even more clear when we are faced with an incredible tragedy.

Grief, like love, is a universal experience. It is something we will all face in different ways and at different times in our lives and it has a function: to help us adjust to, and cope with, a new reality.

Attending a vigil or ceremony of remembrance and/or doing something privately with friends or family to honour the emotions they feel, helps students to begin to learn how to grieve well and how to face death and loss as a normal – though painful – part of life. And it reminds them (and all of us) that they, and we, can face our grief together and find support. We are all a part of many circles of caring community.

Photo by Anton Darius

If attending a ceremony or vigil is not possible or other losses or impending losses need to take precedent – then taking a few moments to send love during the vigil, from wherever we are, can allow us to be united in thought and intention with those gathered, as we send our heartfelt condolences, sympathy and love.

Henry David Thoreau wrote “The only remedy for love, is to love more.”

These devastating deaths are also a reminder for all of us to focus on what is most important in life. Love. Connection. Friendship. Family.

Maybe an ongoing “vigil” or tribute to those who died, can be to love those around us even more. To reach out to each other. To support and hold each other. To cry and to grieve together. To celebrate each other. To savour our moments with those we love. To show compassion to those going through loss or impending loss. To live with more kindness and empathy not only to others but also to ourselves.

We can hold our need to honour the grief of our community side by side with the need to spend precious moments with those we love. Both are ways of taking a stand for love as we continue to learn to live life with resilience and hope even in the midst of the most terrible losses.

My heart goes out to all those who knew and loved those dear ones who died in the plane crash who are enduring profound pain and sorrow. May we honour and hold those who are deeply grieving, and ourselves, with loving empathy and with compassion. The grief won’t end when Monday’s vigil is over. So let’s take an ongoing stand for love. Let’s continue to support each other and continue to remember, long after the ceremonies are finished. Let us spend time with those we love, and express our love for them while we can. Because every moment is precious.

Photo by Mike Labrum


Top photo of silhouetted young people by Hudson Hintze

Copyright 2020 Laura Higgins, Life-Cycle Celebrant – Portrait Ceremonies


Send Some Love to a Teacher Who Changed Your Life

Outside of our families and friends, it is often teachers that have a great impact upon our development and how we feel, hear and see ourselves and the world. As someone who encourages the writing of “love letters” to those who have made a difference in our lives, today I dare us all to search up that teacher that changed things for us in a positive way, and write to them. I’ll start.

Today I want to send some love out to my former professor, Don Summerhayes and his family.

Don led an American Poetry class I took at York University. This was a course I hadn’t chosen, but was funneled into because my chosen class was full. I wasn’t happy. Poetry wasn’t my thing, even though English was my best subject. I was told too many times in high school that my interpretation and analysis of poems was “wrong” and I received my lowest marks on these assignments. Poetry was boring and difficult.

Well, Don changed all of that forever, and along with it, my relationship with words, with writing, and with myself. Continue reading

Holiday Traditions to Remember Loved Ones

After someone you love has passed away, Christmas, Hanukkah and other holidays and birthdays will never be the same. In recent years my family has had to adapt to celebrating Christmas without my sister, my Dad, my uncle, my father-in-law and this year we lost my Nana. There have been years when it was just so sad that I couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over.

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My sister and I, Christmas 1995.

Remembrance traditions won’t change how much you miss your loved one, or prevent the pain, sadness, regret, anger and other emotions and feelings that may arise. However, I have found that, for me, acknowledging my emotions through intentional actions helps me feel more connected with those I have lost. Sometimes I am surprised by the good feelings that arise alongside the tougher emotions. And at other times doing something in their honour gives me a safe space and time for the tears to come. I have found that allowing the grief, rather than avoiding it, has been the best way for me to begin to heal.

When you are ready, here are some ideas for incorporating acts of remembrance into your holiday traditions.

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Celebrating my Nana’s Life

Nearly three weeks ago my grandmother, my Nana, went into the ICU. On June 21, I drove 10 hours to New Hampshire to join my aunt and uncle at her bedside. When I saw her, I had a feeling that she wasn’t going to recover this time. On the morning of June 23rd, with my aunt and me at her side, my Nana died. The next few days were a blur of planning, gathering family, and coming to terms with what had just happened.

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Nana with a gleam in her eye.

It was understood that I would write and officiate most of Nana’s Celebration of Life with my uncle and local pastors offering prayers, scripture and a Christian message within the service. It felt like an immense responsibility. More than ever, I felt the need to “get it right:” to create something that would express Nana’s life and personality, that my family would feel was fitting and good, and that my Nana would have loved.

There were some unusual elements to the ceremony (which I will share in another post) and although I thought the ideas were fitting, I felt anxious about whether they would unfold as I hoped…whether people would “get” what we were doing. Continue reading

Honouring our Losses on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a difficult day.

The reasons are many. Our mom has passed away. We have lost a child or a baby. Perhaps we are estranged from our Mom, or never knew our birth mother. Or, like me, your Mom may have reached a stage in their dementia where they do not know you, cannot have a conversation, or show no resemblance to their former selves.

We may wish things could have been different. We may long for our lost mother or child. We may miss them desperately.

If our relationship with our mother was troubled, we may be revisiting anger, disappointment or wishing we had someone who was the kind of mother we needed and wanted. Continue reading

A Walk With My Sister: Finding the Space for Remembrance

I really wanted to walk in the forest this morning, a specific forest in fact. My sister, Kerry, and I used to walk and talk a lot, and we both loved being outdoors. So today, February 5th, on the 17th anniversary of her death, I wanted to hike to a particular cedar grove in the local conservation area as a way of honouring her. Last Sunday however, when attempting to hike in that area, I’d fallen on the huge sheet of ice that the forest path had become and wrenched my knee. It was mild a few days ago, but not mild enough to melt all the ice. I couldn’t risk it. I felt disappointed but decided to trust that I would figure out something else to do.

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Kerry with the chickadees in New Hampshire, 1994.

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