coping with tragic loss
And though she be but little,
she is fierce!”
― William Shakespeare,
A Midsummer Night's Dream
It is one of the cruel ironies in life that terrible things can happen on the most beautiful of days. And so it was with Kaitlyn’s story: the path of her life swerved abruptly and without warning in the midst of a summer’s day. On a warm sunny day in July, Kaitlyn was a passenger in a car crash that ultimately took her life and altered the course of so many lives around her.
Who was Kaitlyn Bates? She was an extraordinary girl who, much like Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was both little and fierce. Fiercely devoted to her family, her brothers and according to her dad Doug, a bit mischievous by nature.
In the summer of 2011, Kaitlyn was just seven years old. She was a spark in her family’s life: a bright, happy, compassionate girl who loved ballet, swimming and soccer. She collected snails, adored her cat Chelsea and a favourite refrain of hers was “girls rule, boys drool!”
Kaitlyn was spirited, adventurous and creative. She loved to design dresses for her dolls, yet like so many seven-year olds, was still afraid of monsters in the closet. Kaitlyn was by all accounts a marvelous little person and one of her defining traits was her natural empathy for others. She had an intrinsic desire to make things better for everyone, however and whenever she could.
The intense shock of losing Kaitlyn on that summer’s day hit her family and everyone who knew her hard, grief and loss can shatter even the strongest among us. And when that loss is also unexpected and traumatic, it can be particularly hard to accept.
Kaitlyn’s dad Doug describes the accident that day as a blur and when the initial shock wore off, there were some dark times in the days and months that followed. On top of the overwhelming grief and sadness that come with losing a child, he remembers blaming himself and struggling with depression.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to coping with death, grief and loss often affect people very differently. But with time and help, Doug was able to recover and move forward with his life. His journey is one he often shares with others in the hope that he can, in his words “help someone else cope and recover from the loss of someone they dearly love”.
"You won’t forget, and you will never be the same.
But there are strategies to cope."
Death has much to teach us about life and one of the realizations Doug experienced is that much of what we worry about on a daily basis doesn’t actually matter much in the long run. As he says, “There are no guarantees in life, things can change in a heartbeat.” He learned to value the present moment and as much as possible, to let go of worrying about things he can’t control.
After the accident, he says “I thought about what Kaitlyn would want me to do, what she would think about how I was living my life. I wanted to let that guide me, to honour her memory and create a legacy.” Doug went on to establish the Kaitlyn Bates Initiative, an organization dedicated to helping young people in Northumberland County. Losing Kaitlyn sparked Doug’s passion for helping others and in turn inspired in him a better understanding of feminism and women’s issues; he has put that knowledge and awareness into action through KBI. The Initiative is both a beautiful way to honour Kaitlyn and a way to remember and recognize the life she lived.
“You won’t forget, and you will never be the same. But there are strategies to cope.” If you are coping with a loss right now or you know someone who is struggling, know that everyone’s experience is different and there is no “right way” to experience grief. But grief is natural and necessary and it’s not something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. In Doug’s words, “Don’t be afraid to cry and to lean on others for help and support.” If you don’t feel you have enough support, try to reach out to a friend or trusted adult for help. At the same time, if you see a friend or loved one struggling to cope with grief, reach out to them. You may not know exactly the right thing to say, but sometimes just knowing someone cares is a huge help. Remember that “fear and courage are not opposites, they live together in every person”. It can take exceptional courage to ask for support, but it gets easier with time and practice.
For Doug, finding a creative outlet (he plays the drums) and keeping busy helped him tremendously. Everyone is different, but expressing your feelings and emotions through music, art, drama or writing, can help relieve stress and process some of the trauma. Sports and outdoor physical activities can also be a great source of relief.
Once you get through the first stages of grief, a deep and lasting way to move forward is to express gratitude by living the life lessons you’ve learned from whomever you lost. Let what they’ve taught you inspire your actions. Honour their life and memory by making a difference in the lives of others, whatever that looks like for you. To quote Doug again, “Always be you. Don’t be afraid, no matter what other people think.”
Grief can shatter us, yes, but love can rebuild. Ultimately, Kaitlyn’s story transcends tragedy and offers hope and optimism. Kaitlyn’s spirit, fierceness and compassion infuse every aspect of this magazine. It’s why we chose the name Inspire, because Kaitlyn and her family have inspired so many people. Through The Kaitlyn Bates Initiative and now through Inspire Magazine, Kaitlyn’s story continues: together, we are stronger. And together, we will ensure that Kaitlyn’s story makes a difference.
More resources on coping with grief and loss:
Read our article in the Hot Topics section, “When Someone You Love Dies”
by Inspire writer & Emotional Health Advisor, Maureen Pollard.
By Gillian Smith-Clark,
Editor Inspire Magazine