Emily and Bethany

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There is no more emotive date of the calendar year for me than March 11. This is the anniversary of the worst day of my life. It was on this day March 11, 1991 that our first-born child, Emily, died very suddenly in Niger Republic, West Africa.

Anyone who has experienced the loss of someone very close knows how the anniversary of that person’s death remains a poignant time forever. Some years are harder than others, but we always look back with a mixture of pain, wonder and grief. I can’t believe it’s been 22 years since Emily died. I remember it like no other day. I’m going to share some of that story here.

Emily was 2 ½ years old. She was a beautiful blonde toddler with a shy and quiet nature. For most of her life we lived in Niger. I always thought (and I still do) that it was a wonderful place for our children to grow up. I look back on the nine years we spent in Niger as among the happiest years of my life. The day before Emily died was a relaxing Sunday – typical of the happy days we enjoyed there as a family. I vividly remember the afternoon we spent relaxing at the pool of the old French club.  Emily was full of life – jumping and splashing in the pool with all the others. We went to church on the Sunday evening in a nearby village the night before she died – gathering in a small group to sing and pray.

On the morning of Monday March 11, Emily awoke with fever and vomiting. She seemed ill enough that I thought we should do a malaria smear so we took her out to the clinic for blood work. I was reassured to find out that her white blood count was normal and the malaria test was negative. There was no other sign indicating the cause of her fever, so we tried to treat the fever – assuming it was a viral infection. It was early afternoon when I noticed the telltale spots that made me realize what we were facing. The rash that accompanies meningococcemia is the most horrible rash a doctor or a parent can observe. It is an irregular purple rash – so rarely seen now in North America. When I saw the first purple spots on Emily, my heart sank and my mind panicked. She had meningococcemia – one of the most rapidly fatal infections we know. Emily had been appropriately vaccinated against meningococcus but the old polysaccharide vaccines we used 20 years ago were not highly effective in young children. Clearly it did not help her.

With the appearance of the rash, I knew that we had no time to waste. She had to get injectable penicillin immediately. We were two hours away from the hospital where we had been working. We quickly got into our car with Emily and her baby sister Bethany and drove as fast as it would carry us. It was a race against time. The aggressive infection was going to win the race. Less than an hour into our journey, precious Emily had a seizure and then she stopped breathing. It was the most horrible moment of my life. We felt desperately isolated – Pep and I and our two little girls – driving along a highway in southern Niger – fifty miles from the closest hospital – and our beloved daughter had taken her last breath. We had no choice but to keep driving. Pep suggested that I do CPR – which I did – not really believing we could save her but not ready to give up hope. I soon became exhausted and we eventually switched places – Pep doing CPR in the back seat with Emily while I drove as fast as the rough road would allow. We couldn’t converse. I remember praying in song. It was an unbearable hour.

Adding to our panic was the reality that, as we drove, the purple rash began to appear on baby Bethany. It was a sign that both of our daughters were infected with this dreadful bacterium. We were living a nightmare – Emily had died; eight-month old Bethany was now fighting the same infection. We would later learn that dozens of children in the area died that same week from meningococcal illness. It was the season when the harmattan winds blow in from the Sahara, carrying with them a surge of infections, and bringing grief to countless families.

When we arrived at Galmi Hospital, our friends and colleagues were shocked to learn our news. We became completely surrounded by both compassion and the critical care that Bethany needed. By some miracle, a pediatrician from Boston was visiting the hospital that week. He and the other staff instantly created a pediatric intensive care unit and began to treat Bethany with life-saving intravenous penicillin. She was seriously ill. Her kidneys had stopped functioning. She probably had a textbook case of Waterhouse-Friderichsen syndrome – a condition I had studied in medical school, but had never seen in real life. The two doctors who attended to her advised us to be prepared for the worst. We slept fitfully that night, by her side.

The next morning there was a funeral for Emily. I have an enduring memory of the line-up of people who came to greet us that morning. There was a queue of townspeople and hospital employees – some of them knew us personally and others had heard the news and wanted to bring greetings. That was the day I learned a common Hausa greeting at a time of mourning. One by one they shook our hands. With tones of sympathy and empathy, they said to us: “Sai hankuri”. This means: “There is only patience.”

I’ve always had mixed feelings about that greeting. At the time, I was thankful for the reminder to be patient and accept the sad reality. Yet I’m a bit troubled by the passivity that it permits. I’ve learned to be patient and accept our own loss. But I’m not patient about waiting for the day when young children will not die in such outrageous numbers from infections and other illnesses that are often preventable and treatable.

My memories of the funeral itself relate to the wonderful sense of being surrounded by the love of our friends and colleagues. By this time, the news had spread to family and friends back home. We were flooded with messages of support. Hundreds of people were praying for us and for Bethany’s recovery. I still remember the songs we sang at the funeral. One was “Praise my Soul the King of Heaven” – which we had also sung at our wedding. The other was possibly my all-time favourite hymn “Be still my soul” – sung to the amazing Finlandia melody by Sibelius.

Emily’s body was buried on March 12 in the stony ground of a small cemetery just west of Galmi village in a wooden box built for her by the hospital carpenter. Truly no parent could forget the pain of saying goodbye to our little ones whose lives are cut short for whatever cause. I remember weeping as her body was lowered into the ground. Feeling that I could barely endure the moment, I recall praying to God that if I had to return to the cemetery the next day to bury another daughter, I didn’t think I could bear it.

Thankfully that prayer was answered. Bethany’s health slowly but steadily improved. We were eventually evacuated to Canada for her further hospitalization there. Miraculously she sustained just a few superficial skin scars from her illness and today she is a beautiful and brilliant young woman.

I still grieve that Emily was taken at such a young age. What would her life be like? How would our lives be different if she were still with us? Most parents who have lost a child must ask these same questions on the anniversary of the child’s birth or death.

There is grace in this story. Our family felt profound sadness about losing Emily. But it was mingled with thankfulness that Bethany recovered completely. Through living in Niger and learning about the harsh realities of life in that country, I see that life is fragile. Every day that we enjoy with our children and our families is a gift – not to be taken for granted. Working in Niger in later years, I spent some time doing household surveys as part of a training project for village health workers. While administering the surveys, we asked women how many children they had borne and how many were still alive. (At that time, the mortality rate was such that 27% of the babies born would not live to celebrate their fifth birthday.) I was always stunned to hear how many women had suffered the loss of one or more children at a young age.

The beautiful song “Empty Chairs” from Les Misérables always stirs me. The lyrics refer to “a grief that can’t be spoken… a pain goes on and on”. Losing a child is an unspeakable grief. But I learned from the ordeal. It has given me at least a small measure of understanding about what parents in Niger have patiently accepted for decades. It has driven me to seek ways to influence the global political, environmental and socioeconomic factors that underlie the inequities related to early childhood mortality around the globe.

Sometimes we do have to be patient in the face of loss. We cannot change the past. But we can change the future. If I can help transform circumstances so that the children of today have better opportunity to live long, healthy and meaningful lives, I will have found grace in the face of grief.

I’ve never posted anything as personal as this – and I have mixed feelings about doing so. Writing honestly about personal experience and publishing it publicly makes me feel very vulnerable. But I have been grateful for the writings of others who publicly share their painful personal stories. Perhaps someone else will benefit from my writing. I am also posting these reflections to document family history through narrative.

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Discussion - 79 Comments
  1. Bev Ramirez

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane: so beautifully written from the heart – I cried as I read, remembering those days 22 years ago, recently arrived in Colombia with a new husband, hearing of and praying for your loss … – the death of a young loved one is forever painful and filled with unanswered questions, but as you wrote: there IS grace in the face of grief – God DOES bring good out of unbearable loss – I so understand your mixed feelings about writing something so personal : I felt the same way when I wrote about my brother’s death on Reflections For Living – the vulnerability is somewhat frightening – yet, moved by God to do so, sharing our journeys will surely comfort and strengthen someone else who is struggling through a similar loss. I continue to be so proud of who you are and all you do in acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with your God.

    Reply

  2. Jo-Anne Sheffield

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane. This is such a sad story but I thank you for sharing. Being open with your grief and your compassion for those less fortunate has made you one of my most inspiring people.

    I do not know the feeling of burying a child (please God) but I do know the feeling of burying a brother at the tender age of 21. I have always felt my parents endurance of this tragic event (also their first born) was a test of their faith and love but they somehow pulled through. By turning to God for answers, they found comfort.

    Ironically, this is a shared anniversary. March 11 was my brother’s birthday.

    Reply

  3. Janet Beed

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane, thank you for this blog. I understand more fully what drives your commitment to so many and my respect continues to grow.

    Reply

  4. Joyce Turman

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you, Jane, for sharing the deeply personal story of the death of your daughter Emily. You write with such feeling. I like the saying that the local people comforted you with: There is only patience. Healing from an event like that takes so many years, and it does take patience.
    Thank you for your vulnerability.

    Reply

  5. Julie Weiss

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for this Jane. You’ve been generous in writing so openly and sharing so much of your story. Our family also lost someone close to us in a very tragic, sudden way. We learned a great deal from his death, and even more from his life. You, Pep and your children continue to honour Emily in ways that allow her beautiful spirit to be a blessing to others.

    Reply

  6. Alice

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane thank you for sharing your story every time I hear it I am reminded of Gods grace in your life to help you carry on. I will not forget the day i heard the news even before I had the pleasure of having you as a dear friend I was at the hospital in full labour with Luka only months before we left for Niger and I was amazed that day at the way God gives grace to us. I pray that your story will continue to touch lives. You and Pep have touched our lives in immeasurable ways and I am grateful that you remained in Niger.

    Reply

  7. Penny Parnes

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane
    What a heart wrenching story. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for you. I was glad to see the happy memories of Emily at the pool and at church. I always feel that those we love and have lost remain with us in spirit. I hope that Emilys spirit is with you.

    Reply

  8. Alison Philpott

    Mar 11, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane I have never heard your story. I’ve often thought about it over the years but haven’t wanted to raise such a painful subject. I will never forget the phone call from the St. Paul’s secretary….We admire you both and rejoice with you in your beautiful Bethany. Thank you for the courage to publish this.

    Reply

  9. QueenEsther

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Grace in the face of mourning-what a best way to depict the picture. I share your grief, pain, reflection, and mixed emotions; especially having lost a father through a combination of chronic illness where I know that a lot of things could have been done differently. I relate and connect with the feeling of helplessness. I share the same vision and believing that alot could be done through change. My experience of loss has shaped my philosophy about life and making a difference through change in people’s life using any platform.
    Thanks for your courage.

    Reply

  10. Dawn

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and for introducing me to that greeting, “There is only patience.” It is one I will share with my clients who are struggling not just with loss but with their fear that their grief will forever be so heavy and so daunting. Your daughter was beautiful. I’m sorry her life was so short but that picture is a wonderful sign that it was also filled with such love and such happiness.

    Reply

  11. Bethany Payne

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane, thank you for sharing. Your story struck a chord with me, because I remember the panic on my pediatrician’s face when he saw that rash on my own son at 18 months. I didn’t even understand why, when I called the office and described the strange purple spots, they told us to come in immediately. We were taken by ambulance from his office to the hospital, which is directly around the corner. I’m sitting here crying as I remember that journey, and I imagine yours — how utterly devastating that must have been. And yet, you have managed to take both patience and giving from your loss, working to keep children healthy. May you find peace and comfort in the gifts you give to others, for they surely do as well.

    Reply

  12. Suzette Strong

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane,
    I admire your courage and thank you for sharing such a personal experience. You and your words are truly inspiring.

    Reply

  13. Bev McDowell

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    OH MY DEAR JANE, Thank you so very much for expressing these moments in your life. The loss of your daughter. I hold closely the “be patient” words. I have felt healing in my own grieving through reading your words. Thank you

    Bev

    Reply

  14. Bridget

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    When you are moved to write something so personal and so moving, it is because someone somewhere needed to read it. Thank you for sharing this story!

    Reply

  15. Eileen

    Mar 12, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing your story Jane. I can’t imagine the pain and grief you and Pep must have suffered but admire your ability to take this experience and convert it into compassion, caring for others, and advocacy. You are both such amazing people and have raised an amazing family.

    Reply

  16. Saimah Baig

    Mar 14, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing your story. I admire your courage and your strength. You are a true inspiration!!

    Reply

  17. Tony Rinaudo

    Mar 15, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing Jane. Thank you for making yourself vulnerable and sharing from your heart. 2 Cor 1:3-4

    Trust all is going well. Liz keeps me updated with your family news.
    regards,

    Reply

  18. Darren Larsen

    Mar 19, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane, a powerful and moving piece.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    You truly do inspire…..
    Darren.

    Reply

  19. Esther (Thiessen) Savard

    Mar 31, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Jane, thank you for sharing the details and depth of your loss. I will never forget those March days in Niger as part of the hospital and community. I remember so clearly, the terribly busy day I had on the wards the day of the funeral, but slipping away anyway for a break to be at the funeral….I needed to be there to show my support, but also to be part of the family as the deep sadness of your loss was felt by us all who were part of the mission family. I learned the song “Be Still My Soul” that day and it has been a poignant hymn for me ever since. Everytime I hear it, I reflect on the statement of faith you and Pep made through your choice to sing it at such a time. I remember the anxiety surrounding Bethany’s very ill hours and the miracle of her recovery. I was greatly touched by how God’s presence and grace were so evident in your lives through all of it. Thank you for being so open in sharing.

    Reply

  20. Rennie Roop

    Apr 22, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane and Pep. God holds us and carries us when we all we can do is breathe. And He does pour out grace, and even joy in times of grief. When we were taken to the morgue to identify our two sons on October 25, 1999, Michael was overcome with grief but I was frozen in silence. God whispered to me, “Why are you looking for living among the dead. They aren’t here. They have risen.” And these words of resurrection power turned that cold morgue into a holy place. Joy filled my heart. I get to celebrate those words of resurrection power two times a year; once at Easter with the whole world. And once in October, when they were God’s special words just for me.

    Reply

  21. Mark Larson

    Apr 22, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    Having visited Emily’s grave just a few months ago, I am in awe of how God has redeemed and continues to redeem the tragedy that no parent ever wishes to face. Alherin Ubangijinmu abin mamaki ne (The grace of our Lord is a thing of wonder.)

    Reply

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  23. melinah kedimotse

    Oct 14, 2013  at 10:20 AM

    God had a plan,He didn’t just take Emily away from you.You are really a strong woman and i really admire you for that,you are an inspiration and God created you for a reason,to serve the world we are living in and take care of millions of children across the globe….THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING AN INSPIRATION

    Reply

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  25. Zahara

    Feb 28, 2014  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane , i just read this , thanks for sharing the story of this unbearable moment. May God always bless you with all the best , may your Emily’s soul rest in peace and may He always protect the rest of your children. You are the most amazing person I know and i feel privileged to know you.

    Reply

  26. Cathy

    Mar 11, 2014  at 10:20 AM

    I too have lost a child. It has been 14 years but seems like yesterday!

    Reply

  27. Lyn Roy

    Mar 11, 2014  at 10:20 AM

    Jane, I so remember hearing your news and praying you and Pep through that time. My heart ached that we were at a distance and couldn’t be there for you and yet, as I recently told a friend, THE biggest help we can give someone in time of need is to pray and allow God to move in the situation in ways we never could and that we could never understand.

    I pray that God blesses you for your openness and honesty in writing this, as I know that your vulnerability will in turn bless so many.

    Love to you both. xo

    Reply

  28. Yewande

    Mar 11, 2014  at 10:20 AM

    Hi Jane,
    I can’t imagine how you and Pep must have felt in that car ride and the moments, days, weeks and years after. I’ve come to realize that even though we don’t understand it at the time, there’s always a purpose and a plan, far bigger than just ourselves at any given moment. Like previous comments have noted, the experience of your loss definitely has a huge part to play in the Jane we are all so blessed to know today. You’ve saved so many lives through your experience of loss.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    Love,
    Yewande

    Reply

  29. Steph VandenHengel

    Mar 12, 2014  at 10:20 AM

    Hi Jane,
    I was only 6 or 7 when Emily died but I remember it so clearly. What a powerful and important story to share. Thank you for having the courage to write this out and put it online.

    Reply

  30. Kim Vanden Hengel

    Mar 13, 2014  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane & Pep
    Remembering your darling blonde girl and can’t wait to see her again in Heaven, along with our niece Evangeline. xxxxx

    Reply

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  33. ioanna

    Nov 06, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing. Best wishes in your new role as Minister of Health!

    Reply

  34. Matthew Queree

    Nov 06, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane,

    What a heart-wrenching ordeal and an unspeakable tragedy…I’m so sorry you lost your eldest daughter at such a young age.

    I want to commend you on writing and sharing this piece. It is beautifully and honestly written (I had the EXACT same trepidation that you did as I read about the locals expressions of empathy and patience!). I also believe that your words increase the humanity quotient for all those who read them, and this is a good thing.

    I work in health research and was pleased to hear that an actual physician was named to be Health Minister…after reading about your experiences, I also feel proud of your depth of character and have a good deal of optimism about our future (not a common state for me).

    all the best, m

    Reply

  35. Tammy

    Nov 06, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Dr Philpott,

    Thank you for sharing your story and for allowing your vulnerability to be exposed. It is in our vulnerability that we demonstrate our strength and courage. I felt the rawness in your words and could only imagine the pain – and grace – you have felt during these times.

    You are the perfect choice for your new role in Health as an elected official and I am grateful to have you as our departmental leader where you can help shape the face of public health in Canada and abroad through the work we do. Once again, thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  36. Ann Hood

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane, a writer friend of mine passed your story on to me because I too lost my beautiful daughter. In 2002, Grace died from a virulent form of strep at the age of five. I’m grateful to have read about Emily. Thank you for sharing this with the world. I’d very much like to send you one of my books. If you email me your address I’ll mail it promptly. Again thank you for sharing your story.
    Ann Hood

    Reply

  37. Jocelyn Jelsma

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Hi Jane,

    Thanks for writing this and sharing about Emily’s life, Bethany’s recovery and your service in Niger. It sounds as though you had an incredible community at Galmi hospital. What a difficult grief you have faced. Thank you so much for your love for Niger and her people. I can relate to the “There is only patience” spoken as comfort. We have lived and served in Rwanda for the past 7 years in midwifery training and midwifery care provision at a community based mobile prenatal and postpartum care ministry (We are starting a maternity centre in partnership with the local church that will also cycle Rwandan midwifery students through on clinical rotations). In the event of loss here, we often hear: “Inhangane”, which basically means the same thing: “Be patient”, and the accompanying: “Komera” “Be Strong”. Words that are supposed to be comforting to parents who’ve lost a baby. Patience? Strength? But in a place well acquainted with grief, we lean into God’s grace.
    Thank you for taking on this new assignment as Minister of Health. I’m so excited and thankful to see you, a Family Physician with global experience, take on this new challenge. We’ll be praying with you for an incredible team and community of support! Looking forward to the future as you continue to lead in the health care sector. Thanks for being willing, available and called to serve in this capacity! Writing from Kigali and with warm regards,

    Jocelyn Jelsma, RM

    Reply

  38. Leslie Kasza

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane:

    As an old classmate of yours from medical school, I just recently found out that you were named Health Minister and discovered your blog. I was very sad to learn of the death of your oldest daughter at such a young age, yet very impressed at how you have dealt with it. Clearly, you have learned great gifts of kindness, compassion and perseverance as well as having an extraordinary husband and family.

    It is very challenging to deal with children who are sick or dying. Nothing else matters to a parent, and the feeling of helplessness is overwhelming. My son, in his early twenties, is recovering from a very challenging condition, and it was very hard for our family to go through it with him. I have a chronic illness that was very touch and go between life and death about 3 years ago and is improving slowly. What I have learned from these experiences is to always be grateful, forgive everything and that there are only two things in life that are truly important. Peace and relationships.

    I will admit that I am deeply sceptical about politicians, the political process and government. Yet, I have a little more hope with you as Health Minister that positive, constructive change can occur in health care in Canada. Please be kind, do the best you can, and continue to listen and be open. The true measure of a society is how it treats its less fortunate members and hopefully displays dignity and respect to them.

    Thank you for sharing about Emily and your courage in exposing your vulnerability around her death. May God’s grace go with you and guide you in your new responsibilities.

    Peace and much love to you and your family.

    Reply

  39. Pam FitzGerald

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    This must have been so difficult to write. Thank you for your courage. It will serve you and us well as our Minister of Health. Best wishes … with love.

    Reply

  40. Jen

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Jane
    Thank you for sharing your story of loss. Your strength will make is stronger and work harder so this becomes an unheard of story.
    Jen

    Reply

  41. Peggy Fewlass

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Jane,
    I remember that day all too well, as it is also my birthday. I always think of you and your family on my birthday, and am grateful for the way God has used you in the midst of unthinkable sorrow. Through the years I know God has prepared you for this new role in your incredible journey.
    Your story has also reminded me that I can persevere and live my life well regardless of my past. I may not understand, but I don’t have to. There is just patience. And there is God.
    Love you bunches Jane, and if I get to Canada next year as I’m planning, I would love to see you.
    God bless you and your family.

    Peggy Fewlass
    Phil. 1:6

    Reply

  42. Deborah MacDonald

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for posting this. Brave and moving.

    Reply

  43. Johanne Levesque

    Nov 07, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Hello Jane,

    I don’t know if you remember me but I invited you to speak at the Rotary Club of Alliston about Give a Day. I think you were brave to share your personal story and I also think you are a very strong woman and I am proud to know you.

    with sincere admiration

    Johanne Levesque

    Reply

  44. Barry Rands

    Nov 08, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Jane,

    A friend of ours shared a link to this story today. November 2 marks 22 years since we lost Daniel in Niger so it is not surprising that our memories and reflections are so intertwined. I vividly remember the days immediately following Daniel’s death and the incredible pain and heartache that Janine and I were experiencing. As I recall, there were three families in the missionary community there who had lost children in Africa and you and Pep were the most recent to have gone through that experience. Your wounds were still relatively fresh, but you knew exactly what we were going through and what we needed in the way of comfort and understanding. I remember those first hugs…..strong and long. I learned that day the value of the friendship and wisdom from those who had walked through that same valley of death. Thank you for helping us get started on the right path in working through the grief process. And thank you for continuing to share your story that undoubtedly will help others to deal with the enormous pain that comes in losing a child.

    Reply

  45. Elfrieda Schroeder

    Nov 08, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    We buried our first child, and only boy, Harold Mark in African soil. I relate to everything you shared. Thank you for doing so. We planted a memory tree for him on Canadian soil and now our grandchildren know his name. I shared this in my blog as well.

    Reply

  46. Lynda Stade

    Nov 08, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane,
    Thank you so much for being so open & vulnerable. I will pray your honesty & story will help someone else in their grief. I will also pray for you in your present position with our government. Blessings to you & your family…..Lynda

    Reply

  47. Joanne Lepp

    Nov 08, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    So touching . . . so moving. My father was a medical missionary in Congo with my first 5 years spent in a remote village. I still remember when my 2 year old brother had malaria and stopped breathing. So did 2 other little boys the same age. My brother lived, another died and the third was affected cognitively. These children would have never been ill at ‘home’. Their parents ‘counted the cost’ of living with Jesus’ love in risky places. It is never free of pain.
    Thank you for your vulnerability. Truly, Emily has been alive and contributing to your lives from the other side of the veil. Some day we will all understand the bigger picture.

    Reply

  48. Jami Koehl

    Nov 09, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Jane, how courageous of you to share such personal pain. Your writing is passionate, profound, philosophical and inspiring. Thank you from deep in my heart, as a mother too I cry with you. May you succeed with this beautiful, compassionate goal in honour of Emily and the many Niger children who sadly perished.

    Reply

  49. Doug Amstutz

    Nov 09, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Wanda & I read your story with heartbreaking emotion in our hearts. We felt so deeply for you and your family. You see we were in MCC in Ethiopia from 07-11 and our youngest daughter contracted a mysterious illness that the local doctors in Addis Ababa could not diagnose. The joints in her body ached, she couldn’t even be touched without crying in pain. But there was a Mennonite doctor at the American embassy who knew about MCC and said if there was a medical emergency with our daughters he would see them. Wanda called him that morning and he happened to be in country and available. The moment they walked in the door, Sophia’s symptoms happened to manifest themselves, including a body rash. He quickly diagnosed rheumatic fever and got her started on antibiotics. Tests confirmed. To this day we look back in gratitude but your story brought those fears and emotions to the surface again. We know it’s been years but the pain surely surfaces from time to time. May God bless you as you work for our country.

    Reply

  50. Gail Gillis

    Nov 09, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Jane,

    I lost my daughter in 2010 from ketoacidosis. It is wonderful to be able to discuss our experiences and be heard. It is impossible for grieving parents to expect others to understand the pain but it is wonderful to know you are supported. Good luck in your new role. Thanks for sharing Gail

    Reply

  51. Dawn Roper

    Nov 09, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Our beautiful daughter died on December 16th, 2000 and every year I have to have Christmas fully ready by the 16th in case I crash into immobile grief. Our daughter had Rett Syndrome, a condition characterized by beautiful hands that the girls constantly rub together, and varying degrees of developmental disability. She was a great girl and I miss her every day. I too have a song that speaks to the heart of my girl, and the way I think she saw the world, Thank you for sharing your story, I am less alone.

    Hands, by Jewel.

    If I could tell the world just one thing
    It would be that we’re all OK
    And not to worry ’cause worry is wasteful
    And useless in times like these
    I won’t be made useless
    I won’t be idle with despair
    I will gather myself around my faith
    For light does the darkness most fear
    My hands are small, I know
    But they’re not yours, they are my own
    But they’re not yours, they are my own
    And I am never broken

    Reply

    • Jenn

      Mar 12, 2016  at 10:20 AM

      How beautiful. I’m so sorry for your loss.

      Reply

  52. Wendy

    Nov 09, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane,
    Thank you for sharing your story! We need more brave souls with stories like yours to get through to people who put their own family at risk by choosing not to vaccinate. If only the meningococcal vaccine that your daughter had received had been more effective…Wendy

    Reply

  53. Lucia Frangione

    Nov 10, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    My dear Minister of Health, this is the blog post I read, of all of them. This is the one that matters to me the most. I am so glad we have you as our minister of health: a woman of faith, of courage, of (at times – dreadful) experience, of passion and resilience. May you have the support and care you need to carry the responsibilities you now have. Thank you for being an inspiration. Congratulations on your appointment.

    Reply

  54. Nancy

    Nov 11, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my sister to meningococcemia 20 years ago and like you, I remember that day with vivid detail. She was 23. It’s impossible to describe the speed, panic, helplessness and pain unless you’ve been through it. Reading your story reminded me that I’m not alone in my grief. Thank you. And congratulations on your appointment.

    Reply

  55. Cathy

    Nov 11, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you for sharing this. I cannot imagine the depth of your grief. Life is precious.

    Reply

  56. Suzanne

    Nov 11, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    What a beautiful woman and mother you are. God bless you and your family.

    Reply

  57. Brenda Jost

    Nov 12, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    I am Barb Squires sister and knew you were friends years ago in Ottawa. I remember her telling me what happened the week of your losing Emily. I was
    singing a solo in church that Sunday and couldn’t get through it because I felt
    such a deep grief on your behalf. I have watched and listened (to Pep) with interest these many years later and know that there is deep character built over time in you and your family. Thanks for your openness.

    Reply

  58. Janet Torge

    Nov 13, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Dr. Philpot, I was sent your website from a friend after you had been elected. I lost my own son to malaria when he was volunteering at a daycare in Ghana. He was 25, well into his life, but as we both know these sudden deaths of our children are painful beyond imagining no matter what their age. To help me through my own grief, I wrote a book about my journey from nightmare to acceptance. Like you, it was strange to publicly uncover such personal feelings but I felt compelled to share in case others like us needed to know that others had gone through the pain before them.

    I appreciate your story, so gently and lovingly told. And good luck with your new undertaking in government. Many challenges ahead but a huge support system behind you. Janet Torge

    http://www.amazon.com/Dear-Sam-Grieving-Death-Son/dp/0595423833

    Reply

  59. Diane Wright

    Nov 27, 2015  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Jane,
    The courageous and gracious way you have shared your family story brought me to tears. Thank you. I read your heartfelt story via Canadian E-Hospice – we are such a small global village now. I can only think how fortunate Canada is to have you as their Federal Health Minister. Blessings for your and your family. Diane Wright – Founder Anam Cara House = Community Hospice for South West Victoria, Australia.

    I share with you below a favourite grief reading of mine from D. Bonhoeffer:

    “There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”

    ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    Reply

  60. Gabriella Vegvari

    Jan 26, 2016  at 10:20 AM

    I have only just come across this posting while doing some research related to work. I have rarely read such a deeply moving piece. “Be Still My Soul” is my favourite hymn as well and I can understand how it would resonate for you, even though I have not experienced the loss of a child.

    I hope as the years have gone by you have found a level of peace, albeit it I’m sure the feeling of loss never goes away.

    I wish you continued strength, particularly as you undertake oversight of Health Canada.

    Gabriella

    Reply

  61. Nesta Matthews

    Mar 11, 2016  at 10:20 AM

    My heart aches for you, even 22 years later.

    Reply

  62. Ilona Keller

    Mar 12, 2016  at 10:20 AM

    Chère Jane,

    Reading your testimony right now, a lot of memories came out…….. I saw your little blond daughter at the bibelschool compound and our little blond girl some years before…..
    Thank your for sharing the depths of your heart! It helps me that even after sooooo many years the heart of a mum (and dad) hurts; some years more and some years less; even we know that our daughters are with God!

    God bless you and your family!

    If you are coming to France some day, come and see us!!!!

    With love and affection

    Ilona & Patrick

    Reply

  63. Sarah

    Mar 12, 2016  at 10:20 AM

    This post broke my heart. I can’t even fathom what you went through. I’m so terribly sorry for your loss – what a tragic reminder of how unfair and fragile life is. Your Emily looked like such a sweet little girl. My heart truly aches.

    I can only relate, as I lost my 16-year-old cousin/best friend, Amanda, on December 10, 1991 from a deadly outbreak here in Ottawa of meningitis. She was the second to succumb to this terribly fast-acting illness. Many more went on to die from this outbreak. After a mass vaccination program, the outbreak was managed. How I wish that a vaccine had been made available to my cousin while she was alive – I often think of how things would be different.

    I’m now the mother of three young children, and I ensure that they are up-to-date with their vaccination schedule. We are so fortunate to have wonderful medical care here in Canada, and I wish we all took advantage of the vaccines that are available.

    I believe time doesn’t heal old wounds, it only numbs them. Thank you for sharing your personal story, and again, my sincerest condolences.

    Sarah

    Reply

  64. Wilma Welsh

    May 05, 2016  at 10:20 AM

    Thank you Jane for blogging such a sad event in yours and Pep’s life. I was a good friend of Liz Congram’s so wept along with you and your family during this time. I remember Emily from Karen and Rob’s wedding as I was a guest.Someday I will find that lovely picture I have of Emily and send it to you.
    Your story brought back my own childhood memories of a 19month old sister who died of meningitis and a 4yr old sister who died of burns in a home accident. I was 4 & 14. I felt pain often for my parents. My mother died three years ago this weekend – she buried five of her six children before her death at 96 years. I am her only living child.
    I met you one time at MHI. I know your father and mother – your father because I worked for the PCC in International Ministries and was a missionary to Taiwan. I was Moderator of the PCC in 2006 and grew up in Guelph.
    My prayers continue with you as I am sure there is still a lot of pain in your loss, I know all too well that pain as a sibling. We also would wonder what our two little ones would have been like. God bless you and your family. I want to say thank you for what you are doing for our Canada.

    Reply

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  66. Sophie-Anne

    Mar 11, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    This story is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  67. Charis Kehler

    Mar 11, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    You don’t know me your story brings many memories rushing back. Family stories of my mother’s childhood in southern Zaire as the daughter of a bible translator and bush station nurse and their brushes with disease and death came rushing back as well as my own childhood memories of growing up in Burkina Faso and several 6-12 hour mad dashes to cities and hospital stations to save the lives of my sister and I. May God continue to bless the work you did over there and may Mother Africa hold the heart that you left there softly. And thank you for working to ensure that this type of horrible tragedy has an end.

    Reply

  68. Melissa Sheldrick

    Mar 11, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Dr. Philpott,
    Monday March 13 will mark the first anniversary of the loss of our 8 year old son. He is the boy who died because of a medication error in Mississauga. Your words in the last paragraph of this essay resound so profoundly with me. I am trying to find grace and to be patient. It is with this notion that I work with professionals to mandate error reporting in Ontario so that no other parent has to feel what we have.
    Thank you for your words and honesty.
    Melissa

    Reply

  69. Loretta MacKay

    Mar 11, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    Dr Jane your story moved me . You are very brave and Thank You for sharing .
    God Bless you and your family.
    Hugs .

    Reply

  70. Wayne Weston

    Mar 11, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Dr. Philpott, Thank you for sharing your moving story of Emily. It is a valuable example of the power of narrative to bring about healing. I pray that you will experience God’s love for you and Emily as you remember that painful day.

    Reply

  71. Mary Clough

    Mar 11, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    I too know your pain Jane all too well as our eldest daughter died of the same disease in 2005 at the age of 19. The disease took our beautiful girl in less than 24 hours! You never get over the loss and you never forget the time leading up to there death.

    I have been doing what I can to help educate anyone who will listen about Bacterial Meningitis ~ signs and symptoms and what you can do to prevent this disease! I have written many letters over the years since our daughter died to our government asking them to take the initiative like most of the states in the US. Anyone entering a College or University must sign a document stating that they have been vaccinated for strains ABCY&W or sign a waiver stating they have been made aware of the disease and the vaccines but still choose not to be vaccinated. It maybe out of your hands but perhaps you can help guide me as to whom I need to contact as know one seems to get back to me other than my local member of parliament Norm Miller for Muskoka/Parry Sound. Thank you!

    Reply

  72. Jennifer Kravis

    Mar 12, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    Dear Dr. Philpott

    Thank you for sharing your deeply personal, tragic story of the loss of your precious angel Emily. As a mother of 2 girls, I cannot fathom the pain of such a loss. I send my prayers and good wishes to you and your family as you relive the trauma of this day. I am inspired by your strength, and your willingness to show your authenticity, your humanity, your pain to Canadians, reminding us all that, regardless of our “station” in life, we are all human beings.

    Reply

  73. Hartmut Wiens

    Mar 12, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    Thanks for sharing this deeply personal and painful story. As a parent, having spent 20 years in a developing nation where our 3 children were born and raised, I can resonate with this experience. No parent should have to bury their children. It is so encouraging to have a health minister with your faith, courage and compassion. Bless you!

    Reply

  74. Christiane Fox

    Mar 12, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    Minister Philpott, Thank you for sharing this tragic yet inspirational reflection. As a mother of two daughters I was deeply moved, I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been. You are an inspirational leader and a remarkable human being and you honour her memory by the work you continue to do every single day. Thank you. Chris

    Reply

  75. DavId c ringer

    Mar 14, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    My wife drew my attention to your family’s story a year ago. Our eldest son was born hen we were with MCC in Nigeria and cannot imagine your grief so far from home. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  76. Marg

    Mar 20, 2017  at 10:20 AM

    I am humbled by the story, your courage and grace. Thank you for sharing this poignant part of your life and your faith that helped make this bearable

    Reply

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