Horrors, Horses, and Hope: Coping with Tragedy Abroad

On Friday morning, I put my Nana and cousin Dash on the train from Cardiff to Heathrow where they flew back to Vancouver. My Nana went to my parent’s house and Dash went home with his dad, Cameron.

On early Saturday morning, I was Facetiming my mom and Nana- debriefing their flight and gossiping as usual. My mom brought out her countdown and reminded me that I was home in 49 days. I yelled at her because I hated being reminded that my time in Cardiff was coming to an end. All of a sudden, the home phone rang (in Vancouver) and my mom picked up while I was still Facetiming. It was Dash.

I heard mumbling… then she yelled out in a panicked voice. All I heard was, “is he breathing?!” and then Facetime quit.

I had no idea the horrors that were happening on the other side of the world. A long time sufferer of anxiety, I quickly jumped to: “oh no someone is dead.” But I didn’t really mean it… not really.

Frantic texts and no response, I waited in real time to hear the horrible news that my uncle Cameron was gone. My mom told me that the paramedics had arrived and were giving CPR. To her, this was a glimmer of hope. To me, with my limited medical training, I remembered that you only give CPR to those who are already medically deceased. That was it. He was gone. I phoned Holly and talked to her while I awaited the confirmation. Then it came.

I later found out that before the paramedics arrived, Dash conducted CPR by himself on his dad. He is 12. He is brave.

As I type this, I’m still in disbelief. When I think about that horrible Saturday morning, I want to vomit. I want to run away and I want to hide in a hole. My brain cannot process the truth… so instead I focussed on the facts.


Cameron teaching me how to make fudge at home circa 2000


For those of you who don’t know, here is the tragic history leading up to our current situation. My beloved aunty Rachel, my mother’s sister, passed away after a long battle with breast cancer six years ago. We were very involved. She and Dash even lived with us in Vancouver while she got radiation therapy. It was a long and heartbreaking process filled with hope…sadness… and then acceptance. The vital thing is that I got to say goodbye to Rachel. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me.

After she passed away, Dash and Cameron went on a trip around the world. We were all angry that Cam uprooted Dash when we thought he needed stability, but in hindsight, I’m so glad for that trip. When they returned, they relocated to Vancouver from their house in Kamloops. Again, Dash, and now Cameron lived with us during their moving process.

Over the subsequent years, my family got very close to Cameron and Dash. When Rachel was around, we never got to know Cameron’s heart, if you know what I mean. When we realized that he was actually a total weirdo we started to love him exponentially. He was quickly adopted into the Yamfam. We even started having dinner every Wednesday night and called it “Reidauchi Wednesday” (Reid and Yamauchi). Cameron became this hilarious, loving, and vital character in my life. Dash even became a pseudo-brother.

Because I worked close to Dash’s school in Kitsilano, I would run into my uncle all the time. We spent a lot of time together, him and I. He annoyed the fuck out of me though, I won’t lie- this was when I realized he was truly family. I tell people that my uncle died, and they’re sad for me, but I need them to realize HOW important Cameron is to me. I only had one aunt and one uncle. Weird adoption and second marriages etc mean I have some other “aunties and uncles,” but Rachel and Cameron were really my only ones. We were close. So so close. But I didn’t get to tell him I loved him.

What does this mean now? Well, it means that my baby cousin (okay- he’s 12 but he’s forever a baby cousin) Dash is coming to live with my family. Yes, the “O” word is real, and it isn’t just Annie, Harry Potter, or all the superheroes. It is my brave, heroic baby cousin. Once the storm has blown over, my parents will adopt Dash, should he still want to. I guess I’ll start calling him “Bruzin.” Shout out to my parents, Ron and Willow who need awards for being spectacular human beings.

Cameron, Dash, and I at the fireworks this summer

A problem arose when we realized that the home only had 3 bedrooms. As a pseudo-adult, it became glaringly obvious to me that Dash should take my bedroom and I move out. My mom assembled a team of cousins to move all my furniture out and I was given a tour of my childhood bedroom completely bare. I know that this is small compared to everything else, but my grief-stricken mind couldn’t really understand what was going
on or make decisions so I spent the next few days going from scream crying about Cameron to scared vomiting about being homeless. And then my Grandpa sent me an email. He told me he would give me his condo and that he would move into a retirement home. It was like a message out of a novel. So amazing. So generous. And yet… I found myself still panicking. As kind a gesture as that was… I was mostly feeling bad because I was being displaced. This solution displaced even more people. Of course it may all change by the second I submit this blog, but for now, the current plan is that Dash has taken my room, Flynn stays in his room, my Grandpa stays in his condo, and my parents put up a wall in the basement and make that a new room for me.

When someone dies, there is first a lot of physical work- like cleaning out the apartment. But then there is a lot of paperwork. A LOT. Jesus Christ, he had so many credit cards! When there is a child involved, it gets even crazier. So much was happening so fast and I was so far away and desperate to help that I decided to plan Cameron’s Celebration of Life. I organized catering and made the obligatory depressing slide show. If I have to listen to Dust in the Wind or Please Read the Letter again I will break down. Having this job gave me something to do, but to be truthful, it is really really awful to sit in your bedroom alone, 7771km away from your family, planning the funeral of your loved one. For some reason, friends and family decided I was the appropriate person to talk to about all the details of death because they assumed I was removed from it. I wasn’t. It isn’t their fault for not knowing… but I was definitely not “removed.” Being away from the scene was probably worse. I didn’t have support. In those first few days, I was talking to friends from home online and I got a lot of offers from new friends in Cardiff to “talk if I need it” etc, which is very kind… but what I needed was a hug. I guess I was crying so loudly that my roommate Mahamood came and gave me one. He was the only one.

I have made some really awesome friends here in Cardiff, but holy hell… It’s not the same. I need my heart-people. Mom, Dad, Flynn, Nana, Keith, Dash, Grandma, Grandpa, Daisy, Max, Polly, and Holly… I said that I didn’t want to be reminded that my time abroad was coming to an end… now all I want is to be home.

Of course, death is never well timed. This happens to be my last week of classes with everything due. Yes, I could have asked for extensions, but I would still need to do the work and getting out into the lab has distracted me a bit.
Over the weekend, I had booked a horseback riding trip with my Canadian friend in 17634615_10212681200571771_1170684654219824264_nCardiff, Kaitie. Even though I could hardly stand up, I decided to go on the trip and I’m so glad I did. We stayed in a 17th Century farmhouse in Wales with a loving family and 6 other women. They had a little girl who I ran around with, comfy beds to cuddle up in, and most importantly- home cooked
meals. It was almost like I was staying with family, even though they weren’t my family. I got to have some serious cat love and of course, ride! I used to ride in Vancouver. In fact, Cameron paid for my last set of lessons. Although it had been about five years since I sat on a horse, I was quickly cantering up muddy mountains, crossing streams, and trotting through the tree lined roads. It was equestrian therapy for me, and it made me feel a lot better.

I can’t say that “things will be better.” They won’t. It is fucked. It is a nightmare. And things will never be better. However…perhaps in time…. other, better things will happen. I don’t want to “get over this.” This is a part of me now. But I have seen some amazing things over the past ten days. Tragedy struck, and within the blink of an eye, cousins and friends were flocking to help. My big man cousins (and Holly) with their trucks, my crazy great aunts with their casseroles, family friends sending presents and food to Dash and the family, my mom’s friends taking care of her emotional wellbeing…. It’s really amazing. Horrible, but… beautiful.

That’s all for now. I have two more days of school, then I’m off to Scandinavia to travel. Just remember to love each other, eat vegetables, and always spay and neuter your pets.

Love you guys,




Add yours →

  1. Beautiful Sophie, just like you. I can’t wait to welcome you home, we all love you all very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m realizing I may have cribbed a fair amount of this for my funeral address.

    Well said, Soph. Well said.


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