A mother who loses a child knows there is a Heaven because that is where her child is playing.
Today, just for today, I am glad I am not yet a journalist. I don’t want to inform you of any facts. Today I don’t even care about spelling or where to put capital letters. Today I am just a mother who knows a secret, sharing a story about another mother who also knows. This secret is one that we would not wish upon anyone to learn, and wish we did not know it either, but we do. That secret is the one gift of beauty, stemming from the greatest of loves, that is given to a mother who has lost a child. It cannot even be shared with others because there are no words.
The first time I met Jennifer O’Brien I stared into the eyes of someone who spoke my same language of love and loss. It felt like home; maybe a little piece of heaven here on earth.
I remember her telling me that if there is that much evil in this world, there has to be an equal amount of good, which means there has to be a God.
Jennifer’s son, Nathan O’Brien, who was only five years old, was taken from her almost 2 and a half years ago. Her parents were also taken. It was not an accident. The trial will be starting soon.
Today Jennifer is a mother, a wife, and a friend to many. She is a woman who is on a journey in a life that she sometimes doesn’t recognize and never could have imagined nor expected in a million years. But it is a life that she must now live and each day find “some purity”.
This beautiful woman understands that life is short, sometimes too short, and that we have choices. She believes that we cannot allow our thoughts or words to go dark, and to be careful what we allow into our lives – because there is darkness. She also knows there is a God of goodness and light. Be choosy what you allow in, choose the good.
The word that Jennifer used to sum up what she most desires in each aspect of her life is honour. In order to fully honour her spirituality, her emotions of joy and sadness, her home and community, her purpose, her mind, her family and her own physical body, much grace is needed.
Jennifer honours her mother by smiling at every five-year-old boy as that was what her mom did. Her mom taught her to be strong and resilient and her dad taught her work ethic.
“They were two people who were so proud of Nathan,” she said of her parents.
Everything she does, in some way, is to honour the life of her little boy. To honour is to respect, it is an awareness of a privilege, it is to fulfill a promise, or it can be a place that is revered.
One of the most difficult things to honour is grief. Grief can be so heavy it becomes hard to hold, hard to accept, and even harder to let go of. But Jennifer knows that holding too much in her heart blocks anything else from coming in. Sometimes when it comes on too strong she pictures a cup of water being poured on her grief as she allows it to flow and be washed away. Learning to surrender instead of fighting it.
Jennifer finds beauty in nature and in people. She has the ability to see beauty so clearly, which is part of her gift. She finds beauty in her marriage and how it has sustained and flourished through the the hard times. The true beauty comes in the choice that her and her husband, Rod, make to do this together.
She continues to seek ways of living that “feed” her, to offer value and purpose to herself and the world. She has given so much to so many. She knows that exercise is good for her mind and body and has become certified to teach fitness. In fact, teaching is something that interests her in general.
She is inspired by others who have also lost children as they share their stories and offer hope. She is inspired by kindness and community. Most of all, she is inspired by her family – her boys. She finds joy in each of them and how they have continued on.
Nathan O’Brien will never be forgotten. He is remembered every single day by his parents. His perfect little face, curly locks of blonde hair and big beautiful brown eyes just like his mom’s. His warm hugs. His kindness, curiosity and creativeness.
He is remembered by his family, friends, teammates, teachers and coaches. He is remembered by all of us who remember the amber alert – and when it was called off. Let us continue to remember.
Jennifer and Rod continue to keep Nathan’s spirit of superhero status alive through The Nathan O’Brien Children’s Foundation. The foundation works with organizations that assist children. They have raised money with Kidzfirst so that all kids can experience many sports. They are presently involved with building “Nathan’s Garden” with Evenstart which is a beautiful organization that supports “at risk” children.
Jennifer would like the world to know how hard it is to be a victim. This coming year she knows she will have to be her own voice for her journey and her grief because no one else will, simply because until you have experienced such pain you don’t understand. The systems do what they must to bring justice, and she has learned to do what she must and be her own heart’s advocate. One day she would like to be the voice for all victims and bring greater consideration and protection to them on their journey of healing. Victims do not ask to be in the public eye, they are just people trying to live their best lives. Victims are not just the ones who are gone, but the ones who are still here.
The O’Brien’s have a difficult road ahead with a trial soon to start and the preparations for it. Soon it will be a new year, Christmas is coming and Halloween is just around the corner. As we all decorate and celebrate with our own families, please find it in your heart to say a prayer of strength for this family. I hope you will remember Nathan and show honour to his life by showing respect for his mother, his father, and his brothers during this time.
Nathan’s hockey number was number 6. My hope is that our city, that you and whatever team you or your family belong to, will band together during this trial and wear Nathan’s number “6” stickers. I have ordered stickers and am giving them out to anyone who would like to show support, please contact me to get your stickers. Or find a way to wear a “6” in you own way.
Thank you Jennifer, I feel so tremendously honoured to know you and humbled that you trusted me to write your words.
September 2017 Follow up: Doug Garland was charged for the murders of Nathan O’Brien and his grandparents. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years.