This post contains some sensitive topics, please be aware before you start reading. It is a very powerful story and I thank Ashley for being so open and willing to share. This heartfelt story is about the lose of her Father and how her greif made her into the person she is today.
On November 26, 2010, I received the phone call that would change my life forever. It’s not easy to talk about, but it’s important that I share my story. There will be some sensitive content that may be triggering for some of you, so please read past the next paragraph if you’d like to skip ahead.
It was about 7:30 in the morning and I was still in bed. It was my dad’s fiancé calling. When I saw her name on call display, I instantly felt sick to my stomach. I knew something was wrong.
She told me my dad had come home from a 3-day bender and while still high and drunk, he went to take a shower. After about 20 minutes she went to check on him. She found him in the shower unconscious. He had attempted to take his own life. By the time she found him and the paramedics arrived, things weren’t looking good.
She told me to meet them at the Grey Nuns Hospital where they were transporting him. So in a state of complete shock and numbness I got into my vehicle and drove to the hospital.
I remember taking a deep breath as I entered those hospital doors - my entire body shaking and nervous. And I was directed to the family room where I met his fiancé.
When I entered the room, she leapt into my arms and cried the words, “I’m sorry Ash, he didn’t make it.” And right there, in that room, my heart shattered into a million pieces. It felt like my entire world was collapsing around me and time had stopped. I was frozen. My worst nightmare had come to pass. Even over a decade later, I can still feel the rush of devastation and terror that ran through my body.
After I was given the news that he didn’t make it, I asked to see him. His fiancé walked me to the room where his lifeless body lay, under a white bed sheet in a small sterile hospital room. No tears – just numbness, as I stood at the foot of the bed gazing at him.
It’s not easy to say out loud, but a part of me in that moment also felt relieved. My dad had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for most of my life. The battle was finally over. The worry had ended. I knew where my dad was now – at peace in Heaven. My dad was a person of faith, and so am I. He introduced me to the Bible and a relationship with Jesus when I was about 10 years old. The peace and hope of knowing he was home with the Lord, is about the only thing that anchored me in that moment.
After a few minutes, the hospital chaplain came in the room to introduce himself. He prayed over my dad. And then the tears came. He wrapped his arm around me as we stood staring him and I cried, “that’s my daddy, that’s my daddy.”
My dad was my absolute everything. He was my best friend. My emotional rock. My person. He is who I needed in that very moment.
Walking out of those hospital doors that morning, I felt overwhelmed with conflicting feelings.
I felt deep shame and devastation about my dad’s addiction and his death by suicide. I was angry and heartbroken that he chose to die the way he did. And I was afraid that if people knew the truth about his struggles and how he died, they would think less of him and they would think less of me.
So instead of seeking connection from others, which I so desperately needed, I emotionally isolated myself.
I was a second-year graduate student at the time, completing my Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy, so it was very easy for me to pour myself into my academics. Workaholism and isolation became my way to survive.
Fast forward a few years, still heartbroken and grieving, I was working as a Registered Psychologist in a private clinic and something magical began to unfold. A number of grieving people were being referred to work with me. And I came alive in this work! I was connecting with other people who knew the pain and isolation that I felt.
But the problem was, although I was eager to help, I didn’t have any tools. I hadn’t learned how to heal my own heart.
I knew that to show up fully for others, I first had to do my own work.
That’s when I made the decision to sign up for a professional certification in The Grief Recovery Method Program – the only evidence-based grief support program in the world found to effectively help grieving people recover from loss of any kind. This training course changed my life forever.
I stepped into the pain of my dad’s death and took action to complete what was emotionally unfinished in our relationship. I allowed myself to be seen and witnessed in my pain. And I experienced the power of connection over our shared human experience of loss.
It was this very decision to face my deepest pain, that uncovered my greatest calling.
The day after the training, I went to the registries office and registered my business, The Grief and Trauma Healing Centre.
I knew after having this transformative life experience that I was called to serve grieving people – to create a safe space for them to feel seen and heard, to inspire hope, and to equip them with the very same tools that healed my broken heart.
And now, 8 years later, I am humbled to lead a team of 19 heart-centred therapists who have been called to serve our mission at the centre; a mission of journeying with people on the pathway to healing; one broken heart at a time.
Our clinical team consists of Registered Psychologists, Social Workers, Mental Health Therapists, and Clinical Interns. We serve children, teens, adults, couples, and groups. We have served thousands of people across Alberta through our in-person and online counselling services and around the world through our professional workshops, consultation, community talks, podcast and magazine interviews, keynote addresses, and certification trainings.
In November of 2020 we launched our first annual Hope Campaign; a campaign that was created in honour of my dad’s 10-year anniversary of his death with the intention of inspiring hope and shedding light in the dark places. Every November the campaign supports one local non-profit organization or charity that is doing meaningful work in our community and is making a significant difference in the lives of others. In 2020, we raised $5455 for The Canadian Mental Health Association and their suicide support services. In 2021, we raised $6215 for Kaleo Collective to help fund counselling services for single mothers and their children.
Little did I know that on November 26, 2010, that moment in the hospital when I received the devastating news that my dad died, was the beginning of uncovering my greatest calling in life.
Today, I can tell you with sincerity, I am grateful for the experience of being a bereaved daughter. It has shaped me to become the strong, tender, and resilient human and leader I am today. It has deepened my capacities for love, compassion, and generosity for others. It has equipped me with an understanding about grief and the pain that comes when a person loses someone or something they love. It most importantly, it has strengthened my trust and faith in God, knowing that he loves me and is always working for my good.
You may be fighting a silent storm today. You may be grieving due to the death of loved one, a divorce, a diagnosis, or some other difficult circumstance. You may be feeling overwhelmed, depleted, and afraid - not knowing what the future holds or what the next right decision is.
Even though you may feel like giving up, even though it may feel hard and scary, you are not alone and you have everything you need to start again.