Saturday, 14 January 2017

Why I Write About Maddie?

What Would Maddie Do?

By Chris Coulter

I was asked this week by a couple of individuals why I write about my daughter, Madeline. Over the last twenty-one months, the reasons have been diverse.  Sometimes it's about an event that's occurred that hits so close to home that I feel a need to share its relevance in my context. Sometimes it's because I have an exceptionally bad day and other times it's because I've had an exceptionally good one.  Sometimes it's when the boys are not with me and sometimes it's because they are so close.  Sometimes I write out of a sense of obligation but mostly I write to express how I'm truly feeling.  Sometimes I write for others but usually I write for myself.  Sometimes it comes so easily and sometimes it doesn't.

Truthfully, there are few times throughout the course of a day that Madeline isn't on my mind or play on my emotions.  When I write, it's my time committed to her.  She gets a disproportionately small amount of time with me compared the boys but in a sense, she's always with me.  I sit down and I commit to write until completion.  Rarely do I take a break.  For me, writing makes my memories of Maddie more vivid.  As the boys continue to grow up, she remains timeless.  I never want to stop remembering and I never want to lose the familiarity of her face, her laugh or her shocking sense of humour.  Some of her past antics, once may have made me angry, but now makes me smile.

Writing makes me feel grateful for Madeline.  Not only do I value the time that we spent together but look back and realize how much she taught me about being a father, a friend and learning how to show compassion.  So many lessons packed into such a short life.

I hope my writing helps people understand what an important footprint Maddie has left. She's brought awareness to a seldom talked about subject.  She's helped others to put up their hand or ask for help.  She's taught others to watch out for one another, have each other's back and by putting what's right ahead of what's popular.

Also, I write for Maddie's friends.  I see so many of them growing up so quickly into beautiful, respectful, caring young adults.  They always have a warm and loving memory of Maddie but usually a story of Maddie being so outrageously... Maddie.  She was adored. That adoration lives on in their hearts and through their actions to further the youth mental illness cause and being tremendous ambassadors for The Maddie Project.  Through so many of Maddie's friends, I see a present day image of Maddie.

I write for the sake of my boys.  They usually read and critique every blog before I post them.  It's met with a "That's really good, Dad", or "That's one of my favourites" and sometimes they don't say anything, we share a look, a slight upturned lip and a glance downward.  That is their silent consent.  Maddie will always be an important and integral part of our family. 

"watch out for one another, have each other's back and by putting what's right ahead of what's popular"

On any given week, I'm approached by so many people who have been touched by mental illness in one capacity or another.  It could be someone reaching out about a family member, a friend or about themselves.  Some are desperate.  Some are confused.  Some are looking for answers.  Some are offering advise. Some have happy outcomes and some are tragic.  Some just want to know that they are thinking or praying for our family and for Maddie.  Some are friends but many are complete strangers.  Some are other bereaving individuals who have lost a child, sibling or another loved one.  Some just want to say thank you for sharing a window into my world and letting us understand how I'm doing. 

In April, we will approach the second "Angelversary" for Maddie.  I'm often asked "how am I doing?" and "does it get any easier?"  It's not that it gets any easier but it becomes different.  This feeling is something that is impossible to articulate, yet only can be understood by a parent who has gone through a similar tragedy.

Please share and help to support The Maddie Project by bringing greater awareness and access for youths and their families affected by depression and other mental illnesses.

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Friday, 13 January 2017

How Can It Be So Dark Even on the Sunniest Days?

A Personal Narrative of Life with Depression 

by Chris Coulter

People may criticize me for posting something that is so deeply personal in a very public forum.  This is not intended to be
a soapbox account of me airing my dirty laundry nor is it a cry for help as I’m teetering on the edge of a cliff.  This is my personal narrative of breaking through to the other side and seeing the good that has come from a very dark period of my life. 


This is not about getting the most “likes”, “tweets” or “shares”. This is not about garnering sympathy.  I don’twant a barrage of calls or emails asking if I’m alright. I am. I’ve got three tremendous kids. I’m in an amazing relationship. I have a great support network of friends and family.  I’m doing something I’m passionate about, making a difference with a business partner that I’m philosophically aligned with.

Up until recently, life wasn’t grand!  In fact it pretty much sucked.  I was forced to close a business of twenty years, my marriage failed and I was working for a terrible company.  I was allowing my spirits to follow on the same path as my business and my marriage. I was depressed. One day I woke up and screamed “Enough!”
If by sharing my experience can help one person feel inspired to change his/her outlook on life then my story has served its purpose.

Excuse me but when does this ride end?

I’m not exactly sure when it started but it’s a slippery slope. Once you’re on the descent you need to do something to pull yourself out of it before you go into a complete tailspin.  I was in denial. How could I be depressed? I was depressed and I needed help but mostly I needed to help myself.  
Some days, even the smallest and simplest thing can set you off. You can think you’re through it but all of a sudden it bears its talons on your shoulders and you’re back in its clutches again.

Netflix is not your friend

Sometimes the things that feel the most comforting at that particular moment are the worst things that your mind and body need.  Things like being in a social environment with tons of people when all you really want is to be by yourself and hug your pillow.
 Starting that eight season series on Netflix is probably not what your body or your mind need at that particular moment in time although it can feel pretty comforting in the moment.Dealing with depression

Help yourself

Although I certainly had my ups and downs over the course of the last number of years, there are some practices that I found helped me. These are not sure-fire solutions but in retrospect here are a number of things that positively contributed to my recovery.
Focus on a few of these every day and it will help to see the sunshine even on the cloudiest of days.

  1. Showing gratitude
Although there are days that you wallow in self-pity, you need to feel grateful for all the good things in your life.  Some days I was challenged to come up with any but I was always grateful for my friends and family, my health and the opportunities that were presented to me every day.  I certainly became more aware that there are some people in this world that face far bigger challenges in life than me.  Try watching “ The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith if you think your life is tough.

  1. Be passionate about something
Passion gives purpose and without purpose it’s hard to find motivation. Find something that you love to do. For me it was coaching hockey and learning how to play guitar.  This gave me something to look forward to, something beyond the immediate.

  1. Contempt does not serve you
Contempt is probably the worst emotion you can continually hold onto. Contempt stems from an event or experience that has happened in the past.  If you continually try to sort out how you can change the past, you will have a hard time changing your focus to something positive.
Move on and move past the anger.  The sooner you’re able to do this, the better off you will be.

  1. Exercise
This is important.  I’m not talking about going out and training for a marathon but instead get out and walk. This whiteboard video “23 ½ hours” pretty much sums it up.   The medical statistics don’t lie and sometimes it’s the last thing you feel like doing but DO IT!

  1. Quit believing the lies you’re telling yourself
We all tend to tell ourselves stories to make us feel better about our situation but with depression it can be devastating.  Whether you convince yourself why you shouldn’t pick up that phone to call a prospect, watch one more episode of Sons of Anarchy or why that tub of ice cream is better in your belly rather than in the freezer, you need to change your pattern.  It’s a dangerous behavior. This usually stems from a lack of motivation and yet we are desperately trying to justify that we’re serving ourselves well in doing so. 
Call bullshit on that guy in the mirror!  Remember that “The secret to getting ahead is getting started”.

  1. Help is available
Forget the stigma of what others may think.  It’s not a sign of weakness but instead look at it as a sign of strength. I’ve seen “Dr G “ with varying frequency since April 2008.  Sometimes its once a week and other times it’s every couple of months. 
We’d go through all the “bucket” items of my life and do a temperature check with each area.  For me those areas included my career, my finances, dealing with children, my physical health, my significant relationships (past and present).  In some weeks, an area would barely warrant a mention and in others we would spend an entire hour on one specific bucket.
We would talk about action steps and I would be accountable to “Dr G” when we would next meet.  This also helped to ensure that I was moving things forward in a positive direction. I looked at Dr G as more of a “life coach” than anything else. 
If you’re not sure where to start to look for such a professional, many employer benefit plans have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) to assist with life’s little speed bumps.  Alternatively, your family physician may be able to direct you to an appropriate professional.

  1. Set a goal
This one doesn’t need to be monumental achievement but it’s important to complete something every day.  Some days the smallest task can seem daunting but it’s important to capture that feeling of accomplishment.  Personally, I always made sure that I started by making my bed.  Yes, on some days that seemed like a huge ordeal but it helped to build momentum for the rest of the day.
Another key is to ensure your goal is attainable.  Start small and build to bigger and more inspiring feats of accomplishment. 

  1. Surround yourself with positive people
Misery loves company and I was not liking who I was becoming. I’ve never been a negative person but was becoming cynical and I hated it!  
Hang out with your friends who are positive, energetic and are able to see the good in every situation.  Chances are they are pretty successful as well.  Embrace their enthusiasm and feed off their energy.Dealing with depression

  1. Life doesn’t suck. We make it suck!
This doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to feel sorry for yourself every now and again…..just don’t let it become your preoccupation. Talk to trained professionals, family and close friends.  Don’t ignore the issues at hand.
Sometimes life doesn’t always go our way but it doesn’t need to be predestined with misery either.  If you start believing that things won’t get better, they won’t.  Recounting Henry Ford’s quote, “If you think you can or can’t…you’re right” is very appropriate here.

Happiness is a life long pursuit

Life isn’t easy nor is it fair at times.  Positive action will eventually send you on a corrective path. One thing is certain, inaction will seldom yield the result you’re looking for.
I once thought that I was impervious to failure and that depression was reserved for an isolated few and the emotionally condemned. Depression is real and it can be scary if it’s not acted upon immediately.  No one is exempt of its clutches. No one knows this more than me.


If I can be of any assistance, to share a story or a shoulder, I extend an open offer.  Depression can make you feel very lonely and make you feel incredibly vulnerable.  I am very fortunate to have some wonderful people in my life that helped me weather the storm.  I still have my moments but am now quick to recognize it and take whatever corrective action is necessary.  For now, I’m content to live with happiness one day at a time.

A Smile For the Memory and Not A Tear For the Loss

A Smile For the Memory and Not A Tear For the Loss

By Chris Coulter

So much has been chronicled about my daughter Madeline over the last 10 months.  Stories from her friends, acquaintances, strangers, family members and of course her parents. People admired Maddie's strength, her sense of humour and her love, support, loyalty and compassion for anyone who needed it.  She was selfless.  She was passionate about the people and things she loved.  She suffered silently and let very few people into her solemn world.  She was proud but mostly didn't want to burden anyone with worry.

What doesn't get chronicled enough is the continued love and support that came from her siblings, Zac and Sawyer.
Madeline gained so much strength from her brothers.  As strong as they are publicly, they have their moments and always will have them.  Madeline had many friends but no one was as close to Maddie as these two incredibly strong and supportive boys.  They were not only strong and supportive of Maddie but gave both their mother and I incredible love, support and conviction to carry forward.  Without these two wonderful souls, my recovery from Maddie's death could have been even more painful, difficult and prolonged.  And as much as I grieve MG's loss every single day, I see glimpses of Madeline in each of them.  Sometimes the similarities are uncanny.

You couldn't ask for three more diverse personalities but each of them has something in common with the next one.  Those overlapping wonderful traits that Madeline took with her when she left, are now exhibited in each of her brothers.  They probably always existed but I'm more aware of them than ever before.

Madeline loved them as much as the love was returned by both of them to her.  We spent an incredible amount of time at NYGH on 7North which was Madeline's home for about two and a half months between December 2014 and March 2015.  Not a day would go by,  the boys would never miss a visit to see Maddie.  It was those visits that Maddie looked forward to everyday.  Her quiet talks with Zac and her gut-busting laughter with Sawyer.  Never a complaint was uttered, never a plea to stay home was requested.  They were there for Maddie as they knew she would have been there for them.

Zac and Madeline's relationship, to call it special would be a gross understatement.  Zac was her confidante.  Zac has this quiet and stoic strength about him.  Maddie knew that what she told Zac would stay in the vault.  Zac was always too pleased to let Madeline take the spotlight and shine.  Zac was such an admirer of Madeline's confidence, her vocalness and her wit.  Zac laughed tirelessly at Maddie's antics, verbosity and playfulness.  For when Zac and Maddie were together, Maddie had center stage and the spotlight constantly upon her.  Zac was happy to let Maddie have that role.

Where Zac was happy to forgo the attention to Maddie, Sawyer always was looking to compete for it.  Never shy of attention, there was so much animation between the two of them that it could get exhausting.  Madeline would occasionally and willingly relinquish the spotlight and let Sawyer shine for a little while but always and only on her terms.  Sawyer had a quiet respect for Maddie as the ringleader and as much as he would compete for the stage, he knew that ultimately Maddie owned it.

Our kids personified solidarity.  They were different in so many ways yet identical in the ways that mattered the most, that being the love, support and unconditional caring that the three showed towards one another.  It's the bond that ties them today and forever.

These kids have had to endure so much in the last year.  So much pain, so much loss, so much attention and so much heartache.  Today, Zac and Sawyer are closer than ever.  The bond that keeps them closer is the memory and the presence of Maddie.  They include her in their discussions and stories almost daily.  Maddie not only lives on with her brothers but is still actively apart of their day to day lives.  When either of them recount stories of Madeline, it is told with a smile and laughter.  They tell the story as if Maddie is right in the room alongside them sharing in the memory.  They do it so purely, so innocently and so honestly.  They tell their stories, not only as if Maddie was their big sister instead as if she will always be their big sister.
I long for the day that the mention of Madeline brings me a smile for the memory and not a tear for the loss. 
Please share and help bring greater awareness to teenagers suffering from depression and mental illness.  Support The Maddie Project

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Dealing with the Loss of a Child

Dealing with the Loss of a Child

By Chris Coulter

On April 10, 2015, my worst nightmare had come true.  My 14 year old daughter Madeline had tragically passed away.  There are no words that can do justice to the loss of this nature.  There are no consoling words.  There is nothing that can prepare you.  The hollowness and emptiness that is left behind cannot be filled.

You cry uncontrollably. You feel guilt.  You feel anger.  You believe she's going to walk through that front door at any moment but she doesn't. I'm not sure where in the five stages of grieving I am currently.  I know I've experienced all of the supposed emotions at least half a dozen times each. Maybe this is the part the theorists don't tell you about.  Maybe each experience is unique to each individual.

My daughter took her own life.  My daughter had been ill for the last number of months.  She had been in and out of the hospital since December.  She received wonderful care from the staff of NYGH Child and Adolescent Mental Health unit.  We so wanted her to get better but she struggled .

Reading the tributes that came in honouring her, you would wonder why she could feel so sad, so desperate, so incredibly alone.

She went out of her way to help people.  She helped complete strangers.  She was smart.  She had razor-sharp wit.  She was exceptionally beautiful, inside and out.  She was popular.  She possessed the qualities that most Grade 9 girls would envy.

She had the ability to light up a room with her laughter or her smile.  She had friends galore. She had more love surrounding her than a baby at a cupid convention.  But still she is not with us today.
She suffered from depression.  There are many questions surrounding this area of study.  There are no quick fixes.  There are no simple answers.  This is not an exact science.

Adolescent depression and mental illness affects the lives of a significant number of teenage girls, their family and friends.  Our goal is to use this tragic event as an opportunity to bring greater awareness to an often silent disease.  We want to encourage adolescents to be able to raise their hand and say "I need help!"
People say that the stigma surrounding mental illness is no longer there.  I don't believe that to be the case at all.  The stigma still exists.  There are several young women like my daughter that are afraid to raise their hand.  Young girls can be judgmental and cruel.  A young woman's confidence so fragile.

Since we have been fairly transparent about our daughter's death, we have heard of several young women that have raised their hands and said that they need help.  This is why we want to ensure that Madeline's story be told.  Madeline is not an anomaly.  On the outside, she would have appeared as normal as any other teenage girl but what was looming just below the surface helped to alter the course of a family forever.

There has been an endowment fund set up through the NYGH Foundation called Maddie's Fund.  Its purpose is to bring awareness to adolescent depression and help encourage teens to raise their hand and ask for help.  If another family can avoid the tragedy that we have suffered through the loss of our beloved daughter then this is our silver lining.

Please help bring greater awareness to teenage depression and mental illness by contributing to Maddie's Fund c/o North York General Hospital Foundation 

From Tragedy Comes Purpose

From Tragedy Comes Purpose

By Chris Coulter

Does the hurting ever stop? I don't know because I'm not even close to being there yet.  A part of me wants the pain to go away but not at the cost of the memories.  The memories are what I cherish, what I hold onto when I want to feel close to Madeline.

We tragically lost our daughter Madeline on April 11th, 2015.  What I have experienced since that day has been unimaginable.  My youngest son said to me, "Dad, I've seen you cry about 50 times in my life.  Once two years ago and about 49 times in the last month."  It's true.

It's been almost two months since we lost Madeline and yet I'm more emotional today than I was more than a month ago.  My feeling of loss is more apparent than ever.  In the first weeks following Madeline's service, I had had such clarity and focus.  I had never been more productive and efficient at work.  I almost felt guilty.  Slowly over the next few weeks, the dark clouds started to set in and my once crystal clear vision had become muddied.  Each day is a new experience and unsure what the next day will bring.

Friends, family and complete strangers feel this need to ask me about it, for not acknowledging Madeline would almost be disrespectful.  People want to help me in some way but they're not sure how, and honestly I'm not sure how they can either.

We've seen incredible acts of kindness.  People have dropped off prepared dinners and just made life more manageable.  People dropping off gifts, food, pictures and notes of kindness.  People offering to carpool the kids to sports and school events has made my life much easier.  At times I wonder, "how did I cope with all this stuff previously?"  I guess we just did.

Over the past month, I've seen what the power of social media is capable of doing.  I had my first post go viral.  I don't think it was because it was Pulitzer-worthy but that our family tragedy has become an important topic in conversations between parents and kids, teachers and students, and friends to friends. This is helping to destroy the stigma about mental illness.   It's also given me greater awareness of a community of suicide survivors. This is a membership that I'd rather not belong to.  Unfortunately I do.

Because of what we've been through with Madeline's death, people want to share with me their darkest and most personal secrets. On some level I feel like a priest taking confession.  I don't say this to be facetious but I do find that there are a number of people who are dealing with some pretty serious issues.  Thank you to everyone who has shared something deeply personal with me.

The other thing that startled me was how many people are facing mental illness issues. They may be dealing with depression personally or have a loved one that has been deeply affected by depression or anxiety.  The positive takeaway is that people are seeking or have sought help for their illness.  The bigger problem remains on how to  get access to follow-up programs that exist.  Navigating through the system is proving to be challenging for many of these people.  This is the challenge that we faced with Madeline and her illness.

We've seen some wonderful fund raising initiatives being spearheaded by Madeline's friends, their parents and people who want to contribute time, money or resources. There are many amazing people trying to make an incredible difference in bringing access and awareness to the entire mental illness issue.  A team is being organized to participate in the ScotiaBank Half Marathon.  The Stony Lake Sprint is raising funds this year for greater awareness of mental illness in Madeline's name.  We have seen kids raising money by many creative means.  A beautiful pendant is being produced on Maddie's behalf with half the proceeds going to this cause.  There is an  endowment fund in Madeline's name that can be reached through for those who want to contribute to the cause.

NYGH Foundation is renovating a 15,000 sq ft century home called Phillips House which will house programs for families that are dealing with mental illness.  The Foundation hopes that Phillips House will become a template for similar facilities that will emerge across Ontario and Canada.  The talent and passion that this project has attracted is unprecedented.
People are putting their hand up.  They are saying they want to help or they need help or both.  The barriers are starting to come down.  I only wish Madeline was here to see what she's helped to inspire.

I don't think the hurting will ever stop and a part of me doesn't want it to.  So much passion and purpose has come from this tragedy. The pain keeps you focused.  The pain gives you resolve.  The pain allows some stars to shine brighter for the benefit of others.

Please share and bring greater awareness to youth and adolescent depression and mental illness.
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Happy Birthday, My Dearest Madeline

Happy Birthday, My Dearest Madeline

My Dearest Madeline,


Today marks what would have been your 15th birthday.  I'd say Happy Birthday but happy is the furthest thing 

from what I'm feeling today.  I hope you are in a happier place.  I know for what you did you must have been in a tremendous amount of pain and I wish I could have done more to make you feel better.  There's a lot of people who are wishing the same.  You leaving us on April 10 has left an unfillable void in our lives that will never be replaced.

There are little signs of you everywhere I go that reminds me of your spirit, your inner beauty and your kindness.  There's a bunny that has been hanging out in my backyard.  Her presence symbolic of your love of nature and animals.  The wisps of wind blowing through my cherry trees reminds me of your free spirit and proving that you could not be harnessed and did things on your own terms.  The single ray of sunshine penetrating a thick stormy cloud layer represents the promise of hope and that your loss will bring continued awareness to a subject that needs addressing.

Today we are going to lunch with your brothers, your Mom and 20 of your friends but the head of the table will be conspicuously vacant.  That place will never be filled.  This is a tribute to someone who united so many and sent a message that has resonated so loudly.  We will continue to honour your spirit because that's what keeps us moving forward for looking backward is far to painful.

What has happened in your honour since your death has been amazing.  The Maddie Project has spearheaded so many initiatives.  Over $140,000 has been donated to the foundation to date.  A team has been entered into this Fall's Scotiabank Marathon in the hope of raising over $100,000 to bring greater awareness to teenage mental health issues.  The Stony Lake Sprint has set up a raffle in your honour with all the proceeds going to The Maddie Project.  You have sparked a rallying cry amongst your friends, parents, strangers and the entire community.  So much good is coming from such a terrible loss.  You'd be proud.  I'm incredibly proud but wish I could tell you in person.

We're going to get through this.  There will be a lot of pain along the way but we will persevere.
You will always be our Baby Girl and Zac and Sawyer's Big Sister.

I love you and miss you incredibly. Shine bright, My Angel.


It's Still Me....Only Sadder

It's Still Me...Only Sadder

By Chris Coulter

July 11th was the three month mark of the tragic loss of our beautiful daughter Madeline. Over this time, I have felt a multitude of different emotions ranging from anger, gratitude, helplessness and of course, inconsolable sadness.

I read a blog post by Paula Stephens, "What I Wish More People Understood About Losing a Child" and it prompted me to write this.  Some of the themes are similar but from my perspective in my "new normal" world.
  1. Remembering Madeline:I will always have three children.  Admittedly, I'm innocently and often asked "how many children I have?"  Do I answer two or three?  I don't want to make someone feel terrible for asking such a common and innocent question.  If I expand upon the reality of the situation, the conversation takes a turn in a different direction or a real awkwardness appears.  But by not acknowledging Madeline would be to disrespect her and not celebrate the beautiful person she is, regardless of what form she may take on.

      2.  A part of me has died with the loss of Madeline

I'd be lying if I told you I didn't fight tremendous sadness every single day.  The truth is I have days where I struggle to get out of bed and other days where I grab hold of that negative thought and refocus it in a direction that serves me well.  I have days when I feel on fire with enthusiasm and other days that I have a hard time convincing myself to take another breath.  I'm still trying to figure this thing out.  
The good thing is I'm back talking to my psychiatrist on a regular basis and I've relented in my belief that I can figure this out on my own.

     3.  The Toughest Days of the Year
Paula referred to the toughest days of the year for her are her son's birthday and the anniversary that he passed away.  Paula wrote her blog post four years after the loss of Brandon.  I'm a relative nubie at this, so perhaps over time I will gain a different perspective.  Thus far the toughest day for me has been Father's Day and everyday that I'm away from my boys, which represents half of the time.

     4.  Spare Me The Details
Madeline took her own life and "The Maddie Project" is to help bring greater awareness to teenage mental illness.  Tremendous initiatives have been taken in fundraising to honour Madeline.  We want to continue to honour our daughter and remember her as an incredibly spirited young woman who was so selfless in her approach with people.  Madeline put her energies into helping others at the sacrifice of her own needs.
Please don't ask me about the events of that tragic evening on April 10th, for I choose to remember her for all the good things about Madeline that should be celebrated.

     5.  That Awkward Conversation
Let's face it, there's nothing you can say that will make me feel better so don't try.  I don't mean to sound irreverent about things for it's just the reality of my world.
The one thing you can do is help to spread the word about The Maddie Project.  If we can prevent another family from having to endure what we've gone through, then this is why The Maddie Project is such an important legacy.

     6.  Grief Shouldn't Be Quantified

One of my good friends recently lost his father.  His father had led a long and healthy life to the ripe old age of ninety.  My friend said he felt guilty talking to me about it and that the loss of his father was "like having the flu" compared to my loss of Maddie.

Everyone has or will at some point have to deal with their own personal tragedy.  The loss of a child is probably right up there on the scale of terrible things to have to endure in life.  Grieving is grieving regardless of the situation.  Each situation needs to be respected and certainly shouldn't be justified or quantified.  Grief is a very personal experience and should never be compared.

     7. Being Truly Grateful

A lot of people don't understand where i'm coming from; I'd recently lost my daughter and yet I'm trying to help parents who are dealing with a child who's experiencing depression or other mental illnesses.  If I can help, then I genuinely want to help.  I want to help you have a different outcome then what we experienced.  So please don't feel guilty by accepting my offer of help because you're helping me deal with my personal tragedy.

     8.  It's OK To Embrace the Sadness

I hate the expression "Stay Strong".  By adhering to this means you're suppressing how you're really feeling.  I noticed a lot of my boys' friends say this often.  By not expressing your true sadness, this can manifest itself in many different ways with many potentially negative consequences.

The expression should be,"Stay strong by showing you're vulnerable, asking for help and being honest with your feelings".  This is the message to kids and parents that The Maddie Project wants to deliver.

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Yes, I'm Maddie's Dad!

Yes, I'm Maddie's Dad!

By Chris Coulter

Today's the four month mark since Maddie's death.  Barely an hour goes by without Maddie crossing my mind but this time of month in particular rains pretty heavy on me emotionally.  For her brothers and her Mom, I know the emotion runs high as well.  
I've been at the cottage with the boys for the last week.  I love this place but there's an obvious void and something will always be missing.  Maddie's 14 year cousin, Emma is up here.  This is where Emma and Maddie's friendship and closeness developed.  There is still lots of laughter but something will always be missing for all of us; our trips to the cottage will forevermore be changed.  Maddie and Emma were ringleaders in  crime, co-conspirators of mischief and a primary source of evening entertainment.

There's always a slight pause in the activity.  We rarely acknowledge it but we all know there's a very conspicuous absence and that absence is Maddie.  Whether it being her contagious laughter, inappropriate comments (that she got from me) or desire to do something completely different than the norm; this was her stomping ground and where she felt at ease.  She was very fortunate to have two family cottages; one on Stoney Lake and one on Baptiste Lake but visits to both will always be different for everyone.

This past weekend, the boys and I went down to Stoney Lake (Maddie's Mom's cottage) for the Stoney Sprint.  This was where we spent a lot of time as a family and where the kids spent a lot of time post-separation.  It was the first time I'd been back on Stoney Lake since 2010.  Stoney is rich in tradition and many families have been on Stoney for generations.  There were many familiar faces that I recognized from past years.  This year's Stoney Sprint took on a different feel.  There was an air of spirited participation for the run but also had a sombre feel because Maddie had been an active participant in the Sprint, past regattas, Mile Swims and several other activities around the lake.  Stoney had lost one of its children and everyone knew it.

 A raffle had been set up to support The Maddie Project.  People on Stoney Lake and within the community had donated incredible prizes and people purchased the tickets in droves.  Everyone felt attached to the cause because Maddie's death has touched so many of us.  When Maddie's Mom, Nicole spoke so passionately about the Maddie Project at the Stoney Sprint there were few people who can say they weren't affected by her words.  Because many of the people knew Maddie and the German family but also because many of us have been touched by someone that has suffered from teenage mental illness and depression.  The Stoney Sprint raffle has raised more than $12,000 for the Maddie Project.
To date, the Maddie Project has raised more than $150,000 to help bring awareness and access for families with teens suffering from depression and mental illness.  Conversations are starting to occur between friends, families  and mental health professionals and we are aware of no less than ten teens that have put up their hands and say they need help to deal with life's challenges.

The Stoney Sprint is one initiative and there are several others underway.  We are making a difference and themaddieproject.cacreating awareness and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness is having a profound impact.

A few weeks ago, I was coming home from a long, sweaty mountainbike ride and at my doorstep was a volunteer canvassing for CAMH.  CAMH is an amazing organization that helps thousands of Canadians dealing with mental health issues.  Upon my arrival I saw his name tag and that he was with CAMH and I expressed that I'm a supporter of CAMH and know several people that have had their lives profoundly affected by the services of CAMH.  Our conversation continued and I expressed how we had recently lost our daughter to depression and that we had created a Foundation on her behalf.  He asked what our foundation was called and I said "the Maddie Project".  He looked at me in disbelief.  He said, "You're Maddie's Dad?!"  He extended his hand and shook my hand vigorously.  He said," You guys are doing an amazing job.  We are huge fans of what you're doing."
Most of the credit should go to Maddie's Mom, Maddie's friends and parents who have embraced the cause with such passion and vigour.

For anyone who feels that we are not making a difference should look at the kids who have raised their hands for help, that passion that has embraced the Maddie Project cause and the amount of funds that are continually being raised to support such an incredible cause.

Yes, I'm Maddie's Dad and I couldn't be more proud to have a daughter that has inspired so many!

Please share and let people know how we're making a difference!

I Couldn't Be A Teenager Today

I Couldn't Be A Teenager Today

By Chris Coulter

This isn't one of those nostalgic posts about "I remember when" but my kids will probably accuse me of it. Obviously, there have always been challenges in raising teenagers but throw in social media, access to technology and our kids surpassing our knowledge base with respect to certain things and our job as parents just got exponentially more difficult.

I couldnt be a teenager today
Life was simpler then. It's cliche but true.  And we heard it from our parents and they heard it from their parents. The rate in which life comes at you is astounding today.  You say that to your child and it's met with the predictable eye-roll.  But it's true.  What's even more incredible are the speed of advances not from generation to generation but instead from the gap between your eldest child to your youngest child.  What will be the pace of growing up when our kids have kids?
I remember getting my first cell phone when I was 21.  It was a car-mounted unit that cost about a million dollars a month if you ever used it.  Today, I see kids who are 8 or 9 walking around with Smart phones.  It was only five or six years ago that you'd typically get your first cell phone when you were going into highschool.  Who destroyed that precedent?  Fortunately, my ten year old hasn't been giving me flack over not having a phone but then again, does anyone have a home phone anymore?

House parties in the 80's were completely different.  People got on the "home phone" and started talking about what they were doing that night.  You occasionally come across a party that got out of control because someone earlier in the week had caught word that someone's parents were heading out of town.
Today, parents who tell their kids they can have a party aren't sure what they are getting themselves into.  Everything goes viral within minutes and that small get-together just had the police come in to bust things up.  Security detail is hired and there still are no assurances that things won't get out of control.  I've shown up to pick up my daughter at a party and there were as many kids outside the house trying to get in than there were  inside the house....and that's when the parents were at home!

"Back in the day", youth mental illness was never talked about, let alone recognized or acknowledged.  We'd occasionally hear about the odd eating disorder or suicide but it was usually in the context of a friend of a friend that we'd heard it through.  Sadly today, teenage suicide or mental health issues run rampant through a community.  Kids set up impromptu memorials and tributes online within hours and this information goes viral within minutes.  It's a rarity that a teen hasn't been affected directly by someone who has tragically attempted to or taken their own life. I couldn't be a teenager today
Today, likes on Instagram, Followers on SnapChat and popularity on can make or break your teenage years.  Once this information is out there, you can't take it back.  That can be a painful and upsetting lesson that a kid may not be able to recover from.  Phones on cameras make everyone the paparazzi.  If people walked around with cameras at some of the parties I attended in highschool and university, our reputations would have been potentially tarnished years ago.  Fortunately, no one had phones, let alone cameras.  Back in the day, someone may have had their eyebrow shaved off and the only evidence was the embarrassment of showing up at school on Monday morning.  Today, the entire event is videotaped by someone's camera phone and uploaded to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and the kid becomes notorious within minutes.  How is a kid supposed to shoulder that type of humiliation at sixteen?
Indiscretions and poor decision-making are all a part of growing up and learning from your mistakes.  There is zero-tolerance to someone getting out of line or having a momentary lapse of good judgement.  That seems harsh and unfair.  God knows that I made my fair share of blunderous decisions and exercised several improprieties in my youth.  I learned my mistakes from experience and self-awareness not from public humiliation and ridicule.

The speed in which information flows today between kids is equally astounding.  Last week, my son and I were in the car and had heard about the tragic events unfolding in Paris.  He texted his friend who had left for Paris with her family the day before to see if she was alright.  Within seconds he received a reply, that her family was within a kilometer of the bombings but she was safe.  So much for going out of town and being out of touch for a while.

There is something so ironic in this age of the selfie.  Kids are so enamored with their devices yet I've also seen that it can be the cause of so much pain.  On many occasions I had seen my daughter's mood transform from elation to upset all because of how many likes she had received on one of her Instagram posts.  Madeline wasn't unique in that respect either.  I've talked to other parents who had experienced the same sort of volatility in their kids because of an unkind comment or an unfavourable post.

Our kids are growing up too quickly.  I'm not opposed to progression.  I actually embrace it.  What scares me is how our kids may have to learn some of their most important lessons under the watchful and scrutinizing eyes of social media.  A lesson that they may never get a chance to properly recover from.

The Real Pain of Depression

The Real Pain of Depression

By Chris Coulter
This week marks a half year since our family's life was changed forever.  The last six months has gone by so quickly but the scars will linger on forever.

We are always facing the question about 'why did Madeline have to die and could it have been prevented?'  I've heard numerous comments about how the public health system failed us  but it's not necessarily my entire belief.  Maddie was loved by all around her and whether she fully understood how much she was loved, we will never truly know the answer.  She showed and gave love beyond comprehension.

Maddie was in pain, tremendous pain that few can imagine and hopefully even fewer will understand in his/her lifetime.  We believe she wanted to get better but the pain was so deep and uncontrollable at times.  I recall when Maddie was out on a day pass from the hospital.  She loved her lattes from the in-hospital Starbucks but she especially looked forward to her day-passes to go home.  One afternoon on a day-pass she was at my house.  It was just the two of us.  Conversation was light, she was kicking my butt in Anomia, a game which she played with such vigor and enthusiasm.  It was a game that she seldom lost at playing.  That day was no exception and proceeded to annihilate me in quick fashion.  Then something happened.  Like a storm coming in off the ocean, a darkness came over her.  She said, "Daddy, you need to take me back to the hospital."  I don't know what she was suddenly overcome by but she realized she was in danger.  In that moment, she felt a threat, a threat from within herself.
I don't begin to understand how she felt that day or on several occasions leading up to that fateful evening on April 10th but the pain she felt was real.  Maddie was trying to protect the ones she loved the most at the sacrifice of herself.

Many say that suicide is a coward's way out but in fact I believe just the opposite.  Maddie was trying to protect us throughout this terrible ordeal.  She believed she was putting us through so much with her sickness and wanted us to stop having to endure through her private hell.
In the end, we believe she was trying to end our misery and not her own.  She was doing this as an act of love for us and not an escape for herself.  Maddie's last act was one of selflessness and not of selfishness. That is my belief substantiated by the tears that have flowed endlessly since that fateful night.

We are not even close to understanding how these angels feel or the pain that they must be enduring.  We must start to hold these delicate youths with greater compassion and not with misunderstanding and trepidation.

Next week, over 100 men, women and children will be running on behalf of the Maddie Project.  Our boys are running on behalf of her sister to raise money for youths struggling with mental illness.  Please sponsor Sawyer and Zac for this very worthwhile cause.  We thank you in advance for your continued support and generosity.

As many of us look to Thanksgiving as a long weekend in October, I will look at it very differently this year.  I'm incredibly grateful for my boys and their love, and to my family and friends who have helped to make the last six months tolerable.  I will always cherish our beautiful Maddie who showed us so much love until her last breath.

Let's talk openly and without prejudice about mental illness.  Let's try to ensure that these angels are not suffering alone.
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