Let’s Celebrate Maddie’s Life and Not Focus on her Death

This week is one of the hardest weeks that I face all year.  The week of April 11th and Father’s Day are the other tough weeks that I struggle to get through. This June 28th would’ve been Maddie’s 21st birthday and the seventh year that we haven’t been able to spend it with her.

The good thing is I get through all three within a period of two months.

Six years without Maddie has taught me a lot about myself and mental illness.  Mental illness is far more prevalent in society than ever before, but the availability of help is more apparent than ever.  The help doesn’t come from government spending but instead spreading organically through word of mouth of those touched and affected by someone who has a mental illness.

It may be because of my sensitivity to the subject that makes me more present, but I believe there’s a much more acute awareness to people being open to talking about it.  I believe that the various levels of government are failing miserably in this area.  This organic movement allows people to talk more openly about depression than ever before.  The largest area of sensitivity and support for mental illness is coming from our children.  Our youth are standing up and supporting one another in dealing with personal struggles and hardships.  They are helping by demonstrating empathy and compassion toward one another.

It’s initiatives like the Maddie Project and Jack.org that continue to bring awareness to youth mental illness.  The messengers are kids….talking and relating to kids.  The messaging is simple and transparent; to help and support one another…always.  

To think we will save every soul is naïve but to save at least one more soul than we did last week is achievable.

My children, Zac and Sawyer, are both Ambassadors of the Maddie Project.  In particular, Zac has spoken before more than 10,000 students and faculty across more than 25 schools in the GTA.  Everyone who sees him speak talks about his strength in addressing such a difficult and personally painful subject. As difficult as it is for him to talk publicly about it, he does it because he believes that kids can make a difference.  No one can relate more to a teenager than a teenager.  He feels it’s his responsibility to tell his story in hopes that it can change even one life.

This week will be difficult for both of my boys, but in particular for Zac.  Zac is always seen as being so calm, so collected, so stoic. On the inside is a kid who misses his sister more than anything in the world and would do anything to prevent another kid from experiencing the sense of loss he and Sawyer have endured.  They have both been forced to grow up so quickly and deal with something that no child should have to deal with at any age.

” Zac is not only speaking on behalf of The Maddie Project, but he is also speaking on behalf of Maddie”

I don’t receive the same number of texts, calls or emails asking for help, either dealing with a personal struggle or the struggle of a child or loved one, but I still receive enough of them.  People are always so apologetic about reaching out and hoping the discussion doesn’t open up the wounds of my past.  In fact, just the opposite is the case.  I’m happy to help, and it makes me proud of how much of a difference all three of my children have made in helping others.

Throughout Ontario, we still get requests to see if Zac can speak to their schools, support a mental health initiative or see if they can designate The Maddie Project as their school charity for the year.  More importantly, people continue to talk and seek help.  Many continue to struggle and suffer, but fewer are suffering alone or in silence.  As someone who has been quite candid about my personal struggles with depression, eventually, I hope everyone has the ability to ask for help. 

Although I can’t take any of the credit for the Maddie Project, there is an immense pride when Zac speaks and watch the kids and parents come up to him afterwards, incredibly moved by his words and his passion for the cause.  Zac has shared the speaking stage with some prominent people, and many have come up to him after his speech shook his hand and said thank you and good luck.  These are the moments of pride that a parent holds onto forever.

Today will be a difficult day.  There are days that I wake up sad. There are days that I wake up angry.  There are days where I wake up grateful.  After more than six years without Maddie, although difficult, I only cherish the moments we had together.  For the times that will always bring a smile to my face or the times that will make me immensely proud.  There’s a part of Maddie that live in both my boys and in everyone that knew her.  When Zac goes up on stage, he is not only speaking on behalf of  The Maddie Project; he is speaking on behalf of Maddie. 

So on today, what would’ve been Maddie’s 21st birthday, look around and think of those in your circle who have been struggling, or you think maybe struggling and acknowledge that you’re there to help if they need you. This is something that many of Maddie’s friends shared with me, that she was always there to lend a helping hand or an ear or a shoulder to cry on.

As a birthday gift to Maddie, check in on one person who may not acknowledge it out loud but are struggling on the inside. This may be the greatest gift you could give today. Only we can change the narrative on mental illness.

And if you’re so inclined, please donate to The Maddie Project.

Happy birthday, Mads! Love you forever.


Chris learned through the bankruptcy of his first business; a strong balance sheet means nothing unless you can get the money out of your business and into your hands personally, tax efficiently, and creditor protected.  Chris helps and coaches business owners to avoid a similar fate as he suffered in his first business.

He has seen the impact that mental health can have upon success within your business and your life and how the two are on a constant collision course.  When Chris became aware that Entrepreneurs struggled with their mental health at more than twice the rate of average adults, he realized he wasn’t alone and made it his ambition to understand why and do something to help.  The goal of his business, The Finish Line Group, is to help support the financial and emotional needs of the entrepreneur.