Updated: Oct 12
My son Daniel was born on June 7, 1983. He was my second and last child. It was a scheduled birth due to birthing complications with his brother Adam, born June 5, 1981. They were exactly 2 years and 2 days apart. That's many moons ago now, 38 years for Daniel.
However, Daniel was only on this earth for 28 of those years. He brought much joy to our family during this time. Daniel marched to his own drum in many ways. I recall the early days of T-Ball where he would be making mountains in the sand around the bases, oblivious to the batter about to stomp on that base. He was a lover of nature and wanted to know everything about trees, birds, plants, rocks, once asking, "what’s making that noise in the creek over there?" "Frogs,” I said as he cautiously searched to find them. His curiosity was constant.
Daniel enjoyed hockey and fishing as did his brother. However, his creativity and love of art was his alone. If he could draw it or make it, that was where he thrived. He was incredibly talented, and those skills always played a big role in his journey of life.
But his journey changed on Nov. 3, 2011 when he went missing. I say went, because he left our home early that morning, not to be seen or heard from since. This was a turning point for our family, causing great concern and emotional unrest. My predictable life was turned upside down. This was nothing like anything I had ever experienced before. This started me on my new journey of uncertainty, living with the unknown.
I learned that this uncertainty was an "Ambiguous Loss" (pioneered by Dr. Pauline Boss). The goal is to find meaning in this meaningless situation. I also learned that it's the situation that is abnormal, not me. This brought some sense of control back, an ah-ha moment for me, but still exceedingly difficult to deal with, especially with the emotional ups and downs based on triggers along the way.
Searching for Daniel had many triggers along the way, triggers such as:
- his car being found nearly two weeks later;
- his winter clothing found in the following spring of 2012;
- his backpack found in 2013, but again no signs of him.
- The next year (2014) was the first year that nothing was found.
It was evident that we were in recovery mode. Something happened to him in this rugged but sacred backcountry of Temagami. But, until we found physical evidence, I hung onto a thread of hope.
Throughout our earnest and exhaustive searches for Daniel from ice out to ice up (May-Sept.), we often asked ourselves, how long do we continue to search before coming to the reality that he may never be found? When we were perplexed about what to do, we would ask ourselves, what would Daniel want us to do? He became our guide for answers to plans.
During the winter of 2015, we asked this question and decided Daniel would want us to give it one more year. So, in May 2015, we arranged for another search; this time a 2-part search. We would fly-in cadaver dogs with their searchers from Ottawa. This would be followed by the Michigan Search and Rescue (SAR) Team, this being their 4th search. Logistically, this was challenging, but we always managed to make it work.
I'm blessed to say that finally, on May 24th of 2015, the Michigan SAR team found remains on their first search day. It was excruciating waiting for an identification. Two days later, two Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers came up to the cabin, which wasn't easy, to let us know personally that dental records had confirmed the remains were indeed Daniel. I felt the big black cloud lifting from me. Our searching was over, we could now find peace. We may never know the details of his demise, but at least he was found.
So, what do I mean by "My Unique Gifts From Daniel?" Well, if it were not for him going missing, I would not have learned what I did about strength, courage, hope, and love. He was the teacher; these learnings were my unique gifts from Daniel. I often reflect on how much stronger I was throughout this time of never-ending uncertainty; he led me to doing things I never thought I could; how he allowed me to hold onto a glimmer of hope, and how his love continued to grow in me even in these unimaginable times. His gifts have impacted me significantly and will remain with me for as long as I live.
These were not the only gifts from Daniel. Throughout my journey to find him, my youngest sister Cindy was my rock. She was always there to help me through the emotional rollercoaster ride I was on. Daniel wasn't just her nephew; he was also her Godson. She too had an enduring connection to him and this senseless situation. To have her on this journey was also an amazing gift from Daniel.
Daniel brought us to meet so many friends in his circle that we would have never had the opportunity to meet. Through these new friends, we were able to hear more about Daniel’s solo canoeing trips up north and how he came to meet these folks. Through Changing of the Seasons, a sacred gathering for the fall equinox, we were able to scatter Daniel’s ashes in 2016, after this ceremony, in the place where Daniel would want to be, with the ancient spirits. This was the greatest gift of all.
We put up two memorial plaques of Daniel in those sacred lands. Thanks again to help from my sister, this wording speaks to our unique gift of Daniel:
His greatest peace was found in nature.
His spirit lives on in these
sacred forests of Temagami.
Guided by the spirits and connected
in Love, his journey continues.
Free Spirit ★ Brave Soul
This article was originally written on June 21, 2021.
Maureen was a life long resident of the Waterloo Region, ON until May 2017 when she made Puslinch her home. She has a BA in Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier University and is retired from a 40-year career in Information Technology.
On Nov. 3, 2011, she was confronted with the most challenging event of her life when her youngest son, Daniel, went missing. This set her on a journey of searching, not only for Daniel, but also for information and resources.
After searching for 3.5 years, on May 24, 2015, partial remains were found and later confirmed to be Daniel. This was bittersweet news, but did end the uncertainty ("Ambiguous Loss," Pauline Boss). She has found resolve, peace, and meaning from this tragic loss.
She continues as an advocate for families by raising awareness and delivering training for those who can support families. She is also actively engaged in collaborating with families, Police, Victim Services, community agencies and the media to introduce legislation and policy change.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Madiha Foundation.