Young man in black T-shirt and black Blue Jays cap sitting at a table in a brewery.

Colton lived life to the fullest.

by Marlyn Quast-Frank

“Larger than life”. That is how most of Colton’s friends and family have described him since he unexpectedly left this world. He lived his short life to the fullest and is remembered most for his kind and loyal heart, gentle and dedicated spirit, his fierce love of friends and family, and his larger-than-life attitude and presence.

Colton and his fiancé, Taylor, had moved from our hometown of Medicine Hat to Edmonton in 2015, where she attended university to complete the final two years of her teaching degree. Colton took a job as an apprentice electrician, and over the next five years, Taylor graduated and settled into a job with the Edmonton school district teaching grade one, while Colton worked for a commercial electrical company and went to school to complete his journeyman’s ticket. They got engaged in the summer of 2018 and had the most beautiful life ahead of them. Until the unimaginable happened.

You never expect your child to go to work one day and not return home. On February 13, 2020, we received a frantic call from Taylor that changed all our lives forever. There had been an accident at his workplace, and he had been electrocuted. We had no idea of the severity, and my mind instantly went into denial. He’d be ok. This stuff happens to other families, but it just can’t happen to us! We quickly packed our bags and began the 5.5-hour drive north to the hospital they had transported him to. As we pulled onto the highway, I made a call to the emergency room at the hospital to see if I could get more information. They immediately put me through to the hospital chaplain, and in that moment, I knew it was much worse than my mind was allowing me to believe. We were not given much information, but we were told it was in our best interest to get there as soon as possible. My husband made the trip in four hours. I remember rushing into Colton’s hospital room thinking that he would be sitting up and would greet us with his humourous grin and some funny comment, but instead, his body appeared lifeless, and he was connected to so many breathing tubes, machines and monitors keeping him alive that it stopped me in my tracks. Panic overtook me, and I was somehow living in the midst of a mother’s worst nightmare. I just wanted to wake up.

The following six days were filled with respiratory therapists, doctors, specialists, and many tests. The final prognosis was that Colton had sustained an anoxic brain injury due to his injuries and somehow, we had to make the unthinkable decision to remove him from life support. On February 19, 2020, six days before his 26th birthday and five months before he was to marry his soul mate of seven years, we watched our son take his last breath. It is an image that is forever imprinted in our hearts and minds. Life felt so unfair. How in the world do you move forward from something like this?

In the days and weeks that followed, I remember having a counselling appointment set up for us through my husband’s place of work. The phone call lasted five short minutes. It was obvious, despite being a counsellor, that he lacked the capacity or empathy to really truly understand what it was like to lose a child. What was even more appalling to me in that moment, was learning he didn’t even have a child. I knew the meeting was over. I needed support, but I needed it from someone who completely understood and had lived this same heart-breaking journey that I was trying to navigate.

The very next day we were contacted by OHS to discuss the investigation into the accident. Our case worker suggested we talk with someone from Threads of Life and offered to put us in touch. Being in touch with this amazing organization, reading stories that are very similar to ours, and hearing about the countless other families who have experienced the same grief, tremendously helped me feel less alone. I felt seen, heard, and understood. When we are grieving a loss, that is all we want. And in that moment, I knew I’d found a supportive new family and realized that I’d get through this like so many of them had before me.

As I write this, we are only a few short weeks away from surviving three years without the presence of our amazing son in our everyday lives. Honestly, it still seems so surreal some days. Since that time, I have found that being there for other families who have also lost children, helping them navigate their own paths and allowing them to be truly heard and understood, has been an important part of my own healing journey. I believe in paying it forward. I have since completed a one-year health/wellness/nutrition/life coach program, a general counselling certification and a grief and bereavement coaching certification. I am also thankful for my very strong spiritual connections that have played a huge role in being able to move forward, and the importance of passing along that important message of hope to those who need it most. I believe the best way to heal our mind and body from such a life-altering loss, is to stand alongside others who are also needing to heal themselves on this journey no one would ever hope to travel.