WEST LORNE, Ont. – The tears come easily, and in abundance. But the words?

The words are an altogether different matter.

Here in the tiny living room of the West Lorne home of Jeff and Karen Carmichael, the words emerge from the two parents with slow precision, as if each syllable is a ponderous weight that must be pushed and forced and wrestled past the pressure of their grief.

And this grief is immense.

Just over a week ago, the Carmichael’s three-year-old daughter, Mekena (which is pronounced McKenna), was killed in a dreadful accident in the parking lot of the Home Depot store at Southdale and Wonderland roads in London when the girl was struck by the vehicle being driven by her mother.

At the time, police said Mekena’s mother mistakenly assumed the little girl was already inside the vehicle, with her younger brother, when she pulled out of her parking spot.

When asked about the incident, the Carmichaels are firm: They will not discuss details.

“We don’t want to reflect on the how,” says Jeff. “We want to reflect on the everything she was . . . All we can say is that it was the worst accident that could happen.”

“The worst day of my life,” adds Karen.

Is there some message they wish to convey to other parents?

“Sometimes we just go too fast, and we try to live too fast, and do too many things at once,” says Jeff. “We’ve all been guilty of doing things a little too fast sometimes. Everybody’s busy. Go, go, go.”

Through her tears, Karen nods.

“Just slow down,” she says.

The main message from the Carmichaels is twofold: They want to remember their daughter, and they want to thank the community for its heartfelt support.

“We understand that everybody’s hurting right now,” says Jeff. “Nothing like this is ever easy.”

Jeff was born and raised in West Lorne, while Karen grew up in the nearby areas of Dutton and Wallacetown. So both have deep roots and family connections, as evidenced by the memorial flower arrangements crowding the kitchen counter.

About 400 people attended Mekena’s funeral, while more than 700 signed the registry at the funeral home.

“Everybody’s just been so supportive,” says Karen, who is on maternity leave from her job as a dental hygienist. “We’re just so glad to be from a community that’s so loving.”

The Carmichaels understand such overwhelming grief can be unmanageable.

“We know that so many people have been wanting to reach out to us, and maybe they couldn’t bring themselves to do it, to actually make a call or visit,” says Jeff. “It’s tough for them. They can come to the door, but they can’t go much farther. And I want them to know they can come in, they can approach us, because we want to talk about her. We do. And we want their love. We do.”

The parents, who also have a six-month-old infant son (Ronin) and an eight-year-old boy (Hayden), remember their daughter as a creative and outgoing little girl who was fascinated by her older brother and couldn’t wait to attend school.

“She used to bring her backpack in and sit here and pretend she was at school,” recalls Jeff, adding Mekena would often ask her mom or dad “to be the teacher.”

Asked how they are trying to cope with their daughter’s death, the Carmichaels say things like “stay strong” and “one day at a time.”

But it’s clear such words can only do so much.

“Every morning, it crashes back in on you,” says Jeff. “(But) we just can’t stop. We just can’t crawl into a hole.”

What does one do, then, with such wretched sadness? What does one take from such agony?

“Cherish every moment,” says Karen. “Things may change in a flash and your life could be turned upside down.”

Ian Gillespie is the Free Press city columnist.



(news source http://cnews.canoe.ca/CNEWS/Canada/2011/01/29/17080506.html)