As parents, we pray for the best for our children every day. We try to protect them from harm — whether physical or psychological.
But such shielding can never protect parents from the consequences of their own actions. Even the strongest of us can face regret over choosing to parent. These are the words from Gail Pellerin, editor in chief of the Toronto Star, in a letter published Wednesday, two months after the death of Toronto mother Shenna Bellows. Her 4-year-old son passed away last July after ingesting a methamphetamine-laced cookie.
It’s a gut-wrenching story. Bellows wrote in her online journal that it wasn’t the first time her son, Chenoa, had ingested the homemade cookie. But after an emergency room visit, she decided to keep him at home, worried about what might happen next.
“My mother said, ‘Don’t worry. They have a long waiting list. It’ll be a while. Their hearts are aching.’ Well, Chenoa died two hours later,” Bellows wrote.
About 100 parents in Ontario — the most populous province in Canada — have died of accidental ingesting since 2013, according to The Globe and Mail, and about half had the same drugs in their system as Bellows’ son, prescribed pills for ADHD and anxiety.
Pellicano and Greer, who were both 32 at the time of their son’s death, are each charged with manslaughter, two counts of assault and one count of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, The Globe and Mail reported. A lawyer for Robert Swayze, who represents the couple, told CNN the couple is “a little bit shocked by the charge” but plans to plead not guilty.
From the beginning, Gail Pellerin of the Toronto Star and the Star Foundation, asked why parents wouldn’t take other precautions, like taking their child to daycare. She hoped Bellows would have had access to such a facility.
What’s worse, they didn’t stop.
“Rather than use their own words to help Chenoa, he was given pills that could have caused him to overdose,” she wrote. “And rather than take her son home immediately, Gail and Michael Greer drove him to a hospital in Barrie, where he lay for hours while medical staff tried to revive him. Neither parent called 911.”
Her own inability to protect her son was what inspired Gail Pellerin and the Star Foundation to establish a program to help parents.
The Next Step Program, named after the children who died after ingesting drugs, was founded in 2016. It is a support group open to parents of children who have died from ingesting illicit drugs, as well as parents who have lost a child from intentional violence, burns, car accidents or an overdose. The group’s members deal with similar deaths for different reasons, she said.
“This program understands that sometimes, the victim’s love and desire to live, to parent and to have a good life may be overridden by reckless behavior, self-doubt and obsessive worries,” wrote Pellerin in the letter. “As parents, we know how dangerous it is to live without acknowledging when a child is deteriorating and how dangerous it is to wait for a physical or medical crisis to arrive before getting help.”
Her letter, which you can read in full here, encourages parents to attend the group to talk about their fears and learn ways to help their children to prevent similar problems in the future. She also reached out to parents about the foundation’s upcoming Home for Christmas event to help those in need.
“I know there are different ways in which we must comfort each other: A hug, a song, a kiss, a knowing acknowledgement,” wrote Pellerin. “For others, this event will allow them to cry or be brave together. As the newspaper’s editor in chief, it is my wish to reach out, too.”
CNN has reached out to Pellerin and the Star Foundation, but did not hear back by time of publication.