1000 Families: Heather, Paul, Ty, Jayden and Zackie

One family’s journey through heartbreaking loss and finding their new normal.

In my heart, we are still a family of five. We always will be five, even though only four of us live in our house and it’s been over four years since our son Zack died.

After becoming pregnant for the second time via IVF (in vitro fertilization), our twin boys joined our family of three. Zack was diagnosed at birth with a genetic syndrome, heart defect, developmental delays, hearing loss, feeding issues and a medical frailty that dictated our family dynamic, necessitated that I leave my job permanently and changed our lives forever. As a family, we were limited in what we did, where we could go and were often separated by long hospital stays. Daily life was challenging, but we tried very hard to keep life as “normal” as possible for our other two sons, Jayden (Zack’s twin) and Ty (our oldest). Despite the obstacles and uncertainty in our family, we were happy, celebrated the small miracles in life and we laughed a lot together. Our boys loved being together and Zack lit up when his brothers would entertain him and make him laugh. There was nothing more amazing than seeing our three boys play together and find ways, beyond words, to connect and bond while watching Zack’s beloved Elmo. We all learned important life lessons about differences, acceptance and even a lot about what it meant to have special needs. Our kids learned a sensitivity and empathy that few children have, and we were so grateful for the life lessons that we learned through our son. We had a tough life making it all work and juggling the needs of all of our kids, but our family was as it was meant to be.


In 2011 when Zack died at age three, we lost more than our son. Our boys lost more than their brother. We lost the way our family worked. We no longer were limited in the ways we once were and it felt strange and unfamiliar. There was a huge hole in our lives, in our home and we ached for just one more day with him. We still do.


As a family, we’ve found ways to honour Zack’s life and to keep his memory alive by giving back, fundraising in his name, staying connected to the community of families with kids who have special needs and through talking about him every day. We love to hear people recount stories about him, mention his name and remember his spirit and laughter. We send balloons to heaven on his birthday (shared with Jayden) and have Elmo cookies on the day he died. We surround ourselves with photobooks of memories that document our time together, talk about him daily and we have beautiful portraits on our walls to remind us of his beautiful smile. When one of us is sad, we share a silly story about the time Zack nibbled on Jayden’s toes or we cry together about how much he’s missed. Grief is a part of our family life now. Not always in a sad way, but in a way that we always feel the loss of his light in our life.

We are still a family of five and I hope we always feel that way. Every day his presence is felt by each and every one of us, and some days we might feel a bit more comfortable in our new family normal, not forgetting our sweet son, but by finding happiness and laughter in our family again.

This is #1000families post number 118. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.

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Heather Hamilton

About Heather Hamilton

Heather started blogging to connect with other parents of kids with special needs, but it soon became a way to grieve, fundraise and share the life of her son, Zack. After raising $50,000 for “Zack’s Dream Room”, a project to refurbish two pediatric rooms at her local hospital, she continues to give back in honour of her son through SickKids. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram, or watching Elmo. View all posts by


'1000 Families: Heather, Paul, Ty, Jayden and Zackie' have 1 comment

  1. August 11, 2015 @ 12:03 am Paul Hamilton

    Great piece babes. This captures our journey perfectly. We are the fab five and will always be that way in spirit. We miss you Zackie.

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