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Her husband died in the 2019 Ottawa marathon. This year, she’s running

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Her husband died in the 2019 Ottawa marathon. This year, she’s running

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The mother of two will join more than 10,000 runners in the Race Weekend half marathon, along with her children’s grief counsellor.

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For years, Jessica Foley wouldn’t drive near the Rideau Canal. She scrupulously avoided news of Ottawa Race Weekend.

It was all part of defending against the many atmospheres of grief that weighed on her in the aftermath of her husband’s death. Steven Trickett was just 35-years-old – and anticipating the birth of their second child – when he collapsed while running the half-marathon on May 26, 2019.

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Foley was seven months pregnant at the time.

This month, exactly five years after her husband’s death, Foley will join more than 10,000 people on the start line of the half marathon.

Her participation will be another act of remembrance, another step towards healing. But Foley also wants to use the marathon to highlight the challenge of grief itself, life’s most painful endurance test.

“Grief is so misunderstood in our society,” she says. “There are all these timelines that people impose, you know: ‘It’s been one year and it’s time to get back and be productive again.’

“But it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a long road and you have to let yourself feel it because you can only push it down for so long. If you do that, it will show up in other ways. Our bodies understand these things.”

She will be running this year’s half marathon with Marnie Power, an Ottawa grief counsellor who specializes in helping children process loss and trauma.

They met last year when Foley enrolled her children in Power’s play-based grief support group, Playful Mindset. It was then that they discovered the most extraordinary coincidence.

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As Foley unfolded the story of Steven’s untimely death, Power tried to manage her sense of shock.

“I have to share something with you,” Power said. “I was there when Steven died.”

Power was running with Trickett for much of that half marathon. She saw him collapsed on the ground, only minutes from the finish line, on the grass beside Queen Elizabeth Drive. She tried to stop runners so that emergency vehicles could reach the scene where Trickett was being given CPR.

For Foley, the coincidence was other-worldly.

“The universe has brought many people and connections into my life over the past five years, and Marnie is one of them,” she says. “It’s incredible that she was there with Steven during his final moments.”

Foley doesn’t know the exact mechanism of her husband’s death, only that it was likely a heart condition that could have been triggered in any number of ways. She doesn’t blame the marathon.

“I thought it was time to change my relationship with race weekend,” she says. “It takes over the city, but up until now, I’ve wanted to run away from it.”

This year, instead, she will face the pain and the grief, and run in her husband’s footsteps.

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Says Foley: “I want to show our beautiful daughters that we can do hard things in the face of trauma and loss.”

Jessica Foley and Marnie Power
OTTAWA – May 15 2024 — Jessica Foley is raising money for Marnie Power’s non profit, which specializes in grief counselling for children. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

They attended Memorial University at the same time, but Jessica Foley didn’t meet Steven Trinkett until they were both working in Calgary in 2008.

They were native Newfoundlanders, and in the way of those from the province, they quickly established who their people were, and where they were from: Foley was a “bayman” from Harbour Grace and Trinkett a St. John’s “townie.”

Trinkett was a management consultant; Foley was an accountant. He was tall – head and shoulders about Foley – funny and down-to-earth.

“He was such a kind, genuine person,” remembers Foley. “He could find a way to connect with anybody and everybody.”

They made a striking couple, and their lives soon filled with happy milestones. They moved to Toronto together, bought a home and were married in 2013. For their honeymoon, they travelled to the east coast of Australia.

The following year, as they both turned 30, Trickett and Foley took leaves from their jobs, sold their home and most of their possessions, and embarked on a trip around the world.

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For the next year, they travelled and blogged about their adventures. They went cage diving with sharks in South Africa, sat on the edge of Victoria Falls in Zambia, slept on the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania, zip-lined in the jungles of Thailand, skydived in Australia and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef.

They visited more than 30 countries before returning to St. John’s, where they embarked on a new adventure with the birth of their daughter.

In late 2017, they moved to Ottawa where Foley started a job as a senior auditor with National Research Council Canada. Trickett worked for the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Trickett was a devoted father, the kind who danced and sang with his daughter. He loved sports, fishing, the Toronto Maple Leafs, beer and travel. He was naturally athletic.

He started running in the winter of 2018, and immediately knocked off 10 kilometres, barely breaking a sweat. When some relatives said they were going to run the Ottawa half-marathon in the spring, Trickett announced he would join them.

Foley’s memory of race day is episodic. She stayed home with their two-and-a-half-year-old and remembers tracking her husband’s run on a mobile app. She noticed that he stopped alongside the canal. She knew something was wrong, but couldn’t imagine what.

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Some time later, a race official came to her house and brought her downtown where she learned the terrible truth.

“It gets blurry after that,” she says.

Jessica Foley and Steven Trickett
Jessica Foley and Steven Trickett took an around-the-world trip in 2014 that carried them to more than 30 countries. Photo by Provided /ott

Professional counsellors say that grief is about mending a relationship shattered by death.

And although it is an experience that almost everyone will share, grief continues to be freighted by old myths and five-step guides. Foley wants people to know grief follows no established pattern: It evolves and takes on new dimensions over time.

“I think people don’t understand that it’s just not a one-time event,” she says. “It’s not that the person dies and that’s what we grieve. There are so many secondary losses that come with the death of a spouse: your financial security, your sense of identity, your parenting partner, your other friendships. Sometimes, those things only emerge as time goes on.”

Foley believes people need to talk more about grief, and its complexity.

“My own mental health has been a huge struggle,” says Foley, who has yet to return to work.

Recognizing her own limits, Foley sought support for her grieving children. She wanted them to meet other children in the same situation, and have the chance to talk openly about their feelings.

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“Grief is hard for kids,” Foley says, “and it changes as their ability to understand the permanence of death changes. That doesn’t really happen until they’re six or seven years old.

“So, I have two children with different experiences: One who has never met her dad and one who had this incredibly present, wonderful father who just died.”

Jessica Foley and Steven Trickett
Jessica Foley and Steven Trickett on their around-the-world trip in 2014. Photo by Provided /ott

Foley’s children were among the first to join the outdoor-based grief play group at Playful Mindset, the not-for-profit organization launched last year by Marnie Power. (Foley is raising money for the group in this year’s marathon.)

A social worker and former director of the Ottawa Forest and Nature School, Power decided recently to refocus her career on children’s social and emotional health. She resolved to use the power of nature and play to help children process trauma and loss.

“It’s in play that children are able to imagine a different world,” she says. “It’s also where they talk through really difficult things.”

Children, she says, process emotions not by sitting in a chair and talking to an adult, but through activity and play. At Playful Mindset, that means they often do it while looking for salamanders, drawing pictures or talking to other children.

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“They’re processing grief in a language they know,” says Power.

Too many people are “grief phobic,” she contends, and resist talking about death and trauma, especially with children. The facilitators at Playful Mindset encourage such discussions.

With children, she says, there’s an assumption that if they’re smiling and going to school, they’re OK. But children experience grief differently than adults, Power says, and can be consumed by it one minute and happy the next.

“It’s like a mud puddle for them: They’re in the grief and it’s intense, and then they’re out of it, and they’re playing with friends.”

Foley’s children are now four and seven years old. They’re engaged in arts and crafts, swimming lessons and Taylor Swift’s music. Their father remains part of their lives.

“We talk about Steven all the time,” says Foley. “I tell them about his favourite foods, his favourite things to do, and when they do something that reminds me of him. We have a cake for him on his birthday every year.”

She’ll be thinking about the love and joy that he brought into their lives as she’s running this year’s half marathon.

“Every step forward is bringing me back to somewhat of a whole person again,” she says.

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