One Year Without Pop

Nov 4, 2023 | Blog, Our Life

It’s been a year. 

One whole year since the day our world imploded. I feel like the details are as clear in my mind as the day it happened. 

Life is far from the 10-slide snippets of perfection and happiness that we have the opportunity to share here and there. We aren’t just the people behind the camera, we are the hearts behind the camera. And sometimes those hearts are hurting. 

Even more in this last year, but for a long time now, Cam & I have been firm believers in the power of sharing testimony. Sharing your life struggles and being open about who you are is a gift. 

It assures others that they’re not alone. You’re not the only one who has ever felt this way. And knowing that you aren’t the only one is somehow so incredibly liberating. We aren’t meant to live in isolation. 

In the last year, hearing from others who have shared our experience, and understood where we’re coming from has been powerful. People who ‘get it’, who will listen without judgment, and who create a safe space to share have been a precious gift. 

I am, by no stretch, an expert in grief, and I have nowhere reached the end of my own journey through it. I spent a good amount of time crying on my own as I spent hours writing this, but if this could be what someone needs to hear today, that is enough. 

So I just pray that these words, that have poured out of me in processing my own grief journey, might be what someone else needs to hear in their own journey.



One Year Without Pop - The Pond - 11 - With Grammy and Pop

{ One Year without Pop }

It was a snowy Friday. Just a regular day, one of my scheduled days off. Ashton was home from school with a bad cold. I had spent the morning grocery shopping and had just nicely gotten home and put the groceries away.

I had bought pizza pops at Costco, a staple of my own childhood meals that I wanted my kids to try, and was making some for Ashton for lunch. I got the pizza pops in the oven, while Ashton was laying on the couch in front of the window. I walked from the kitchen to say something to him, noticing out the window that my mom, Charissa & Jonah were walking across the snow on the lawn, up to the door. 

‘That’s weird,’ I thought. I knew mom was working that day, or maybe I had mixed the day up… But something in their steps told me something wasn’t quite right.

I walked down the stairs to open the front door for them, where mom stepped inside and promptly said, “Your dad had a heart attack. He died.” I shook my head, not registering any of the words she had just spoken, like, maybe I could rattle the words into making sense if I shook a little more. 

Confused, I asked again, “What?” Mom repeated, “Dad had a heart attack this morning. He died.” 

I backed up slowly and sat down on the bottom step, in utter shock and confusion, asking a third time, “What?”

Looking from mom’s face to my sister’s, I searched her expression to find a different answer. Charissa’s eyes welled with tears, and she nodded. 

The three of us embraced at the front door, as the sobs overtook our bodies.

One Year Without Pop - The Pond - 06 - Tube Train

Time stopped. It felt like something had blown right through my chest. I couldn’t breathe. I could hear only high-pitched squealing and the warbling of voices on the other side of it. My brain couldn’t register any new information. After an indeterminable amount of time, the squealing faded, bringing me back into the room.

Ashton. He was sitting on the couch and heard all of this too. I turned to stumble my way up the steps, as he met me on the stairs. Holding me as tight as he could, we stood on the stairs, sobbing together. 

One Year Without Pop - Douglas Park School - 12 - Ashton with Grammy and Pop

Mom explained that Dad had been working at Dallas Valley Ranch Camp that morning. He was trying to start a generator but was having some pain in his left arm and chest.

Dad texted Mom to tell her what was happening, as she was at work, saying that he was on his way to the hospital. He was already on the highway when mom called him back. They spoke briefly, as Mom panicked, telling him to get to the hospital as quickly as he could. 

After they hung up, Mom said she thought to herself, “What am I thinking?! He needs to pull over and call an ambulance!” She called him back, and he answered, saying only, “Hello?” as she heard his truck hit the ditch, and the items flying around inside the cab of his truck. 

I heard Mom recall this story for countless people as she started making calls, the details still no clearer with each recounting. Getting a little more angry at each retelling that somehow any of it could be true. 

I called Cam at work, in between sobs, managing to tell him that my dad had had a heart attack and that he had died. Cam shouted a confused, “WHAT?! I’m on my way!” and seemed to be home within 30 seconds.

Time didn’t seem to obey its regular rhythm any longer. Seconds felt like hours and sometimes hours a blink.

We called my brother, Carlen, who lives in Australia, waking him up in the middle of the night to tell him what happened. He stayed on Facetime, being passed around from one person to the next, as more people congregated at our house.

Cam picked up Judah & Hayden from school, each obviously sensing something was wrong. We took all three kids down to Ashton’s room in the basement, having to tell the younger two that Pop had a heart attack and had died earlier that day.

The cracks in my heart split wider, as Hayden, Pop’s princess, crumpled into my arms, and Judah melted into Cam’s. Each of them cried out with deep, guttural sobs and noises that I had never heard them make before, but it was the true sound of utter anguish that my soul could completely understand.

One Year Without Pop - Regina Minor Girls Softball - 09 - Softball with Princess Hayden
One Year Without Pop - At home - 13 - Judah and Pop

People arrived steadily. Lots of hugs. More tears. Food appeared, thankfully someone thought of that, as my own thought processes were halted. And somehow hunger wasn’t something I felt anymore.

I couldn’t sit still. Any dish that needed to be washed was done immediately. I think my hands were full-on dragon scales by the end of the first afternoon.

The police came to the door. You see it in movies all the time. You think you have an idea of what it would be like if it happened to you. But there is nothing that can prepare you for it. 

Watching from between the spindles of the railing, I watched as Mom stood on the landing, the constable standing just inside the door, facing her. He handed her a clear plastic bag with Dad’s things inside. His glasses, wallet, clothes, and some other small items. 

How could this be true? How could my larger-than-life dad now be reduced to the few items left in that clear plastic bag? The very existence of that bag, and the fact that it was now sitting on my kitchen table, made me really angry. 

The constable explained that Dad’s truck had come off the exit from the highway, continued down the ditch, across the southbound lane, through the ditch again, and across the northbound lane, coming to rest against a tree. Thankfully, there had been no traffic in either lane, so no one else was hurt.

Other people saw what happened, understanding that he was clearly having a medical event, and had pulled him out of the truck to try to help him. But they could not help him. He was gone by the time the ambulance arrived, and he was pronounced deceased at the scene. 

The officer offered Mom his condolences and gave her a big hug. Even amidst my own pain, I felt so bad for him. What an awful thing to have to be the person who delivers this news.

One Year Without Pop - Leibel Field - 10 - Football fans in the stands

Our house became the place where everyone gathered. Which, at the beginning, gave me more cleaning to do, a more welcome distraction. I couldn’t and didn’t want to allow myself to stop and be present in a reality where my dad no longer existed.

We decided Mom would stay with us until she said she was ready to return to their house. She was welcome to stay as long as she needed.

We went to the house to pick up a few necessities mom would need to stay with us. 

We opened the front door and walked up the stairs. 

Neatly laid out on the couch were Dad’s pyjamas, where he had left them that morning. Unassuming that anything should be different. Never thinking that he wouldn’t come back at the end of the day to put them back on. 

One of his many pairs of reading glasses sat on the TV tray beside the couch, alongside his favourite cup, notepad and remote. 

The red Solo cup perched on the counter, with POP written on it in black Sharpie. Scribbled in Dad’s messy printing from the Halloween party we’d had just days before. The last day we were with him. When everything was ‘as it should be.’

But now everything was different. And I feared we wouldn’t ever feel normal again.

Fresh sobs came as mom recalled that morning’s goodbye. Dad had been really sick with a cold those last few weeks. He was coughing so much when he would lie down, that he had been sleeping in the downstairs bedroom so he wouldn’t wake Mom through the night.

As often happened when Dad got really sick, he ended up with a couple of cold sores on his lip. So that morning as he left, he didn’t kiss her goodbye because of his cold sores. But they exchanged ‘I love yous’ before Dad went out the door.

One Year Without Pop - At home - 05 - Facetime chats

That first night was rough. Mom & I slept in our bed, each doing that firstborn protector thing- trying to care for the other, and not allowing ourselves to fall asleep until we thought we heard signs of the other sleeping. We were exhausted- mentally, emotionally, physically. But even amidst the exhaustion, we couldn’t sleep much, and we were up by 3:30 or 4:00 the next morning.

People came again throughout the day, gathering at our house. We hosted supper for the family at our house, and all congregated in the living room afterward. While there were still many tears, the stories started to pour out. More and more, people shared about the terrible ideas dad had, the big ideas that somehow worked, but more that didn’t, and just all about the nut bar, fun-loving, bigger-than-life man that he was. 

It felt really good to laugh. A big part of me felt like maybe I would never be able to ever laugh again. Yet another part of me somehow felt guilty to laugh in the midst of this pain.

But speaking about Dad in the past tense was extremely hard. I couldn’t come to terms with there being an end date to his life.

One Year Without Pop - The Pond - 04 - Tobogganing together

The next morning was Sunday. The six of us sat together in our living room, heartbroken. Some were still in the clothes we had been wearing the days before, or still in our pyjamas. But Cam asked if we could take some time to pause, pray and worship together. To invite God into our time of extreme grief, and to thank Him for giving us Pop. It was one of the hardest, but equally most beautiful times to be completely destroyed before God. All of us with absolutely nothing left to give, but our worship. Inviting Him in to hold us amidst our time of excruciating pain. 

After a few days, Mom moved back home, and family gatherings happened at her house. It was good to be there, but also really hard.

Everything felt wrong. My brain was constantly trying to convince me that he was just outside in the yard, he would be back in just a minute. Though my heart knew differently, it wanted to believe. But the door didn’t open. He never came.

One day I stood at the kitchen sink, doing dishes as mom visited with a friend. As I looked down, I saw a shadow pass across the window that overlooked the deck, my heart leaping. It was him! He was back! But it was just a reflection from someone walking into the living room behind me. I crumpled to the floor in tears, like somehow it was a fresh realization all over again. 

The constant up and down is very real. 

When at Mom’s house, my ears could hear the sound of his slippers shuffling against the floor as he bustled around. He’d point his crooked finger at you, and ask what you needed. Pop was always the host with the most- you didn’t have a glass of iced tea yet? He’d make sure you got one. Didn’t want iced tea? No problem, he’d find you something else.

Every ‘dad’ song on the radio wasn’t sung by Cheap Trick, Sweet, KISS or whomever any longer- I could hear his voice, plain as day. I could see his face. I could hear the words that he would mess up- intentionally or not, that is still unknown. 

Driving by Tim Hortons, I could hear him ordering his usual extra-large, double-double, as his face would then turn to me, asking what I wanted. The sound of the change shifting from his coin collection in the console, as he made the correct change. The way his lips would purse out as he moved in for that first anticipatory sip of his coffee, followed by a wide, satisfied grin. 

I couldn’t go anywhere without being reminded of him. Wafts of his aftershave. Someone who had a similar gait as they walked, out of the corner of my eye in Home Depot. A work truck parked outside of Safeway- for a company he hasn’t worked with in years.

My heart searched for him everywhere. Every memory was precious. But also hurt. A lot. 

One Year Without Pop - At home - 02 - Pop and Princess Hayden

Which I quickly realized I never wanted to change. If lessening my grief and pain meant that we would not have the close relationship we did, that wasn’t a trade I would ever make. I would bear this grief as a badge of honour that I loved, and was loved, by the most amazing man, and had the honour of calling him my dad. 

Getting my brother and his family home from Australia was a big undertaking. Thankfully, we had people who sorted that entirely for us, as we could not string two coherent thoughts together. 

We waited at the bottom of those stairs at the Regina Airport, for what felt like decades. The knot in my stomach grew with each person who passed by and still wasn’t them. Knowing that we would finally all be together continued to build the anxiety. We stood there, bawling, as they finally made their way down the stairs. A passerby commented, “Oh, look how happy they are to be together again!”

**Sidebar- I’ve learned a lot about what NOT to do in this journey… Making assumptions of and/or commenting on someone else’s emotions, life – or anything- is a good example of what NOT to do.**

My brother hadn’t been home since they moved in October 2019, the global pandemic being declared a few short months later. None of us ever had reason to think that the last family supper we had together before they left would be the last we’d ever get. 

One Year Without Pop - Our House - 03 - Football Camp

Plans for the funeral started. What we thought we wanted. What we definitely knew we didn’t want. Could the music for the slideshow be something happier? Could it be ‘Saturday Night’ by the Bay City Rollers? Making decisions together that we didn’t want to be making, or thought we would be making for a long time. 

Cam took on so many responsibilities of organizing things for the funeral. Giving answers, when the rest of us weren’t fully comprehending the discussion. It was like herding cats with Alzheimer’s some days, and he was patient and intent on serving the best he could in the midst of dealing with his own grief. He was beyond gracious in the moments I had inexplicable emotional rollercoaster meltdowns. 

Anger at the funeral card draft that he designed showed Dad’s face in an “oval shape” design. That was for old people. Dad wasn’t an old person, his face shouldn’t be in an oval. And then anger that dad didn’t even get the chance to be an old person. He was only 59. That wasn’t fair.

Debilitating sadness that the funeral card had a birth AND death date. Dad now had an “end date” and I couldn’t come to terms with that either. It was so certain. That was it, it was over. Soon, it would be the end of the year. Then we wouldn’t even be in the same year as the day we last had together. 

We had the viewing. I had many mixed feelings. It was him. It confirmed that he wasn’t just out somewhere and would ‘be back soon’. He was here. 

But it wasn’t him. He was so cold. That is never a word that would ever be used to describe Dad in physicality or personality. He radiated warmth. 

The funeral director, who was a good friend of Dad’s, had put 3 socket driver bits in his pocket, that had been in Dad’s pocket when he was brought in. Three of them, three of us. My sister, my brother and I each took one. 

We decided that Dad was going to be cremated. Dad was an electrician and refrigeration mechanic by trade. He actually wired the crematorium in which he was going to be cremated. In the days that followed, Mom said to many people, “Alanis Morrisette doesn’t know the last thing about what’s Ironic…” 

At the viewing, we wrote our messages to him on the wooden box he was going to be cremated in. There were messages of love. Some jokes. Some pictures were drawn. 

The funeral home staff loaded him into the car, and we followed behind. Following the hearse, blinkers on, I was somehow in renewed disbelief that we were in this procession. That it was my dad in that hearse. That this was really happening. 

My siblings had decided early on that they wanted to be the ones to push the button to start the cremation process. I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t think I could do it. But as we stood there, waiting for them to call us in and say our final goodbyes, I knew that I had to. 

We stood there, the three of us holding each other, and when we all decided we were ready, pushed the button to start the cremation process. 

One Year Without Pop - At home - 15 - Grieving together

So much has happened since this time last year. We went on a family vacation to Florida two weeks after Dad’s funeral. We had Christmas, well, we survived Christmas, if I’m honest. There were birthdays celebrated, and anniversaries marked. New accomplishments in our respective work, sports, etc. We got a puppy, the same breed we grew up having, whom I know Dad would just adore.

Life keeps on going, but it is, and you are, very different. And that is one of the hardest parts. 

In the beginning, you’re expected to be in your grief. Feel all the feelings. People are gracious. But eventually, life returns to normal for them. 

Life doesn’t return to normal. There is still a massive hole in your life. 

Time does not heal all wounds. Whoever penned that thought must never have experienced grief.

Some wounds will hurt deeply for a really long time. Some sneak up on you. Cam so wisely reminded me one day that Pop played a lot of roles in each of our lives. So we don’t just grieve him, we grieve all of those roles as new situations come up. Protector. Mentor. Band Mate. Confidant. Prayer support. Dance Partner. Handyman. Cheerleader. Teacher. Coach. Grandpa. Dad. And so many more. In addition to all of the things we grieve that he won’t get to be.

The wounds are tender, and even a year later, some days still feel very fresh. But eventually, the edges aren’t as raw. The waves of grief will still inevitably come, but you aren’t completely lost to the undertow for nearly as long. But it will always be there. It will be part of you, just as surely as the pieces of that loved one will be with you.

As a wedding photographer, there is a lot of expectation that you’re a professional and know what you’re doing. While that is true, and we do, this wedding season was entirely different. With the sneaky grief still popping up, I was so scared that I would be seen as unstable, incompetent and somehow ruin people’s most special day. 

Our first wedding back this year was in June, and it was extremely difficult for me. I’ve shot many weddings for over a decade now, but somehow the freshness of all the family involvement and the triggers that could pop up throughout the day became so overwhelming. 

But God graciously handed us the most perfect couple for that first wedding day, long before we ever knew that we would need them. 

Leading up to the wedding, we were helping Bill & Lindsay with their timeline and arranging family photo lists and were reminded that Bill’s mom had passed away a couple of years prior. Not only that, their wedding day was also her birthday. I was so nervous that I was going to be a useless blubbering mess on the day.

The day was so beautiful and full of so much joy, but I can tell you that the grief button was definitely more sensitive that day. 

Bill opened a gift from Lindsay as he got ready- a pin, with a picture of him, his brothers, with his mom & grandma, who had both passed away. It came with a note, reminding him that they would both be walking with him that day. Cam & I took photos as he opened it, and shed some tears. I tried my best to contain my tears, but I couldn’t. As tears streamed off my face, I put my camera down and asked Bill if I could give him a hug. I knew that I was maybe breaking the norm of vendor/client relationship, but understanding that pain in a new way myself, it was a human interaction that felt most needed at that time.

But I’m learning that those of us with this same level of brokenness can sense the others who truly understand. Almost like a superpower, this deep pain is recognized in others who know the same. Like in Harry Potter, where Luna & Harry can see the thestrals, but no one else can. People who understand that same pain can connect on a different level. This family understood my pain and embraced me, without ever knowing my dad, but in full knowledge of how much they know it hurts. 

Seeing another family further along in this process spoke to my heart in a way that I didn’t know I needed. The speeches acknowledged their mother and the person she was, what she loved, and even what she didn’t. People didn’t shy away from talking about her. They freely showed that their pain still exists, allowing the grief to bubble up and have its moment, but then able to graciously move on. Their people ‘got it’, and did not forget her, or miss her any less. 

Which as a freshly grieving person, you find yourself worrying about. Will people forget him? Will they be too scared to talk to me about him? Do they expect me to just be better and move on? How long will they remain patient with me?

Throughout the day, Bill and his groomsmen, his two brothers, checked in on me. Encouraging me, being just absolute gems of human beings. As I sat, straight up weeping behind my camera during the father & daughter dance, members of the wedding party literally embraced me, offering me hugs of comfort. Others hugged us at the end of the night before we left. I can’t tell you all how much that meant to me. That was such an incredible gift to my aching heart. 

My dad lived for a good wedding dance. His shirt would be soaked through as he danced the night away. Now, I know most people wouldn’t find ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M to be a sad song, but that was one of Dad’s wedding dance jams. So I was that person, on the side of the dance floor, taking party dance photos, as Cam lovingly stroked my back, crying to ‘Rasputin’, as everyone danced on.

One Year Without Pop - The Dance Floor - 08 - Tie around the head

Bill & Lindsay, I cannot appropriately put into words my gratitude for you. You saw us in our grief, recognizing and understanding that pain. You didn’t shy away from it. It didn’t scare you. You looked me right in the face and acknowledged it. You offered care and strength to me, where I am used to playing the support role to the couple throughout the day. You offered grace and an abundance of love. You were a soft, safe place for me to land as I tried to find my footing as a ‘professional’ with this new grieving part of me. I’m so eternally thankful for you both. 

This year, we have had so many amazing clients who have checked in on us in different ways throughout this process. Texts, hugs, prayers, gifts, meals. Seeing us first as humans and loving us through this. We are so thankful for each and every one of you. 

Some things have changed in us as people, but if you have worked with us before, you may also notice that I will no longer let people get away without a photo of you with your parents. Regardless of your age, if we’re taking your photos, we want you to have photos of you with your loved one. 

Speaking from my own experience, when something happens, you desperately search for the tangible pieces you have left of them. The handwritten letters, the printed photos. And no matter how many you have, it feels like there were never enough photos taken or letters written to look back on. So as much as we can, we are going to encourage you to take them every time.

One Year Without Pop - Les Sherman Park - 07 - The original five

Thank you all for your love and support, and for allowing us to capture your family memories. When we say we treasure that honour, that is not a cliche. We mean it with our whole hearts. We understand how precious those memories are and we don’t take the responsibility to capture them lightly. 

I know for some, we are a vendor you’ve found through a Google search. That may be how the relationship starts, but I hope you will quickly find we’re a little different. We’re not afraid to admit that we’re not just the people behind the camera. That we are the beating hearts behind the camera. And sometimes, those hearts are broken, hurting, and patched together with a little duct tape or a bit of Shoe Goo. 

We’re on our own journey, and we know that journey will have twists and turns, good, bad, and sometimes even worse. There may never be another father & daughter dance that I don’t cry at, but we’ll be there for it. We’re here and want to allow God to use us to bless, encourage, and spur you on, wherever you are in the journey.

One Year Without Pop - The Pond - 01 - Playing hockey

Dad, I miss you so much. I can’t believe it has already been a year, and at the same time, that it has only been a year. So much has happened in the last year that I wish I could talk through with you. I miss your great, big laugh and your kind, gentle spirit. Your soft and beautiful heart, that often bubbled over, falling from your brilliant blue eyes. We are forever changed by this loss, but we aren’t defined by it. Our family was forever changed by your love for us, but most importantly, we were changed by the love Jesus has for us. That is what defines us and shapes who we are. 

We will take the pieces you built into us into the world, to leave it a little better than we found it. To stand up with courage when things aren’t right, even if it is an unpopular opinion. Because we know, “Conformity is the enemy,” and that is a truth I will never let my kids forget. To be the one who will call a spade, a spade. To be gracious, but not allow ourselves to be a doormat. We will take the opportunity to be the last or only ones on a dance floor, not for anyone else’s benefit, but just because it brings us joy. 

Until we see you again, Pop. We will miss you every single day. 


Cam & Courtney

One Year Without Pop - The Pond - 14 - Courtney with Pop


  1. So astoundingly beautiful…

    • Captured so well in your words of love, more than a photographer.

  2. Written from your heart and capturing your grief but also what an amazing dad you had. Continuing to pray for courage and comfort for the next year.

  3. Thanks for sharing this. I can only imagine how hard it was to write but what a great tribute to your father. Tears were streaming down my face reading this. What a great man – never to be forgotten! Love you guys!


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Cam & Courtney - Husband & Wife Wedding Photography Team in Regina, Saskatchewan

We are Cam & Courtney Liske, a husband and wife photography team based out of Regina, Saskatchewan. We specialize in capturing the special moments of your life – engagement, wedding, and family. We believe in curating an experience and product that you will treasure and pass on for generations to come.

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