The parents of Tori Stafford are beginning a journey of profound grieving and loss that few among us could even imagine. It is a journey that Lesley Parrott wishes she’d never had to take, but one she knows all too well.
Parrott’s 11-year-old daughter Alison was murdered on July 25, 1986, after being lured from the family’s midtown Toronto home by a then-unknown assailant. It was not until 10 years later that an arrest was made, and another three before her killer came to trial and was convicted.
The news that murder charges have been laid in the disappearance of the eight-year-old girl from Woodstock, Ont., “grabs my heart,” Parrott said in an interview from her home northeast of Toronto. “Then of course my heart goes to the parents.”
She is intimately acquainted with the roiling emotions that Tori’s parents, Tara McDonald and Rodney Stafford, will likely experience as they adjust to life without their daughter.
“You go through a fairly long and prolonged period of shock,” said Parrott, who counsels other parents who have lost a child through illness, accident or violence. “I always think, thank God that’s what the body does, because in a sense it cushions you for a while.”
“If you were to go immediately to what I call the black hole, you would never get out. And it can take months and years for that shock to slowly wear away. It’s like an onion.”
Parents who lose a child for any reason experience a gamut of emotions, from disbelief and anger to anxiety and guilt, said Janet Wilson, executive director of Bereaved Families of Ontario’s Toronto division.
But the death of a child through violence adds a whole other dimension to their mourning process.
“There’s always a stigma associated with murder,” she said. “So it’s more difficult to talk about with people.”
“They’ll go through all those intense emotions, and I guess everything in terms of a murder becomes more intense … The other thing is, they may do some grieving now, but then the court case will come up. And then it starts all over again and it brings it all back.”
For Parrott and her husband, Peter, the first-degree murder trial of Francis Carl Roy ripped open the wounds of losing Alison once more.
“You kind of get exposed or revictimized all over again,” said Parrott, who scoffed at the idea that his life sentence with no parole for 25 years brought any kind of closure to their suffering.
“No, there’s no closure — and it’s a dirty word,” she said. “Because when you lose a child … a child is part of you forever. What you have is a changed relationship. But do you ever get over losing a child? No.”
“Any parent who’s lost a child will tell you there’s no closure.”
Parrott said she was able to survive her daughter’s loss because she was surrounded by loving and caring friends, neighbours and family — and because of her son, who was three years younger than Alison.
“The one thing that I came to after a number of months is that if there’s nothing else I can do in my life, I will parent my son, because I cannot allow my other child virtually to be killed by this as well.”