CMHA program made 'life worth living' again for Windsor mom who lost son suddenly

·2 min read
Kirsten Altenhof appears in a video describing her experience with the CMHA's bereavement program. (Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex County Branch - image credit)
Kirsten Altenhof appears in a video describing her experience with the CMHA's bereavement program. (Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex County Branch - image credit)

In 2015, Kirsten Altenhof was a happy mother of four, a business owner and had recently ran the Boston Marathon. The death of her son Zachary, 21, changed everything.

"At that point, my world just went completely dark, to best describe it," she said. "I did not work. I could barely drive a car. Running was over; walking was a struggle, and I took up smoking, and at times, I smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day."

Zachary died in his sleep on May 15, 2015. To this day, the cause of his passing has not been identified, she said.

About six months following his death, Altenhof was introduced to the bereavement program with the Windsor-Essex County chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association, but she was reluctant and skeptical at first.

"Once I gave the group a chance, you know, and listened to what equally shattered mothers and fathers were saying, I realized that hope and a life worth living was the common denominator amongst us all," she said.

Now, six and a half years later, Altenhof's life and career are back on track. She's quit smoking and is training to one day run the Boston Marathon once again. She still has dark days, but credits the program with giving her the tools to live her new life.

Altenhof is speaking out about the impact the program had on her life as part of one of the organization's fundraising efforts, the seventh annual Light the Way campaign.

The money raised supports the bereavement program as well as the CMHA's client assistance fund.

LISTEN | Kim Willis joins CBC Radio's Windsor Morning:

The bereavement program serves more than 500 people every year, according to Kim Willis, director or communications and mental health promotion for the Windsor-Essex CMHA.

Some of those clients say the support they received allowed them to continue on and move forward after a significant loss.

"I think it's around hope and healing and knowing that you're not alone," Willis said.

The organization is aiming to raise $50,000 this year.

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