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Ex libris: Finding their way home

Ex libris: Finding their way home

I remember sitting at Callum’s bedside wondering how I would interact with patients and families when the end of life was near, being in that place now myself. I thought of how my career as an ER doctor and medical educator was forever altered. I thought of the humanity in caring for people and facing grief together. I knew then that surviving Callum’s death and grieving my son would have a profound impact on my path as a doctor and teacher.Not knowing what lay ahead in my medical practice, I promised myself and Callum that I would choose to be brave. I would have courage to stand silently with families, to be present and vulnerable and not shy away from speaking the honest truth.

[photo of Dr. Damon Dagnone looking out a window]
Bernard Clark

Dr. Damon Dagnone, Artsci'96, PHE'97, MSc'98, is an ER physician and an associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Queen's.Finding our way home is his first book.

In 2006, Damon Dagnone was a resident in Emergency Medicine at Queen’s, husband to Trisha, and father of Thai and Callum. That year, his family’s world was turned upside-down when two-year-old Callum was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

So there it was. We would be forced to watch our Callum suffer tremendous amounts of discomfort, nausea, and pain to give him a chance at living. Each month would be harder than the previous one, and each month would mean more danger, pain, and struggle just for Callum to stay alive. We would all do this in attempt to prevent the cancer from coming back. It was made very clear. There was no other option, no other path to take. This was what we were about to face together.

In Finding our way home: a family’s story of life, love, and loss, Dr. Dagnone takes the reader through his family’s heart-wrenching experience, from Callum’s diagnosis, months of treatment, and then his death. And it continues afterwards, to explore each family member’s journey, alone and together, to work through grief and find joy again.

At the centre of it…have been our children, our marriage, and our intrinsic selves. From the beginning, nothing mattered more to us than our kids and each other. Everything started with thinking about what our kids needed, whether it was while Callum was in the hospital or those first few days, weeks, and months with Thai after Callum died or the times when Mae wanted to know about her second big brother in Heaven. Our first priority was to take care of our children as best we could and guide them through their own grief. The second priority was looking after each other, and the third, looking after our own individual selves. These priorities, I think, in this order, are what defined our journey.

“Since publishing my book, many people have asked me why I would want to write about my family’s very personal struggle,” says Dr. Dagnone. “The answer is ‘For many reasons.’ Most importantly, Trisha and I feel we have a story to tell about our journey. It is a story full of grief, joy, pain, love, life, loss, and laughter. After sharing parts of our story with many people over the last 12 years, we felt it was time to share much more of it with others. By revealing some of the unspoken truths of loss, sharing an insider’s view of the hospital system, and drawing on the power of love within our own marriage, we hope that sharing our journey might resonate with others regarding their own grief. As well, our story celebrates the complexity and resilience of the human spirit. It is an honest account of our imperfect struggle to function and find joy again.”


[cover image of the Queen's Alumni Review issue 2, 2019, showing the 'Together' message in Mitchell Hall]