Calgary woman struggles with sister’s 2009 death

The death of a sibling eternally resides in one’s heart.

Jan. 30, will mark the third anniversary of Tiffany Cox’s death in a basement fire in northwest Calgary. Her older sister, Brianne, will never forget the day she received a call from her mother, Mitzi Halliday, about her sister being in the hospital.

Couple Jonathan St. Pierre and Tiffany Cox were killed in a house fire in their basement suite in 2009. The suite did not have a suitable escape route as the windows had security bars bolted on.
Photo courtesy of: Brianne Cox and Mitzi Halliday
It was a typical evening for Cox, now 29, before she received the call. She ate dinner, took a bath, and went to bed. “I got a call at about five o’clock in the morning, and it was my mom telling me that Tiffany was in a house fire and that we had to go to the hospital, immediately.”

At first, Cox said she had no reaction to the call; that she was really calm. “I thought, oh you know, they got her out, she’ll be fine, we’ll get there and things will be okay. This stuff doesn’t happen to our family.”

Tiffany was 19 years old when she passed away. She was working as a nanny to nine-month-old Jasper Dueck. Her boyfriend Jonathan St. Pierre, and guest Colleen Mantei, also died in the fire. The smoke detector did not work and the windows, their only escape, had security bars bolted to them. The individuals’ family members filed lawsuits against the landlords of the northwest home.

Insights to dealing with the loss of a sibling

Mourning a family member’s death is to be expected but it may take time for those left behind to begin moving forward with their own lives.

   Brianne Cox admitted that nearly three years after the death of her sister, Tiffany, things are still bad for her.

   “I’m still angry because it didn’t have to happen,” said Cox. “I’m pretty hard on myself. I think I blame myself for my sister’s death.” Cox said she feels that if she hadn’t moved back home, Tiffany wouldn’t have moved out to the basement suite in order to have her own space.

   After Tiffany’s death, Cox drank her pain away, something she has since worked on.

  Mitzi Halliday, Cox’s mother, said that she and Cox try to support each other as often as they can.

  Janet Arnold, a registered social worker who teaches the Psychology of Death and Dying course at Mount Royal University, said that when an individual’s sibling dies, “You sort of lose a shared history of growing up.”

   She said that the memories involved with that person’s sibling can sometimes become lost and the person who remains feels left behind.

   “Everyone’s grief journey is different,” Arnold said, “There is no right or wrong way.”

   Arnold mentioned that substance abuse is not a healthy form of grieving. This includes: drinking, drug abuse, and self-inflicted pain.

  She suggested that for someone who is grieving, it is a good idea to find someone to talk to, like a support group. She also said that for some people, making an investment into something that matters to that individual or to the person that they lost is another way of progressing forward with life after a death.

   After an individual’s loss, whether it’s a sibling or other family member, Arnold said that eventually you begin to develop a new life “integrating that loss into your new life.”

Once at the hospital, Cox said that there were no physical burns on Tiffany’s face, just some scratches on her arms. “I felt because her body looked okay, that she really would be fine,” she explained. “I felt like from there on in that I needed to be closer with her, spend more time with her, make some changes in my life, and I promised God that if He made Tiffany OK that I would do those things.”

Cox, who resides in Cochrane, Alta., said after Tiffany’s death she never had a “normal” day. Sometimes she could sleep, other times not. She would eat and smoke as usual, but Cox had undertaken the new habit of drinking excessively. Cox took nine months off of work at Rexall Drugstore, where she works as a cosmetician, because she could not function.

“I had a lot of regret, anger, hurt and frustration. I couldn’t talk to anybody. So I decided to drink my pain away,” she said. “That’s basically how I dealt with it.” Cox would think about the fights she and her sister had in the past, wishing she could take them back and wondered if her sister knew that she was sorry for not being closer with her.

Halliday, Cox’s mother, said, “She’s not the same, she has a lot of regrets and deals with a lot of self-inflicted pain.” Both Halliday and Cox support each other as much as possible, but Halliday said it’s still hard to heal when you see your daughter suffering as well.

“Her life was ripped out from underneath her,” Halliday said. “How do you make her life [go] back to what it was?”

Steven Pitre, Cox’s boyfriend for over a year now, said he tries to understand and be there for her, to show her that the process of healing needs to be taken day-by-day.

Now that it has been almost three years since Tiffany Cox’s passing, Brianne Cox admits that it’s still bad for her; that things have improved minimally. “I don’t drink the way that I used to, I have somebody good in my life who is really supportive, and so I think that helped. But I always really believed that Tiffany sent Steven to me because she knew that I couldn’t do this on my own.”

Cox now lives a healthier lifestyle; she said she reads books on death and other people’s experiences as well as books on the afterlife. Work is also a form of distraction; she calls it her “safe haven.” Cox mentioned she’s also talked with some mediums, individuals who say they can contact those who have passed. She said this helped her receive some closure and give her hope that someday, in the future, she will see her sister again.

Tiffany Cox was only 19-years-old when she died in a house fire in 2009. She was survived by her sister Brianne who still mourns Tiffany’s death as if it were yesterday.
Photo courtesy of: Brianne Cox and Mitzi Halliday

“Maybe I need to change my life because I want to be a good person and I want to see her again,” Cox said. “Those are the steps I have to take in order to reach my goal which is ultimately see my sister’s face again, have a conversation with her, hug her, kiss her, and tell her I love her.”

Cox said now she focuses on thinking that this is her life; what occurred was meant to happen in order to make her into the person she’s meant to be. Cox said if she had to talk with someone experiencing a similar situation she would say, “They would want us to live our life and keep on going. They wouldn’t want us to suffer.”

 jroszko@cjournal.ca