Two Alberta mothers on life after losing their sons

thumb MashaMothers2The sting that comes with the death of a child is an unbearable pain for a mother, her worst nightmare. Ronda-Lee Rathwell and Brenda Wiese are dealing with a type of grief few could comprehend. Their sons were killed at the hands of others.

University student Zackariah Rathwell, 21 was part of a get-together at a friend’s house in the northwest community of Brentwood on April 15, 2014. They were celebrating the end of the school year when tragedy struck. Zackariah, along with four other university students, was stabbed to death in what has become known as Calgary’s biggest mass murder.

 Fifteen months earlier, another student gathering resulted in the death of 20-year-old Brett Wiese. Ready to go home, he was waiting for a taxi when a group of guests returned to the house. Brett was stabbed to death, another young man injured. A 17-year-old woman has since been convicted of the murder, with another awaiting trial. 

MashaMothers Ronda-Lee Rathwell stands in the room that used to be her son’s, Zackariah Rathwell’s, bedroom. His art still covers the walls, and his calendar hangs untouched since April 15th, one year ago.

Photo by Masha Scheele

News of the loss of their children reached both mothers early the following day.  

“I don’t remember much about that day, but I do remember thinking, how am I going to do this?” recalls Ronda-Lee Rathwell.

Speaking from her home near Ponoka, Alta., Brenda Wiese struggles daily with comprehending the act of the homicide, itself.

“We would never want to know that a bright, athletic man of potential, our child, could be murdered by somebody because that is so filthy.” she said.

Wiese relates to Rathwell’s feeling of wondering how she would ever recover from the loss.

“You take [my children] away and I’m nothing, and miraculously I kept breathing and my heart kept beating and somehow one foot went in front of the other,” she said.

Both mothers say moving forward has become possible, but never easy.

Produced by Zana El-Youssef, Kari Pedersen, Masha Scheele

“In spite of my brokenness, in spite of my desperation and grief, I feel like I still have a purpose and need to move forward,” she said with tears filling her eyes. “There’s no way to move on but I feel like I can move forward and adapt to this new life.”

While the Wiese family will soon be able to close the chapter on the courtroom —
the trial for the second accused in their son’s death begins in September — the Rathwell’s case is in the early stages.

“This is going to be my life now. If I think about that (the murder), then it takes me away from right now, today. That will make you crazy and that takes away from the grieving and the whole process of getting through it,” said Rathwell.MashaMothers2 copy In the comfort of their home outside of Ponoka, Brenda Wiese and her husband adapt to a new life without their son, Brett Wiese.

Photo by Masha Scheele

Both mothers say they are comforted today by the presence of their sons. Wiese says she routinely feels as though Brett is cheering her on. Rathwell says she too is comforted by remember what her son would say during tough times.

“He used to say this — ‘It will be okay in the end, and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” 

The editor responsible for this article is Ali Hardstaff at 

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