About 1,000 people packed a memorial service in southern Manitoba Thursday afternoon to say their final goodbyes to a Winnipeg mother and her two children who died last week.
The service for 32-year-old Lisa Gibson and her children, two-year-old Anna and three-month-old Nicholas, was held in the town of Stonewall, Man., about 20 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
The streets around the MacKenzie Funeral Home were crowded with cars, and the chapel, which holds 350 people, was full.
A neighbouring legion hall that served as an overflow space and was outfitted with a video and audio feed held over 600 more people.
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Many of the mourners wiped watery eyes while reading pamphlets, which featured photos of Lisa, Nicholas and Anna.
On the back, it read: "Deep are the memories, precious they stay, no passing time can take them away."
Gibson's father speaks at memorial service
The service began with all attendees standing and sharing a moment of silence.
For part of the ceremony, three of Gibson’s friends spoke about knowing the woman and how it changed their lives.
Her friend Cassie told mourners, "She was passionate about blood donation, donating every two months for the past 10-plus years." She added, "I can’t imagine how many lives she would have saved."
Cassie said Gibson was a woman who cared about the environment and would suggest biking to the movies and avoiding buying things you didn’t need. Gibson was also a runner and finished several full and half marathons, "only competing with herself," Cassie said.
She recalled asking Gibson before her death what it was like to love a baby, and Cassie said Lisa said loving your baby is "an extension of yourself."
"She didn’t just love her children. She loved everyone, and she let everyone know," said Cassie. "She was the best person I know — nothing more than an absolute blessing. My life will never be the same."
Gibson’s brother-in-law Bill later told mourners he appreciated all of the joy the three brought into his life, saying, "I never thought I would love as much as I do now."
'I never thought I would love as much as I do now.' —Lisa Gibson’s brother-in-law Bill
Bill then played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the guitar and sang, a song he said Anna used to sing with him.
Gibson’s other brother-in-law, Dan, told the audience of Gibson’s sharp sense of humor, saying she had "a thinking person’s humour — witty, subtle, sometimes slapstick."
He recalled Anna following her parents around their home and called her "our super baby."
Lisa’s father then spoke to mourners, telling them there were three things he knew for sure: that he wouldn’t have missed being a grandparent for the world or having Brian, Gibson’s husband, in his life for the past seven years, or having Gibson as a daughter for the past 32.
He said of Anna that it was love at first sight and of Nicholas that he thrived in his brief life.
Gibson’s husband, Brian, did not speak but had someone speak on his behalf, thanking the Winnipeg Police Service for its support and asked people to continue sharing their memories later in the day.
The service ended with Amazing Grace.
Vigil and flowers
On Thursday evening, about 200 people gathered at The Forks and tossed white flowers into the river.
The gesture was part of a vigil to honour Anna, Nicholas and Lisa.
Many of those on hand were children, who watched the white petals get pulled away on the dark water while a violinist played nearby.
The organizers of the vigil said the symbolism was intended to represent light in the darkness.
Family says 'thank you'
The Gibson family issued its first statement Thursday — in the form of a message board.
The simple, white board with three hand-printed paragraphs has been placed at the corner of the yard where a makeshift memorial of stuffed animals, flowers and notes had accumulated in the days after the deaths.
It thanks the community for their understanding and compassion and the generous tributes.
The toys that had piled up in the spot have been removed and donated to Child and Family Services for families in need.
Police recovered Gibson’s body from the Red River in Winnipeg last weekend, just days after the children died. They had been found by emergency responders clinging to life in a bathtub in the Gibson home.
Police have said postpartum health issues are part of their investigation.
The tragedy has impacted many people in the city — those who knew the family or not — and several turned out Wednesday night to talk about that and try to find some solace.
"We've got grandparents, we've got new moms, we've got people with kids that are impacted because they know that there was something terrible that happened to some children," said Cindy Willette, a victim services unit social worker for the Winnipeg Police Service victims services unit.
The event, set up by the WPS, was held at the Kirkfield Westwood community centre in the neighbourhood where the Gibsons lived.
A variety of social services agencies were on hand to lend an ear and a voice, even to one another.
"I think some of us as helpers are also gaining by listening and talking to some other people that are here from other agencies," said Willette.
People like Gail Klisby came to the meeting to pay her respects. The former maternity nurse also shared her experience with keeping moms in hospital longer, suggesting it could help pinpoint signs of postpartum depression sooner.
"Not all mothers knew what to do so we were there 24/7 to help them to get an established routine and get to know their babies," she said.
Victims services and the other agencies remain open to hearing the public's concerns and can help point in the right direction anyone still struggling with the tragedy, Willette said.
"There are a number of different avenues depending on what people's particular issues might be," she said.
A group of Winnipeggers is planning a five-kilometre run to raise awareness and money for postpartum mental health, prompted by the Gibson tragedy.
Eddie Marion-Gerula, one of the run's organizers, didn't know the family but said he felt compelled to do something.
"It broke our hearts and we started talking about it on Facebook — that there needs to be more awareness and more help for these women — and I just found out that she actually was a runner," he said, adding he has run for many causes over the years.
"I have a mom and I have a wife and we have four children. I mean, this could happen to so many different people … so if our race can help a little bit [to raise awareness]
then that's great."
The Run for Moms will take place Sept. 25 in Kildonan Park. All proceeds raised will go to the Mood Disorders Society of Manitoba.