Friday, January 6, 2012

A tribute to the clown who let us dream

I was gripped with fear about my son’s pain and challenging rehab. Would he ever walk again?

Then out of nowhere they’d appear on the hospital floor and launch into a magnetic Star Wars scene: Dr. Flap would be C-3PO and Ricky would be Darth Vader.

My mind would pop out of its prison, my stomach would fill with a slow, grounding breath, and my face would spread into a grin.

Ben – immobilized in a body cast – would giggle.

They were light and joy and laughter in the midst of pain and fear and despair. They could make you forget – they could make anything possible, for they were Holland Bloorview’s therapeutic clowns.

And one of them is no longer with us.

Jamie Burnett (photo right) – who many of you knew as Ricky – died on December 18 at age 33 after a long journey with a brain tumour.

I used to stand transfixed watching Ricky and Dr. Flap (Helen Donnelly, photo centre). No matter which hospital room we were in or whether the child could speak or move, the duo would create a kind of magic that bounced like a ball between the clowns and the child and the child and the clowns. Sometimes the magic moved back and forth through blinks of the eyes alone, sometimes through silly body movements and sounds. Sometimes it was a child conducting the taps of drum brushes on a wheelchair tray or commanding the clowns to perform outlandish antics. Sometimes it was an elaborate story the child told and the clowns acted out. Other times it was a dance to the strums of a red ukelele.

“When children come in here they lose all power,” Jamie told me in an interview two years ago. “They lose control of their bodies due to some illness…and they have doctors telling them what to do, and parents telling them what to do…

“We allow them to come to a space of complete freedom and imagination…and go wherever they would like to go and that, I think, is so essential, not just in terms of being a human being, but in terms of becoming a healthier person. I am always amazed at the courage they show and I am always amazed at the beauty of their spirits, and their ability to move through with such humour and grace…"

Jamie’s wife Rebecca has shared these details about a Celebration of Life for Jamie: It will be held on Sunday, January 15 at 918 Bathurst in the Great Hall. A formal service will begin at 4 p.m. Children are welcome.

An informal party will take place from 5:30-9 p.m. During this part of the evening, we invite all forms of creative expression. If anyone would like to pay tribute to Jamie, please let us know.

If you plan to attend, please RSVP to Karl Gad at The venue is not fully accessible so please make any special needs known in advance.

In Jamie's memory his family invites donations to the Therapeutic Clown Program at Holland Bloorview by visiting or by calling 416-424-3809.


Transference --the act of caring or love -- by one human being to another, what a gift!

Jamie will never be forgotten.

Matt Kamaratakis

Jamie, you will be missed by many.
A bright light never to be forgotten. Ruth