They were 17 and 29 years old. A life of travels, adventures and dreams to come true awaited them, but cancer took them both away in 2021. To keep the memory of Héloïse and Gabrielle alive, their parents joined forces to launch a wonderful initiative, that of the traveling stones.
Since September, some 200 pebbles painted blue (Héloïse’s favorite color) or yellow (the color of the manicure Gabrielle wore the day she died) have been strewn around the world, carried in the suitcases of travelers who knew sometimes young women, but not always.
Since then, we have seen them at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, in a water park in Vietnam, in front of a mosque in Dubai or on the edge of a glacier in Colombia. A couple are currently criss-crossing the United States with two painted stones aboard their RV. A pebble even found its way to Russia, picked up from a beach in Varadero, Cuba, by a woman named Irina.
All those who transported Héloïse and Gabrielle’s pebbles photographed them in often superb landscapes before leaving them in plain view for others to find them… and allow them to continue their journey. The initiative is all the rage. Each stone is equipped with a QR code, and the photos are piling up at a surprising rate on the Facebook page Make us travel, created in honor of this touching project.
Gabrielle’s parents, Sylvie Leblanc and André Doyon, as well as Héloïse’s mother, Danielle Boulanger, have each experienced the worst tragedy a parent can imagine: the loss of a child. The two mothers met in a bereavement group organized by a funeral home; they immediately connected. “When you lose your child, you have no words to say how you feel. We both spoke the same language,” says Danielle Boulanger.
During a shared weekend in Saint-Donat, the two mothers had the idea of hiding around the chalet where they were staying two stones on which they had painted the names of their daughters. “We said to ourselves that we would come back in 15 or 20 years to find them,” explains Sylvie Leblanc.
One thing leading to another, the project changed. Héloïse and Gabrielle were young women full of life, who cherished the project of traveling around the world (and in the case of Héloïse, of becoming premier of Quebec). Why not make them travel differently?
“At the start, we especially wanted to do good,” says Sylvie Leblanc. “But the idea quickly created a craze among Gabrielle’s friends,” says her husband André Doyon. It became like a mission for them to take Gabrielle everywhere with them. »
His wife immediately reassures him: “Our girls must be so proud of us!” “And they must find us intense,” replies the father of the family.
Intense or not, these parents feel carried by the project. “It does us a lot of good and I think it also helps those who travel with Héloïse and Gabrielle,” said Danielle Boulanger. “They are accompanied by angels,” adds André Doyon.
“Our daughters were unifiers, positive leaders,” recalls Gabrielle’s father. They did not know each other during their lifetime, but we can clearly see the similarities that exist between them. They were old souls, but also real balls of energy, all the time. “And both went through the disease with a determination and a resilience that marked their loved ones.
Before her death, Gabrielle had time to take several trips with friends. Spain, Greece, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Belize. “She organized everything, her friends followed her with their eyes closed. She wasn’t 30 when she left, but she’s traveled more than the average person. It’s as if she always knew to enjoy life to the fullest. »
In the case of Héloïse, when the diagnosis of cancer of the adrenal gland fell (“one case in a million”, says her mother), the family multiplied the trips with the teenager. The tour of Gaspésie in van life, Hawaii, Paris, Western Canada. “In two months, she made four trips. She refused to talk about death; she wanted us to focus on the positive. When she passed away on Christmas Day 2021, the room was filled with friends and family. His father and older sister Laurence were also at his bedside, as was his mother.
The two mothers never leave the house without having in their bag a stone in the colors of their daughters. They thus encouraged complete strangers to make room for Héloïse and Gabrielle in their luggage: two Air Transat pilots, an Olympian met in Lake Placid, a Trévi employee at Quartier DIX30. “At first I wanted to number the rocks so I could track each one, but I lost count,” admits Danielle Boulanger.
She continues: “It’s a terrible ordeal to lose your child, but there are also beautiful things that happen, beautiful encounters that are made. So many people supported us through this ordeal. A real small army! »
For these bereaved parents, the Make Us Travel project not only heals their wounds, but also serves a dual purpose: to raise awareness about pediatric bereavement.
“People struggle sometimes in front of parents who have just lost their child, they are uncomfortable. We lost friends because of it. One of my dreams would be to go to Everyone is talking about it to raise awareness. Our daughters are dead and it’s as if we no longer have the right to live. But we are still here. We laugh, we dance. We are much more than the cloud of grief people think they see. Sometimes a coffee, a shared jog, a glass of wine can be enough to help. We need to talk about it. »
Danielle Boulanger continues with emotion: “They say that in life, you die twice. The day we die and the day people stop saying our name and thinking about us. And I won’t let my daughter die twice. »