Messages for Zachary

Derek Montague
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Family, friends launch 51 birthday balloons in memory of North West River boy

Zachary Riche was taken from his family and friends far too soon. In 2012, at the young age of 12, he died from complications caused by cardiomyopathy. At the time of his death, Zachary and his family were in Toronto, hoping that he would receive a heart transplant in time.

Everyone on North West River beach released the balloons at the same time. In total, 51 balloons were launched in memory of Zachary Riche.

In the small town of North West River, with a population less than 600, Zachary’s death sent waves of sadness through the entire community. Despite his heart condition, Zachary was known throughout town as a friendly, likeable and active child.

In October of 2013, one of Zachary’s favourite places, the Lake Melville School’s playground was named in his honour. Ever since then, the area has been known as “Zachary’s Playground.”

“He was a boy who had tremendous physical challenges but … he was always smiling, very pleasant to be around,” said Lake Melville School’s principal, Barry Flynn, during the naming ceremony. “Zachary was very well liked at the school. And I must say, I could not think of a better child to have named on that sign out there.”

“He loved the playground,” added Zachary’s aunt, Helena Riche. “Actually, before he passed away, we got a major piece installed and he did play on that, pretty much daily.”

But the community members of North West River didn’t end their memorials for Zachary with the playground. 

On July 21, 2013, Zachary would have been 13-years-old. To mark the date, family and friends gathered at North West River’s beach and released a bunch of birthday balloons into the air, letting the wind carry them off into the horizon.

The family decided to make the balloon release a yearly tradition. So, on July 21 of this year, family, friends and community members once again gathered at the beach for Zachary’s birthday.

This year, dozens of people joined in and released a total of 51 balloons into the sky. Most of the balloons contained messages of love and remembrance, written in marker.

While most people released one or two balloons, Zachary’s older sister Shania launched 14, since that’s how old Zachary would have been this year.

Although the balloon launch stirs up a lot of emotion for Helena Riche and her family, it also helps the healing process.

“It helps the family cope in many ways … also his close friends and community members that thought so much of him,” said Riche.

“Zachary had a huge heart, a big smile and his personality and humour would draw you in. This balloon launch helps us all keep his memory alive, it brings us together to reminisce about the boy we all knew and loved and the funny things he did …”

Whether through coincidence or fate, the winds have also done their job at the balloon launch two years in a row. Not only were they strong enough to carry away the balloons, but also the direction of the wind took the balloons towards Butter and Snow, Zachary’s favourite spot in Labrador.

“Butter and Snow is where our cabin is located and he loved it there regardless of the season or weather. He loved the outdoors at the cabin … It was his happy place,” said Riche.

“Two years straight the winds take them in that direction and it never fails to bring a tear to the eye. The day of the funeral, we launched 30 Chinese lanterns, which went the same direction.”

Organizations: Lake Melville School

Geographic location: North West River, Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Bob Mesher
    July 23, 2014 - 16:26

    Thanks so much for this writeup, Derek. Certainly Zachary's mother Hollie as well as his grandma Ella are also most grateful for this, and the very thoughtful community tradition in respect and memory of our lost loved one.