At 8 a.m. on Boxing Day, Carmella Newell received a terrible call.
On the other end of the line, her son Christian’s girlfriend was crying. Christian had gone overboard early that morning while fishing for lobster off Cape Sable Island, N.S., she said.
Other than that, the family didn’t know what had happened.
Newell and her partner climbed in their truck and made their way to the wharf Christian had left from, hoping for news; soon Christian’s brothers joined them.
“We just waited and waited and waited, until I just couldn’t handle it anymore and they brought me home.”
Newell said Christian was a strong swimmer, but they knew the survival rate was low and that Christian’s personal floatation device had failed.
From her home in Newellton, N.S., she told CBC News that the hours after his disappearance were a waiting game, as the family looked for news from the search that was being conducted by sea and air.
It wasn’t until the next day that the reality of what had happened sank in.
Rescue effort called off
Halifax’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre ended the search for Christian Atwood at noon on Dec. 27, and handed it over to the RCMP as a missing person’s case.
“When the RCMP officer came over, it seemed more final,” Newell said. “We’re still hoping that his body will resurface and we can have closure and he can come home.”
As soon as news of Christian’s disappearance became public, Newell said she began to receive messages of support, including from the other crew members who had been on board the fishing boat.
“It was heartbreaking, they tried to save him and they couldn’t.”
The crew was struck by tragedy again this week. The boat’s captain had a heart attack hours after the search was called off. He remains in hospital in Yarmouth.
Newell said she also heard from families who had lost their sons when the Miss Ally fishing boat sank in 2013. The bodies of the five fishermen who perished in that incident were never recovered.
“They know what I’m going through,” Newell said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Christian leaves behind a 14-month-old son, Colson. Newell said the family is going to do everything they can to ensure Colson remembers a father who was full of life, who died doing what he loved.
“He said if he was to die, he hoped it was out on the sea lobstering,” she said. “But it was too soon, he was only 27 years old. No child should die before the parent.”
A trust account has also been set up for Colson.
‘It’s just been overwhelming’
While a memorial for Christian is planned for next week, Newell said the family is taking it day by day, focused on taking care of his little boy and each other.
“It’s just been overwhelming, the support and the condolences from all over,” she said. “We appreciate everyone, and we’re going to need all our friends, family, whether we know them personally or not, to wrap their arms around us and just pray that he will be brought home to us.”
Before this happened, Newell had told her family she wanted them to do more together: family dinners, trips to Digby. They’re still planning that trip for summer, she said. They’ll take Colson whale-watching, and bring a picture of Christian with them.
“I just miss my baby boy, and I want him to come home.”