Colleen Franz has a message for the many, many people who have sent her their condolences over the loss of her son Matthew Wilson: every one of them has helped her get through “the next minute, the next hour, and the next day.”
Losing a child under any circumstance is devastating, but the tragedy of Matthew’s death, and the questions still remaining for his family, have left his mother in shock, struggling to be strong, trying to be the kind of person Matt would want her to be, she says.
He was walking along Lakeshore Road near McNab Road last Sunday night, when he was hit by a pickup truck, she thinks around 10:30 p.m. The driver fled the scene. Two men, Colleen thinks on their way to work Monday morning, saw her son in a ditch around 7 a.m., and stopped to help. One called 911, and the other administered CPR until paramedics arrived.
The two men, she says, “have reached out to me. They tried to save my son.” They want to be anonymous, she added.
Colleen believes Matthew, 40, was on his way home from seeing a girl, someone he may have met recently, but she’s not sure.
He told her he was going out, and he was walking, as he often does. And because her son was an adult, living with her and her husband John, Matt’s stepfather, she didn’t ask him a lot about what he was doing or where he was going. He had lost his job due to COVID, and she had suggested he live with them to make his life a little easier during a difficult time. She was doing her best to respect that he was a grown man, free to come and go, she says.
To those who question Matt walking along Lakeshore Road to get home to Virgil, Colleen explains, “Matt was a walker. That wasn’t unusual. He’s walked as far as Fort Erie. He didn’t want to ride a bike at night. He said he didn’t feel safe riding at night.”
She said he was at home with her until about 8:30 p.m., when he said he was going out. “I said if you want a ride home call me. I’ll come and get you.”
But it didn’t surprise her that he didn’t call, or come home — he was an adult, after all. “I didn’t know what happened, but that wasn’t unusual. It was just a day in Matthew’s life.”
Colleen says the Niagara Regional Police have been great, right from the moment the first officer came to the door to tell her what had happened to her son. “He was so kind. He seemed to be really struggling. It was hard for him.”
But there is still much she doesn’t know about what happened.
While the police have answered some of her questions, there are many they can’t.
“I wanted to know everything, I bombarded them with questions. But some they couldn’t answer, because things are still under investigation. Now I understand why,” she says.
“The NRP have been fabulous. The officers working with us have been in constant contact, keeping us updated.”
The police now know who was driving the truck, but as of press time had not charged the driver. Colleen says there is speculation the driver went to the police, but she doesn’t know if that is true or not.
“I have to accept that for now, there will be things I don’t know.”
She is still in shock, she says, “grieving terribly, but I’m sure it will get worse. I can’t believe he’s not here.”
Colleen adds, “I’m not angry. I’m just questioning.”
Matt wouldn’t drive by an animal on the road without stopping to help — he has stopped to move a turtle, called the humane society when there was a raccoon on the road, his mother says.
If the driver who hit him had stopped, “Matt would be asking if he was okay, ‘how can I help, what do you need?’”
“I just want to know the truth about what really happened. That’s what I need to know. Why didn’t the driver stop?”
She’s trying not to be angry, she says. “Matt wouldn’t want that.”
She has received many texts, messages, phone calls, flowers, cards, and even meals, from family, friends, Matt’s friends, and from people she has never met.
One text that meant a lot to her was from Matt’s former boss, who told her how hard-working her son was.
“He said Matt was a great person, and a hardworking employee,” she says.
Colleen remembers Matt delivering the Niagara Advance newspaper in Virgil as a youngster, and how seriously he took his job. “He was just like a little businessman,” she says.
She recalls he delivered papers to the home of Harry Penner, of Penner Home Hardware, who would often stop to chat with Matt. “Mr. Penner knew him as the paper boy, and knew how hardworking he was. He offered him his first real job, at Penner’s.”
Matt went to Virgil Public School and then Niagara District Secondary School. He played many sports growing up — including minor hockey, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis and golf, says Colleen. Her dad used to take Matt and his older brother Kirk golfing a couple of times a week during the summer, to watch Blue Jays games in Toronto, and to see the Baby Jays when they played in St. Catharines.
Matt started out playing house league hockey, then moved on to travel hockey, also helping Kirk on the ice when he coached a minor hockey team.
“Matt loved all sports, but he loved hockey the most,” she says.
His other passion was music.
He took piano lessons when he was young, and Kirk learned to play the guitar, which he then taught his little brother.
“I remember the music nights at District,” when her boys would perform, Colleen says. “There was a lot of talent in that school.”
She speaks of the many school friends of Matt’s who have contacted her, teachers, and at least 200 messages she’s received.
One very special message from a girl she has never met, who said during “the turbulent teenage years,” Matt really helped her. “She said she is alive today because of him. He sat and talked to her, and gave her the help she needed.”
The words she has heard over and over since Matt’s death, she says, “are always about how kind he was. Kind and caring. And he really was. He was a kind, wonderful person, caring and giving.”
Even though he didn’t have a lot of money, he would buy coffee and pizza slices for the homeless people he’d see downtown – that was within his budget, she says — and he would donate money to the Socks program to help the homeless.
“He wasn’t perfect, he wasn’t a saint, but he was kind. That’s why we asked for donations for the Out of the Cold program. He was passionate about helping anybody in need.”
She could ask him to do anything to help, and he’d say, “‘sure, no problem,’ and he’d always do a good job.”
He was very smart, a top student, and always loved to learn. He chose programs on TV to learn more, especially anything about animals and nature, she said.
He studied photography at Brock University and Niagara College, and was a professional photographer.
Recently, he’d been learning everything he could about COVID-19, and he was always very interested in politics.
“He took the pandemic very seriously. He always had masks and hand sanitizer in his pockets, and kept his distance. He was very cautious. It was very difficult for him to be out of work.”
Colleen wants those who have reached out to her to know how much it means to her and the family.
“I can’t believe the kindness of people in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’m amazed, and feeling very blessed to be surrounded by such wonderful people. I want them to know how much it’s helped to know people care. I appreciate it so much. They have helped me get through a minute, an hour, helped me get through a day, by taking time out of their busy lives to talk about Matt.”
Matt, she says, didn’t hold grudges. “He just wanted everybody to be happy. He would tell me to forgive. My answer would be, not today.”
But she is trying not to give in to anger, and to think of forgiveness as something to work toward, to honour what she knows her son would have wanted.
Matt leaves his mother Colleen, his stepfather John Franz, his father Robert Wilson, brother Kirk and Melanie Wilson, niece Hannah and nephew Zachary, and other family members and friends. For information about funeral arrangements, visit https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/niagara-falls-on/matthew-matt-wilson-10142032.