On a Monday evening, three boys are sprawled on couches, all eyes fixed on a television screen, while Curtis Chapman manoeuvres a soldier through virtual streets in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
He blasts past buildings and shoots at shadows lurking behind doors, with his cousins offering strategic advice.
In the kitchen, past a maze of unopened boxes, his sister Lexi and cousin Christina Cunningham are stirring a batch of fudge muffins.
“They are all very special to me,” Denise Heron says as she scans the room, seemingly calm in the chaos of kids who fill her house.
“Every space has been turned into a bedroom.”
In all, there are a dozen people squeezed into the two-storey house on the Katzie First Nation reserve, in addition to four cats and Maxy, a pug.
The tally includes Heron, her boyfriend John Horvath, her children Michael, Lexi and Curtis, Curtis’ girlfriend, Lindsey Glowa, as well as their nine-month-old son Seth.
Heron and boyfriend added three more children to their brood last fall – her sister Doreen Heron’s daughters, twins Nicole and Meghan and their little sister Taylor-Bree.
At 38, Denise never imagined she’d be a mom to eight children in a house that can barely hold them.
It’s been an adventure, nonetheless, but one she would not trade because she is determined to keep a promise.
Last summer, Denise’s 36-year-old sister “Doe” took ill suddenly. What started out as a mystery sickness that sapped all the strength out of her sister, turned out to be cancer.
Less than a month after she was admitted to Vancouver General Hospital, Denise learned her sister was going to die.
“It went from months to days,” says Denise.
‘It was so sudden.”
As cancer ravaged Doe’s body, she lost her voice and was so weak she could barely hold up a pen, but managed to scribble her sister a message.
In it, Doe asked Denise to promise she would take care of her kids. Denise said yes, and Doe managed to give her a thumb’s up.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Denise.
“I love them.”
Denise’s days are now filled with ferrying the children to and from school. Her grocery bills have ballooned and dinner time can often feel like summer camp.
For now, Doe’s 15-year-old twins are sharing rooms with their cousins, but don’t have a quiet place to study or do their homework.
They all get along, says Denise.
“They are really good.”
Although none of the kids are complaining, Denise knows living in cramped quarters is difficult for all of them.
She would like to turn her carport into a bedroom for the twins.
“These kids have been through so much and I just want them to be able to have their own space so they can mourn properly.”
She just needs a little help.
Denise Heron is looking for donations of building material to convert her carport into a bedroom. If you would like to help out, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.