I’ve been taking a photo a day for the past four years. For the past two years I have made these photos into a photo montage of my year, letting the adventures of the past 364 days swirl into a movie. I have even begun to add music. Sometimes I go about my day thinking about the photo I might take, ‘this moment will make a wonderful addition to the ‘year-in-video.’
But for the past 21 days these photo moments have been the most difficult to capture.
21 days ago I was waiting in my car my 17 year old daughter, Jess, beside me. We were waiting in the parking lot at the Moose Jaw Union Hospital, the nose of the car facing the doors to emergency.
We had had the call from my Mom at 4:10pm.
We waited. At 5:00pm I looked over at Jess and said, “Our world is about to change.”
Mom had said she was certain Dad had had stroke.
Dad had gone out for a walk as he did every day, walking the loop near the cabin at the lake where my parents are retired. He would likely stop to feed the birds. Likely, he would then take his usual path towards the boat dock and down towards the trees by the lake, perhaps stopping to leave a treat for the coyotes.
He had left at half past noon.
At 3:30pm Mom had called for him in the garage, she had called for him out the back door and had called out into Dad’s shop. She had then taken the van keys and had headed out to look for him. She found him face down in the front yard in the snow with the newspaper, he was responsive and soaking wet. It would take another two hours before he arrived to Moose Jaw by ambulance.
My sister was in her car next to me and Jess. We heard the sirens before we saw the ambulance. I stepped out and walked as close as I could to the ambulance bay.
I am not certain exactly why I snapped a photo.
I just sensed in every part of me that that moment marked a before and an after for every person I loved most.
The ambulance attendant looked and me and said, “He’s okay.”
A hand came out of the blankets and waved, up and down: Dad.
“I love you Dad!”
We walked quickly to the front doors at the same time my Mom parked her van.
For nearly three weeks we lived numb. Maybe we are still living numb. What resonates the most and yet has not surprise me, is the love between my parents.
They only wanted each other. As those first few weeks rolled out Dad would reach for her and she would reach for him, just the simple act of touching one another was what was needed, like those finger tips would make him walk, heal the hemorrhage in his brain, control the pain. Neither complained and each would say thank you to everyone that crossed their path.
Mom has moved in with me and Jess; it’s more like camping. We hardly see her except for the hospital. We’ve worked out the kinks of living together; we have learned not to run our blow-dryers at the same time, made certain she eats more than the tomato-macaroni soup left over from Dad’s lunch try; My Mom and her indomitable spirit. She has been there every day before breakfast and has learned to send photo and text updates with her phone. My Mom, who has not left her husband’s side, and has left the rest of us wondering from where her energy comes.
Dad has been moved to Providence Place and the goal is to … well, increase his independence. Mom hopes he will stand.
There isn’t any conversation we’ve haven’t had these past few weeks. My sister and I have been alternating nights at the hospital and there was a while there when Dad’s pain was so bad that we both stayed. Often, I would return home to find Mom still awake. We’d sit on the edge of her bed and talk into the wee hours of the morning. There isn’t anything we’ve not talked about.
For 21 days I’ve watched my Dad struggle with a body he can no longer control. I’ve watched him do this with kindness to his family and to the care providers around him. I’ve listened to him tell me and my family that he will be here for us when we are ill. I have watched my parents show their love for each other, over and over, show, not just share. I have felt the support of those in my life burst from the margins and bounce to life.
I missed a few days of work when Dad was in ICU, and honestly, that next week while Dad remained unstable, I was a mess. Mom didn’t want a herd at the hospital, my sister and I needed to divide our time, and I needed my other family too; I needed my kids. I am gifted by a safe space to share, to cry, to feel supported. This place is my school. Many of our kids feel the same. Many of our staff feel the same. Our school is a home place, here we belong.
My Dad has often trekked with my students. My instructional practices are replete with the stories and teachings I’ve gleaned from listening to my Dad. Every, every group of students I have taught has been gifted to know my Dad, to have trekked in some way with my Dad, to have had the chance to spend time with him, to have heard a story or two from him, some, even around a campfire, or on a basketball court.
And it may not seem that important, but it feels important. I am sad. I am scared and the kids I live in the midst of understand. And kids that knew Dad well, and knew his stories well, message often and check-in often, and I am grateful that our shared stories have created this space. See, there’s a whole wack sack of truth in my living alongside our kids right now. I share about the love between my parents; I share about how tired I am; I share that I am drinking far too much coffee, about how I am crying easily and often; I share that I love them, and then I share again.
I am sad and I am grateful. This Friday is my Dad’s 74th birthday and I want to walk with my Dad like we have done every year. This year, Jess and I will bring some eggs to Providence Place and colour them.
The last time I walked with my Dad, two weeks before his stroke, I was walking too fast, going ahead like I did when I was a child. That last weekend, he stopped often, and when I returned to stand next to him, he asked me to identify the animal scat over which he bent, the twig next to which he stood, and the berry he held in his hand. When I was child, I would not have had the patience for standing and wondering. When I was a child I hadn’t yet come to honour the stories of Dad running Otter Rapids, or Dad canoeing the Churchill, or Dad building a log home by hand, or of Dad putting himself through High school and University, or of Dad choosing to love, and loving, always loving with kindness. That day, two weeks before ‘the before moment,’ I had stood and listened to Dad every time he paused.
I still have much to learn from storying with Dad. There are many walks left in both of us.
Dad would say, there’s a teaching there.