I’ve been volunteering for a few years now at a place called Holyrood Manor. I’ve mentioned it in my writing before. My sister Elanna works there. I take Chris’ and my dog, Leo, and my daughter Madison’s dog, Glen. With big smiles, the dogs are always welcomed, here where mostly senior folks live—many dealing with dementia. I had been there a few times long before I started taking the dogs. I was there to visit my Auntie Bubsy with my mom. I was somewhat traumatized by the place back then. Now, I love going.
I’ve learned a lot about dementia. I’ve observed my sister, doing what she does so naturally, the work of an extremely caring, patient, understanding person; a hero really. I’ve observed her minister to a desperately distraught individual, helping them go from inconsolable to singing. I call it a gift. She says it doesn’t always last long, but she does what she can to turn a situation around. She never argues with a confused resident. She enters into their world and becomes a part of it. She is trusted and loved. She’s been hit and bit. The work of a hero, like I said.
There was a time where I thought if I ever got dementia, I wouldn’t want my children to come visit me — I wouldn’t want them to see me that way. My thoughts about it have changed. I realize the necessity for everyone to feel loved and to have someone, even if they forget seconds after the loved-one leaves.
I realize that, if this were to happen, when my children come to visit me, I might ask where “Dad” is (my late husband Mike). I might go back to a place in my twenties or thirties. If that happens, I’d like them to tell me he’s at home and he’s coming soon to see me. Or that he’s working or has a soccer game. Please don’t tell me he passed away. Then I’ll have to mourn the loss of him over and over again.
Here’s the thing, I’m convinced I’ll never forget him. It’s not going to happen. He’s embedded in my memory and in my heart. Mike will always be a part of me, right into my old age. Even if my brain fails me, I’ll be thinking about him and talking about him. And his love will never leave me.
I’ve been wracking my brain for a few months about how to honour him on the fifth anniversary of his passing (Jan 5, 2020). Should we do a family get-away? Should we have a memorial bench put in one of his favourite places? Things like that. Right up until a few days ago, I had no idea and then it hit me. Do what he did best, love those considered “the least of these.”
You see, Mike had a huge heart for the marginalized (defined: a person or group treated as insignificant or peripheral). Mike was a registered nurse who specialized in psychiatric care. I’ve bragged about that before — you might remember. But, what I perhaps haven’t mentioned is that on numerous occasions, his coworkers told me that he was often mistaken for a patient (at both of his places of work – Riverview Hospital and Sunrise). It’s okay if you laugh. I laughed too. But it wasn’t a surprise.
I remember watching Mike at Riverview when I was there to visit him, playing pool with some patients. He became a part of them. He drew near to them. He wore clothes like them. He joked with them. He never talked above them, he talked to them like a friend. The work of a hero; I saw for myself, many times. Yes, at home he told stories and would laugh. In that line of work, I came to realize quickly that you coped sometimes by laughing. The alternative was frustration, sadness, maybe anger, maybe quitting.
Mike’s love for those with psychiatric disabilities, mental illness, addiction and so forth wasn’t limited to his 7-3 or 3-11 or 11-7 shifts; it existed when he was off the clock as well. He liked going downtown (Vancouver) on Christmas Eve to hand out McDonald bucks ($1 gift certificates they sold years ago). He’d buy 100 of them. He thought everyone should at least have a hot coffee or hot chocolate on Christmas Eve. Mike and I would take granola bars, other snacks and change when we went downtown throughout the year. He donated to the food bank and Salvation Army and so on.
The message this Christmas Eve, preached by Pastor Ezra at Northview Church in Mission, had two points: 1) Jesus came near. 2) Jesus is always with us. I’ve been thinking about Mike and point number one. Mike came near. Regarding those that most of society shied away from, even shunned, he drew near them. He loved them similarly to the way Jesus loves them — the way Jesus loves everyone. He didn’t criticize or judge them, he just drew near them and was a friend.
Mike understood how important it is for everyone to feel loved and to have someone. Mike demonstrated this wonderful kind of love to me and our children; he made it plain. And so, on this fifth anniversary of his passing, we will simply do the same. We will draw near and love like he did.
About Jesus, He came down from heaven and become one of us. Experiencing pain and persecution, grief and death like us. He is full of mercy and compassion because of it. He can relate with everything you’ve been through and everything still to come. My suggestion for a more peaceful, joyful, content New Year (if that’s something you’re hoping for), is to allow Him to draw near. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you,” (James 4:8) and rest assured, “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
On another note, but the same note really, a huge shout out goes to my co-workers at Alexander Robinson Elementary, who gave Christmas gifts to some of the residents at Holyrood this year. These amazing ladies wanted to bless people that perhaps weren’t going to get gifts this Christmas. These women with huge hearts full of love, did just that. Thank you so much!
Happy Anniversary to our dear Mike. We miss you so much! And Happy New Year everyone!
Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these, that you did for me.” Matt 25:40