A Door to Grace

I’m hanging in. That is generally my response when people ask how I am. What does “hanging in” mean? All sorts of things really. It means: I’m able to give expression to my deep sadness; I’m putting one foot in front of the other; I’m encouraged by all the support being offered; I’m consumed with trying to figure out how to make good decisions; I’m tired, but not the kind of tired that is solved with a nap; I’m praying, but usually with groans instead of words. This is a very trying time.

One evening Cate looked at me and earnestly asked, “do you think going to work a bit might help?” A good question, especially coming from one who knows that going to school has helped maintain a sense of normalcy. I began to consider what parts of my usual routine would be worth resuming and decided that I needed to 1) connect more with friends and 2) go to work (even if just a little). And so, last Tuesday I arrived in Parkdale for the first time since Dion was hospitalized in January.

People greeted me with concern and love. Hardly anyone asked a lot of questions. Most simply acknowledged how difficult things must be. One woman who likes to greet me as ‘Ms Padre-ess’, hugged me and repeatedly said, “I’ve been worried about you. I want to help. You’re here for me and I’m here for you. That’s how we do things.” Other friends stopped panhandling long enough to give me knowing looks about how hard life is and offer words of encouragement.

Today was our morning breakfast and art drop-in. A community member, who also happens to be a refugee from Syria, cooked pancakes and bacon for everyone.  A group of us had a pretty hilarious conversation about…squirrels (I still don’t know how it started). One person was beading, another colouring, another sketching. A friend hovered around me while I did dishes, telling me about what it’s like living outside in the rain and the nasty cold that he caught while there. Before he left though he said, “mama, I’m gonna give you a hug”.

One of my folks recently got moved to Bridgepoint, the same facility Dion is in. This afternoon a group of the nomadic tribe which is The Dale gathered with him and Dion in order to share communion, pray, and sing the gospel song, ‘Soon and Very Soon’. And then tonight our Dinner Shuffle had pizza together in a lounge at the hospital, so that we could all be together. In both cases, it was a sweet merging of worlds.

This period of life feels like an in between place, neither here nor there. What will be is not yet clear. In the midst of a lot of change, there is something grounding about returning to some regular rhythms, like being at The Dale and gathering with our Dinner Shuffle friends. I have no illusions of being self-sufficient. If anything, this is all causing me to more fully surrender to my/our need for support. Through my helplessness, the door to grace is again opening.


Not Alone in the Valley

The view of Toronto from Bridgepoint, the hospital where Dion has been moved, is pretty spectacular. You can peer over the Don Valley and see the downtown core. On Thursday, a therapist directed me to a lounge, handed me a box of tissues, and left me to stare out the windows at the skyline of my beloved city. I was in a contemplative, sad mood. Having just had a moment of panic, I needed to slow my breathing and turn my attention to something else. The new vantage point helped.

When asked how we are doing, I find it difficult to muster an answer. I am hesitant to try to describe how Dion and Cate are because I don’t want to put words in their mouths. As for me, I’m feeling a very long list of things: sad and angry, exhausted and…less exhausted, strong and weak, overwhelmed and focused. There are a lot of decisions to be made, many of which are still based on hypothetical situations. The first steps toward a possible renovation are being taken. There is a lot going on.

Multiple Sclerosis is a brutal disease, one that has stolen much from Dion and by extension, us. I know there is something beautiful about our faith propelling us through the challenge of it. We have learned much and have opportunity to teach because of it. And, it SUCKS. There is no way around it. I guess many of my tears over the last number of weeks have been ones of grief.

It is clear that I have been invited to enter places of pain: to actually share in sorrow and weakness and confusion while at the same time acknowledging my own. The strange paradox is that when I touch pain I also see the light. Hope is evident in the darkness: this situation is evidence of that. I was reminded of this as I looked out of that lounge window: at the former Don Jail, now owned by Bridgepoint and repurposed as a place of healing; at the west where The Dale is collectively moving toward deeper wholeness and health; at Moss Park where an armoury was turned into a shelter.

Dion is in a good place at Bridgepoint. It seems possible that life can settle, at the very least, into a new routine. This sense of hope urges me forward, restores joy, and invites me to express gratitude. Thank you to everyone for the variety of expressions of support. I am not sure of much, but I do know that in this dark valley we are not alone.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

My Leaky Face

I watched a movie from bed the other night. In one scene a primary character is seated across from an old friend and reacts to hearing about her life with tears. Giving a bit of a self-deprecating grin he says something like, “I have this problem with my face. It leaks”. I immediately thought, that’s me!

Crying is one way I give expression to my feelings. I am easily moved to tears when something makes me happy OR sad. This is a part of myself that I have always embraced, though I must confess that right now it is mostly proving exhausting.

As of today, Dion has been in the hospital for a week. We really don’t know what is next and are waiting for a plan. Yesterday one of the doctor’s came up to me in the hall and, with great concern, asked me about how I was doing. “It seems like every time I see you, you are on the verge of tears”. I agreed and tried to explain what has been going on in me.

My emotions are all over the place. I am trying to be present to the moment, except that most moments are terribly hard. Added to the mix is that we are in the hospital where my mom died less than a year ago. It’s almost too much to bear. I don’t know where the relief is for Dion, for Cate, or for me.

During one of my meltdowns, an elderly patient walked up to me and asked for help. He seemed oblivious to my state and was understandably focused on his own. There we were, waiting for help in the middle of a crowded hall, he struggling with some undergarments, me trying to wipe my eyes. In retrospect it almost felt skit-like, except it was very, very real.

I guess that’s the thing right now: everything feels all too real. We cannot ignore the challenge of Dion’s Multiple Sclerosis. Having never done major renovations before, I have to get them started under pressure. There are big decisions to make. And somehow parts of our regular life need to continue, like Cate getting to school. The Dale has freed me to be present at the hospital, though Dion and others are encouraging me to feel like I can re-engage as I want to, and as a way to bring balance.

I can’t imagine what this would all be like without the kind of network of people we have. The meals, the messages, and the prayer are reaching us. I know many are at the ready to offer practical support in a variety of ways, including toward the renovations. I keep saying that now is the time for a collective action of the community, in other words, it’s ‘barn raising time’. Thinking about the village around us makes me feel deep gratitude.

In a good way it’s making this face leak again.