A Life That Was Good

My mom died on Monday night. This is the first time since then that I’ve been compelled to write something here. I know that many of you met my mom Elaine on the pages of this blog. She has always, and will continue to be, one of my primary sources of inspiration. She was an incredible woman.

Last Friday night (technically very early Saturday morning), I was woken by a call from my brother Logan. The hospital needed us to know that mom had taken a sudden turn for the worse and we should come. I got dressed and walked to meet Logan, because we amazingly live just one block away from each other on the same street, and just minutes from the hospital. Having received calls such as this before, we could imagine what to expect, and that proved true again: mom had an infection that was causing a high fever, her blood pressure was dangerously low, and she was non-responsive.

Mid-morning Saturday Logan and I spoke with a doctor who advised us that mom had pneumonia and likely an empyema, a serious accumulation of infection that would require more than antibiotics to deal with. Mom however was too weak to manage any invasive procedure, and so we were gently, and very compassionately advised to call together family and close friends.

What ensued over the course of the weekend was what I would describe as beautiful, precious, and deeply sacred. Mom’s grandchildren Cate, Oliver, Harrison and Teagan came, along with Dion and Amanda. My mom’s sisters, brothers-in-law, many nieces and nephews and long-time friends joined us so that we could all be together. We filled mom’s room, flowed out into the hall, and spilled into the nearby sitting room. Hospital staff commented repeatedly at our presence, moved that mom had so many people who loved her. The doctor came to me later saying, “you were right when you said people would come. This is amazing”.

Cate brought her ukulele and sang song after song for her Gran. My cousin Kate sang A Life That’s Good…”at the end of the day, Lord I pray I have a life that’s good. Two arms around me, heaven to ground me. And a family that always calls me home”. Teagan and Roy, the two babies of the family got passed from person to person, offering sweet distraction from the sadness. Joanna was always nearby. We held times of prayer around mom’s bedside, including a late night vigil where we sang songs and hymns. We told stories, laughed, and wept, sometimes all at the same time.

I slept beside my mom on Sunday night. Though she lived in a hospital room, mom managed to make it a home, something I was again struck by as I lay there looking at pictures and her collection of sentimental things. When I woke up in the morning I decided to play mom’s playlist of favourite songs from her iPad. As I listened to the words of the top song, “Hold on, if you need to hold on, you can hold on to me. What ever road you’ve chosen shouldn’t be walked alone. Hold on”, I thought about how she had done just that for so many years. Mom clung to Christ though the road was hard.

Monday evening I decided to go home for a brief break. I ate a bit of food that a friend had generously dropped off and got changed. As I was finishing up, my phone rang. It was my aunt saying death was suddenly close. I ran all the way to the hospital, praying that I would make it. As I got closer, Victoria Day fire works started to shoot off in front of me, and I became even more overwhelmed. I did make it. At approximately 10:25 pm, surrounded by family, mom breathed her last breath. We remained with her for a while, even toasting her with wine served in styrofoam cups (all we had) and eating chips, two things that she loved, and always together.

We had a funeral and burial yesterday. As a group we hovered around her grave for a significant amount of time, her grandchildren and grand-nieces and nephews playing with each other. I kept imagining her sitting there, happily tucked in to her wheelchair with a huge smile on her face. She loved being with her family and so this felt like an appropriate book-end to the last week, one that started and ended together.

Mom, I know you are no longer bound to a bed or wheelchair, a truth that makes me smile. And I can’t believe you are gone. I began to miss you the moment you left. I took the photo below of the view outside your window on Monday. You would have loved the sunset. I know life was hard, but at the end of the day you always thought it was good. I love you, always.



The Lasting Impact of a Grade Four Play

When I was in Grade Four I played a music box in my school’s Christmas play. I wore a decorated cardboard box that hung from my shoulders and black tights that I was always tugging on. I don’t recollect everything about the plot, but I do remember the song I had to sing and how it summed up the moral of the story: “Christmas is for giving, it’s not for getting things…”. I recall being nervous until I stepped onto the masking tape x on the stage, looked out at the audience, and opened my mouth to sing. I fell in love with performing as a result of that elementary school experience. At the time I thought I had discovered what I would do with my life: theatre.

Life is funny. I didn’t end up on the stage, though for many years I wholeheartedly pursued it. That was, until I found myself sitting on the pavement beside a man who was living in the entrance of the Royal Bank Tower parking lot in downtown Toronto. That person, along with so many others I met outside at night, changed the trajectory of my life. At the time it wasn’t clear what a life spent working with people who know poverty would look like. I just knew in my gut that it was right.

Twenty-ish years later I find myself reminiscing about those early days of connecting with the street. I was so young. Here I was, a girl who grew up in fairly affluent North Toronto, suddenly hanging out with people teaching me how to make a house out of a cardboard box, telling me stories about all they’d lost, and inviting me into their lives. They even asked me to sing before I left to go home. I’m certain there were many people who questioned my sudden change in vocation. I had many difficult conversations about my choice to give up what I had, until that time, always been working for.

Now I find myself the Executive Director and Pastor of The Dale. I only bring up those titles because they are truly not what I ever aspired to and yet now hold. I guess when I was invited into this role I felt much like I did as the music box: a little uncomfortable, tugging at my clothing and only strangely confident once I stepped onto the proverbial masking tape x on the floor and looked out at the community. I’m grateful that people took, and continue to take, a chance on me.

If you had asked me what I’d be doing as an adult when I was in Grade Four, I would not have imagined this. Though as I think about it, maybe there was a part of me that knew. As the music box I was asked to sing about finding joy and discovering what you wanted to give and receive from your heart. When I met that friend in the parking lot I witnessed a great deal of pain, but more than that I saw joy rooted in a life deeply felt and lived. I was taught about what it means to give out of whatever it is you have and be willing to receive out of whatever people have to give. That first solo was a life lesson in more ways than one. I am so glad for its lasting impact.


Campfire Songs with a Happy Throng

I’d like to introduce you all to Daniel Pearce, The Dale’s Summer Student! Daniel is currently studying Film at Humber College. He is a lover of comedy: films, traditional stand-up and definitely Monty Python. Daniel enjoys all kinds of music, especially Punk Rock and Folk and is an avid reader, including poetry. Daniel recently turned 19. He calls Milton, Ontario home.

I am excited that Daniel has agreed to guest blog here during his summer with The Dale. He is quickly becoming a part of the fabric of our community and will have, I’m sure, stories to tell.

Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.
Daniel, serenading one of our youngest community members.

A campsite full of energetic kids and mosquitos may not sound like a fun few days to most Torontonians, but The Dale’s three night retreat to Camp Koinonia ended with an entire bus full of folks who didn’t want to go back home. And if you look at all the activities that were crammed into just a few days up at camp, it’s not hard to understand why most people would rather live in their cabin the rest of summer. From campfire stories to canoe escapades, between archery lessons, jam sessions, and enough ping-pong to make it Canada’s national sport, saying Camp Koinonia was a good time would be an understatement.

It is pretty close quarters in the Koinonia lodge, which is a very good thing, because just about everybody had a chance to interact with each other at some point. Every mealtime different people were sitting at different tables, but no matter who was sitting with whom, there was some good conversation going on. We had relatively good weather for our visit, save for a ton of rain on Tuesday. On the plus side, most people spent Tuesday together in the lodge, playing card games and catching up on World Cup soccer. It was so nice to watch people make the best out of a bad situation!

A big part of the entire trip was music, as is usually a big part of the The Dale. There were various instruments brought to the Monday night campfire, such as an acoustic guitar, harmonica, and even a ukulele! Of course, there were also a ton of voices joining in for classic campfire songs. During the day, almost any point of the day, music could be heard from the lodge. Various people tried out playing a few songs on the keyboard and guitar, but the biggest musical highlight was a big group sing-along, with a full songbook and different people playing guitar, keys and percussion!

Of course, the trip wouldn’t have even been possible without the Camp Koinonia staff, which was phenomenal the entire time we were there. Each meal was better than the last, culminating in a birthday cake served right before boarding the bus home! Staff was very friendly to all of us, and a few of them even joined some Parkdale musicians for a jam session, playing hits such as “House of the Rising Sun” and “Sweet Home Alabama”.

When you live in a city like Toronto, constantly rushing through subway platforms full of sharpened elbows and breathing in air that would make a tailpipe cough, it’s a blessing to have a few days of peace and quiet in the great outdoors. Everyone I’ve talked to was grateful for the opportunity to get away from the big city, and we’re all looking forward to another great trip to Koinonia next year!