Monday, October 1, 2007


“And this is the Eiffel Tower. Well, you can tell that. And here is …”
We’re looking through her Europe photo album (hastily assembled the night before in preparation of this long overdue ‘coffee’) and comparing her trip with mine.

Lynne was a parent chaperone on the LFMS Grade 9 Europe 2007 Field Trip, whereas I was one on the 2005 version. She looked at sights and made memories with her younger daughter, Becky, while I raced through 7 countries in 18 days with Max and her older daughter Jen two years earlier.

“We were soooo cold. Look how bundled up we were," Lynne says.
“Is that SNOW?” I ask.
“Yeah, we had snow, rain, hail, winds ... we didn’t get any decent weather til we got to Italy.”
“Did you guys get to go on gondolas?” I ask, jealous.
“Uh huh. It was so great. Our gondolier …” and she told me about the calls they make coming to water traffic intersections.

We agree that her trip was fuller than mine, as they had less free time for shopping (something I HATED doing in Europe) and did more touristy things.

We’re now at the photos of my most favourite place on earth, Levanto, Italy and I sigh. “Didn’t you just love the Cinque Terre?” I ask.
We talk about the Italian train schedules (what schedules?), that restaurant, the awesome youth hostel, the Mediterranean …
“But for me, this is where the trip changed," Lynne said. "It was in Lavento that Peter first mentioned having a head ache. We’d been plagued with sick kids the entire trip. Everyday there was at least one student with a sore throat, ear ache, red eye, headache, or something. So we gave him some pain relief and one of the teachers stayed back with him while the rest of us hiked the trail. That evening we all went out for the best meals of our lives. During the night, I was awoken by one of the teachers asking for Polysporin for Peter’s eye. It looked swollen and red.

The next morning, we were on the bus, heading for Verona, when I noticed that Peter seemed to be in a deeper than usual sleep. He didn’t stir when I tried to wake him, so an ambulance was called. In the rush of getting our kids off the bus and allowing the paramedics on the bus, I got trapped in my seat. I watched while they tried to revive him and saw that he opened his eyes after their first attempt. They did their press-a-knuckle-into-his-chest-thing again and this time he sat up, said something in Taiwanese then passed out again. They were unable to wake him up again after that.

A frantic call was made and the only word I caught was ‘unresponsive’. Then mayhem ensued as they hooked him up to tubes and monitors with worried, anxious looks on their faces. They moved him off the bus and into their ambulance and a taxi was called so that one of the teachers could follow and stay with him at the hospital.

Meanwhile, I was still on the bus, crying. Sobbing. Unable to move. Other than the teacher that was being driven away in the taxi, no one saw was I had seen. Everyone was assuming he was just going to the hospital as a precaution. Dehydration, maybe. I knew they were trying to save his life.

The mother in me was having the hardest time. Peter was a 15 year old ESL boy from Taiwan. His (maybe?) last words were in Taiwanese and I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know what he was trying to say. Would anyone at the hospital know how to communicate with him? And the teacher? He certainly didn’t know Taiwanese. Nor did he speak any Italian for that matter. I imagined Peter as being my child … what would I want (other than immediate complete healing?) for him in this situation?

My daughter came onto the bus and saw that I had come undone. This was her first inkling that maybe this situation was more serious than any of them believed. “Mom? We should pray. Right now. We need to pray. For Peter.”

I nodded, but couldn’t find the words.

“Mom? Tell me what I need to pray for. One thing. What one thing do I need to ask for right now?”

So I told her the first thing that came to my mind, “He needs someone at the hospital that speaks Taiwanese. And Italian.” And then, thinking of the teacher, “And English.”

Becky prayed: “ Dear God, You know that Peter is really sick. And He needs Your help right now. We know You love him, even though he doesn’t know You. We ask, in the name of Jesus, for You to bring to the hospital, a person who speaks 3 languages; Taiwanese, Italian and English. In His precious name I pray, Amen.”

Meanwhile, the business of letting Peter’s parents in Taiwan know what happened had begun. Time differences, bad phone lines, communication issues and so on, made it a challenge. But once they finally got through, Peter’s dad asked what city the hospital was in. And it turned out, that in all of Europe, he had a business associate RIGHT IN THAT VERY SAME CITY WHO WAS FLUENT IN TAIWANESE, ITALIAN AND ENGLISH.

I have goosebumps still thinking about it,” she said.

I was crying. Right there in Esquires. And my nose was dripping.

She continued her story, “It turned out that Peter had a brain tumor and was in the advanced stages of Leukemia. The doctors predicted that he would not survive – there was no hope that he would leave the hospital alive. It took over 36 hours for Peter’s parents to get to his side and in all that time the teacher sat in his hospital room with him – just waiting. After the parents arrived, the teacher joined us again, the night before we returned to Canada.

Despite the prediction, maybe because of all the prayers that were prayed on his behalf? – after many surgeries, Peter is at home now in Taiwan. His leukemia is in remission and he’s learning to walk again.”

I was a mess. Twice I had gotten up to walk across the coffee shop to get more napkins. I could not stop the flow of tears. (I now know that part of it was the story, but the other contributing factor was the time of the month. DO NOT tell me God stories during the second week of the month.)

From there, our conversation moved on to less emotionally charged subjects; like our kids’ upcoming graduation year, camping horror stories, church and my Mexico trip.

We parted ways a couple hours later vowing not to wait so long between visits. Once every other year is not enough. She lives a mile from my house.

A few days later, my mom and I are talking about the thing that we have talked about all summer. The thing that makes me cry every day. The thing that, along with Max’s Math that causes me to wake up every morning with a stomach ache. The thing that I keep handing back to God because it’s beyond the scope of things that I have control over. The thing that I think about at night when I’m trying to fall asleep. The thing that is going to change my family forever. The thing that sits like a weight on my chest and won’t go away. The thing that I wish would go away.

My dad has Alzheimer’s.

This is why his head feels empty. Why he is losing his short term memory. Why he’s lost weight. Why his sleep patterns are wonky. Why he says the same thing over and over. Why his eyes are sometimes dull and why they are not sparkly and twinkly. Why, this, the happiest man on earth, is sometimes very, very sad. Why he has no desire to use the tools he used with joy for 50 years. Why he seems so lost in his new house. Why he says outrageous things sometimes. Why he is not quite the same …

It’s Alzheimer’s. And my heart is broken. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop crying.

My mom, naturally, is carrying the load of this. She cries more than I do.

I think we’re at that stage in the process where we’re finally accepting the diagnosis and realize we need to make some plans. And looking at the situation from as many sides as we can see, I made the suggestion that we start thinking about getting mom some help.

“Who? What kind of help? He doesn’t need a nurse.”

“I don’t know? Maybe a driver? So he can still go all the places he wants to go?”

In my mind I made a list of what I think dad might need… someone who doesn’t mind driving him from downtown Vancouver (where he likes to check out the Flea Market) to Cresent Beach (where he likes to drive past the homes he did work in) to Abbotsford (where he likes to have Chicken Noodle Soup on Tuesdays for lunch) to his friend Butch’s graveside, to Cultus (where he can see the cabin) to … wherever his grandkids are. This person should probably be Mennonite. And ideally would be able to speak low German. And maybe has some inkling where Winkler is. This person should be male. And patient. And kind.

What an unlikely list. Where would we ever find a per …

And then I remembered Lynne’s story. And Becky’s prayer. And the unlikeliness of finding a trilingual person in a small Italian village.

And I knew that my whole coffee time with Lynne was God’s way of telling me that He loves my dad. And knows what he needs. All I have to do is ask.

“Dear God. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you again. Thank you for the dad you blessed me with. Thank you for the family I was born into. Thank you for the memories I have, the childhood I lived through, the parents you gave me. Thank you, for my life has been awesome and You are good.

I know you love my dad. And you know better than me what he needs right now. To the best of my limited knowledge, I think he needs a daytime companion/caregiver. I pray, that if this is in line with Your perfect will, you will provide the perfect person to give mom a hand during this season. May this person be a follower of You, may he love to drive, may he speak my dad’s language, may he be patient, caring, and full of joy.

God, show us how to find this person.

In your son’s precious name I pray these things,

“And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”
Roman 8: 26 - 28


My Thots said...

Okay now I can't stop crying and I don't even know Bups that well but this has affected my family too as Jen and I are praying believing God will meet your needs so richly you won't even beleive it. Jen is especially praying for Max, knowing how close him and Bups are.
Oh and as an editorial note, some of the facts about the episode are slighty different but the basics are there

Jane said...

My kids always get on my case about this exact thing... e-mail me the correct facts, and I'll edit this post.

Thanks for praying.

raych said...

Oh Jane, so glad you posted this. What a great story. Isn't it nice of God to give us these, so that when we need faith in our own lives, we have them to draw on? Sometimes the Bible seems so distant, or fictional, but God is ever-present and real. Praying for you and Bups.

My Thots said...

You know what, facts schmats, the story is true and God is glorified, what else is there??!!
Thanks for that Scripture, it was a good reminder for me today.

Anonymous said...

jane, my heart breaks for you (and tears flow) as I read your feelings about your dad. i have walked that road with my father (and still walk it with my mother) and i know the sorrow, the loss and the feelings of powerlessness that go with it. for me the grief was at times overwhelming as i watched the parent i loved slip away little by little and there was nothing i could do to change it - i could not pray hard enough, wish hard enough or problem solve hard enough to bring back my parent. i am so sorry that your family has to go through this.
patty val's friend)