Chapter 15

Another Saturday, another run to CUPtopia and Beacon Bakery. This time we examined T.S. Eliot’s life and poetic contributions ‘between the wars’. Neither Roland nor Jody were sold on his personal ebullience, he was wound a little tight, but they appreciated his innovation. I enjoyed my date square while I listened carefully to the tutorial. We returned home to a spectacular vegetarian onion soup Jody made for lunch. Its perfection was elevated by fresh Dutch Crunch bread and semi-soft, unsalted Normandy butter. The sun was streaming in the dining room window, revealing only a few dingy smudges. Outside the sun sparkled like diamonds off the snowdrifts in the back garden where unlike the front yard the snow was pristine. We finished off the soup and decided to enjoy the day from the outside. We bundled in layers of fleece and Gore-Tex. I activated two packaged hand warmers and stuffed them in my mittens, pulled on my Sorels and my hat. Jody pulled her Nordic hat low on her head, her tight curls spilling around the earflaps. Off we ventured.

Carter sits right on the water, so heading in most any direction will lead you to the bay. Today we turned left and ambled toward a boardwalk along the water that skirted a newer, high-end housing development. That way we could spy a bit on the other half and enjoy the spectacular view out to Georgian Bay. As we walked along we reviewed our week. We laughed at our observations about ourselves and the innocent folks who amused us. I told Jody about the cherry-chip cake Viv brought for our Team meeting and she told me about a conflict brewing between two teachers at her school over planning-time coverage. We mused about buying one of the big houses with a view that lined the walkway. We decided about the birthday gift for Jody’s sister. We discussed a little politics. Mostly, we simply enjoyed each other’s intimate company.

At the end of the boardwalk, we continued along a path created and maintained by snowmobiles. Snow machines were like motorcycles with skis instead of wheels. They were a bit on the loud side for me but they were a big deal in this neck of the woods. I learned early not to disparage them. I realized that about the same time that I learned, the hard way, that many people in this area are related. Beware who you critique; it is likely they have at least one relative in the room. The one good thing about noisy snowmobiles is that with the roar you could hear a machine coming and get yourself far enough over on the path to let them pass. We encountered two on our way to the town dock, a lovely small harbor that looked back out toward the full vista of Georgian Bay. “This is the part I like best about being in the country.” Jody proclaimed blissfully, looking out to sea. Jody was a real city-girl and anything outside the city was the country. It was harder to pull her away from her life in Toronto than it was for me. Of course, I had more to run from than she did. I’m eternally grateful she joined me.

The next morning, with gratitude, I eased Jody awake with a chai tea, served bedside. I pushed stray tight curls away from her cheek and replaced them with a soft wake-up kiss. My workday would start today at 1300 hours which meant that for one week every four to five weeks I could take care of my Love’s every AM need. Mostly, it was just a tea delivery and some mundane chores. My week of afternoon shifts started at 1300, or 1PM and ended at 2100 hours 9 PM but one of those days was a short one and I could deke out at 1900, or 7PM. The evening rotation was how I scored Lowell.

As part of my love-duties, I ran errands the mornings I start work late. Today this included a re-stock of fresh items of our fridge and fruit bowl as well as the few other supplies we required. It was a luxury not to battle the weekend crowns. I put my purchases away on shelves and drawers that Jody would likely change once she came home and prepared myself for the shop. When I arrived at the circle of cubicles we call our crisis office the morning crew were nowhere in sight. This is where we access the tools of our trade: telephone, paper scales and computers. We carry our wits in our pockets! Although the space is meant to be communal, given human nature we divide it into our own small space and generally decide to sit at the same station, and this I did. When I logged into my account on the shared computer the system told me I had a voice message. So, I moved to my next duty quickly and checked my messages. I heard Bridie’s voice.

Her appointment with her oncologist had gone well and she was hoping to start palliative radiotherapy next week. She had arranged her rides through the program volunteers and she was cancelling her next two appointments with me. She was narrowing her focus. I called her back and in a brief conversation I applauded her decision, both her plan to buy some time and to put our meetings on the back burner. She dropped a little bomb near the end. “Hattie, Di asked me about a Minister. We don’t go to church regularly. The last time we were in church was when we got married. We didn’t even have the kids baptized. Do you think this is a good time to go shopping for a Minister?”

“Yikes Bridie! Who expected that on a Monday morning!” And we both had a chuckle.

“Have you talked to Doug about this?” I was conscious of the importance of his inclusion.

“I did but he equates this with a funeral and he backed away.”

“Well, what do you think? Is it important to you?”

“I don’t know. That’s the problem. It might be important and because its not one of my natural worries I might be missing it”.

My wheels were turning. “Because you are hooked up with South Carter, you can access one of our Chaplains…” a plan was forming as I spoke. “The guy I’m thinking of is Reverend Benjamin St. Croix… I know” I chuckled “it’s a fitting name, and he is a gem. He and I have worked together before and I love him. He attends to the spirit, he won’t overwhelm you with hard core religion….” I paused before I added “he also does funerals, if it comes to that.”

After a short pause I heard Bridie exhale in a sigh “it will come to that; eventually. I am going to miss my chance to die dis-gracefully”.

I agreed to bring Ben up to speed with Bridie’s situation. She agreed that he ought to call her directly and set something up in the next three weeks. “Actually Hattie, I feel relieved just to have made this connection. When Di mentioned it I realized it was an area I was avoiding…not the funeral so much as preparing my soul, if you know what I mean?” I nodded in agreement then realized we were on the phone. Bridie seemed to sense the unseen nod and proceeded. “And I’d like to have the details tidied up in advance. One less thing for Doug to….” Bridie’s words drifted away.

Viv and Karen were working the day shift. The morning had been busy and they had only now cleaned up the emerge list. Now they were seeing the people scheduled for follow up. This gave me another luxury beyond non-weekend grocery shopping: culling emails and logging my monthly activity statistics. Paperwork, as we call it, is one of the tasks where I procrastinate. I think this is true for most direct care clinicians. The relevance for us is seldom noticed. I can put in real high numbers one month and not hear a word about how wild my workload has been. Then, if I miss a few activities and it looks like I was taking a stroll, I get a little comme a c’est va from Rudy, via a command performance from Beth-Anne, our Director. This is healthcare in our era. Make sure the boxes are ticked and there is no liability. I guess you could call this cynicism on my part but whether other nurses say so out loud or not, it is our prevailing perception.

I called Ben St. Croix. As it turned out, he was here are South Carter in his consulting office, so I told him to sit tight and I would be right over. Ben’s part-time, consulting-chaplain’s office was adjacent to the Spiritual Centre. A more religiously inclusive version of what was previously known as the Chapel. The Spiritual Centre was near the coffee shop/snack bar, which made it more visible for families. For me it was just a short jaunt down the hall and around the corner, barely far enough to raise my heart rate. Reverend Benjamin St. Croix saw me coming through his open door. He is a tall, lanky man who can bring your heart rate down with his gentle smile. People love him; so do I. He ‘gets’ mental health and he has been counseling in this field for many years. We were lucky the psych hospital shared him with us a day or so a week. After I described Bridie and her family and explained her diagnosis and prognosis he immediately committed to calling her and offering his support. His next move was also predictable. “How are you with all this?”

I felt the telltale burn behind my eyes and knew it would be pointless to dodge my sadness while sitting at the feet of the master. “I come and go” I replied honestly. “Its very sad, and it will continue to be very sad all the way to the end…and even after the end it will be sad”.

“She’s lucky to have drawn you Hattie”. Ben was genuine in his support of our team’s work. “I know you will be strong when she needs it and soft when she needs it”. How does he know me so well, I wonder. This is exactly the balance I am seeking in my relationship with Bridie. I felt renewed in my commitment to her in just a few short minutes. We agreed to keep each other posted. We ended with a brief commiseration about the Leafs and our hopes for the Blue Jays in the coming season. This infusion of compassion was just what I needed to face the rest of my shift.



My writing experience comprises, almost exclusively, academic papers and technical/ professional reports. However, I have lost faith in these methods as paths to real change. My doctorate is in Education, specifically transformative education and through my research and my work, I have come to the conclusion that people learn more through stories than journal articles. Therefore, instead of investing in the usual strategies for pedagogy, I am leaning toward fiction as a way to change minds about social issues and dilemmas. I believe stories can un-other social interpretations in a way I feel I have failed to in all my academic and professional writing. I hope to convey some alternate ideas about the work I have done for 35 years, as a mental health nurse, psychometrist, educator and administrator.

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