in which we spend our anniversary at a children’s hospice.
Friday afternoon, we were all packed and ready to go. Ready for respite care at Canuck Place Children’s Hospice.
But not ready. We didn’t not expect our first visit to be on our anniversary weekend (our first scheduled visit was cancelled). And frankly, we didn’t know what to expect at all.
A few months ago we were told that we were accepted to the program because Florence has “a life limiting condition.”
Last year, this would have made me feel sick to my stomach. I would have rejected the help.
This year, I see the blessing. We welcome the helping hands, and we welcome the community that we have been thrown into. Because it’s okay. I no longer touch papers and forms relating to Florence’s health care with a ten foot pole. This is not who we are, and this is not what makes us up.
We are made up of Spirit and Love, of grace and determination. We are telling stories of the holy and the broken now, both hand in hand.
So, on anniversary day, we arrived at the house around 1:30, and started unpacking. I felt a bit uneasy, wide eyed and somewhat excited. Was I checking her into a hospital, was anyone dying, and why was everyone smiling? I relaxed a bit when I noticed her room was sparse. No monitors, no IV poles, nothing but a crib covered in a colourful patchwork quilt, lots of windows and peace. Not a hospital. People weren’t bustling around, everyone was calm, relaxed, easy going.
Canuck Place is a gorgeous heritage mansion in a very upscale neighbourhood. It’s very grand, with four floors, gardens, play areas, an elevator, a full running kitchen. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. The nursing station is situated on the second floor, where Florence and other kids sleep, and the families sleep upstairs in separate family suites. Our room was gorgeous, with beautiful stained glass windows, maybe 12 of them, surrounding us. We could see the tops of the burnt orange trees, lofty and magnificent outside the home.
The biggest luxury of all, was that we didn’t have to cook a thing. We were fed breakfast, hot lunch and dinner everyday. It was a community affair, with nurses and volunteers, families and children, all filling their plates at the buffet table. We feasted on food, made with love, as we sat at great round tables, and spun the lazy susan to share the water and juice, the salt and pepper. It was a bit like being at camp.
There’s also a school upstairs, with little freshly hatched chicks. There’s a room full of lights and white noise and bean bags, where kids can go to chill out. There are all sorts of creative rooms and activities to help kids learn and explore and develop.
When you first walk into the home, right behind the buffet, on the mantle there are pictures of children that have recently passed away. Their lives are celebrated at Canuck Place on a piece of construction paper, dotted with little cutouts of favourite animals, colors and activities, painted, sparkled, and of course, there is a smiling face of a baby, child or teenager, that will never grace this earth again.
Our first dinner there, I stared and stared, trying to wrap my mind around it all.
Mashed potatoes, peas and roasted chicken, I piled onto my plate. Comfort food. I stared into those eyes again, looked around. It’s grand here, it’s old here, it’s loud here. It’s not loud with voices, necessarily, but with memories. When I first walked up the pale green carpeted stairs, mug of tea in hand, up the grand staircase, past the burgundy and green stained glass, past the dark walnut railings, I felt the weight of it all, I felt the crushing memories of mothers and fathers before us. My mind felt like it was being pressed through a sieve, pressed but not crushed. How did we get into this club, that no parent wants to be a part of?
Oh, what these walls have seen and heard.
Oh, what grace and love flows through this place everyday.
Oh, what rest and rejuvenation is poured out onto tired parents.
It’s a place where there are stacks of books left behind by parents, coffee is always brewing, a cookie jar is always full of freshly baked cookies. It’s a place where volunteers from all walks of life get to know the respite kids, their quirks and favourite spots in the house. It’s a place where nurses love their jobs, and treat family with deep respect and care. It’s a place where everyone says hello, where you’ll find rolled up towels and face cloths on your bed when you arrive, and you won’t be able to resist making it your home away from home.
Needless to say, we have a wonderful anniversary. Florence was left in the hands of the nurses while she slept at night, and Jason and I were able to get out and enjoy the ballet. On another afternoon, we walked all around the posh neighbourhood, down to the shopping district a few blocks away, quick to get hot coffees in hand. It was a delight, and it was a blessing and an enormous gift for parents…like us.
I am counting down the days until our next visit.
Now, if only we can convince Florence that no one will stab her with needles, that the nurses are kind and loving. She is obviously still very clingy and sensitive, and the mere sight of a new face, or a nurse, is enough to cause a fit of tears. But she is getting a bit more comfortable, slowly but surely, and she even found a volunteer that made her smile! I was ecstatic when the nurse told me this over the phone, to the point of tears actually. Florence is such a mama’s girl, but I so desire to see her reach out and make bonds with other people. So this is a big step!