Sunday, January 19, 2014

Joe Clayton: A Love Story

* While I was studying Developmental Services at Loyalist College two years ago, my class was visited by a man called Joseph Clayton.

Joe spent most of his formative years bouncing through the foster care system in our fair province before the Children's Aid Society finally tossed him into Rideau Regional Centre - a now-closed institution for society's most vulnerable citizens.

An adult now and free, Joe talks to students every year - he is, for so many, the face of institutional life and embodies the absolute best of the human spirit.

Joe's story is a chilling one and I don't think there was a dry eye nor a single sound during his talk.

Since that time, I have written twice about Joe, fumbling through my own telling of his tale. We have maintained a casual email relationship; I am always pleased to see his name in my inbox.

A few weeks back, he wrote to tell me that his brand-new wife, Cindy, has passed away from cancer. They married in June of 2012 and on November 30th - my birthday, coincidentally - she died.

This is but the latest in a lifetime of loss for Joe and my heart simply ached for him. I stutter-typed a message of condolence, knowing that it was woefully inadequate, feeling wrecked that no matter how kind my words, his wife would still be gone, his heart broken.

Joe, a man of quiet grace and humble gratitude, accepted.

A few days ago, he sent me their wedding photo and a story, written by someone in their community. With his permission, I share it here, so that others will be able to see what courage  -and love - looks like: *

A gentleman moved from Sharbot Lake to Kingston Ontario, in the Fall of 2008 to get a fresh start.

In Kingston, unknown to the gentleman at the time, lived a caring lady with a bubbly personality and a huge heart. Both of these people had had similar life experiences in their pasts including a variety of different jobs, previous marriages, and grown children.

They met at the Round Table Support Centre in Kingston. The lady smile and warm laughter. After they spent time together sharing all aspects of their lives with one another' celebrating that they found each other. They were amazed at how much they had in common and how many of their skills and attributes complemented each other. They fell in love.

The lady invited the gentleman to move in with her. In 2009, the couple moved back in his former community of Sharbot  Lake.

The lady' s openness and friendly nature was admired and welcomed by the community. The couple continued to learn about each other and share each other' s interests. They made a life together.

 In June 2012 the couple got married in a private ceremony with only their witnesses, the minister and the videographer present.

The newlyweds enjoyed a honeymoon in Perth Ont. In August 2012 they shared their union with family and friends at a wedding reception in the local community hall. The guests enjoyed a KFC banquet and the company of others while viewing the video of their special day in June.

Then they danced.

Joe and Cindy, June 2012

Within months of their marriage the lady' s medical appointment revealed terrible news: CANCER'. Their lives quickly became a series of medical appointments and hand holding.

Soon after, they both quit their part time jobs. The lady, because of her deteriorating health, the gentleman because he wanted to support his wife.

Then she could no longer drive.

In dealing with these changes, the treatments, side effects, and waiting the couple maintained open, honest communication. They recognized that the cancer may rob them of their happily ever after. They decided to remain positive, not give up, live each day as it came and embrace the time they had left together.

The couple adapted to accommodate the cancer but they never for a moment lost sight of what they had with each other. With the support of their family, friends, service providers, church congregation and the community at large the gentleman and the lady faced and fought Cancer.

The gentleman became his wife' s full time caregiver.

They had the tough conversations that most couples avoid having - D N R, final wishes, goodbyes.

 Nothing was left unsaid. The gentleman and lady came together quickly and loved deeply.

 After weeks of in-home nursing care the lady was moved to the hospital for palliative care. The gentleman remained by her side until she died November 30, 2013.

 This story is dedicated to Joe Clayton and the memory of Cindy Jones- Clayton, the gentleman and his lady.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Finding Home: A 5-Year Recap

FIVE years ago today, we moved to Belleville.


Can you BELIEVE that? Five awesome, terrible, heartbreaking, glorious, triumphant years.

Today, this city is home and I am proud and happy to watch my children sprout their wings from here, the place where we are rooted.

In remembrance, I have selected one post from every year - they are the posts which, to my mind, sum up all that was and all that I was, we were, as this place we were simply passing through, came to be ours:


1. A month after we moved here, to a strange city where I knew no one, my brother died. The shock of that - that he was just gone - and the rage and utter angst I felt throughout the rest of that bitter winter will always be tangled up with coming here.

My baby brother, Andrew.

Five years later, the rage has passed and while sadness remains, always, I believe that I have come to a place of peace. That Spring, I ventured out to explore my new city and to find some friends. My very first friend, Heather, opened her home and her heart to a sad, lonely stranger -  at the end of that long, cold Winter, she was the sunshine I needed and today, she is one of my closest friends.


Matthew started Kindergarten in 2009. It was a bittersweet experience for me, holding out my first-born son to the world and asking for grace. He was blessed with an incredible teacher that year and while this letter was written for her in 2010, as school wrapped up for summer, it's really for all of the Reds' teachers. They have been so lucky, to have compassionate and wise teachers - it has been a true and real joy to watch them thrive and grow and learn.

In fact, the school they attend, their teachers and their friends are some of the biggest reasons we've chosen to remain here. We are settled, they are thriving. Everyone is happy.


Luke being...well, Luke.

This is one of my favourite posts about Luke, but it's also one of my favourite posts, period. I think that it's easy to get caught up in all the things our kids do that drive us crazy, instead of focusing on all the stuff they do that's good. Maybe it's just me. In any case, one day, I will frame this and hang it on Luke's wall and he will know how much joy he brings to my life.


Without question, 2012 was a challenging, illuminating year. Everywhere I went, it seemed, I was learning lessons - and not just the ones at Loyalist College, where I studied Developmental Services.

This is my most-shared post ever. At last count, it has been read by 1400 people - clearly, it struck a chord with friends and strangers alike and I am delighted to share it here:


Photo credit: Jerome Lessard

I graduated from Loyalist in 2013. It was a transformative two years and walking across the stage to accept my hard-won diploma, with my parents and my sons in the audience, was one of the proudest moments of my life.

From my classmates, my professors and from all of those I was blessed to support, I have learned some of the most important lessons. I have and will carry them, always, in all the years ahead:

And so...five years later, we have known huge love and huge loss. Bought a house, got a dog, lost our minds. We are thriving, we are growing, we belong.

At the end of the day, this last one is that for which I am most grateful. Here, in the city by the Bay, we have found our place, our people, our future.

I am home.

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Poop Shall Pass....


It's all I think about.

Molly the Dog's poop, that is. I realize that things are likely a bit confusing, since my last few posts have been about my friend, Molly and now I'm writing about my dog, Molly, the one I've never mentioned before, ever.

We just got her. Molly the Dog, that is. She was a Christmas Surprise for the Reds and the end result of much begging on my part and much receiving of favours on Mark's.

What? Oh, like you don't let your ovaries make poorly-thought-out decisions, too. Phfftt. You have kids, don't you? See? Ovaries win.

In any event, she's adorable and I'm utterly smitten with her gorgeous face.

I am not as smitten with her toileting habits and find that I am experiencing a ton of low-level anxiety about it. This is eerily similar to the script that played in my mind during Matthew's first few months of life:

"Is she awake? Should I play with her? Does she need a bone? We really should get home, the dog might be missing us. Did she poop? Is that poop? I smell poop. LUKE, DON'T STEP IN THE...poop."


In the week since she's been ours, I have gone through six rolls of Jumbo paper towel, one and half bottles of "Nature's Miracle" which promised to take the smell and the stain out of my carpets, but hasn't, a pack and a half of pee pads and one pair of slippers. Oh, and Matthew's tennis ball:

Molly and Matthew, playing kitchen hockey

I lost a pair of black leather shoes on Day Two, a snuggly grey blanket on Day Four and my mind by Day Seven.

Last week, she shat on the heating vent. It took me half an hour to find the poop because the heating vent is brown.

It's a good thing she's cute because I am becoming "that" person on Facebook - asking for direction from my friends and then cursing when all their advice conflicts and confuses me.

Today, I spoke to a dog trainer on the phone for TWO HOURS. Two hours, alternating between bragging about Miss Molly and threatening to throw her from the nearest window. Thankfully, the trainer talked me out of the latter.

Between Luke, who still wets the bed most nights and Molly, who wets, well, everything,  I feel like I am wiping and cleaning and drying things, all of the time.

I know it will pass. This too shall pass. THIS SHIT SHALL PASS.

But the sooner this shit passes OUTSIDE? The happier we'll all be.

Luke and his Molly.