Saturday, March 26, 2011

Boxes, boxes, everywhere

I am finally opening boxes that were shipped home from Ottawa 14 years ago. As I unseal them one by one, it is amazing to read again the record of so much that was so vital in those days. I am reminded again of the cataclysmic changes of that year.

My departure from Ottawa was sudden. It was April 23, 1997 and I had just returned from a reception at the Governor General's Residence honouring the 10th anniversary Man In Motion ride of Rick Hanson. I had the opportunity to shake his hand and hear him speak hope and strength into the lives of those there, many of whom had battled both the physical and psychological effects of severe injury, Little did I know that my own family stood at the threshold of a similar experience.

The call came about 2:00 pm that afternoon. It was my daughter Kathy and I still remember each word she said. “Mom, come home. Dad has had a heart attack”. When I arrived at the hospital on the far side of the country it was not just a heart attack, but a massive brain hemorrhage - the side effect of the experimental medication he had been given – that threatened to take his life. He was in a coma. I signed for immediate emergency brain surgery. That was a Wednesday – and on the Sunday, while Doug hung between life and death, the 1997 Federal election was called.

On the request of my election team, I let my name stand in that election but they knew I could not campaign. Much to the surprise of my opponents, I won decisively, . But then, 4 months later, the limits of Doug's recuperation became apparent and the reality of permanent cognitive and visual impairment compounded into massive depression and loss of hope.

I stepped down Oct 1, 1997. I still remember the conversation the day before with the Speaker in his chambers . Both he and my Reform colleagues assured me I could take time off if needed and it would be OK. But I knew this was more than temporary. I took my “walk in the snow” around the back of the Parliament buildings with tears pouring down my face. I knew I would have to make a choice and that Doug's life literally depended on that choice. The decision was made but I was warned that it must not be known before the Speaker's official announcement – or it would be fodder for the ubiquitous Ottawa political spin. I arranged to fly home to watch the next day's Question Period proceedings on TV with Doug by my side.

That session was pretty amazing. I could hear the surprise from all sides as the announcement was made. Preston of course had been advised and he rose to explain and thank me for my stand for families in Ottawa. Than each party in turn – every party was represented, even the Prime Minister - gave an impromptu word of appreciation and hope to us, followed by a standing ovation of the whole House.

Politics can be exhausting. It can be cruel. But I was reminded that day, that if you strip away the political messaging and mandarins, the people there care as deeply, and understand as profoundly as any of us. That was a moment in time I will always treasure.

And so my staff had to close up and clean up the 2 offices. My political life was loaded, sealed and sent across the country in about 20 boxes. The change was so sudden and complete that, in a way, it's hard to believe those years really happened but for the files that I now review.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Piano and a Chair

We have just jettisoned our couch and brought up our century-old baby grand piano that had been relegated to the basement when we moved here 5 years ago. I have decided that it is more important to enjoy this instrument than to have the formalities of a regular living room. Music has always been part of my life – with Grade 8 Royal Conservatory for me and then both of our girls. As an adult, I have played mostly for my own enjoyment. As an MP, there were many times I would return from the airport and feel so much more “home” when I could sit down and fill the house with the melodies of my heart tunes. I call this piano my therapist – how often in the darkest days of Doug's depression after his stroke and resulting brain injury, I would find comfort and hope in the words of the hymns I learned when I was young. While my fingers played the tunes, my heart would rehearse the words I knew so well. Music is special. And to think my grandchildren are beginning to learn now as well! Just today, Doug and I visited my daughter for lunch and heard the 2 boys, ages 4 and 6, play their latest lessons on their new piano. It's 3 fingers, only on the black keys – but oh what potential! I'll share that scene with you....

A corollary of this piano move has been the arrival of my green Parliamentary Chair in the nook of the baby grand. Until now, this prized chair has been hidden away in an upstairs bedroom. Now it has a place. It is very special. In January, 1998, 3 months after my resignation as MP, I was invited to a caucus meeting in Vancouver. When I chose to step down, Doug was realizing the effects of his brain injury - loss of all things that meant life to him - and was falling into a severe depression. Those days were dark and long. At that Caucus meeting, I was surprised to be called to the platform by Preston Manning. There, he presented me with this chair – purchased by the Caucus for me as a farewell tribute. It represents not only the work and relationships of those few years, but the passion that took me to Ottawa and then, as recognized that day, the passion that brought me home again.

Its interesting how our everyday decisions and even the objects in our lives come alive with the stories from our past. It is no wonder that older people find it so difficult to “downsize”. Viewed from the outside, an old chair can simply seem dated or worn. Viewed from the heart, it carries the personalities and even the dreams of the past. Even as I spend time with a friend this week in her need to move to a supportive living complex, I hope I can meaningfully relate to her memories and the emotional attachments to the things she will have to leave behind.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Starting up

Its a bold new world for all of us as technology stretches both our abilities and our understanding. A friend has recently challenged me to participate in this new arena of blogging and I must admit I feel a little lost regarding the impact and relevance to my presently quiet, private life. However, I am willing to give it a try, so here goes.
My life has seen both the mundane and the extremes. It seems it is in 3 parts. Until I passed 40 plus years I was essentially a stay at home mom., Then I ran successfully in 2 federal elections. My political career suddenly ended when I stepped down to become caregiver for my 51 year old husband Doug after a massive brain hemmorhage. The pace and responsibilities of this last role have evolved over the last 14 years, with the added title of Grandma happily added to the mix.
Until now I have not taken time to "see the bigger picture" in review. Can I clarify and engage  ideas and experiences both for my own sake and for those who may have traveled similar roads at different times? Time will tell. At the very least, I look forward to shedding light on the significant moments and thus move forward into new perspectives and possibilities in the years that lie ahead. I would love to have you join me on this road.