1 A Cautionary Tale | Traveling Light Blog by Travel Writer Colleen Friesen

A Cautionary Tale

“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – St. Francis of Assisi
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Yesterday morning I drove to Abbotsford for my weekly visit to see my father at the Menno Home. When I arrived and entered the front door, the place was devoid of all residents. The recliners that face the TV screen were covered in white sheets. My dad, who is always in the center chair, was also missing. The TV kept blathering on to an empty room.

I went around the corner to the woman at the front desk. “I’m here to take my dad out to the courtyard for our picnic visit,” I said, resolutely pretending that we weren’t the only two left behind at the scene of the Rapture.

“All the residents are in their rooms.  No one is allowed to have visitors or to go out. We have a scabies outbreak.”

She told me how everything had to be quarantined and that they were making every effort to contain and control it. She ended with, “Please pray for us.”

“Yes,” I said, “I will and please tell my dad that we were here and that we love him, okay?”

I tried not to imagine him alone in his room. I tried not to think about him with no visitors.

And I keep trying not to imagine him sitting in that small room with his single bed, unable to read because of macular degeneration, unable to hear even a radio program, or to watch television, and now unable to have any visitors at all.

I want to come to a conclusion with this. I want to have some takeaway moral, a lesson to be learned, something good that can be learned as a result of this little story.

I really really want that.

So far I can’t find it. I can’t find the silver bit in this shitty-dark cloud. I am wearing my shiniest-optimistic-rosy-coloured-glasses and yet, nothing is coming up roses at all.

It doesn’t matter what I want. This is what it is.

Perhaps this is what is meant by really praying…just praying for peace to accept how things are.


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8 Responses
  1. Elinor Warkentin says:

    I’m sorry to hear of your situation, to be so close, but seemingly helpless. I am in Grunthal, surrounded by Mennonites, during fair weekend, bumping into all kinds of relatives and acquaintances from the past. Seeing many people much older than in my memories. Aging is all around me.
    I was wondering how to help you. If we really are connected, if prayer does make a difference, then I thought I’d visualize a visit to your dad, with introductions and life stories, of which I’m sure he has many. I think people are fascinating. I will keep him company, in spirit, for just a little while.
    May you find peace in your memories. Take care!

  2. Doug says:

    Okay, maybe I’ll slap myself in an hour or so from now for the silver lining mush attempt but here goes: your post is bursting with love. How many people in a nursing home, devoid of vision, without the ability of find a whole lot of pleasure in life, actually have a loved one come to visit, with a picnic in mind no less, and who, instead of just shrugging their shoulders, sits down at her computer and sends out their compassion and concern into the universe?

    I’m not New Age-y, but I do believe in the connectedness of intention, love, and good energy. Your Dad is benefiting from this. Of that I am convinced. Your act of blogging your concern for your Dad — if that isn’t true prayer, and true communal prayer, then I don’t know what is.

    It’s funny in some ways. Your dad is still your dad. The parent. Okay, this is when I should sit down and send my resume off to Hallmark Card: Is it possible your Dad just gave you something? Inadvertently or otherwise? Did your father, simply by being there, provide an opportunity, occasion for connectedness, concern, emotion, and an expression of love?

    Perhaps I’m projecting. My Dad was in a hospital bed for 7 years, when I was in my 20s. It was only toward the end of a gruelling struggle with MS that confounded his every sense, that I realized: holy crap, he’s still taking care of me, providing me with moments of learning and joy and love. Twisted in his bed, senses numbed, he was still my Dad.,

    Perhaps you just put your father out into the universe today, introduced him to all kinds of people who perhaps didn’t even know you still had a Dad. We all suddenly ‘know’ him. Is it possible you just made him a part of your everyday life? Introduced him to a whack of people who know you from various walks of life?
    Heck, I’d say you’ve just done pretty good by him.

    Is there a chance that your moment today was simply this: a father-daughter moment?

  3. Catherine says:

    Colleen, I love the prayer from St. Francis. I say it often when I see/know/hear of something upsetting without being able to do something about it. It does help.
    I hope the scabies outbreak is not going to be too long and that you will be able to see your Dad soon. Best wishes.

  4. Colleen Friesen says:

    Elinor, it must feel strange to step back into the place of your memories to find that everyone has gotten so much older than your remembrances of them. I remember that happening to me when I’d go back to my hometown of Mission City…especially if I went to church.
    I love the idea of you ‘visiting’ my dad. He has great memories and could tell you a story or two. Thank you for keeping him company. I know he will feel your spirit.

  5. Colleen Friesen says:


    I can’t begin to imagine the pain and helplessness you would have felt for those seven years of watching your father’s horrific decline. But what I love, is your compassionate wisdom that came from that.

    Let me tell you this, I’d be buying a lot more Hallmark cards if they had your kind of heartfelt words. Thank you so much for such eloquent and comforting thoughts. You have given me a context and a way of holding this painful reality when you wrote,”…he’s still taking care of me, providing me with moments of learning and joy and love. Twisted in his bed, senses numbed, he was still my Dad.”

    That’s truly it. In a strange and amazingly unexpected way, I remember feeling the terrible honour of being with the mother when she finally died. Grief broke me open like nothing else I had ever experienced…but…and this is a big ‘but’, it was the thing that made me more fully human and I was reminded of that as I read your words.

    So, in spite of it not going the way I wanted or expected it to, that trip to Abbotsford was exactly as you said, it was simply another father-daughter moment.

    Thank you.

  6. Colleen Friesen says:

    Catherine, I have a small poster with that prayer. It was, and still is, taped to the back of the mirror of the medicine cabinet in Sechelt. (We are in Sechelt right now still clearing out more stuff.)
    I saw it again when we came up here right after I had been to see my dad.
    It was so comforting to read it and be reminded that the world is the way it is. All I can do is find the grace to be with it.

  7. Helena Katz says:

    I like to believe in that connection in spirit between two people. In fact I need to because that’s what sustains me sometimes. My mother has dementia and part of who she was is now gone. I’m forging a new relationship with her based on who she is now, but the underlying grief for the loss remains. One morning, I went to get a broom to clean up a pile of dirt my dog had tracked into the house. When I came back, I could “feel” my mother’s presence and “see’ her standing there with a smile on her face and saying “Is the dog ever dirty!” It made me smile – and made me realize that a part of my mother will always be with me. Perhaps it’s the same for your dad. I hope he “feels” your presence even when you aren’t there and that you both take some comfort in that.

  8. Colleen Friesen says:

    Helena, you are so wise in your approach to your mother in ‘forging a new relationship with her based on who she is now’. That is often the hardest thing of all; to let go of what was, and accept what is.

    The larger-than-life man from my childhood and even more recently, has been replaced with a diminished and anxious. These two versions of one man are hard to reconcile. It’s healthy to recognize our grief for the loss of how it used to be, but like you, I’ve come to realize that the biggest gift I can give him, and myself, is to meet him where he’s at right now.

    PS I found out last night that he is now allowed out of his room and into the common area and back to his favourite chair. There are still no visitors allowed but it sounds like we’re getting closer to that possibility.

    Meanwhile, I practise sending my love to him and work at believing it’s working. Thank you so much for your kind and helpful words.

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