Sunday, June 24, 2007

We didn't have your phone number

It has been two weeks since I last visited Mr. Ditchfield, a senior I have been visiting almost every Sunday for over 5 years. I went this afternoon, ready with apologies, hopeful that I may be able to convince him to allow me to take him outside so he could see the roses and day lilies.

"Where are you going?" Theresa asked when she saw me in the hall. I know her from the Saturdays at Bingo and as a friend of Mr. Ditchfield.

"To see Mr. Ditchfield."

"He's dead."

I can't say the news came as a total surprise. He was 96-years old and his health wasn't good. For the last few months he has had difficulty eating, has fallen a few times and was in considerable pain.

"We didn't have your phone number. I was thinking about you and wanted to let you know... Come with me, I'll show you the paper for his funeral."

I walked with Theresa down the familiar hall to the nurses' station. The head nurse was glad to see me. "I've been thinking about you," she said. "We didn't know your name or how to contact you. I've seen you here every week, but I never got your name."

Theresa showed me the obituary pinned on the bulletin board. She fought back tears as she recalled what a good friend he was to her.

It seems he died a few hours after I last saw him. Theresa had also visited him in his room that day and was building a puzzle in the common area when someone came to tell her he had passed away. Quietly. Alone.

In the picture I've posted here he is standing beside a hook rug he made. Ever since I first met him, he has almost always been working on one of these, or taking a break with a jigsaw puzzle. He made a beautiful, large Canadian flag that hangs in the cafeteria on the main floor. All his friends have at least one colourful square.

In the last year he has had more difficulty following patterns and often during my visits I would help him by re-doing sections, filling missed stitches or outlining an area. Time passed quickly as I worked on his rugs or helped him build the difficult part of a puzzle. He would watch me work and tell stories of the days when a riding the streetcar cost a nickel and horses pulled sleighs and carriages down Bank Street.

Theresa has offered that I go with her to the funeral in the car that is being sent for her. The head nurse gave me a hug and told me that Mr. Ditchfield talked often of me and cared for me. I choked on some tears and left with the obituary in my hand. It really shouldn't be surprising. Perhaps I shouldn't even grieve. But Ann passed away in February and now he is gone too. It's a quiet sort of sadness... a passing, a loss of a loved friend.

Friday, June 22, 2007

truth and reconciliation

Last night I attended a public forum at the National Archives for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) which is being set up for survivors of Indian Residential Schools. Scheduled on National Aboriginal Day, this was an opportunity for the public to learn about TRCs and give input on how a TRC might work in Canada. Other forums have been held around town, at Native centres and at universities.

The TRC is part of the negotiated settlement between government, churches and Indigenous peoples in response to the recognized human rights violations of the Residential School system. I'm taking a spring course right now which is looking at post-colonial, Indigenous issues in Canada - so this discussion is really relevant to what we have been studying. In other course work, and in preparation for my thesis, I have been researching TRCs in Africa and reading a lot about healing and reconciliation. Sometimes reading can seen sterile - removed from experience. So it was exciting last night to watch and listen to how a Commission could be set up in Canada - what are the expectations, the limitations, the hopes and the fears. It seems corny to say, but it was one of those times when I was aware of being part of history.

I also felt like I got a little taste of what a TRC could look like. Two speakers talked about their experience in the Residential School system. Violet Ford, an Inuit lawyer and Residential School survivor spoke through tears about the feelings of anger, loss and frustration that she and her community is working through. "I see the TRC as such huge hope for our people, for our nieces and nephews and those who come after us," she said. She added that she hoped it would not only help heal her community, but also allow the Canadian public to understand "what we've been suffering from." When she talked about the need for Canadians to attend the TRC and "hold out their hands" to survivors, I could see my place in all this.

I am also excited to be finding opportunities to use my role as an academic and researcher. I met someone who recently finished a conflict resolution master's at University of Victoria. She is doing research for this TRC process in order to provide Commissioners (who will be selected in September) with background on TRC process as well as the input received from these forums. I talked to her about the possibility of doing some of my course research on the TRC project and she welcomed the idea. I know that I tend to bite off far more than I can chew when it comes to research papers, but often doing coursework just for the grade seems inefficient to me. If I'm going to be putting in all this time, why not make it count?

That is a huge part of what it means for me to be an academic. How do I make it count? How can I contribute to social justice? Last night I saw an opportunity.

Friday, June 08, 2007

fashion knits

I found this fabulous patter at the Red Cross this week. I brought it home to show V what I could knit for him and his greyhound (should he ever get said greyhound).

Wouldn't they make a stunning pair strolling down Byron Avenue?

There was also a great sweater set I could knit for us as a couple. It may not be exactly what is in the fashion magazines these days, but it will catch on.

Now where am I going to find someone who can style my hair like that?