Personal and professional experience has created within me deep insight along the shadowed journey of loss, mourning and grief.
More than 40 years of mentoring, teaching and counselling, as a progressive Anglican priest, Hospital Chaplain, primary school teacher, and therapist; becoming a widower at the age of 41, father of of three young children, has taken me on the path of deep, penetrating, life-altering grief, through recovery, healing and new life.
Our Sessions Together
My office is located in downtown Guelph, near the corner of Eramosa-Wyndham and Woolwich in the Wellington Building. Usually I meet with clients in the office.
Another option that some clients appreciate is:
Walking With You. Through Walking Together:
Walking With You is not simply a 'tag' for my business. It is an intentional way of working with you, a method if you will,
in a context that supports your sense of openness, trust, and overall well-being. And so, I would be pleased to go for a walk with you, if you wish.
I have a half dozen 50 minute routes, along the river, through parks, historical neighborhoods, traversing the Trans-Canada Trail, that we could walk together, any season. Sometimes we walk and talk the whole way, sometimes we pause on a park bench, sit by the river. There are even a couple of coffee shops along the way to pop in and pick up a warmer-upper.
To the casual passerby we are inconspicuous.
I have found that many people feel very relaxed and comfortable in sharing their thoughts when they are
outdoors. This is an approach to coaching/counselling that reflects the ever-growing societal trend toward over-all wellness and health, through the complement of talk-and-walk, reflection of the heart and mind with light physical activity.
If you are most comfortable thinking and feeling out doors let's go for a walk!
(I believe I may be the only therapist/coach in Guelph who offers this opportunity).
Allow me to companion you on your journey
147 WYNDHAM ST. N., SUITE 407 GUELPH, ON. NIE 4E9
What I Have Learned...
What I Have Learned...
I would like to share with you my experience of the shock and challenges, victories and intimacy of being the partner of a human with cancer. And what it means to become a sole parent. It is different than being a single parent…in many, many ways. These reflections are in rough draft form. I have simply written down my thoughts and feelings, my recollections, without any formal editing. I would welcome your reflections, your comments.
This is part of the story of me and my kids.
Again, they are rough and raw reflections…
Welcome along on my journey of recovery.
With our family friend Kelly Walker
An Introduction To Us and Our Journey
Sole Parenting – (a)Lone Experience
I have achieved my life's greatest goal...so far. I have raised (with much, much support, challenge and love) three competent, confident and motivated kids, who are all attending and thriving at University.
It's been a ride...kinda like Big Thunder Mountain at the Mouse House, unknown, ever-so-slowly up, plunging down, swerving left, jolted right, drenched wet, blinded from moving through complete darkness to violent, brilliant light, sudden and jarring stops, venturing toward the cliff!heart stopping terror, gut splitting laughter, hands-in-the-air confidence, white knuckled gripping to stay in the seat (or from being major scared!). I've even been stuck on it for 20 minutes once when it was broken down – no kidding!
It is not my intention, from the beginning, to appear that I am trivializing my (our) experience of Sherry's life, sickness, courage and death. Our family's favorite place in the world is Disney World, we're unashamed Disneyfiles, and so this analogy resonates with me. This is where we were the most happy, felt most connected, laughed (and fought) the hardest, blossomed as a family. Our journey, our ride, our dance has felt like this. It helps me celebrate our life together, and understand our death. You grab onto your own imagery, experience and let it resonate. Don't apologize.
We've done OK, me, the kids, my partner, the kids' grandparents. I think we all like each other... We enjoy one another's company, but we argue, get on each other's nerves, disappoint... but like any regular family I suspect.
I've made some big mistakes, and I have some aching regrets. I had to figure most of it, being a sole parent, out on my own, with my own. There wasn't a book, or seminar, or workshop that I came across that addressed the issues, I (we) was (were) facing, the questions I had, the doubts and fears and insecurities. Oh my...
It's been seventeen years since Sherry died (2001-2018), since I lost my life partner, my kids lost their Mom, my in-laws lost their daughter, sister, and the world lost a friend and gentle, loving soul. I'm writing this tome to simply share some of the journey I have been on, and hope it might be a small help in understanding and conquering what it means to be a sole parent.
There's not a lot of us out there. We need each other.
I staggered ...I reached out to brace myself on the little sink, as I sank down to one knee. I wasn't even really aware of where Sherry was in the room. I just knew that if I couldn't get a full breath into my screaming lungs it was all going to go black, not just my mind.
We were in the Doctor’s office for the (routine) follow up of last week’s emergency appendectomy. (Why was I even there...in the room? I can't really remember, even now). After some pleasant small talk about the challenge of having three little kids when one parent has surgery Dr. .... flipped through the chart on her desk, and I remember, she paused and looked up at the two us, with an incredulous look on her face. She stood up, quickly, but reassuringly excused herself from the room for a moment. Sherry and I just kind of looked at each other, curious at this rather abrupt departure, and settled in to wait. Whatever... Dr.... came back in the room, sat down, put her chart on her knees and leaned forward, toward us. “The tissues came back cancerous”.
We didn't cry, or hold each other tight. We called close friends (I think from the Dr's office) to ask if they could watch the kids while we did something important. Home to gather kids from school (they walked from just around the corner) and dropped them off for a short play. We whispered to our friends, the word, for the first time.
A whirlwind of about twenty minutes and we are sitting looking at a (very colorful) chart of bowels, stomach, liver...What am I doing here...? It wasn't that we were talking about having Sherry's gall bladder and half of her small intestine removed in the next 48hrs that reeled me. How did we get in to see a specialist, a surgeon, in 15 minutes?! The waiting room is packed. I'd worked in a hospital. I know about doctors and their schedules. I knew something negative good was going down.
Sherry's discomfort kept getting worse. She was more and more agitated. Man, I did not want to go to the hospital close to midnight! Waiting in that blinding cold light for god knows how long ...OK. She really seemed to be messed up, she never made a fuss, and she was grimacing. I called my nephew and explained that we needed to run to the hospital; could he come and be here, rather than getting the kids up and dragging them along.
Just as I feared...an hour or so in the waiting room, two or so in the patient room... abdomen is very tender and a little swollen, better get in there and see what's up. (Does this all sound casual to you, knowing where this is all going? But that is the nature of these stories. So many start out as sooo routine, a pain (inconvenience) to deal with, so normal. There is no normal).
I called Dad (Sherry's Dad) after Wayne went home. It was still early, kids still asleep. I explained the whole evening’s performance. Just as I was hanging up I heard him breath, “It's not the big 'C' is it?
The big 'C”?... Ohhh...No, no, no! Just appendicitis. Jeeze, parents. (Where'd that come from?!)
I'd never seen Mom cry (Sherry's Mom). Relief?,...guarded hope? I remember thinking it was strange that she would react so strongly.
The Dr. reassured us that they had also inspected the liver and the large intestine, stomach wall. They had taken it all out and laid it on the table, feeling each for contusions or signs of discoloration...Very graphic, I thought. Sherry would need to heal for a couple of weeks and then they would like to see us at Henderson Hospital, in Hamilton, to talk about precautionary follow up Chemo.
Sherry was just coming out of the anesthetic. We all kissed her (Mom had finished crying before we went in), tremendously relieved to have her back and 'whole'. Home to get the kids, reassure them all was well, and out to Swiss Chalet. Sad not to have Mom (Sherry) with us, but all's well.
The dance was beginning.
Appendicetal cancer... what the hell is that?!
Laurie was more than happy to come with us to the appointment. Being an RN she could listen and help us ask questions that might not occur to us. Thanks!
32 weeks or so of Chemo treatment. Routine (?). Nuclear scans. Blood work, more blood work...more blood work...
Mom and Dad came up from Grimsby to take Sherry; rides from the Church, a couple of the other moms, girlfriends with kids our age. Casseroles came. Flowers. Cookies. Oh, man. Cookies were great! Kids carried on. Help with rides to choir, Guides, guitar, baseball, and karate. Their teachers were really good about watching them all a little closer, just to see if there were any signs of heightened anxiety, or acting out. Churchland carried on. Sherry went back to work!
We threw a “Sherry's All Better” party in our backyard in July for everyone who had been so gracious, (70+ came!), just before we headed out East for a well deserved three week holiday, in a rented camper trailer. Nuts!
Thanks again everybody... the most, and the least we can say, is “thanks”.
April 1999 – April 2000. Life, as they say, ah, 'normal'...
A spot on her liver...Just three weeks earlier I was offered the Chaplaincy position at our local hospital. I had been at St. Matt's for ten amazingly creative, but exhausting years. The hospital gave me a chance to stay in Guelph and pursue a passion I had developed in a Chaplaincy Residency at University Hospital in London during my seminary training. I would be covering for a year (with the real possibility of staying on) while my good friend Nancy, the hospital's Chaplain, was on medical recovery leave...for cancer. (Almost 10 years later, she's there!).
Saying 'so long' (we were still in town) to our family at St. Matt's was tough. The community was very loving and supportive, (more about just how so in a minute) as I started at the hospital on a Monday. Sherry's surgery was Tuesday.
“It went well...but... there are more lesions than we expected”.
While we were at the hospital every day Sherry's 'fairy godmothers', her three closest girlfriends, Belinda, Kelly and Leigh, their husbands, (and kids!), Kim, Bruce and Marnie completely transformed our bedroom. They painted, wallpapered, curtained, beddinged, (not a word), lamped, tabled, CD cased, and pictured. (Not to mention planting the garden at the front entrance!). The grin on Sherry's face as she snuggled into bed is indelibly etched in my memory. They were all there to welcome her home (even the kids!). Wow...
I think I was the first to throw up. Then Kristi, then Amberlee. I was really scared. It was the night we brought Sherry home... If she caught this flu it could be devastating. And Mom was already getting tired. The day after Sher came home, Mom (and Nick!, Dad helped too) were tending to not one recovering person, but three more pukies with the flu...! And we pukies couldn't get near Sherry to be with her. What drama, what a dance.
Getting pushed around Disney in a wheelchair is the way to go! Give me a cast, sign me up! Our week was truly 'magical' !(plug). How we got there, no less so.
Funds raised between St. Matt's, the employees of Sears (Sherry in Kids' wear), the PTA at our kids' school, Paisley Road, and an anonymous downer (probably others I don't know about) flew, not only the five us, but also Sherry's parents, to The Mouse House for an all expenses paid week in June. (Arranged by the fairy Godmothers again).
We pushed Sherry around the parks during the day (skirting lines; necessary, but guilt inducing). She walked at night, when it was cooler. It was a week of memory making, and keeping, for all of us. Magical, memorable...and...well, it was tough too.
My (our) gratitude is ineffable. Thanks...
The dance continues.
A cough, strep throat, sciatica, unexplained bruising...your heart literally stops. The travel to the sessions of chemo becomes rather routine. But each interim week brings a different physical response; each consult with the doctor(s) is a heightening of anxiety. You learn the jargon, you anticipate...
The sites on the liver are just slightly enlarged ...there appears to be a small increase in the number. The sites aren't reducing, but the chemo is helping keep the disease in check.
Various combinations of chemo, differing doses, sites aren't enlarged enough to attempt one of the trial drugs.
Life carries on. Try and keep the kids as normalized as possible...and us too. We accept invites out, we have people in. Everyone is very gracious and the expectations are simple and comfortable; just be with us (us being 'us', and the 'them who invite us). Our friends are constant, our family vigilant.
Sherry's brother, Ron, shave his head in solidarity, for the annual Beringer Christmas. Amberlee does a research project on Sadako Sasaki, and her grade 8 class makes 1000 paper cranes, in hope and love, that we decorate our Christmas tree with. (They make another 1000 and enter a tree into the River Run Center's annual Christmas tree decorating display. It is spectacular! and proves to garner a great deal of interest in Sadako Sasaki’s's story. Way proud!!).
Sherry inadvertently presents me with a duplicate gift on Christmas morning...two copies of the same table top book, each beautifully and individually wrapped... 'Chemo head' she calls it.
Lots of invites out. People coming by ...normal stuff. It's good.
I was in my office. I was checking in with our pathologist about Sherry's eligibility for another trial. I understood the word ...I was a hospital chaplain.
“Yes, Sherry is palliative.”
I understood. She was no longer eligible for trials... I thanked the doctor, hung up the phone. I stared out my office window. I have no idea how long I sat there...
A new dance...
Sherry's days are getting harder now. Often she is too sick to make the trip to Hamilton for treatment. Cancer has moved into her bone and spine. Liver counts are 5x's elevated. MIR's. emergency IV's for dehydration, creams for extreme acne, hemorrhoids... Doctor orders high radiation treatment to alleviate pressure on the spine and tail bone. Nausea...all the time. Home Care... I wake up at night every time she moans or twitches. When was the last time I had a full night's sleep??
How long now have I been experiencing anticipatory grief?...In many ways, it is a relief. It is not giving up, abandoning her, or myself; it's not betrayal, it's not fate...it's honest...
I don't think anticipatory grief is conscious, per say. In hindsight, I experienced it as a release valve, allowing my subconscious mind (and heart) to go into the (immediate) future, to talk to myself about what I was feeling and how I was reacting. I had to think ahead for both of us, for all of us. I was going to be a single parent, (sole parenting...? huh?) with three little kids, and I needed to think that through, ...a bit.
I cried some, I raged some, I stared a lot. I was anticipating losing my love. I was anticipating caring for my kids. I was anticipating being alone... It was happening to me. I just knew that, somehow, when it did, and I went through it, I could carry on with the rest of my day (hour, minute..).
The radiation treatments are very, very hard on her. They completely exhaust her and the nausea is frightening. The shock of Sherry's eyes yellowing. Blocked bile ducts? Another scope. The doctor, very gently, told us 2 to 6 weeks.
Quality of life questions. It's time to stop treatment,...just be...
In those last two months Sherry was, well..., Sherry.
(It's June). In October she had made a commitment to go to Quebec City with Amberlee's grade 8 graduating class. I told the teacher I would go instead...We both went..
A coach bus there and back. Teachers, kids, other parents, Amberlee, me (the bus driver!) pushed her around (up and down!) Quebec City all day. We didn't miss a thing. In the evening we hung out with the teachers, walked to dinner in Old Town, drank and laughed, and told stories. After I was long asleep, exhausted from the day, she was sitting in the hotel hallway, until the wee hours of the morning, with some girl or another, holding and rocking them in comfort over a slight or a tease.
Back-to-back graduations; Amberlee's on a Tuesday, Kristi's on Wednesday. I realize now, the last times she walked and stood for any length.
(It's July). Sherry went to Nick's Rep. Soccer games, Kristi's baseball games, Amberlee's guitar recitals. She would be in her chair, an umbrella attached to keep the sun off. She'd cheer 'till she was hoarse. When she couldn't sit for a whole game she'd sit in the van and watch from a distance. When she couldn't go, no matter how crappy she felt, she would have the kids snuggle up in bed and hear every detail of the game, or play practice, or school day...or slight or tease...
We wedged the chair into the stern of the boat. Passed her from the dock, over the gunnels, and tried not to drop her! I've included a great picture of her laughing while she fished.
Invites out, people in. It was all so normal, so natural. It was all so Sherry.
(First week of August). Sher died peacefully in her own bed, with all of us around (kids, Mom, Dad, Belinda). The kids and I gave Belinda Sherry's cross. I laid out her favorite summer dress; put a Mickey pin from her chemo hat, and a fork, beside her. Leah, one of our cats, lay down on her chest. Belinda waited at the house for the funeral director to come.
As the kids and I were stepping off of the back porch to go to David and Lucy's to be with them and wait Nick exclaimed “there's Mom's Star”, and he pointed up into the night sky at luminescent Venus. Indeed... Mom's Star.
In the midst of anticipatory grief, in the deep sense of helplessness, there are few things to control. Over the two or three days Sherry was in the hospital, after the Doctor told us two-six weeks, she and I shared what she wanted as a celebration of her life. I'll let our precious friend Kelly Walker tell of her gift. (Kelly is in the pic with us as the top of the page).
“My friend Sherry died a few years ago. She knew she had terminal cancer. She left behind an adoring husband and three children. All of them faced her death head on. They knew she would die and they talked about it openly. They also prepared her funeral, as a family. It was held in the summer campground of their Anglican diocese. There was a Eucharist, accompanied by lots of music and participation.
When the time came, we gathered at dusk. The casket, a simple, unstained pine box, was in the middle of the field surrounded by candles and balloons. There was a basket of felt markers on the casket and everyone was invited to write something on the box. Even little children participated. It was a stretch for me to do this, but after I did, I felt I was part of the celebration in a way I wouldn't have been otherwise. Music was playing in the background. We all gathered on the hill surrounding the casket and the bishop welcomed us. There were stories, songs and scripture readings. Even (one) their children played guitar. It was a hot evening (all dressed casually and wore something Disney), and one of our friends, in a clown costume, wandered through the crowd with a squirt bottle and “refreshed” us. It was Sherry's celebration and she had made sure we were all as much a part of it as we had been at the parties we had enjoyed in her living room. It was the same Sherry.
Following the service, we went to the lodge for sandwiches, refreshments and a “Sherry cake”. At her request, her body was brought to the lodge in the casket, which had been draped in flowers by her girlfriends who had journeyed with her to the end. She was not going to allow a good party to go on without being there herself. Sherry lives on in our memory in so many ways. As we left, we were all given a photo of the family with thanks and a hug.”
'Growing Somewhere: Living Life After Mid-life'
An Introduction To Us and Our Journey
B.A. (Hons), B. Ed., M. Div.