Some people woven into the fabric of our lives enrich it with their depth of character and the beauty of who they are. Our children's lives were touched by the many people they grew up with at Maplewood Lodge, our home for ten years; where we lived alongside 12 men at a time who had intellectual disabilities.
At our family Christmas this year, Brenda and Peter spoke of them fondly while looking at some photographs from those happy days. Thirty years later they remember them through the eyes of the children they were then. They didn't understand, or see, disability, but they understood qualities of the heart,and in that department they lived among some giants.
Stanley was 57 when we moved into the home where he had already lived for two years. We had no idea then that he would be part of our lives for the next 29 years, until he died in 2003 at 86. Everyone who knew him loved him, and no wonder. He was the kindest, most selfless person in the world. Having grown up during the Depression, he was always concerned with having enough money in the bank for that proverbial rainy day. He never splurged on himself, but he was generous to a fault with others. When Peter and Brenda played outside, it was Stanley who warned them to stay away from the road. They remember their childhood surrounded by his loving concern.
Years later, when Stanley was an old man, he was cared for by the agency I work for now, Christian Horizons. Before Christmas I spent some time chatting with one of the two staff who sat with him the night he died, almost 7 years ago. She was young and scared. She'd never been with a dying person before. She and her coworker sang to him, all his favourite songs. They stroked him and held him close as his breathing became more shallow. His face began to perspire, and the young staff immediately said that she would change his pajamas for him. Her coworker stopped her; she knew from experience that the time they had dreaded had come. They each held one of his hands and prayed. Then the young staff said, "It's all right Stanley. Go to Jesus." Stanley's eyes were closed, but he raised both his arms up in the air, outstretched to someone only he could see, then he breathed his last breath. It was a holy moment, when heaven intersected with earth, and they were privileged to be there.
On the wall in my laundry room I have a shadow box in which one of the staff placed his last piece of knitting, with the needles exactly as he left them when he put it down, just days before he died. His Special Olympics medal hangs from it.
Mervin reminded me of a daddy long legs. He was tall and thin and walked with the jerky gait of cerebral palsy. He had a shock of dark blond, soft, frizzy hair that stood out from his head, like an Afro. His elderly Jewish parents came to see him regularly and took him home for the holidays. Mervin himself went to church, and like Abe, another man of Jewish background who lived with us, seemed to have found his own faith, in Christ.
I have never known anyone who anticipated Christmas better than Mervin. Some time in September each year he would begin stowing away small gifts beneath his bed, with a twinkle in his eyes akin to the star of Bethlehem. For Mervin there was so much joy in the plotting, hiding and giving.
He was a sweet spirited man with a delightful sense of humour. Peter remembers him always replying, "Pinocchio," whenever he asked him what his name was.
When we left for a family trip to England one summer, Mervin was not well. He had a stubborn cough that turned out to be caused by a blood clot on his lung. He died in hospital while we were away. Although she doesn't remember him now, Brenda was inconsolable and sobbed for days when we heard the news.
We were rich in good friends then and we are rich because of them still.