It’s that time of year again…

This story has become very significant to me because of the type of work I’m seeing/doing these days…

“For years and years, I too hated Christmas…too much brouhaha in my books…then I had a Christmas epiphany…no small feat for a non-Christian…but here goes

I always put huge store in Christmas…because I was raised in a huge family and I had believed all my life that “family” is what Christmas was about…My Father’s birthday is the twenty-third and my uncle’s is on the twenty-fifth and as a child, we always did the big Christmas/birthday celebration…but as time goes on things change and you discover that family are people too…and they have foibles…they mess up…and things never quite live up to your expectations.

In the early ‘90’s my Mother moved to BC leaving me to live in the old family home in Thunder Bay. My brother was newly married to a woman that put the “C” in control. (and another word that I won’t use here!) She didn’t like cooking when I was around and for many years I thought it was cos she was intimidated by the fact that I have my chef’s papers…turns out she’s just lazy, opinionated and lazy…but that’s another story.

So Mom moves to BC, Dad and my sister are in Toronto and I am faced with the prospect of cooking the whole Christmas shebang at my brother and sister-in-law’s house. My sister-in-law has invited her whole family so I am cooking a 27lb turkey and all the trimmings. Two kinds of stuffing (one for each end) 3 kinds of salad and 4 vegetables, mashed spuds, gravy, pickles, etc. etc. and top it all off with Figgie Pudding…(I’m from a go big ‘er go home kinda family)

Five days before Christmas my sister-in-law calls me and informs me that I am “allowed” to come to her house for an hour between 6 and 7 AM to stuff the bird and put it in the oven…but then I need to leave for the day so she can have some “quality” time with her family.

Can you guess where I told her to put her bird? ~ahem~

So the Christmas dawns and I am alone. I am not answering the phone…and I am depressed….as my Grampy used to say, “I am lower than whale shit and that is on the bottom of the ocean! We are having a good old North Western Ontario blizzard and as I listen to the radio I am overcome both with the concept that I can’t get away from Christmas (it’s just freakin everywhere) and that I am alone. So I jump in my truck and head out to the local truck stop for breakfast. Somewhere where there are people and noise.

On my way to the truckstop, I drive past the Greyhound Bus Depot and while it is closed I spot an elderly man in a summer-weight suit huddled in the doorway.

I drive by…then go around the block and drive by again. Something about this situation tweaks my conscience and I cannot get the picture of this man out of my head.

On my third pass I pull into the parking lot and lean out my window. “Are you ok?” I ask. This tiny elderly fellow looks up at me and with tears running down his face says, “I’ll do.”

“Well, no…he won’t do.” I think as I watch him shiver and shudder. So I offer to let him in my truck. I’m thinking that if it turns out he’s got a gun…I certainly won’t feel any worse off than I already do this Christmas.

At first he refuses. But then with some cajoling and conversation he eventually climbs in and I take him to the truck stop to warm him up and maybe get him some food. He refuses to eat but allows as I could buy him a “cup of cocoa”.

As he thaws out he tells me his story. He tells me his name is Sheldon Shepherd. He left Vancouver 3 days ago on his way to London ON to spend Christmas with his family. He was traveling by Greyhound. In the bathroom, in the Thunder Bay bus terminal he is mugged…robbed…and knocked out. Because he is old school and won’t ask for help when he comes to… he doesn’t tell anyone, his grandkid’s Christmas presents are gone, as is his coat and wallet. He finds himself outside of the depot, the depot closed, in a blizzard with a lump on his head the size of Santa. Areas of his story seem lacking to me…but he’s got this lump and no coat and no money…so…

I am filled with righteous indignation and I insist that he allow me to call the police. They come and after all, is said and done I find out that they can get him another bus ticket to London but they have to find a judge to authorize the funds and besides there is no bus running thru till the twenty-sixth. One of the police officers suggests that this sad soul go to the local homeless shelter. I’ve never been there but I know where it is so I agree to drive him there.

Sheldon is quiet on his way to the shelter. He confides in me as we are pulling into the parking lot that he’s never had to accept charity before and not comfortable with it now. I fully understand. I have never been able to look a homeless person in the eye. I have always been consumed with guilt and the thought that there but for the grace of all the gods go I.

In we go. My first impression was that we were entering a jail. We walked in through the front door to be confronted with locked double doors and a “security guard”. Sheldon is pulling back so I tell the guard his story and the guard opens the locked doors to allow us into the shelter telling us to “find Rick”.

As we enter I am assaulted by a cacophony of sounds and smells….lots of them not pleasant. There is a riot of color and furniture and bodies everywhere…there are people sleeping standing up against walls and on the stairs and tired used old blankets clutched in dirty little children’s fingers.

Slowly as I become accustomed to the “ambiance” I begin to see Christmas in this room. There are bits of tinsel hanging from dirty stocking caps set jauntily over dirty faces. There’s what can only be called a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in the corner and there are new socks and new gloves on many hands and feet…and lots of the people that are awake are smiling. I don’t understand.

Across the room is the big-serving window to the kitchen but I see no one on the other side…as I start across the room I hear the unmistakable sound of dishes smashing to the floor and a resounding “Damn it!” from behind the wall. I peek around a see a harried fellow, in half a Santa suit picking up broken dishes and muttering.

“Rick?” I ask. This frantic man turns to me and blesses me with the biggest gap-tooth smile and says…”yup…hiya! What can I do for you?”

I explain Sheldon’s story and Rick tells me no problem he can stay here overnight. He then turns to Sheldon and says,” I don’t suppose you can cook?”

“Why?” says Sheldon and I at once. Turns out that the volunteer church group that was to cook the shelter’s Christmas dinner won’t be coming because of the storm. Rick says that Christmas is always a banner time for the shelter food-wise…”people assuage their guilt by giving at Christmas”. The end result is that he has tons of food and no cooks.

“Hmmmmmm,” says I, “maybe I can help”

Long story short…we have Christmas dinner for close to 200. Sheldon isn’t a cook but he’s a mean dishwasher and clean up kinda guy…and we recruit a couple of people from the shelter and we are off… We have beef and turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing made in pans instead of in the bird and spaghetti with sauce and chocolate pudding.

We have Christmas Carols and laughter and hugs and tears and handclasps from dirty little fingers. By 10 PM I am completely and totally physically exhausted, sweaty and hot, hot, hot… but as I turn to survey the room I have an epiphany.

Christmas is not about receiving the love from my family that I believe is my due. It truly is about giving. In any way shape or form.

Sheldon passed away in 1996 but I still hear from his daughter Janice…once a year at Christmas. In the many years since this event occurred in my life, I’ve sent this story out to online friends far and wide…and as a result there are “Christmas with Sheldon” parties all over North America designed by people who have been affected by Sheldon’s story to assist people that have “less than” we do. Not people we believe are less than us because we don’t get to judge. But people that have less than us for whatever reason…and they don’t just happen at Christmas.

And here I am all these years later understanding that Sheldon’s plight could have occurred to anyone of us at any time in our lives. Sheldon coming into my life was a true blessing and a life-changing moment and my telling of Sheldon’s story to others is not my right but my responsibility.

It is truly the best that I can do.

I wish you PEACE!

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I got a job!

Many of you probably don’t know that I have been diagnosed with a brain injury – years of repeated concussions in my youth combined with huge amounts of different medications over the length of my life have left me with some blank spots in my pre-recorded tape.

This diagnosis has led to some heart-breaking challenges in my life over the last 4 years.

I lost my government job, used all of my savings and retirement to live on, lost my car, declared bankruptcy and mostly lost all of my confidence for a long time.

Hearing that your brain no longer works correctly has the same effect on you that grief does. First you get deny and isolate yourself, then you get angry, then you bargain with yourself, then comes the depression and finally, you accept it.

So – in the beginning, I categorically denied that there was a problem and in order to keep up that façade I isolated myself…“who the hell are they to tell me I have a broken brain?” a psychologist – that’s who. “I’m sorry, I’ve lost both my parents in the last few years and I’m reeling – so I can’t go anywhere just now.” True – but still a bad excuse.

Then I got angry. “Fuck them…they know nothing…it’s their fault I’m not working. I’ll show them!” This one can last a long time…

Then I made deals with myself…”I have EI, I don’t need to work” becomes “what do you mean I’m cut off 7 months earlier than you originally said?” turns into jumping hoops for social assistance in an effort to apply for disability.

Followed by depression. I was diagnosed and medicated for depression, to go along with Crohn’s Disease, Diabetes, Arthritis, Gerd, PTSD, cancer and several other anti-immune diseases years ago. This time the depression became a great dark hole of self=loathing and fear that immobilized me literally for months.

Finally comes acceptance. Acceptance is the day you can stand up and say to yourself “I have a brain injury.” Eventually, you can say it out loud. And eventually, you begin to slowly look for help. You begin to understand that unlike your previous employers the answer is not to think about what you can no longer do – but to focus on what you can do.

I have a brain injury. I am still intelligent, articulate and smart. I am enough.

The last couple of years have been lessons in humble for me. Support has come from some surprising places. And there has been a lack of support from some people that really hurt me but that’s a story for another time.

I tell you all this…to tell you about my day yesterday…

I’ve been trying to get a job since October of 2018. I think my trying was sporadic at first, and then tempered by my deciding and changing my mind about disability about once a week since then.

The process of gaining assistance in this province at this time is heinous. As an intelligent person, I had a hell of a time figuring it out. And I have a counselor I see weekly set up via a local program of support for people with brain injury. You can not apply for disability in this province without being on social assistance. The process for social assistance is a slog but if you don’t get on it you can’t have the application to apply for disability. If you get the application and go off of assistance, you can’t submit the application. There are actually companies here that will apply for disability on your behalf if you meet the requirements, but you have to pay them for the assistance. There are 2 volunteer programs that will help you with the application however you must wait at least 4 weeks to get an appointment with them and then you have to have a Dr that you have a relationship with that will fill out the forms for you outlining your diagnoses.

None of this made me want to get out of bed. The shame at requiring social assistance is likely all from your own mind…but the shame is real.

Part of the social assistance process is to be involved with an Occupational Therapist via Work BC, aka GT Hiring Solutions and the March of Dimes.

Finding this out was a stroke of luck. The Occupational Therapist connected me with an Employer and Client Coordinator (a job carver).

On Monday I attended a job fair for potential employees in the Health markets. It was a bust for me but while I was there, I spent some time on the computer looking at jobs with the E&C coordinator. Frankly, I was kind of uninterested. After months of this, I find it harder and harder to work up any enthusiasm for applying for jobs that I’m not likely to get. I was feeling let down.

I applied for a job as an Office Administrator with the Victoria Brain Injury Society via Indeed.ca. I didn’t hold out any hope of it going any further.

On Tuesday they emailed me and requested a cover letter as the application process online hadn’t asked for one. I sent them my cover letter. They called me back and asked me to meet with them at their office on Wednesday morning at 8:30.

In the morning? With pants on?

We had a fabulous interview. I left to come home 2 hours later feeling at the very least I had once again got up, put on pants and left the house and talked to some nice people.

They called on Thursday to confirm the number of one of my references. Her number has changed and I guess I’d not remembered to change it prior to sending in my resume.

They called back an hour later and said that they were “thrilled” to offer me the job!

I’m farklempt. There has been so much negativity in my life over the last years that I thought that darkness was going to be the norm forever.

This job reads as exactly what I need. It’s not quite full time. It’s hugely flexible. They are dog-friendly. They have parking and benefits after 90 days. If there are projects that I need to hyper-focus on I can start early or stay late to work uninterrupted. And best of all they know about and understand my brain injury.

I am absolutely giddy.

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