Sunday, September 28, 2008


When we go to our church on a Sunday
We hear stories of welcoming strangers
Extending of warm hospitality
And trusting the world will be better.

We welcome the welcoming stories.
We like to think we are inclusive.
We feel good on days when we offer.
We generally strive to do more.

But somebody gave out our address
And did it without our permission.
It happened in early September,
The time when cold weather is looming.

Before we could think what was happening
We were hosting a party for thousands
Who’d gathered out on the veranda
To find a warm spot for the winter.

In panic we called the authorities.
They said this was not an emergency.
Since we weren’t being burgled or bitten
And no genuine harm was occurring.

The word on the web says they’re harmless
That they just want to stay for the winter
In a warm comfy place until springtime
And how can we blame them for that?

They won’t eat our food or our houseplants
They won’t lay their eggs on our property.
They’ll die if they stay until summer,
How could we turn them away?

So if you are the kind who gives welcome
To strangers in need of a shelter
Just send us your addressed permission
And we’ll send you …
Absolutely free …
Without checking your references …
With no strings attached …
And no payment required on your part …

Thousands and thousands of Box Elder Bugs.
Don’t worry!
They won’t hurt you!

Thursday, September 25, 2008


When you run a hope group
As I have had occasion to do,
For people who are struggling
With issues beyond our imagining
You witness a miracle of making hope explicit.

You unveil the mysteries of humankind,
You find the light buried deep beneath the fog,
You reveal the talent lying unnoticed beyond the chaos,
You see the resourcefulness flare light the last spark in a burned-out campfire,
You see people grow taller, stronger, braver as they reach out to help each other,
You feel the ground settle neath the firmness of their stand.

This is why, amid the horror,
It is such a joy
To run a hope group
For people who are struggling
With issues beyond our imagining.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I had intended to write an essay
On despair and its relationship to computers
With reference the way my scanning program crashes
And the fact that my emails to my sister are rejected.

But then I was sidetracked with writing instead
A poem about my writers community
A community I hoped for but never had
Until I started keeping a blog
And reading the healing stories list serve.

A happy ending in many respects
Since hope is better than despair
And poems are shorter than essays.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Kate Macdonald Butler is the daughter of Stuart Macdonald, who was the youngest son of L.M. Montgomery, author of Anne Of Green Gables. She writes: I hope that by writing about my grandmother now there might be less secrecy and more awareness that will ease the unnecessary suffering so many people experience as a result of such depressions. You can read her essay on her grandmother’s suicide at

I think of Montgomery, and Robert Fulghum, and so many others, and I wonder how it comes to pass that depression enables artists to present the world so hopefully to the rest of us yet still leaves them struggling under depression’s oppressive weight. What, beyond buying their creations, can we do to ease their burden?

Though we like to think of mental health work as a science, I think it is as much an art as a science. And though artistic expression alone may not cure depression, it is amazing how many people find comfort in it.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Harry is one of those people who has inspired my hope as well as my writing. Fond as he was of universities, I suspect he would have been pleased to know that McMaster University Press has published a story about him as part of an anthology from the Writing Down Our Years Series. The book is:

This Little Light of Mine: Stories and Poetry from Family Caregivers
Kathleen M. Banchoff, Editor
Illustrated with the photography of Richard and Eleanore Kosydar.

The book can be purchased for $15.00 online from McMaster

My contribution, one of many in the book, appears here in its entirety, my tribute to Harry’s courage and persistence.

Wendy Edey

It is a good thing old age comes so late in life. It gives you the time to develop the resources to deal with it. There is a lot of noise in Harry’s room—too much noise really—given that this is a hospital and the official beginning of visiting hours is still an hour away. There is a lot of noise, but not quite enough to cover the sound of the too-loud voices coming from the hallway.

It is the morning after the stroke, the morning after the big one, the whopper, the cataclysmic stroke of all strokes, the stroke that stilled his good right arm and turned his leg to jelly. It is the morning after the cat got Harry’s tongue.

Harry’s room is a double room shared with a stranger. Harry would like to share the bathroom. For the moment that is out of the question because he is trapped in his bed. But Harry is not a man to be trifled with, and already he is having an influence, holding court from a horizontal perspective, using every muscle that moves, conducting the family through a modified game of charades.

“Bed pan,” cries a son. Bedpan is, on that morning, a guess of enormous importance, a guess you would want to make in case there wasn’t much time.

“No!” shouts Harry. It is a firm no, a definite no, the kind of no a three-year-old shouts when you try to put his shoes on. But it is music to the ears of the family. Maybe the cat that got his tongue has left some important words for Harry.

“Water jug!” cries a granddaughter. Thirst might be the problem.

“No!” shouts Harry.

More guesses. “Close these curtains!”


“A tissue for your nose?”

“No!” And then Harry says, “There!” A sigh from the family. Another word left by the cat.

He says it again. “There!”

But where? We try again. “Pull up the blanket?”


“Crank up the bed?”

“No!. A breath. “No! No! No! No!” And then, a flash of anger hot as fire, ”Damn it all!”

Shocked silence from the family. Can Harry really have said that? The cat who took the words must have a sense of humour. Harry has never been a man to swear. But then, communication has never been so difficult before, so promising and so daunting at the same time.

We pause to collect our thoughts. But silence will not do. It is noise we need now, noise. Make more noise! If we make more noise it might be impossible for Harry to hear, for us to hear the too-loud voice of the young doctor echoing in the hallway just beyond Harry’s door. Only a moment ago that man came right into the room and said, “If Harry’s wife is here I would like to speak to her about a do-not-resuscitate order. We don’t have one on the chart.”

Not a word did he speak to Harry. Presumably he was in a hurry. He wanted to get a do-not-resuscitate order on the chart. In his hand was a clipboard, and he would likely have had the full conversation then and there had one of Harry’s sons not risen to guide his mother to the door. There might have been a quiet room in soft pastels where Harry’s wife might have sat to discuss this difficult issue. But just outside the door the doctor stopped abruptly, turning back to continue the conversation, addressing himself to Harry’s wife.

Harry’s wife was tired, but she was not a woman to be trifled with. “Harry made a living will,” she said, getting the upper hand. “We brought it with us last night when we came in the ambulance. Maybe they still have it down in Emergency. He didn’t want to be a vegetable.”

The doctor was unimpressed. The word ‘vegetable’ was not on any of his forms. But that was the word Harry had used. What did he mean by that anyway? He meant he did not want to be passive, so passive he could be thrown into a pot and boiled up, so passive that others would have to tend him, keep his basic systems going. He wanted to be active, interactive, involved in the rhythm of daily life like a human being would be involved.

Inside Harry’s room there is no sign of vegetablehood right now. Harry is definitely not passive, not even close. He is, in fact, the centre of attention. It isn’t even visiting hours yet, and there are already a lot of people in Harry’s room, two patients, seven visitors. In the who-can-have-the-most-visitors competition, Harry has a definite lead, five visitors for him, two for the other guy. It is a difficult situation in some ways. Hospitals never quite know what to do about visitors. Visitors are good for the patients, but too many visitors can be too much of a good thing. Visiting hours keep things organized, but patients need their families in times of crisis. If the cat’s got your tongue your family can speak for you—sort of.

The too-loud conversation in the hahll is very short, as impromptu standing-up conversations among strangers tend to be. A granddaughter rises to make a chair available to Harry’s wife as she comes back in. One way to control the number of visitors is to control the number of chairs. Harry’s room has only four chairs, but we don’t mind standing. Things are pretty active anyway, what with Harry trying to give us a message we can’t understand, and all the guessing going on.

There is a better chance of solving the puzzle now that Harry’s wife is in the game. She ought to be exhausted, having spent last evening and most of the night in the emergency ward. This does not seem like a good time to discuss the too-loud hallway conversation, so we ask instead for her help with the game. We have exhausted all possibilities, made a hundred guesses. We have surveyed the ceiling, surveyed the floor, and still Harry persists. Whatever it is he wants to say, it must be very important.

“There!” he cries in agitation, the way an ignored messenger of war might cry when bringing news of an impending attack. “There!”

Harry’s wife has been his wife for 55 years. She knows him pretty well, well enough to predict that he will not give up until we have finally understood whatever it is that he wants to communicate. He has never been a man to give up. Anyone who knows him will tell you that. This is the man who insisted on finishing high school at a time when farm boys were not offered a full education. This is the man who went to war, cleaned guns, fell in love with a Welsh nurse, sacrificed his wedding day for D. Day in France and later married her in his army boots because he had no other shoes.

“He is looking at your chair,” she says to a daughter. It is not twelve hours since the cat got his tongue and already she is developing a skill in telepathy. “He is looking at your chair. Stand up will you?”

This is definitely going to be a challenge. Yesterday he could marshal 60,000 words. Today he is limited to five, including no, there and damn it all. It’s quite a loss when you consider it, 59,995 words wiped away in a single night, gone, but not forgotten. He has not forgotten them. She can see it in his eyes, know it from his history. Once they lost a daughter, a happy, laughing, bouncing daughter. One moment she was swimming in the river and the next moment she was gone. And there was nothing left to do but pull her lifeless body from the weeds where it was tangled. There was grieving, unfathomable grieving. There was heartbreak so deep that tears could still pour out forty years later. What is the loss of 59,995 words and a good right side compared with the loss of a daughter? Can a mere stroke be expected to vanquish a man who has lost a daughter and still not given up?

He has not given up on whatever it is he is after. Now, if his wife is guessing correctly, he is deeply concerned about a chair, the chair where another daughter is sitting. At her mother’s command she stands, and he smiles. They are making progress. But he is not finished yet.

This is a farm boy who started university at 43, survived a major heart attack at 58, studied French at 75. He taught math to bank tellers, computer science to students of business. This is a man who crossed the U.S.S.R., cruised the Amazon. He is a historian, a genealogist. His thoughts are not always simple.

His daughter is standing and he is smiling and still the puzzle is not solved. Is it something about her? No, it seems to be something about the chair. No, not about the chair, but about the bed next to his. No, not about the bed next to his, something about the visitors to the man in the bed next to his. What can it be?

And then suddenly the puzzle is solved. It is the chair. The visitors of the other patient only have one chair, and we have three. We have their other chair. We took their other chair and we need to give it back to them. So we give it back to them. Now both of his visitors have a chair. Two chairs for them and two for us. It is the thing Harry would have told us to do in the days when he had the words. We are cheering now, cheering the way we would be cheering if one of us had won ten thousand dollars on a TV game show.

Harry is not a vegetable. He is involved. We do not know it yet, but in the face of his new life, Harry will be more resolute, more resilient, more resourceful than we ever imagined he could be. We do not know it on this morning, but he has six more years, six more years of laughing at family parties, winning at cards and crying occasionally for his lost daughter. More words will be reconnected, names of people, names of objects. He will proudly display newspaper articles and army medals. He will give to charity, attend church, go to the bank, sign his name with his left hand, walk, fall and walk again.

On this difficult morning, when he knows there are still some things he can do, he chooses to hope there will be more things he can do as time goes on. He has always been a learner. Just this morning he began learning how it feels to be disregarded, as if he were invisible, invisible because he does not speak a language that can be understood by people in a hurry. And so he begins to take charge, to rally his family and friends. To us he will not be invisible. It will take more people to solve a problem. It will take longer than it used to. But we will do the best we can. This is not the only game of charades we will play. It is the first of a thousand enactments, enactments leading to guesses, guesses to fill the spaces, millions of spaces left by the thousands of words the cat took.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I followed a hope trail early today
Over to Ed South 221
Where the university class on hope
Has been taught in winter on Tuesday evenings
Sustained for three years running.

And even though a hundred other classes have been taught there
Day after day, year upon year,
The bulletin board at the back of the room
Stands resplendent with cheery cartoons,
Serious poetry, powerful sayings,
Mobiles depicting theoretical models
Of hope from an academic perspective.

How has it happened that this hopeful display
Accumulated over three years of classes
By students depicting their passion for hope
Persists unassaulted by cleaners or vandals
To welcome this year’s hope class?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Oh the plague of facts and numbers! With what I’ve been through this week, I find it a wonder that any history ever gets recorded accurately, or maybe it doesn’t.
First, there was the matter of the river floods on the North Saskatchewan. When I set out to develop a story about the floods, I thought I’d just get the numbers for the dozen or so high-water years. Not so simple though. Take 1915, for example. Did the water rise 14M as quoted by the Edmonton Public Library, or 12M as quoted in the City of Edmonton Disaster Plan, or 45.2 FT as recorded in the history books (No, 45.2 feet doesn’t equal either 12 or 14 meters. I already thought of that.) And then there is the catastrophic flood of 1899, which we are somewhat certain happened in 1899, though the 1915 Edmonton Bulletin newspaper refers to it often as the flood of 1898. Only 16 years passed between those two floods, and already they were getting it wrong.
With all this confusion going on, I wanted to drop the story, not wishing to be responsible for spreading inaccurate information. But I had already promised the story for a program, provided advertising details and taken up the time of the Provincial Archives staff doing the research, so quitting was out of the question. Alas, I have settled for the relative certainty that the 1986 flood was almost as big as the 1899 flood, which was almost as big as the 1915 flood. And I am not even going to mention the 1 in 100 year flood projection, which doesn’t mean that a flood will happen once every 100 years. In fact, the 1 in 100 year flood could theoretically happen every year, though it doesn’t seem to, especially since they installed the big dams up river, the dams which are supposed to prevent all serious floods, which they seem to do, except they didn’t in 1986. Nobody knows whether they prevented a serious flood in 2005, when we all prepared for a flood that didn’t turn out to be much of a flood, just a flood scare at 8.8M according to the Edmonton Public library.
Then there was the matter of Fanny Crosby. I started out knowing that she was a blind woman who lived to the age of 95 and wrote a few hymns, so I thought I’d do a little research and tell my music buddies about her. But it wasn’t more than ten minutes before I was mired in confusion. Did she write approximately 8000 hymns, or roughly 9000 hymns? There are only four in our hymnbook, though it is possible there are more, because the stories say that many of her hymns were published under other names, it not being appropriate for publishers to publish so many under one name. One story says that Fanny would occasionally hear a song by an unknown author and, finding it pleasing, would remark upon it, only to discover that it had actually been written by her. Well, that could be true. Surely nobody could actually remember 8000, let alone 9000 hymns. Fanny, born 1820, published three books in her lifetime—not books of hymns. At one time she had a publisher’s contract to write three hymns a week for the Sunday school—no problem for one who sometimes wrote seven hymns a day. She married but had no children—all the more time for writing. A minister said she told him she would have chosen to be blind so that she might praise her savior. This may have happened, but to me, a pragmatist jaded by the real life limitations of blindness, it sounds like the kind of story ministers really like to hear, and guilty congregations like to repeat with possible embellishment. And did I mention that Fanny also taught history at the New York Institute?
In the end I settled for one basic truth. Fanny Crosby was still a remarkable woman, even if she only wrote 8000 hymns. And one other truth, the North Saskatchewan River caused a lot of consternation with its flooding.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Many thanks to the City of Edmonton for installing an audible traffic signal on Rowland Road at 89 Street. This retrofit to the visual signal makes a huge difference to me. For the first time ever, I now feel confident that I am crossing to my bus stop at the appropriate time. I also want other blind people to know that this new signal is there so they can use it when they pass by, though I haven’t yet figured out how to communicate it to them.

Although many Edmontonians believe that these signals are installed wherever they are needed, this is not the case. Audible signal installation has received minimal attention compared, for example, to curb ramps. I am told that the current plan calls for installation of only three per year, and since new lights are not equipped when they are installed, the possibility of making all walk signals accessible to blind people gets further out of reach each year.

Though budget limitations are a contributing factor, the responses I got when requesting the signal show how the situation is made worse by the persistence of myths about blind people. Officials use these myths to defend policies when blind people ask for signals. In turn, we blind people are silenced by these myths. Having spent so much time trying to gain acceptance by proving ourselves, it is difficult for us to change gears and admit to our needs.

When I asked for the audible signal, I was told that the CNIB could solve my problem. This is a myth, though the official who told me this believed absolutely that it was true. Contrary to popular belief, the excellent training provided by the CNIB does not take the place of knowing when the signal changes. Like sighted people, blind people need a signal that tells them when to walk. The CNIB trainers are sighted. They teach blind people how to guess when the signal has changed. They watch the walk signal, and they pull you back if the traffic conditions don’t allow you to guess accurately. After they leave you, you’re on your own.

When I insisted that the CNIB could not solve my problem, I was told that blind people have a sixth sense which they use to cross Edmonton streets. Unfortunately this is not true in my case. I only have four senses, the number that sighted people have when they cover their eyes. If you think blindness gives you a sixth sense, try guessing at walk signals with your eyes closed several days in a row. You will still be able to peak to make sure you got it right.

When I confessed to having only four senses, I was told that the street I live on would never be a priority because it makes sense to spend limited resources on putting signals in central locations. In fact, signals are needed in central places, but these are usually the places where you can get help from other pedestrians. It is near your own home, where traffic is irregular and the streets are empty of pedestrians that you generally cross unaided on a daily basis.

When I argued that it would be difficult for me to reach a central location without leaving home, I was told that the neighbours complain about the noise when audible signals are installed. No numbers were produced to show the extent of the complaining, but I took their word for it and offered to reduce the chances by doing some P.R. work in my neighbourhood. No response was made to this offer.

I will admit that I was discouraged. I thought it would be impossible to influence a system that seemed so disinterested. I likely would have given up had it not been for the unwavering support of some people who love me.

The good news is that the City installed an audible signal that doesn’t make any noise unless you keep it pressed for about five seconds. . I am absolutely delighted with the 89th Street signal, though I don’t understand why this quiet version is automatically de-activated between 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM. Still, I hold out the hope that policy changes can be achieved, another reason for writing this piece. We have organizations that could be taking an active role, using information to shape policy change—the City’s advisory committee on disability services, and the CNIB, to mention two. The city’s advisory committee has begun to show an interest kin the past year. And though it takes both work and courage to make even a small change amid the apathy and ignorance that holds things back, individuals do have the ability to make a difference.

Today I joyfully crossed the street after getting off at my local bus stop. Had it not been for the audible signal, I would not have known that the light had changed. There wasn’t anyone there to help me, and there wasn’t quite enough straight through traffic, and two cars were turning in different directions. But I knew I could go because the signal told me so. I found myself hoping that audible signals will some day be considered a given, rather than a gift, that, like ramped curbs, they will be automatically installed. I am hoping that visually impaired people will step forward and ask for the signals they need, that they will challenge the policies with facts, and that they won’t feel ashamed of admitting that they have difficulty knowing when to cross. Any person asking for a signal should remember that sighted people also find it difficult, and that the problem is addressed by giving them visual walk signals.

Monday, September 08, 2008


And when he said, I’ll just leave now because you walk faster than me and I can get a head start,” it seemed right to us. He is, after all, eighty-two years old.
And when he started the stairs, half a block ahead of us, we wished in worry that he had waited, so we might have directed him up the gentler slope of the hill.
And when he reached the top of the 230 stairs, turning back to say, easiest steps I ever climbed," we were once again reminded of the dangers of stereotyping.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


If ever there was a poem to describe how THE BEGINNING OF THE September ROUTINE GETS THE BETTER OF ME, it HAS TO BE this one.

By Edith L. M. King (1871-1962)

A centipede was happy quite,
Until a frog in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg comes after which?"
This raised her mind to such a pitch,
She lay distracted in the ditch
Considering how to run.

BUT DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME!!! The historical perspective predicts that I'll be fine by October.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


When you float down the North Saskatchewan River on a sunny Friday morning, stalling momentarily on sand bars, gliding effortlessly beneath the bridges, dodging ducks, peaking at the holes in the bank where the swallows make their nests--when you float down the North Saskatchewan River on a sunny Friday morning—it is almost impossible to believe that such a peaceful river could have caused so much consternation to so many. But then, rivers are unpredictable. They ebb and flow like life itself, sometimes stalling or going in circles, sometimes racing, other times overwhelming with their flow, picking up the flotsam in their way.
What good are sunny Friday mornings on lazy rivers? Would we not get more exercise if we paddled? Would we not earn more money if we worked? We certainly would get farther and go faster if we hired a jet boat.
Let me take a stand for Friday morning floats, just as I have taken a stand for positive emotions when others have said they are simply a cover-up for the more important serious issues. We need the lazy Friday morning floats, the shining sun, the cooling breeze. We need that perspective to reinforce our resources against the day when we face the floods. So also do we need the positive emotions, love, joy, hope, mirth. They build us up. We need not rush through them, expecting the worst, waiting for the shoe to drop. These positive emotions, along with whatever does not kill us, make us stronger. They give us strength to face whatever is to come.