Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Long Island, Day 1 - The End

My visit to Long Island started in the worst way possible with Anna picking me up at the train station and telling me her brother David passed away earlier that morning. It was devastating news. My sole purpose for visiting was to go there and lend my support to my dying cousin. That dream wasn't to be.

My relatives rented a hospital bed for David. They put it in Anna and Donna's room because it was larger than his. On the shelf behind, his medication.

Family photos on the wall and shelf of David's room.

I borrowed this book, David and Goliath, from my sister to read to David. I thought it might help him pass the time. I was also thinking, if we could get a hold of a wheelchair, I could take him for walks around the neighbourhood.
The back patio where I thought we might be able to spend some time together, hanging out and shooting the breeze.

Instead we spent the next day planning his memorial. David would be cremated and there would be a service for him on Saturday at nearby Brueggemann Funeral Home. My mother and sister arrived from Toronto Friday morning for the reunion none of us ever wanted to have.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Good-bye, my dearest David

David and his friend, Pam, at his parents' 55th wedding anniversary in 2013.

Earlier this spring I wrote that my cousin David had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. Well, this past Tuesday, July 10th he lost that battle.

Ever since I found out he had cancer I had been planning on visiting him in San Francisco. I have to admit, I put it off a few times at the beginning. It was always in the back of my mind, but I felt I had some time. The urgency wasn't there.

It became more so when he nixed my planned late July visit. I wanted to fly in for the week of Friday, July 20th to Sunday, July 22nd. He e-mailed me on Monday, July 2nd saying he had taken a turn for the worse and that his sisters, Donna and Zena, were flying to San Francisco to get his affairs in order and take him home to Long Island. Their aim was to get him home by Friday or Saturday.

At that point I knew I had to get to New York as soon as possible. I asked my sister and another friend, Daphne, if either or both would be available to drive down the weekend of the 7th-8th. Daphne said she couldn't get any more time off this year because she used all her vacation time up earlier visiting her dying father in Malaysia in the spring. My sister, Karleen, said it was her year end at work and that she wouldn't be able to go until the following weekend of the 14th.

I knew if it were serious enough for David to return home, I didn't have much time. So I got in touch with his sisters to arrange to come earlier. My main contact was his middle sister, Anna, since she was the only one on WhatsApp. We started chatting about me visiting on Saturday, July 7th.

Even though I wanted to come as early as possible, she told me I should wait a little to let David recuperate from his flight and to give his parents (my aunt and uncle) Betty and Chuck some time with him. Concerned, I waited one more day before saying, I'd like to come down, again. Anna said that she thought that her mom and my mom had already agreed that I should come. Miscommunication I guess. I booked a bus ticket for Monday at 11:59 p.m..


My bus arrived in New York City an hour late, sometime around 12:30, Tuesday afternoon. The drop off point was 7th Avenue and West 27th Street, a few blocks south of Penn Station. That's where I had to go to get the train to Long Island (LIRR - Long Island Rail Road).

By the time I walked to Penn Station it was a bit before 1:00. The first available train to Huntington Station on Long Island, was the 1:14. It has a few transfers, so I opted for the 1:49 train which was direct. The ride would be about an hour long.

Now, I have to say, my cell phone was useless after I crossed the border. I was hoping to use the smart phone my friend, Peter, set up for me with WhatsApp using Wifi to contact Anna. Even though, Megabus claimed service on their buses, there was none. I didn't find any at Penn Station either. Though I thought that something was wrong with my phone and that it wasn't working, so I didn't really look.

Anna had given me her older sister, Zena's, phone number. My plan was to call her upon arrival at Huntington to get a lift to her parents' place where David was staying. I had $1.00 in quarters for the pay phone. As well, I figured I could ask a stranger to use their phone if needed.

As my train pulled into Hungtington I did ask the fellow beside me if I could use his phone. He kindly agreed. But Zena didn't pick up. I left her a message and went into the small train station to wait a bit.

While there I asked the ticket seller where the pay phones were. He directed me to the taxi station nearby. I walked over and called Zena again. Still no answer. This was about 15 minutes later at least. I checked my cell phone. The only other Long Island number I had was my aunt and uncle's. I put my last 50¢ in the phone and dialed.

Again there was no answer. Worried, I started to leave a message and then my aunt picked up. I was so relieved. I told her I was at Huntington Station and she said, she would come and get me. 20-30 minutes later Anna showed up.


We made small talk a few minutes into the drive. I can't remember exactly about what. Perhaps my ride down or how everyone was doing, it doesn't really matter. It was then she placed her hand on mine and broke the news... Early that morning, surrounded by family, David passed away.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

So Worried

The past few days have been a blur... an emotional roller coaster. I feel helpless. I feel spent. I feel a terrible sadness.

On Monday my mother told me she had been speaking with her sister (my aunt Betty) from Long Island. She said that Betty told her that my cousin David (in San Francisco) had cancer and had his pancreas removed. I e-mailed him that day and he told me that indeed he had cancer, but that they hadn't removed his pancreas.

The next day my mother told me she had spoken with her younger sister, Angela, who lives in France. She told my mom that David had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Unbeknownst to my mother I knew that was ultra serious.

I did a little research online and found that pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose. Sometimes it isn't discovered until it's too late after the cancer has spread to other organs. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) can be an outward sign as well as weight loss, loss of appetite and pain in the upper abdomen and back.

Here are some facts I found about stage 4 pancreatic cancer:

Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage because it tends not to show symptoms early on. Stage 4 pancreatic cancer means the cancer has spread to other organs, typically the liver or the lungs. You can’t cure the cancer at this point, but you still have treatment options.

In stage 4, the most advanced stage, cancer has spread beyond the pancreas and into distant locations in the body. Advanced-stage cancers spread beyond the primary tumor location to nearby tissues, blood vessels, nerves, and other organs. This process is known as metastasis.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death. The median survival rate for stage 4 pancreatic cancer is between two and six months. Though the disease cannot be cured at this stage, treatment may improve your quality of life.

David said he would be starting chemotherapy soon. As well, he's looking into alternative treatment options.

I'm so worried. How could this happen?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rough Week for Dad

Sorry... it's been awhile. Though, I can't say it won't be awhile until I write again. But, hey... it is what it is.

This week has been pretty rough on my dad. It started off fairly regularly. On Sunday my parents went to church. They may have gone swimming afterwards or on Monday. They usually go three or four times a week on average. On Tuesday they met up with their seniors' club for lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant on Markham Road, north of Ellesmere. Dad said he enjoyed his time there.

It was on Thursday morning when things started going sideways. At 7:27 I got some texts from my sister saying my mom found my dad on the bathroom floor at home. I don't remember exactly everything she said, but one thing she mentioned was that my dad was sleeping and that he thought he was in bed. He was kind of confused. She said he was unable to get himself up. That's when she called for an ambulance and he was taken to North York General Hospital.

After finishing work on Thursday I stopped by my parents' house to pick up some clothes for dad and old newspapers for him to read before heading to the hospital. My dad was taken to the hospital in his pyjamas. My mom was worried that if he was discharged they wouldn't be able to take the bus home if they wanted. I also grabbed some shoes, socks and underwear. It just made sense to me.

My dad was on the 6th floor of the west wing. Room 668 I believe. He had three or four other roommates. I stayed for an hour or two before taking my mom home for the night. My dad would be staying overnight for observations.


The next day I picked my mom and eldest nephew, Avery, up to go visit my dad. I dropped them off at the west entrance and went to go wait at the IKEA parking lot. My dad was to slated to be released that morning. I brought some Sudokus to do.

When I picked them up my dad mentioned one of his roommates wasn't doing well and made quite a bit of noise at night. He was an older gentleman. Other than that I believe his stay was all right.

After dropping my parents off I stayed with them for a little while before heading home. Everything seemed fine. My dad seemed to be doing well.

... That was until I got call from my sister on Saturday morning at 8:00. She was at my parents' home. My mother had found my father in distress in the bathroom. Again.

Now, I have to say I received a number of phone calls and texts and also spoke with my mother at the hospital. So I can't remember exactly which details I received at what time. In the call I had with my sister in the morning I believe she mentioned my dad was able to speak, but with some slurring in his speech. As well he lost some feeling in his left arm, but was able to move it.

Later on at the hospital my mother told me when she found my father Saturday morning he was sitting on the toilet unable to move. She said he had some drool coming from his mouth and I believe his nose may have been dripping a bit. She told me he wasn't able to speak.

Anyway, after discovering my dad in the bathroom, my mom called my sister who drove over quickly. She lives nearby. They decided they should call an ambulance which arrived in short order. This time they took my father to Sunnbrook Hospital at Bayview and Blythwood Avenue.

My sister updated me by text from the hospital at 9:50 a.m.. She said they were treating him with a clot buster. My father had a blockage in a small blood vessel. My sister stayed at the hospital with my mom for awhile before she had to go. She asked me to pick my mom up and drive her home later.

Instead of waiting for my mom's late evening call I thought I'd walk over to the hospital in the early afternoon to visit my dad. I could always walk back home to get the car to drive my mom home afterwards if I needed to. It was only a 3 kilometre walk. Done easily in less than an hour.

I dropped by, perhaps, around 3:00.. My mom had told me they were in an emergency room room - number 26. I walked over and a staff member let me in and told me where to go.

The room my dad was in was pretty nice. He was hooked up to all sorts of monitoring equipment. It looked new and modern. As well he was hooked up to an IV. He was resting, with his back raised, in bed, my mom sitting in a chair nearby. He seemed to be doing okay. His speech wasn't too bad. A bit slurred. He was able to move all his body parts - arms, legs, fingers, etc.. Though he didn't have complete feeling in his left arm or hand. Just the parts above his elbow.

I brought some food for my mom. She mentioned she had had a pita or sandwich that she bought at the hospital. I brought some croissants, apple sauce, and angel food cake from my sister's friend. I didn't have anything to read for my dad. There was an old Canadian Geographic on the table in the room that my mom had found. It was from 1998.

The nurse came in afterwards and tested my dad by poking certain parts of his body. He could feel when she touched his face, neck, shoulder and upper arm. But nothing below that. She made him press his feet on her hands too which he was able to do. She also had him raise his right leg, then left, which he was also able to do. She asked him to squeeze her hands with his hands too I believe. He was able to do that as well. I believe she mentioned his condition had improved a bit from before.

She came back an hour or so later to do the same thing. This time she brought and ECG machine as well. It checks the electrical activity of your heart. The first machine she brought in didn't work properly, so she had to get another machine which seemed to work all right. She made a print out of the readings. I don't know what they meant. I guess someone else would interpret it later.

I probably stayed for a couple of hours before heading home. I left one of the croissants for my mom. She said she was full and couldn't eat anymore. I told her she could call me and I could come back and drive her home later. But she said it didn't make sense and that she would take the bus home. So I walked home.

My mom left the hospital at 7:43 p.m..

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tommy Thompson Park

Justin and I went to Tommy Thompson Park on the weekend. The weather here in Toronto is warming up. We decided to take advantage of it.

At first I was considering visiting High Park to see the cherry blossoms. But they were only just starting to blossom. So I figured I'd wait a little longer before going.

That left us wondering where we could go instead. I thought it would be nice to go somewhere new. While Tommy Thompson Park isn't exactly new, I hadn't gone there in at least two or three years. I figure it was time to head back.

Early spring is a good time to go if you want to try to catch nesting or migrating birds. A lot of them are returning from wintering down south around now. Both of us brought our cameras in hopes of capturing some cool shots.

I have to say, the last time I was in the park I only had my 24-105mm lens. Over Christmas I bought a 70-300mm. It should help somewhat. Though, a lot of birds are pretty small, and many of them are understandably skittish. So even that lens might not be long enough.

We got to the park in the early afternoon, just after 12:30. There were a few cars parked on Leslie Street leading into the park. As well, there were a number of spaces left in the lot. We chose the parking lot. The caveat was we had to make sure we left by 6:00 p.m.. That's when they lock the gates.

The main path/roadway leading down the centre of the spit is around 7.5 kilometres long. That would bring you to the lighthouse at the southern tip. If you walked straight there and back five and a half hours would be plenty of time. We, on the other hand, were intent on taking as many pictures as we could.

We took a side path on the east side of the spit at the start. Less traffic. No bikes were supposed to be on this trail, though the odd one did pass. The first thing of interest we saw wasn't a beaver. We thought it may have been, but it turned out to be just a ground hog. It was hiding in thick brush. We couldn't quite make it out. False alarm.

We did see two new birds (to us). The first was a bufflehead duck paddling around in the sheltered harbour on the north side of the spit. The second was the white-throated sparrow (pictured above). Justin spotted it first. I thought it was just a regular sparrow. But, upon closer inspection, noticed the patch of yellow above its eye. According to the girl working at the park, they stop here on their way migrating north.

She also mentioned the park has the largest number of nesting double-crested cormorants in the world with at least 12,000 nesting pairs. They were all over the place.

I have to say, we barely walked half way down the spit before we had to turn around and head back to the parking lot. Time was of the essence. We didn't want to have to take the bus home. Next time we'll make sure to park on the street to avoid that problem.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Words of Sympathy

Even though her last visit was supposed to be two weeks ago, Cathy joined me at Carter Manor this Sunday to visit the guys there.

This week has been particularly hard with the sudden passing of our spiritual leader, Reverend Rodger Hunter, or Father Rodger as we called him. On my end, the Boarding Homes Ministry was sort of thrown for a loop. Being a solo volunteer I relied on either him or Cathy to join me on my visits.

I knew this time things could be particularly difficult given how fondly Rodger was thought of at the home. I experienced similar feelings of shock and sadness when I found out the news.

The mood was expectedly more solemn when we entered. At Andrea's request Cathy read from the Psalms and said a prayer. Residents were asked if they wanted to share any memories that had of Rodger. It wasn't easy. There were a few watery eyes to be sure.

I brought a card for anyone to sign if they wished. My plan is to give it to Rodger's daughter, Christie. Some people just wrote their names. Others put more.

God bless you - Mike

I love Rodger forever - Andrea

May u rest in eternal peace - Minh

God be with you - Sam

I can't believe it happened - Tony

Will always be missed -

It was just that God needed you - Mathieu

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Father Rodger

I received some terrible news by e-mail this past Wednesday. The founder of the Boarding Homes Ministry, Reverend Rodger Hunter, passed away suddenly. He had been diagnosed with cancer late last year. But he said they had caught it early. With surgery and treatment he was optimistic he would be back on his feet in no time.

I first met Rodger in or around the year 2000. He had come to speak at our church about his ministry. Ours was just one of many that he visited in order to drum up interest of volunteer groups. After his sermon four of us - Richard, Debbie, Armin and I decided to form a team.

We were assigned a home, Carter Manor, at 103 Tyndall Avenue in the Dufferin and King area. The building was home to around three dozen residents (at the time) all with varying degrees of mental disabilities. We were to go in and interact with the residents, just talk with them and see how they were doing. Some didn't have many friends or family.

I don't know if any of us knew exactly what we were getting ourselves into. But Rodger guided us through the first number of visits before letting us go on our own.

At first we were going every Sunday afternoon after church. That got to be a bit much so we switched to Sunday afternoons and, the following week, Monday evenings. By this time I believe we were down to only two of us visiting, Richard and myself. Eventually we gave up Monday evenings, just going every other Sunday afternoon.

Over the years volunteers came and left. Peter and Karen Tjon came for awhile. So did Steve Chong and later Mary Ko Bong. Mary was an elderly lady. She actually passed away at the ripe old age of 92. The circumstances were a bit tragic. Peter and Karen left our church for another. Steve and Richard got busy with married life. After awhile it was just me. That's when Rodger came back into the fold to join me.

Most of the time it was just us two. Later on he would get seminary students. It was sort of like a hands on ministry experience for them. They would join us for part of their school year. Our first student was Jamie. Then it might have been Kate, followed by Abbey, Emily and, most recently, Cathy (whose final visit was supposed to be two Sundays ago). I'm not sure if I missed anyone or not. For one or two years the school didn't send us any students for some reason. So that program started quite a long time ago.

Fast forward to last November (2017). The boarding homes volunteers received this e-mail:

Boarding Homes Teams

November 22, 2016

To all Boarding Homes volunteers,

Thank you for all your faithful service and fellowship you have with your homes. Your smile, kind words, and laughter will bring smiles to many residents this coming holiday season. For many of our friends in the homes, this may be the only gift they receive. Thank you.

Rodger and I write to you to share some sad news. Rev. Rodger Hunter has been diagnosed with Stage 2 lymphoma. The lump is in his chest, and as the cancer has been caught very early, we are confident that Rodger will make a full recovery. He will undergo surgery at some point in early December and then will work with his doctors to determine the best treatment for him going forward.

We covet your prayers for Rodger and know that he is in God’s loving hands.

Rodger will be taking some time off to concentrate on his health, starting early December, and as such will not be making regular visits to homes. We know that many of the teams are self-sufficient and can and will continue to visit your homes regularly. For the two homes that Rodger currently visits either by himself or with one team member, we are looking for volunteers to help ensure our ministry continues in these places. The visits occur on Wednesdays at 1 pm and Fridays at noon, every other week. If you can add a visit to your schedule, please let Rodger or I know.

While Rodger is away, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. As a Board, we will answer questions we can and help address issues.

Thank you for your prayers and thoughts. We will update you regularly on Rodger’s health, as news becomes available.

In Christ,

Rodger's last visit to Carter Manor was at Christmastime. We held our annual Christmas dinner where he bought Swiss Chalet dinners for all the residents. We had three special dinners a year - one at Easter, one at Thanksgiving (which also coincided with the the anniversary of our first visit), and one at Christmastime. In later years we also held an annual end of summer barbecue hosted by his friend, Maureen.

I traded a few e-mails with Rodger while he was away. In one he mentioned his surgery would be on January 14th. In a following one it seems like they changed the date to Friday, January 13th, followed by six weeks of "letting things heal back up."

On Saturday, February 18th he wrote:

Friends in Christ,

I trust things are well with you.

Just an update.  I begin six weeks of radiation therapy on the 27th.  I may be able to return to work on a limited basis during this treatment but I’ll just have to see where my energy level is.

I have appreciated the prayerful support from the boarding home communities.
Grace abound, Rodger

Then, last week, on Wednesday, April 5th we received the devastating news.

Dear Boarding Homes teams,

It is with great sadness and shock that I share the news that Rodger has lost his battle with cancer and passed away earlier this week.  In his and my last correspondence just last week, he was as upbeat as only he can be and we were discussing the dates for the annual meeting.

I'm attaching the note from Rev. Will Ingram and will share details of any funeral arrangements as they come available.

Please remember his daughter in your prayers.

Please share this news with your fellow team members as I feel I may not have captured everyone's emails here.

In Christ,
Kim Oliver

... with this attachment:

Dear friends:

It is with profound sadness that we share the news that the Rev. Rodger Hunter passed away yesterday morning at Sunnybrook Hospital. Rodger had been suffering with cancer for the past few months, but his death comes as a shock to all of us.

Rodger was a dedicated and committed servant of Jesus Christ and performed an amazing ministry with some of Toronto’s most marginalized people. For many years he was the Chaplain of Boarding Homes Ministry and conducted his ministry with tremendous compassion and prophetic vision.

Arrangements will be shared when they are available.

We know that this news will come as a surprise and shock to many of the members of our community. In your prayers today please give thanks for Rodger’s example, his witness and his life; and keep his daughter Christie and the many people whose lives he touched in your thoughts and prayers.
We live in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.

In Christ,

Will Ingram

The news is hard to fathom - Disbelief, utter sadness and shock. So many emotions. 17 years, then gone in an instant. A gaping hole.

His compassion and devotion to the neglected was deep. He affected positive change to countless disaffected spirits. Those people, and many more, will miss him greatly. I will be one among them.

Cathy has graciously agreed to join me this Sunday to visit Carter Manor (even though the previous visit was supposed to be her last). I posted a message about Rodger's passing on Facebook, so word got out to the home. I'm not sure what we're going to do. Hopefully we'll be able to console one another and, perhaps, send prayers his way. I feel sort of lost.