By Kathleen Sawisky, Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta volunteer
I’ve tried a long time to write this blog post. It’s been months since I was asked to, and I’ve got about fourteen thousand rough copies floating around that have the inane ramblings of a twenty-something trying to make sense of how she got to this point in her life. I want to be succinct, and I’ve always been told that I’m too wordy, so I’ll sum up the facts. I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at eleven. We were living in Kelowna at the time. My father had just left. We chose to go to Alberta Children’s Hospital because we had family in Alberta. Ultimately, I had four spinal surgeries at ACH, and one at the Foothills. All in all, a bit of an unusual situation.
Now, to say that I spent much time at the old RMH here in Calgary would be wrong (Note: Ronald McDonald House relocated in Calgary when the new children’s hospital was built. The move took place in 2007). I went there after my first surgery and slept while my mom cleaned her room. It was the first time in two weeks I had slept in utter silence. It was blissful. No heart monitors going off, no nurse’s log-rolling you to another side so you don’t get bedsores, no Stampede Princesses coming by to lift your spirits. Silence, it turns out, is indeed golden.
But I detract. While I didn’t utilize RMH, my mother, Maureen, absolutely did. Taking care of her youngest child, who suddenly had all the independence of a wax fruit bowl, meant my mom had little time to take care of herself. RMH was a home base where she could escape the hospital and try to interject some of the real world back into her life. I can’t speak as to what she experienced at RMH; the conversations she had with her fellow parents, the nights she spent reflecting on her life and sharing her woes and fears with complete strangers. I don’t know. Like my time in the hospital, her experience with RMH is definitively private and something that I will never be able to fully grasp.
There were some things we did share though. Uncertainty about surgeries, money worries, a family member who had abandoned ship and two elder sons and brothers making tentative steps into adulthood. My mom changed in that time. She is, and always has been a remarkable woman, but something about our journey altered her perception of life. She never showed an ounce of weakness or anger towards anyone or anything. She became a guide, only a few steps ahead of me in the learning process, holding my hand to lead me through the jungle of uncertainty we found ourselves in.
She accepted my methods for dealing with the stress, always smiling and playing the foil to my wacky antics. We used to sit in waiting rooms and make up stories about the strangers around us. Some stories were somber, realistic; others were fanciful and silly. No matter what I said or how I reacted to the news of another surgery, she never faltered. I suppose in so many ways, and you’ll have to pardon the cliché, she was the lighthouse in the storm.
I’m rambling. What I mean to say is that while the direct impact of RMH on myself has been limited, I have become intimately aware of the impact it has had on my mom. I can’t imagine how life fell into perspective for her, and how she took each story and kind word as a reinforcement to her shield. My mom took a piece of RMH with her when I ‘graduated’ from ACH. That piece of it has been built into her. The strength and comfort it offers is exhibited in her actions and words, every day of her life. I am proud to say that she taught me about that strength. She offered me that wisdom, taken from the stories of new friends who all found themselves floating on the same endless sea. Without realizing it, I was suddenly, and forever, linked to the Ronald McDonald House through the comfort it offered my mom. I have a piece of the Ronald McDonald House in me as sure as I have a Harrington rod next to my spine.
I don’t know if my mom is proud of the person I’ve become. I don’t even know if she thinks that RMH has had the impact on her that I’m describing. What I do know is that every day at RMH strangers share their hopes and dreams and sorrows with each other, knowing that life is unpredictable, and built from both happiness and sadness.
So how do you end an existential blog post expelling the greatness of a mom who was deeply influenced by RMH? I have no idea. Without RMH, my mom might not have been able to stand so strong; and without my mom, I’d surely succumb to the pain and stress. We are stronger because of RMH, and I hope one day we can share the strength with others. Until then, we tell our stories when asked, and never stop reflecting on the impact it has made on our lives.