Category Archives: Guest Stories

Road Test

All good deeds are important, and necessary, and celebrated. But saving a life is surely an act that ranks slightly above all the rest, sort of like the exquisite steam that rises above a really fine cup of coffee.

Lexi Shymanski saved two lives this summer. The tiny girl in Prince George, British Columbia, is only five years old, but here’s how it played out: Her mother got drowsy behind the wheel of the family’s SUV – that’s a road hazard associated with playing lullabies on the car stereo system – and their vehicle went suddenly off the road, down a long embankment and into a tree.

Lexi’s mom, Angela, was knocked out. Baby Peter was crying, and Lexi woke up from her nap wondering what the heck had just happened. She assessed the situation, figured out how to get out of her car seat (only the second time she’d ever performed that particular trick), and climbed 12 metres up to the main road to wave down a driver.

Angela is now recovering from multiple spinal fractures. Baby Peter had a small brain bleed, but luckily he’ll be fine. Lexi is struggling with nightmares. But the little girl is secure in the knowledge she was able to rescue her own family.

Her mom told CBC news that she asked Lexi how she’d known what to do. Lexi’s response: “I thought, what would Mommy say if she was awake… Mommy would say, go get help.”

Angela has always emphasized “teaching her independence and teaching her the difference between bad strangers and good people, good strangers.” I wonder if this mom ever had any inkling that her own life, and that of her children, might depend on these very lessons.

By the way, both parents have been off work as the family recovers. If you feel moved to support them, their fundraising page is here.

(Photo courtesy of seaskylab /

(Photo courtesy of seaskylab /

Morris, Who Works Like a Dog

It’s devastating to lose a loved one. People who are in the business of funeral arrangements understand that.

Dogs, on the other hand, don’t. Maybe that’s why Morris, a Polish-lowland-sheepdog-cum-funeral-director in Alberta, can get away with teasing a grin out of even his most distraught clients.

The rest of us, when confronted by someone who is grieving, might offer murmured words of condolence, perhaps a comforting hug. We’d be solemn.

Yet Morris doesn’t hesitate to capitalize on his own cuteness. At the Baker Funeral Chapel south of Edmonton, he eagerly trots over to the saddest visitors, offers up his shaggy sweet face and his large hazel eyes, and induces them to scratch his ears – and break into a smile.

All in a day’s work at the funeral home, co-owned by Jason and Allie Wombold.

The Wombolds adopted four-year-old Morris only a month ago. The family that had raised him since puppyhood were dealing with a busier lifestyle, and Morris needed more attention than they could give him. “We brought him home and immediately fell in love with him,” Jason told me.

The Wombolds probably weren’t sure what to expect when they brought their new pup into the workplace with them. But he got into his groove straight away. His unofficial new title could be Chief of Cheering Up. “He seems to know who to go to, and when to go,” Allie remarked in this news story.

“He provides an unconditional calmness to the grieving families,” Jason says. “He truly is a comfort dog… Morris doesn’t care what kind of day you’ve had, he just wants to be your friend.”

Meanwhile, Morris has turned into a bit of a local celebrity; his story has been covered in the paper, local TV news and on the radio. Jason joked to one reporter about putting Morris in a funeral-home-issue suit and tie, since they’re now bringing him to work every single day. “He’d probably love to wear that.”

And we’d love to see that. Wouldn’t we, readers? (I’m betting it would be even more charming than a cat in a shark suit riding a Roomba. But that’s just my opinion.)

Right now you’re smiling too, aren’t you? I rest my case.

Right now you’re smiling too, aren’t you? I rest my case.

A Bridge is Built

In February, I wrote about the brief 2002 encounter between Mark Henick and Mike Richey on a bridge in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Here’s the synopsis: Teenager Mark was preparing to end his life. Youth worker Mike saved it. They separated, but neither person ever forgot the other.

Over time, Mark healed, then went on to change other lives – and likely save a good many – through his work with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

It’s a ripple effect of unknowable proportions.

Twelve years after they met on a bridge, Mark and Mike reconnected over the Internet. Mark read a long, emotional emailed letter from Mike, then publicly shared a desire to reunite with his rescuer in person.

It finally happened. Earlier this month, the two men were face to face once again. This time, they were both smiling.

Mark used the word “closure” the describe what the reunion has meant to him. As for Mike, he was all about the hugging. “It wasn’t about words or anything like that,” he told a CBC reporter. “If I could have went back in time and given that young boy a hug when he needed it, that would have been awesome. But I still got to do it at the end of the day.”

Now that the two have found each other again, I have a feeling they’ll remain friends. After all, they share a common purpose in their professional lives. They’re both helping people in need. And even by spreading the story of their most personal moment 12 years ago on a bridge, they are surely making a difference. They’re sending a message.

Yes, it gets better.

There may be a hug in it for you, too.

Very Warm and Very Fuzzy

By the time she died, she had eight names. That alone should tell you she was pretty special.

Aileen Genevieve MacDougall Stewart Hilchey Alison Pyke Brown was my friend Judi’s beloved mom. She died a month ago. In her 98 years, she’d been given up for adoption, raised by a new family, and married twice… which accounts for all the names. She was known to be an extremely gifted knitter, quilter and seamstress, creating all kinds of beauty with her hands.

These were skills she made a point of passing down to Judi and her sister Heather as they were growing up. “Neither of us is as talented as she was,” Judi admits. But Judi says Heather in particular has invested a lot of time in working with and spinning wool, resulting in some strikingly lovely pieces.

As Aileen aged, her eyesight failed and she developed arthritis in her hands. Sadly, these changes marked the end of her knitting days. Because she also felt the cold more easily, she was constantly in need of a wrap or a shawl. But thanks to daughter Heather, Aileen was kept well supplied. “Heather would make her shawls from hand-woven yarns with different textures,” Judi says. “With the blindness, the feel of objects became extremely comforting to my mom. She loved the feel of soft, cuddly things.” Heather’s hand-made garments were particularly special: “The combination of yarns was chosen with care and love.”

Thus it was a stab to the heart when, after Aileen died last month, her most gorgeous, custom-created, hand-spun shawl was inadvertently sent to the nursing home’s central laundry – and run through a commercial washing machine. Long story short: The shawl was ruined. “It came out as felt,” says Judi.

Devastated, my friend came awfully close to throwing the whole mess away. But then she hesitated. Judi has a bird-nest helper in her back yard – a cute, crafty wrought-iron holder of colourful yarn scraps, available for the busy birds who are building their spring homes.

Instead of discarding the fluffy blobs of shawl, Judi stuffed the pieces into the nest helper.

Why did she do it? “I don’t know if I have an answer,” Judi says. “Just, when I held the shawl in my hands and was about to throw it out, I thought that Mom loved the birds, and would want to share with them.”

I never met Judi’s mom. But even to me, this feels right. Aileen’s shawl may no longer be keeping her warm, but parts of her special garment will go on to help nurture new life.

We never really disappear.

If you live in London, Ontario, keep an eye on your backyard trees. You may spot some of these fluffy bits in a new bird’s nest or two.

If you live in London, Ontario, keep an eye on your backyard trees. You may spot some of these fluffy bits in a new bird’s nest or two.

A Close Shave

When our kids get into accidents, it feels as though our hearts have been ripped from our bodies, turned inside out, stuffed full of nails and used in a game of tackle football.

Actually, it feels a lot worse than that.

So you can imagine the agony my Canadian-Dutch friend Ella experienced last month, as she waited for her son to get through emergency brain surgery in Groningen, Netherlands.

Ten-year-old Reuben had been happily playing with his friends when he suddenly fell eight feet from a ladder, receiving a very hard knock to the head and bleeding around his brain. (Doctors said later that had his operation been delayed by just five minutes, he wouldn’t have survived.) It was a horror show – but one with an extremely happy ending. In the days after the surgery, as Reuben was gradually weaned from an array of tubes, bandages and monitors, it became clear that the little boy was recovering.

Naturally his parents were overjoyed and relieved at the outcome. But Reuben wasn’t so happy with his less-than-stylish new look. The left side of his face was bruised and swollen, an entire hemisphere of his head had been shaved, and an enormous incision, laced with dark stitches, curled around his scalp.

After he got home, Reuben opted to have the rest of his head shaved – what choice did he have, really? – but was still distressed over his reflection in the mirror. So, naturally, his mom stepped up. She told her son he could cut off her hair, too. All two-feet-plus of it.

It worked. “When I told him he could shave my hair off, his face lit up completely. One of his first moments of genuine happiness since his accident,” Ella told me. As Reuben operated the electric shaver on his mom’s head, he “was all smiles,” she said. “Afterwards, he sat by me for the longest time, resting his head on my shoulder.”

“I would do anything for my children and people I love,” this devoted mother reported. “Doing this for my son was the ultimate ‘I love you, support you and will do anything for you’ gesture I could think of to show Reuben.”

Ella is no stranger to radical haircuts – she has been growing and donating her hair, over and over, almost her whole adult life – but this was different. “This was the first time in over twenty years of cutting my hair that I didn’t donate it,” she noted. “This was just for my son.”

Today, Reuben is still recuperating. His mom is staying by his side, helping him with jigsaw puzzles, and baking chocolate cookies upon request.

I don’t know whether they’ve spent any of their together time online-shopping for matching scarves or hats (possibly toques, with a nod to Ella’s Canadian heritage) to cover up their buzz cuts. But it doesn’t matter.

We know their hearts already match perfectly.


Like the Way Melissa Etheridge Does

I’m at that age where some of the adults I know – we’re talking full grown and fully established individuals – are folks I first knew as small little kids. These people are 20 years younger than me, yet they’re well over the age of majority. It’s freaky.

When I first met Danny, I was a university graduate living in the basement apartment of his parents’ house. He was four years old. Sometimes I babysat him, and often I walked him to school. He was energetic and spirited. Once, he rehearsed and then performed a rousing one-man-band rendition of “I Have a Little Dreidel,” just for me. The things you never forget.

The grown-up version of Danny works as a flight attendant. If I had to place a bet, I’d gamble that he’s the upbeat, friendly sort who rolls with the punches. I’ll bet his passengers like him. The respect, apparently, goes both ways… along with occasional starstruckness. Here’s what Danny wrote on Facebook last week: “Melissa Etheridge and her lovely wife were on my flight yesterday. Can I just say that they are the nicest, coolest and most amazingly CHILL people that I have ever had the pleasure of interacting with?”

Danny embraced this opportunity to let Melissa E. know how much her music has meant to him. One amazing performance in particular, he told her, “…influenced me as a kid to feel music with as much passion as possible.”

The singer’s reaction? She patted his arm, thanked him and called him kind. Her wife called him a sweetheart. (“I’m part of their family now, right? That’s how that works?” Danny added hopefully in his online report.)

Their flight out of Quebec City was considerably delayed while ramp crew took frequent warm-up breaks to prevent frostbite. (If you’re from this part of Canada, you know it was so cold last week that even the snowmen were shivering.) “Melissa and her wife were the ONLY two people to ask me how I was holding up and feeling while dealing with the delay,” Danny wrote. “Her wife was joking that Melissa should get on the interphone and do a couple numbers.”

He was struck by their graciousness, and their compassion. Especially while he laboured his way through day nine of a long 11-day work stint. “This was very much welcomed and appreciated,” he noted. “Both of them were complete class acts.”

Of course celebrities can be do-gooders like anyone else. They step in to staunch blood when it’s called for. They donate to ALS research while drinking scotch and looking classy. And they ask a weary flight attendant how he’s feeling, right when he most needs to hear it.

“It was definitely a moment,” Danny told me. Thanks to this and a couple of other musical encounters over the past week, he’s rediscovering his love for guitar playing. (Dreidel songs, too? We are left to wonder.) Melissa Etheridge not only cheered my young friend Danny, she inspired him. Rock on.


When Stacey Butler and Cory Bembridge adopted their Newfoundland puppy, Rosco, the couple in Moncton, New Brunswick, had no idea their furry new friend would need two hip replacements before he was a year old. Because of a genetic disorder, Rosco has abnormally low muscle mass in his hips. It’s treatable with surgery – in fact the puppy, now nine months old, has already had one side done. But Rosco needs weeks of rehabilitation before he can have his other hip operated on.

The problem? Rosco is hesitant to put weight on his good side. The veterinarian recommended regular sessions in a swimming pool, but that isn’t an easy prescription to fill, especially at this time of year. (Hello, Canadian winter, have we met?)

So Stacey posted an ad on Kijiji. “I knew it was a long shot,” she told a reporter. “I thought, I have nothing to lose, and it can’t hurt.” It certainly didn’t. By the time Stacey woke up the next day, dozens of emails were already pouring in. A few days later, her ad had received over 400 responses (and over 30,000 hits).

The best part happened next. After word spread through media, Stacey and Cory heard from Eagles Pool Services, a Moncton business. Owner Cory Eagles was willing to custom-build one of his pools in their basement, just so Rosco could have easy access to the therapy he needed.

When he realized this solution wasn’t going to work – Rosco can’t climb a flight of stairs on his own and, um, he is a Newfoundland dog – Cory E. suggested setting the pool up in his own shop instead, where he would keep the heat turned on.

Without hesitation, he offered to throw in a spare key so that operation Rosco Rehab could take place whenever it suited Stacey and Cory B.

“I will be forever indebted to Eagles Pool Services,” Stacey told me. “Without them, my puppy may not have stood a chance. Because of them, he now has that chance to get stronger and have his second surgery.”

In the meantime, Stacey is endeavouring to answer all the responses to her Kijiji ad. “I can’t put into words how I’ve felt over the past week, because it still hasn’t sunk in,” she says. “I have been contacted by people across Canada, and the U.S., and even the United Kingdom.”

Lots of the messages were simple emails of support, and a few of them even offered advice. (Sample tip: Fill the bathtub and let Rosco swim in it. Yeah, super idea – if Rosco were a Chihuahua.)

Representatives from another pool and spa company have already offered a backup – in their showroom, of all places – if the first arrangement falls through.

Canadians have warm hearts, no question. It’s a survival tactic. You see, we rely on that extra heat when our outdoor thermostats start dropping.

Seriously? Look at him. I don’t even own a pool company, and yet I want to rush out right now and build Rosco a therapeutic spa with my bare hands. (Photo courtesy of Stacey Butler)

Seriously? Look at him. I don’t even own a pool company, and yet I want to rush out right now and build Rosco a therapeutic spa with my bare hands. (Photo courtesy of Stacey Butler)