Donna Jean Gerrier’s father was witty and charming and practical, but he could be a handful.
Gerrier spent six years in the 1990s providing end-of-life care for her parents Isabelle and Albert Edward, who was better known as Punch.
Isabelle had rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Punch had Parkinson’s and was Isabelle’s caregiver until he had a stroke. Punch’s stroke changed Gerrier’s life forever and became the subject of a book that is both light and weighty.
The book’s title — Eggs on the Wall . . . For the Love of Family — resulted from a day when Gerrier was nearing wit’s end.
“It was a really, really trying day; everything went wrong that could have gone wrong,” she recalled recently from her Saskatoon home. “My father kept sliding down in his chair in his den, and I had picked him up and tried to straighten him out throughout the day.”
Despite having Parkinson’s, Punch had never done this.
“It was 5:30 and he had dinner and said, ‘Now I want to go to bed.’ I said, ‘Dad, it’s 5:30.’ It was one thing after another and I was behind in everything. So I said, ‘Dad, just wait until I get the dishes handled and whatever. And I said, ‘Don’t slide down again.’
I turned around and he slid down again. My dog was beside him. I thought, ‘He’s my dad so I can’t get after him. What can I do?’
“So anyway, I opened the fridge door to put something away and I saw some eggs. I took six eggs and I threw them against the wall. As the eggs flew, my dad’s head and my dog’s head turned in synch with the eggs. I went over to him to lift him up — he was heavy and I’m about 90 pounds.
I said, ‘Dad, that’s what I had to do to gain my sanity today. What do you think of that?’ He looked up and said, ‘I don’t think you care about the price of eggs.’”
Those eggs provided the catchy title of the book.
The book is the story of a woman giving up her career and her studies of classical music in Toronto and returning to her hometown of Virden, Manitoba, to care for her parents.
“I learned that when I give to others, it was really is me who received the gift. I believe children are responsible for the care of their parents, not the government, the nursing staff or anyone else. I think family has to look after family at all costs. We all need each other and we’re all independent until we need each other.”
She spent approximately six years in Virden. She laughs when she talks about the events that occurred during that time. Many of the humorous stories involve her mischievous father.
There was the time when Punch wanted to travel to California for a surgery that might improve his condition.
So off Isabelle, Punch, Gerrier and her dog Sir Samwell went — California or bust. When they pulled into Las Vegas, Isabelle said she wanted tea in a china cup. They were at a full-serve gas station at the time.
Meanwhile, Punch asked his daughter why she was at a full-service station.
“He said, ‘That’s just like your generation; you don’t know the power of a nickel. Your mother and I wouldn’t be buying gas at a full-serve if we could get it cheaper at a self-serve because we went through the Depression.’
“So I said if I don’t get served pretty soon, I am going to be in a depression.”
There was a Wendy’s next to the gas station, so Gerrier walked over to get lunch for her parents.
When she came back, the vehicle was up on a hoist with her passengers in it.
“When my dad saw me coming with the lunch he forgot the hoist was up and he went to open the car door and I just screamed.”
The attendant lowered the car, but it took Gerrier about half an hour to get her father comfortably back into his seat.
“My mother at this point said, ‘Dear, I don’t like this tea; it’s not the flavour I have at home.’”
The gas station attendant shook his head.
“He said, ‘You women from Canada have more patience than I have ever seen. It must be the cold weather up there.’”
Cold weather, but warm hearts.
“I share the way I see the world today and how important it is to support each other and avoid isolation,” she said.
Isabelle died in 1993 and Punch in 1997.
Gerrier moved to Saskatoon in 2003 to take a job as a speech pathologist. Some will know her as a facilitator of a pet loss support group. Some are going to come to know her as an author.
It took Gerrier 11 years to get the book to print. She was moving along nicely when she lost three years — and almost her life — to a car accident. She was driving on a grid road, hit loose gravel and was badly injured. Luckily, a teenage boy found her. Her left arm was amputated from the elbow at the scene.
She wasn’t expected to live and if she did, she would be in a nursing home.
“Following seven months in the hospital and two years in rehabilitation, I fought not being placed in a nursing home and won the battle. And I do owe that spunkiness to my parents who just ploughed ahead and kept positive.”
She smiled when she talked about losing her arm. Her father might have said, “It could have been worse; you could have lost both.”
Punch and his daughter travelled the world in his final years. They were arrested in Sweden, believed to be Russian spies on a cruise, saw the changing of the guard in Jolly Old England and made regular trips to New York for specialized treatment which helped her father’s condition.
When they checked into a swanky hotel in London, a gift from a travel agent, Punch was his usual self. With rich folk mingling in the lobby, he asked his daughter if she had asked for the senior rate.
Gerrier didn’t expect to return to her hometown to look after her parents.
“My dream was always for them to come to me in my home, but it didn’t work that way. You just never know what your purpose in life is and I have sure learned that.
“One of the hardest parts was I had no support from my parents’ friends. In fact one lady phoned me the first morning I was home and said, ‘You know, we don’t think you should be here looking after your mother and father. Our children wouldn’t do it and it’s not your responsibility.’
“I said, ‘Thank you so much for sharing, but right now my responsibility is to give my mother her breakfast.’ People would stop me on the street and say, ‘Why don’t you just put them in a home?’
“I just couldn’t. It was my call and I just hope our society will not look at nursing homes as the only answer. There are times when a nursing home is the best answer. In the book I say do all you can to the very best you can — that is enough.”
Eggs on the Wall … For the Love of Family is available at Chapters Indigo, Coles, on Amazon and through Gerrier’s publisher, Balboa Press.
(by Cam Hutchinson of the Saskatoon Express)