A Life Filled With Miracles
When you’ve lived over 8 decades and you’re still feeling pretty good, you might say that’s a small miracle. For Howie, who will celebrate his 82nd birthday in April, it’s more than that: it’s a celebration of many miracles.
A Bit of a Miracle
Howie was born in 1939 in Vancouver. The Lion’s Gate Bridge had opened the year before and work on the Hotel Vancouver was completed just in time for King George VI’s royal visit to Canada. The world was recovering from The Great Depression and was headed towards yet another world war. It’s astonishing to consider what has transpired during Howie’s lifetime: the discovery of DNA, humans landing on the moon, the building of and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the invention of computers, and the birth of the internet, to name just a very few.
Howie’s life had its own eventful challenges. He has a strong network of friends but his family was not close. He has outlived both his parents and his only brother. Howie himself lived with addictions for years.
“I used to do all that stuff – smoking, drinking, dope. But I’ve been clean and sober for 33 years,” he says, proudly. “That’s a bit of a miracle.”
Howie has been connected to Communitas Supportive Care Society since 2014 and is grateful for all the people that he has come to know as he’s received services. He currently shares a home with three others and enjoys living there.
“I’m so grateful that I’ve got a good home and wonderful people to take care of me,” he says. “Christina is a very nice lady, she has helped through a lot.”
The Christina he refers to is Christina Beaupre, who manages the Communitas home where Howie has lived for the past year. The transition to living in a supported home was a challenge for Howie who was used to being independent. She smiles when she hears Howie commend her but says that he’s been equally helpful to her.
“I came to Communitas from an organization that supported people with addictions, so I understood Howie,” she says. “And while I have experience working with people who have diverse abilities, I had to adjust to supporting people with complex medical needs. I think Howie and I helped each other adapt to a new environment.”
Christina says Howie is really a man of few needs. He loves to go for drives and to visit Tim Horton’s for tea. He loves music – especially rock ‘n’ roll – and loves having his own voice-activated Alexa device that allows him to play his beloved Little Richard or Buddy Holly. He enjoys playing Rummy with his roommates. But one thing that has been heavy on his heart since he moved in is the disconnection from family.
An Even Bigger Miracle
Family is important, even when your family hasn’t been close. As Howie adjusted to his new living arrangement, he often commented that he wanted to find his mother. It had been decades since he’d seen her and he didn’t know where she was. Given Howie’s age, it was highly unlikely that they would find her alive.
“Howie came to understand this and accepted it,” Christina says. “But he still wanted to find her.”
They started with Community Living BC and found a document that included his mother’s maiden name and birthplace in Alberta. The document also included a ‘last known address’ in Vancouver but it dated back to the 1957. Any further vital statistics research was going to start costing money. It felt like they’d reached a dead end. So, Christina tried one, last desperate thing.
“I wrote a letter to ‘Dear Home Owner’ explaining the situation and sent it off to that last known address,” she says, adding that she wasn’t very hopeful anything would come of it.
A week later, she got a phone call.
“The caller was the neighbour of the home owner,” Christina explains. “Neither she nor the home owner remembered Howie’s mother but the home owner knew that the neighbour had an ancestry.com membership.”
With the information that Christina had provided, the neighbour managed to find a near perfect match – just her last name was different. The listing found on the ancestry website did not use her maiden name but her married name, the same last name as Howie. They had, indeed, found Howie’s mom.
“It just felt like a miracle,” Christina says. “That the letter was received by people who really cared and went to such lengths to help us find her was amazing.”
The Best Miracle of All
Howie was thrilled. They discovered that she had passed away in 1981 and was buried in a cemetery in North Vancouver. Christina contacted the cemetery and they confirmed that her grave marker was still there. A visit to the cemetery was arranged, with caretakers there ensuring that Howie’s mom’s marker was cleaned and the enclosed vase was ready for the red roses he would bring.
“I found my mom,” Howie says. “I got to visit her grave and bring her flowers. Now I know where she is and I can go see her.”
Howie spent about half an hour at her gravesite and is grateful that at this late stage in his life, he was able to make this family connection.
“I’m the only one left in my family,” he says, wistfully.
He is quiet for a moment but then he smiles and shares his gratitude. “I’m a lucky guy, you know. I’m grateful. I feel better than I ever have before.”
And maybe that is the best miracle of all.