Many of us have fond memories of our Dads – tobogganing in the winter, special traditions on Christmas Eve, or maybe just sitting around laughing and sharing stories. Growing up, Liz also had fond memories with her Dad, Albert, but they aren’t all happy. Her family’s history is full of trauma and tragedy, starting before she was born.
When he was ten years old, Albert was in a serious car crash near his home in Newfoundland. Both he and his sister were in a coma for months. When they emerged, they learned their mom had passed in the accident.
This was Albert’s first experience with loss and would change his life forever. At just ten, he endured months of rehabilitation to relearn how to speak, walk, and write. He still deals with the traumatic brain injury and emotional scars the accident left in its wake.
That trauma continues to affect both Liz and Albert. Like many who experience traumatic events and brain injuries, Albert coped through alcohol. That coping mechanism stuck with him through early adulthood, following him to Ottawa, where he moved to take on a new general labourer job. While here he met a woman and Liz was born.
Albert struggled. As a child, Liz remembers him going through cycles of working, staying in a shelter, and then going back to short-term rentals.
“I wish someone had told me back then that this was nothing to be ashamed of – thousands of other people in Ottawa are going through the same thing,” says Liz. “Many people staying at Shepherds of Good Hope have experienced traumatic events, finding their own way to cope. The stigma around substance use and individuals experiencing homelessness is still so prevalent in our society.”
Although Albert struggled with drinking and not having a permanent home, Liz still has fond memories like attending a Christmas service with him at Shepherds of Good Hope. Growing up, Liz found it harder to stay in touch with her Dad.
“I was striving to create a better life for myself and working hard to put myself through university,” she says. “He didn’t have a phone, so I could only speak with him when he reached out to me. Sadly, as he coped with his challenges, I had to set boundaries to keep myself healthy – we grew more distant.”
Through his stay at the Shepherds of Good Hope Emergency Shelter, Albert found the Managed Alcohol Program and was eventually offered a permanent apartment at Shepherds’ Richcraft Hope Residence on Montreal Road. These programs, the supportive staff, and the fact that he had a stable place to call home were good for Albert and things were looking up until his health started to decline quickly.
“The amazing Shepherds team got my Dad to the hospital,” she says. “As next of kin, the hospital contacted me, and for a bit, we didn’t know if Dad would pull through. But he did. His resilience never ceases to amaze me!”
Liz saw how much work Albert had done with the Shepherds team to stabilize his life. When the hospital was ready to discharge him she decided she was in a place where she could help him take a new step. Liz asked if Albert woud like to return to his apartment or move in with her. She says that a smile crossed his face as he said that he wanted to come home with her.
It’s been eight months since Albert moved in with Liz and things are going really well. The Shepherds team and their wrap-around support helped her understand his medications, set up his finances, and connect them with community resources.
“I know if I need anything, Shepherds is just a phone call away,” she says. Albert hasn’t had a drink since moving in and they have started some fun routines – like heading to the local library on Saturday morning.
Shepherds of Good Hope gave Liz and Albert an opportunity they were never really sure would ever happen. They’re here to help provide care and support to everyone, regardless of where they are on their life journey.
“As a child, I wish I had heard more stories like mine, so I didn’t feel so alone,” says Liz. “I want people to know that with the right support, so much is possible. Just because someone is experiencing homelessness does not make them invisible or worthless.”
This Christmas Liz and Albert will celebrate together for the first time since she was a child. They have plans to decorate the tree, eat a big meal, laugh, and enjoy their Christmas morning coffee together.