Sometimes writing an update is hard. I know that many people have been wondering about what has happened since Dion’s hospital admission. In truth, I just haven’t had the oomph to try and figure out what to say. To hear Dion’s perspective, I encourage you to read a post he recently wrote here:

For me, Dion’s nine days at St. Michael’s Hospital included many emotions, the hard work of advocacy, trips to the Eaton Centre food court for non-hospital food and working on getting the last bits of hardware for the renovation. It was tiring.

Dion was diagnosed with a Urinary Tract Infection (my mom’s nemesis) and Pneumonia (what led to her death). Needless to say, I felt triggered. At one point I was in the hall trying to find a quiet spot to make some phone calls, and all I could think was, “how am I here doing this again?” I was scared and weepy. I also felt mad.

I have been angry about Multiple Sclerosis and what it has taken from Dion, and by extension, me and Cate. I have been angry at the system that sent Dion back into a house still under renovation and without a fully formed care plan. I have been angry at the silencing of my concerns. I have been angry at God.

Lent is the period of forty days before Easter, a time of reflection and preparation before the celebration. It struck me the other day that every Lenten season for the last number of years has been particularly challenging. This year has been no exception. Some moments have been profoundly dark, not because I doubted God’s presence, but because it felt very far away.

Somehow every year, no matter how difficult Lent and life are, Easter comes. I have caught glimpses of it already: when I began to stomp my feet and raise my voice at the hospital, I felt heard; a more robust care plan is now in place; broad spectrum antibiotics helped quash Dion’s infections; and the bathroom in the basement is complete (the shower was used for the first time this morning). I also realize that wrestling with God would be impossible if the distance between us was too great. I am confident that God can handle hearing my questions and works to soften my anger.

This journey is not an easy one. I am aware that there are many safe and soft places for us as a family to land. Thank you to the wonderful community that surrounds us: to those who came to the hospital, let me show up on their doorstep, made or bought us food, left kind messages and texts (I’m still catching up), and offered prayer and/or good thoughts. To everyone at The Dale: thank you for consistently teaching me about perseverance and how to keep it real. You all remind me that Easter is coming.


Dion moved home two weeks ago yesterday. Today I called an ambulance for him. This is the roller coaster that we too often find ourselves on.

I will start by saying that Dion is safe and receiving good care. He definitely has an infection. We are also waiting to hear the results of other tests.

At the house, the renovations I have described here before are nearly done, but not quite. We found ourselves rather suddenly having a firm date for Dion to move back, even though the bathroom had no fixtures in it yet. For me, this produced serious stress and a worry that Dion could not have the kind of homecoming we had previously envisioned. We also still needed to work out his care plan, one that would create a safe environment for him and respite for me.

Move Day was a beautiful spring-like Wednesday. I know there was something powerfully symbolic about that: Dion was experiencing home-coming that felt like new birth. In that moment the lack of a bathroom seemed minor. After all, it would be the first time all three of us would sleep under the same roof in over a year.

Fresh life also brings growing pains. It would be unfair to not identify how significant a transition this is for our family, or how difficult it is to not have a working bathroom. We have personal support workers coming every morning and evening. If something goes wrong in the middle of the day? We’re still trying to figure out what a proper Plan B is, and it feels strange to not have one, two weeks in.

Which brings us to today. One of the paramedics took my hand as he was leaving the ER and said, “I hope you all get over what seems to be yet another speed bump”. We’re trying. There is still humour as we sit in the hospital. We are aware of a peace, love, and grace that surpasses our understanding. And this is hard. The term we often use at The Dale for a situation like this is ‘brutiful’. Brutal and beautiful mashed together.

Your prayers and good thoughts are appreciated: for recovery, for a solid Plan B, for strength, and for grace to mark this whole brutiful thing.

For close to a year we have been planning renovations at our house. Not the kind meant to just change or beautify a space, but to make it accessible. We asked my brother Logan to be our contractor, as he had recently made a career change and started his own firm, Logan Grant Design.

Logan, Amanda and their children Oliver, Harrison and Teagan live on the same street as us, just one block down. This has long been a gift that I don’t take for granted and have certainly been keenly aware of through this crazy time. Logan has been readily available for so many things: coming quickly when a delivery arrives unannounced, being present for the variety of tradespeople, and doing beautiful work himself. He also chats with and listens to me.

This has not been an easy project. The scope of this renovation is large and is taking time to complete. Logan has been managing a variety of expectations, all in the relative public eye that is following our story. I will be honest and say that at times I have felt fiercely protective of him. He took a risk in saying yes to us. Few people would be willing to work for family, but Logan agreed to, seemingly without a second thought.

It has been a pleasure to watch my brother flourish in his new work. I regularly hear our plumbers, electricians, drywallers, window-makers, etc. comment on what a good guy Logan is. He has been quickly enfolded into the tight world that is construction. I think that says a lot about his work-ethic and communication skills.

The renovation is close to being done. Dion came to try out the basement this weekend, sleeping in the house for the first time in over a year. There are kinks to be worked out and we still don’t know what kind of care will be made available to us (a crucial piece of this puzzle). There is a lot of nervous energy floating around. And, it is to be celebrated that we have come this far. As Logan’s son Harrison wisely told me a few months back: “Auntie Erinn, one day this is all going to be figured out and it will be good”.

I always thought our Dad, an interior designer, would be around to help with modifying this house. Since his death I have often lamented not being able to talk all of this through with him. I grieve that our Mom is not here. She would love getting updates and be thrilled to test-drive the lift in the living room. Watching Logan, seeing his eye for design, getting to talk with him nearly every day…it all reminds me of our parents. I am comforted by Logan’s presence.

Logan, thank you for everything. Your work, your friendship, and your management of a very complicated situation has not gone unnoticed. I am proud to be your sister. Thank you to Amanda and the kids too. I love you all very much.

The first time I met Wally he was wearing a western style shirt, a black leather vest, and a bolo tie. A tall man, he looked down on me and said, “I heard a rumour you’re a musician”. Discovering a shared interest in music was the beginning of our friendship.

A Parkdale fixture, Wally could usually be found at Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, or outside the former Queen’s Donuts Coffee House (where he would occasionally buy me a donut I swear was about as large as my face). He would come to The Dale too, most often to our Open Mic events and more recently, our Sunday service.

Over the years Wally accumulated a large amount of sound gear. He was generous with it and would routinely bring it along whenever needed. A guitar player, Wally was notably a part of The Jolly Roger Band. I recall him excitedly sharing the CD they pressed and talking about how to launch it.

I’m quite certain that Wally inquired about my daughter Cate nearly every time I saw him. He liked to call her “little one”, I suspect because she was so young when he first met her. I think he always pictured her as the five-year-old who loved to perform at the Open Mic nights. Less than a month ago, sixteen-year-old Cate came along to visit Wally in the hospital. He looked at her and said, “I’d like the little one to teach me how to play the ukulele”. Cate was game, but sadly now won’t have the opportunity.

I remember when Wally told me he was sick. He was very matter-of-fact about it, though that didn’t mask his worry. There was a lot of room for hope, and so I tried to lean on that. As things progressed, Wally became weaker and weaker. He relied a great deal on Devon, a Dale community member, who was both his friend and care-giver. I felt honoured that Wally, often via Devon, was continuously inviting me in for visits. We had many opportunities to chat and, at his request, pray.

Recently I got to meet Wally’s daughter and son, both of whom he talked about frequently. I always count it a privilege to meet the families of my friends in Parkdale, and this was no different. To them, the rest of his family, and to his large circle of friends, I want to offer my condolences. As one who knows how complicated grief can be, I pray for each of you as you embark on its journey.

Joanna, Meagan and I got to see Wally for the last time on Monday afternoon. He died in the early hours of Tuesday, March 5th. I am relieved that he is out of pain AND terribly sad. It is amazing how those two feelings can co-exist. I know his death has come as a huge shock to many, having been one of those people we somehow expected to always be around. Wally: you will be missed. I hope you’re hosting a dance party, enjoying food, and maybe even learning the ukulele. Cate and I will be sure to play a song for you.

Walter Bradshaw

March 21, 1953 – March 5, 2019

He fell flat onto the very cold pavement. From the car we were sitting in, Meagan saw him land. I immediately jumped out to run over and see if he was okay. Blood was streaming out of his face, but he was lucid and trying to get up. Meagan joined me and we got him seated on the curb. She stayed closed to him, while I called 9-1-1.

I realized I knew him. “Tom!”

“How do you know MY name?”

“Tom, it’s Erinn. Remember me? From The Dale. I was at your sibling’s funeral. You and I, we’ve had a lot of conversations over the years.”

A look of recognition swept over Tom’s face. While we began to chat, a person walking by took notice of the small set of bills falling out of Tom’s hand and jacket. He knelt down and offered to put the money safely in Tom’s pocket, zipping it closed, “you don’t want to lose that! Let me help”. Tom looked incredulously at all of us gathered at his side and said, “what’s going on? I should fall more often!”

The paramedics arrived quickly. They kindly got Tom on a stretcher and explained he would be getting checked out at the local hospital. As they prepared to move him into the ambulance, Tom reached out to try and give me a hug. We had to dissuade him because of the blood, but not before I told him I’d happily receive it the next time I see him.

As Meagan and I crossed the street to get to our drop-in, I was struck by how different it was for Tom to feel cared for. I lamented that he was so shocked by our attention, making that “I should fall more often” comment more than once. Tom has lived life hard. He often has a hood pulled over his face as he walks Queen Street, as though trying to hide. But I know him to be someone with gentle eyes and a broken heart.

I hope beyond hope that the next time we see Tom he might not be injured, that he might notice we notice him whatever his circumstances, and that I’ll be able to receive the hug. Kindness is something we all need. Tom included.

I arrive at Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre at 9:30 am, carrying a bag of groceries: an extra-large carton of eggs, a mound of oranges, a box of pancake mix, and a small bottle of real maple syrup that was donated by a community member. I briefly struggle to balance the food and my backpack so that I can open the door to the room we use for our Thursday drop-in.

Moments later another member of The Dale arrives. He is originally from Syria, having sought refuge here in Canada. He greets me with broken (yet rapidly improving) English and a light kiss on both cheeks. We busy ourselves in the kitchen, as he is our bi-weekly cook. I put the coffee on while he organizes the food.

Meagan, Joanna and I gather around a set of three tables, pushed together like a big rectangle. We are slowly joined by others. Some decide to colour, as we have a number of colouring books to choose from. Others share stories about their day. Collectively we laugh and listen, occasionally sitting in quiet.

I leave the drop-in mid-way through because another community member needs a pastoral visit. He is very sick and likely close to death. I walk into his darkened room and together with another friend, pray. It is a short, sacred visit. We both say, “I love you” before I leave to return to the drop-in.

Upon my return I hear that someone at the table is having a particularly rough day. Sometimes this means our space becomes not safe for others, and so deliberate intervention is needed. This can be one of the most challenging parts of this work: having to explain to someone why their behaviour is inappropriate, and that the consequence is having to leave. Today it is done tenderly and carefully by Joanna and Kim, a long-time community member and outreach team worker.

Throughout the remainder of the drop-in I talk with people: conversation, followed by conversation. Some need to discuss very difficult life circumstances and ask what kind of support is available, others just need to vent, a few want to share some good news, including how they believe God is taking care of them in surprising ways. I get repeatedly asked how I am too, often with eyes full of concern and care.

Eventually dishes get done, art supplies get packed up and returned to a storage room, our coffee and other pantry items get placed in a bin that lives in one corner of the fridge, and we slowly make our way to the front lobby to say goodbye. Only on this day a group of us are going to celebrate a community member’s birthday by going out for Chinese food, a gathering that provokes joy and is a lot of fun.

I rush away to a conference call about an upcoming conference where I will sit on a panel to discuss mental health challenges, something all people are touched by in one way or another. As I close my computer after the call finishes, I reflect on my day. I have the opportunity on a near daily basis to touch and see and hear and smell and feel so many different things.

Today I breathed in the aroma of breakfast food being cooked by a friend for a whole room full of people, many he doesn’t know. I touched the close veil of death. I heard people share so transparently and vulnerably that I was challenged to do the same. I was hit with a wave of pride at seeing The Dale team in action. I became excited about the conference in May. And I watched the birthday friend glow as we sang happy birthday, ate chicken balls, and belly laughed about the silliest things.

This is a day in my life at The Dale.

I think it is difficult to convey how something makes me feel. The Dale’s annual February Feast happened last Saturday, and it made me feel A LOT of feels, the kind that if I could bottle them up and share, I would. I caught a smattering of photos, but that doesn’t quite capture it either.

For many years we have chosen to save our big turkey dinner for February, rather than December. There are simply so many meals of this type going on around Christmas, but in the dead of winter? Not so much. To add to the festivities, we also have an Open Mic. This is an opportunity for anyone to perform, and we applaud the courage to do so.

We had enormous support from a variety of people for this event. Groups from two other churches volunteered to help cook, set-up, serve, and clean-up. I loved seeing Dale community members chopping potatoes alongside new friends. Over the course of the evening, I noticed how the differences between these volunteers and the rest of the community became increasingly muted. There was a palpable sense of connection in the room.

Vibe Peace, a collective The Dale is newly acquainted with, led an art jam throughout the evening. They brought all the art supplies and set up two tables where everyone could contribute to three separate pieces. I have to say, collaborative art is one of my favourite things.

While we ate, listened to some amazing musicianship, conversed, performed and created, there were hard things happening too: some needed tokens to get to their shelter bed, or coats to survive the cold. Others were reeling at new loss in their lives. And somehow, many of those same people found respite for a few hours. More than one person expressed how amazed they were to be feeling genuinely happy, even briefly.

One of my favourite moments was when one person bravely sang parts of Country Roads by John Denver. She later told me, quoting the song: The Dale is “the place, I belong”. That, along with so many other moments made my heart full. I found myself stopping to just listen and take it all in. I long for a community where every tongue, tribe and nation are together; where socio-economic lines are blurred; where we are more aware of the ways in which we are alike, than different. On February 9th I caught a glimpse of that. It was a good night.

On January 25th of 2018 I called an ambulance for Dion, gently woke up Cate to tell her, got dressed, and followed the emergency vehicle on foot through the snow to the hospital. Life since has been very different for the Oxford family.

A year later I am mindful of the spectrum of emotions and experiences we have gone through. Those early days were very dark. Dion’s health had deteriorated to a shocking degree, leaving him exhausted, depressed and wondering what could possibly be next. I felt overwhelmed, fearful, and very sad. There were many difficult conversations with health care professionals, social workers, family, and friends. The future felt uncertain.

Along the way we decided that renovating our house was the only obvious thing ahead. For us, it felt right. In the sea of unknowns, it was good to launch a practical project.

As of today, the renovations have come a long way. It’s fair to say they are nearing completion. The drywall is up, and the trim is painted. The tiles have been installed in the barrier-free bathroom (no fixtures yet). There is a hole in the floor awaiting the lift. I know that for Dion this last push is excruciating. It’s almost harder to have the end in sight, but still out of reach.

Every time I step into the basement, I am reminded of the host of people who have helped bring this project to fruition. My contractor/brother has been amazing. He, along with such a variety of tradespeople, have brought things to life. I need to do a count of how many people have contributed financially- it’s humbling.

In the course of a year it is not just our house that looks different. Admittedly, there are still moments of darkness. They are fewer though. Since those early days, Dion has adjusted to a new normal in terms of his health. I am no longer scared of him falling and not being able to pick him up. We are hopeful that he will continue to receive the kind of health care that honours his needs and equips both him and our family with the most independence.

Though we are thinking a lot about Dion’s 365+ days away from home, we are also thinking about 21 years of marriage as of January 24th. So many things intertwined. We still don’t know what the future will look like, but who does? Instead, we are endeavouring to live as much in the moment as possible, celebrating the good, lamenting the hard and giving thanks along the way.

I recently got to the work of sorting and organizing the room which has become a catch-all during the house renovation. As I went through the boxes of things I have carefully stored out of harm’s way, I was greeted by a variety of gifts from my friends at The Dale.

Will gave me a belt buckle with an eagle on it.

Mike wrote, “the light will always overcome the darkness” on a scrap piece of cardboard for me.

John gave me a glass bottle shaped like a boot, containing raspberry cordial. However seemingly random, I know to him it was the most special thing he could offer.

James painted a portrait of me and Joanna.

Marlene, a lover of jewellery, found me a glass bead bracelet- blue, because it’s “your favourite colour”.

Though I don’t smoke, Steve gave me a cigarette. He explained that in his culture, tobacco is considered sacred. Given that, and the fact it was his only one, I felt moved by his generosity.

Rita made both me and Cate amazing arrangements of artificial flowers.

Doug has made me countless recordings of jam sessions, church services and Open Stages at The Dale.

Peter fashioned a lion and a lamb out of clay that sits on my bookshelf.

Knowing how I love birds, Shannon found me a little porcelain one.

The list goes on and on. These gifts are one very tangible example of how I get to receive from this community.

It is good to both give and receive. We talk about this a lot at The Dale. Of course, a gift doesn’t have to look like any of the items I’ve just described: it could be a hug, an offer to listen, a kind word, a cup of coffee, or some other act of service, and that’s just the beginning.

There is something important about honouring the offering of another. I love that in the context of relationship we can begin to articulate what we might need (or not). AND, I think there is a time to humbly receive something that took sacrifice to give. With that in mind, I hope that I can be as gracious a receiver as my friends are givers.

The Dale has no walls of its own, unless you count the tiny post office box we rent. This does not mean we place a low value on buildings. Quite the contrary. We rely on the hospitality of buildings throughout Parkdale and even one outside of its borders to host our gatherings and do administrative work. We also understand that connecting well with our community means being outside, noticing people in coffee shops, and visiting those who are bound to home or hospital. We are nomads with a schedule.

The challenge in this is creating spaces that. though they are not our own, feel like The Dale. Seemingly little things help: using our own plates, mugs and cutlery on Mondays; placing the Scrabble board on the table at the Thrift Store; setting the communion table with our stole, a candle holder donated by a community member, a brass plate for the bread, and our cups. People notice if these items are missing.

These material contents (however few and important they might be), are not what primarily what make our spaces home-like. I think the transition to calling something home happens when we start to think of a space as “ours”. The Dale is its people. However chaotic or calm our spaces might be, we try to inhabit them in a way that fosters a sense of peace, safety, and respect.

Making the decision to give notice and spill into the street in 2012 was never made lightly. I recall how important it was for the community to grieve the loss of our space, especially considering that many people had no other place to call home. What it gave rise to is the recognition that we are not limited to our walls.

Now we gently live in the tension of needing buildings and being without one of our own. This has been our reality for nearly six years. As we face a new year, I want to acknowledge the importance of space, express gratitude for all of our building partners and the neighbourhood of Parkdale and honour our community members who make The Dale (whatever space we might be in) feel like home.