Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vivvie's Reunion

I'm trying so hard, the morning after our great adventure, to avoid sitting in this chair to write this story. I determined early that I would do the dishes, ironing, and some relaxing reading before even trying to articulate the experience I got to share over the past two days.

I want it to be perfect.

I want it to be right.

I want it to convey the emotion and complexity mixed with simplicity that it is.

But I know that I will wait forever for these things to all happen and I can only do my best and hope that it will succeed in taking you, in some way, to where I was. And feeling, in some way, what I felt.

Here it goes...

Last Friday I was out with a couple of co-worker-friends for lunch. I had most of the day off and was excited to be able to share a couple of hours with people I am enjoying getting to know better.

During the visit we chatted about our lives, a little about our dreams and probably too much about work. Not really about work in a bad way, just in a way that is inevitable when you have lunch with co-workers. Mostly I got to hear fun stories of past experiences with people I now know and support. It was really nice.

At one point in the conversation my co-worker Chi Chi was sharing how Vivvie (whom I've shared about before and spoken of how she has captured my heart in her own sassy way). Chi Chi said that Vivvie had mentioned to her very recently that after not seeing her twin brother Vaughn for over 20 years she thought she might be ready to see him once again.

This was a very big step as she had done her best to keep separated from him because of his drug addiction and alcoholism throughout the years, along with all of the baggage those activities carry.

I believe much of the preparation to get to this point of readiness lies in the fact that Vivvie, only a few weeks ago, was reunited with many of her other family member after years of being disconnected.

The reasons? Well Vivvie has 4 siblings and they grew up with parents that sounded less than nurturing. Their mother struggled with a drinking problem and I'm not certain that their father was the picture of perfection either. A few of the kids fell into this which, as we all know, can lead to other ill behaviours that in turn lead to sneakiness, lying and well ... back stabbing.

I've mentioned before that Vivvie was hit by a drunk driver when she was five years old (a story I will tell more of as we go). Leaving the one side of her body rather useless to her and the other doing it's best to figure itself around. Vivvie can't speak words but has her very own system of communication that can seem to take forever to master. Vivvie is, in all ways, one feisty lady. My guess is that she had to be to make it through this thing we call life.

Through the years she became removed from most of her family as she was being cared for by one of her sisters who did not seem to get along with the rest of the group. This sister cared for her for a time but in the end left Vivvie. In her life Vivvie has lived on the streets (which I can't even understand as she is dependent on her wheelchair - I guess I don't think 'outside of the box' very well), in nursing homes, scary apartments and currently is living on her own with the help of support care on a daily basis for her basic living needs.

When I met Vivvie last September she had no contact that I know of to any family at all. She shared lots with me about them but wasn't too sure if seeing them would be good or bad.

Now I have to tell you about Chi Chi. She is my co worker who has been supporting Vivvie for several years, and through reading this you have to keep in mind she is 27 years old (important to note as she is oozing characterat this young age). Vivvie wasn't exactly a sweetheart when they met. Chi Chi has shared that she's been kicked out of Vivvie's place, called the devil (apparently lots of her staff have), and just not always been loved to death.

Through all of this Chi Chi stuck it out long enough to see Vivvie through some rough times and better times.

It was a day several months ago that Chi Chi was helping Vivie go through some old addresses and found one that peaked her interested. She asked Vivvie who this person was and she was told it was her sister Val. Chi Chi suggested writing a letter to Val and just seeing what the situation might be.

At this point I'm not sure what went about. I'm guessing they received another letter back and I know Chi Chi began corresponding with Vivvie's grown niece (Val's daughter) and very quickly a relationship was formed. Christmas cards were mailed and pictures were e-mailed back and forth through Chi Chi and Vivvie soon had the beginnings of a family again.

A trip was planned for Chi Chi to take Vivvie to finally see her lost family again. Apparently there were many tears and much joy shared that day a few weeks ago. Val had not contacted Vivvie due to the fact that sister Vicky had sort of cut all family ties and she had Vivvie (which remember can't pick up the phone to chat, nor can she read). Val and the family took some comfort in knowing that at least Vivvie was ok because she was with a sister that apparently had always liked taking care of her.

When Val learned, upon correspondence, that Vicky had left Vivvie and that she no longer had ANY family near her she was heart broken. She cried and cried over the injustice.

Now, getting back to Friday's lunch ...

Chi Chi had said that just days after Vivvie shared her desire to see her long lost brother they got news that Vaughn had serious heart issues and wasn't expected to live long at all.

As soon as Chi Chi found out she bolted into action asking for approval to take Vivvie up to see him early the following week. From what I have learned it is this kind of thing our agency lives (or used to live) to carry out. These are the types of circumstances 'run of the mill' agencies neglect because of whatever reason, maybe money, maybe staffing, maybe time. When Chi Chi shared the situation she was not at all prepared for hearing the following words.

'I can only approve for you alone to go, and for one day only.'

I forgot to mention that Vaughn lives 7 hours away. With Vivvie requiring two people to lift her to change her and give a break from her wheelchair due to her back, not to mention the asthma treatment she requires three times a day, this seemed like an absolutely ridiculous notion. Oh and Chi Chi would have to drive straight there and back with no sleep, by herself, on the highway in a sketchy wheel chair van.

How much sense does that make to you?

Now that you know the situation though and what a dedicated worker Chi Chi is, you can only guess that during lunch she also shared that she had every intention to do this trip on her own. She had no reservations.

Interestingly the rest of our table did. We immediately told her she was nuts to consider doing this alone but that this still had to happen. Come one people - Vaughn was dying!!! And Vivvie was finally ready to see him!!!

We continued to chat and I told Chi chi that I had Monday off so that day I was free. I had an overnight to get covered and then realized the shifts on Tuesday were movable or easy to 'figure out'. In that moment we realized that we might be able to make it happen!! (Without Chi Chi dying of complete exhaustion or getting in an accident).

The place Chi Chi was told to call to get assistance helping Vivvie while visiting Vaughn confirmed that they could not do anything to help without several days notice (and we did not have several days), so Chi Chi took this as another prodding for us to take matters into our own hands.

I did e-mailing, Chi Chi did calling and though we had many moments of 'Eek! This may not happen!', through a string of little miracles it all got ironed out.

When did we know for sure we were going to make the trip on Monday? Sunday evening around 7pm. A huge sigh of relief and excitement was made and we agreed to meet the next morning at 7:30am.

I have to admit the night before I barely slept at all. I was up twice to write blog posts and my veins were filled with anticipation. I'll be honest it wasn't all to do with Vivvie either. You see Chi Chi never got approval for a second staff, nor did she get approval for herself to go a second day. We could get in trouble for this. I suppose we could have potentially gotten fired. But at this point we didn't care. We thought really, Chi Chi had exhausted all other possibilities and this was the best we could do. Vivvie would pay for gas and our hotel room, we'd pay for our own food and if worse came to worse we'd split the one day they would pay for and she'd take vacation and I banked hours for the rest. So really we should just get a stern talking to. It would be worth it.

It was Monday morning and we pile into the van and go to pick up Vivvie.

I have to mention that it looked like town meeting when we arrived at her apartment. There were 3 or 4 support staff already in her living room saying their good byes, having already packed her overnight bags for us, her nebulizer (sp?) for her treatments, they even remembered her lunch! (None of these things are in their job descriptions but that tells you the pull Vivvie has on people's heart strings). While waiting they had received a call form the office. Chi Chi and I looked at each other in terror. Chi Chi made the call and had a big sigh of relief - nothing to do with our trip.

I watched as the one staff bent over to say goodbye to Vivvie and Vivvie was in tears holding her worker. They embraced for a couple of minutes and words of comfort were shared about the grandness of this day. Everyone there knew exactly what meaning would be held in this day.

We scrambled into the van and got situated, filled up the tank and were on the highway by 10 -o-clock. On the way up we only stopped once to get more gas and for Vivvie to do her treatment.

We (actually Chi Chi) had driven through pouring rain, when it wasn't sprinkling it was overcast. We got to a sketchy gas station with no sign and found a plug outside for Vivvie to do her treatment under a threatening sky. While we relieved ourselves on a toilet I was sure I would catch a disease on. (Chi Chi figured one of those diseases form the 1800's that were supposed to have been rid of).

We were back on the road and by 4:30pm had found the town we were looking for. We drove past it then remembered Vivvie's desire to share a birthday cake with the numbers 5-6 on it as her and Vaughn's birthday was coming up in another month and they hadn't shared their birthday together in years and years. So we turned around and looked high and low for a cake. Small town bakeries and grocery stores need to step it up because we had to settle for an apple pie and no candles. Oh well, we had something!

We headed next for the home some of Vivvie's family as that's where we thought the action was going to take place but soon learned that Vaughn was in the hospital which indeed would be a much better meeting place.

We followed Vivvie's family there and were met by Val and her husband, their grown daughter, Vivvie's cousin and her husband and their two teen grandchildren. It was a shower of hugs and tears of joy already!

They told us that Vaughn didn't know about Vivvie coming and that it was a surprise. At which point Chi Chi and I looked at each other and wondered if that was the best surprise to be giving a person dying of serious heart issues. Oh well, I guess we'd see what would happen.

We waited with much anticipation and within ten minutes a wheelchair came down the hall. It was Vaughn.

This decades long drug user and former alcoholic was anything but hardened today as he laid his eyes on his twin sister. A person that shared his exact hair colour, eyes, facial features and spunk for life. The years of heart ache and hurt, the memories of separation and disappointment, were instantly melted away with one look.

He broke like a crystal vase hitting a ceramic floor, and willingly let the pieces fall. He got out of his chair and held Vivvie with his head nestled into her neck. She held him with the only free hand she had and they cried.

Chi Chi said that if a year ago you would have told her this would happen she'd never have believed it because Vivvie had no desire to see her brother, but today, after some tilling of her heart field over the past year she was more than prepared to let go of the past and had room to grow forgiveness and love.

We spent the next two hours at the hospital taking many family photos capturing many shared looks, hand holding and even more hugs. Right before my eyes I saw a family melded together once again. Vivvie and Vaughn shared their birthday apple pie with her cousin holding a light cigarette lighter for them to blow out while Happy Birthday was sung (I think it was sung). We captured the memory of Vaughn and Vivvie cutting the pie together and eating it as well.

There really aren't words to properly convey what happened. I myself know little of Vivvie's history and the hardships she went through. However Vaughn shared during our quick morning good bye visit the story of Vivvie's accident and I was reminded of Vivvie's incredible strength as a person.

He said they were five years old and in a locked fenced in yard. They were playing and both decided they wanted to cross the street and go to the park. Apparently Vivvie being the stronger one hoisted Vaughn up to unhook the latch to the fence and he looked both ways and ran across the street. Out of what seemed like no where a large Cadillac appeared driving across the curb at a fast pace. Vaughn had assumed Vivvie had seen the car coming and gone back to the house. After wards he went back home and looked all over the house for her. In all the little cubbies and closets, in all of the hiding places they loved to play in. He could not find Vivvie. Not long after a police man came to the door with a familiar blue dress in his hands.

Vivvie was not in it.

She had been dragged under the car of an impaired driver for over a block until an on looker told the neighbour he had something under his car. The something was Vivvie.

Vivvie was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital but they got her breathing again. She fell into a coma and remained in one for 16 months.

That is as far as Vaughn went as we know where Vivvie is today. His story only confirmed her strength.

I can't explain how difficult it was the following morning to go back to the hospital and see Vivvie say her good bye's to Vaughn. Vaughn spoke with determination and fight that he would indeed be down to see her when he was allowed to. Things were left with a convincing hopefulness that this would indeed happen.

After the past two days who am I to say anything different. Miracles happen. This one did.

Vaughn's prognosis: he is currently only able to use 30% of his heart. He's waiting for his specialist appointment and will likely be put on a heart transplant list.

That is if he can live long enough for this to happen.

Vaughn's waiting for a heart transplant. Vivvie and her family are hoping upon hopes that he gets one.

I believe he has already had one.

In the mean time I sit overwhelmingly thankful to have witnessed the miracle at hand, one I don't feel at all worthy to have taken part in.

But I did. Because it was a story I couldn't resist. Find a story you can't resist. And get a good part. It may not be the main part but it can still be a good part. No auditions are necessary. Thank goodness!