Remembering Chris-By: Eusebia da Silva

Posted by on May 8, 2012 | Comments Off on Remembering Chris-By: Eusebia da Silva

May 8th

8:36am: Well, I’m sitting in the train station waiting for the ride to Brampton that leaves at 9:15am from here in Kitchener. Thank-you God.   (I feel lighter).

Well it’s 9:27am and I’m on the Via Rail, on my way to Brampton. I’ve always loved the sound of a train in the distance. You know, the whistle.

It’s really cool to hear the whistle on the train I’m on. Present, no longer off in the distance.  I used to wonder where the train was going.

Now, I’m on the train that is whistling, no longer in the distance, and I know where I am going.

This prose poem was written by Christine (Chris to all who knew her) in her journal just moments after leaving Grand Valley Institution on May 8th, 2007. They were read at Chris’ memorial service on November 27th to a group of friends who Chris had come to speak of as her “family”. We gathered in the basement of Walmer Baptist Church, in the same place where Chris had shared many a meal and sat in many a circle with her ‘Dismas family’ over the past two years. Together we remembered and honoured the life of our friend Chris who we had come to know and grown to love over the last two and some years.

Recently, a friend shared with me this wonderful Jewish saying: “What is truer than truth? Answer, “the story.” What follows is some of Chris’ story, yet her story is part of a bigger story… which is God’s story. Now that she has left this world, Chris is “no longer in the distance” no matter how far off that train whistle sounded at first, no matter how far from God she felt at any point in her life. The train that Chris was waiting for didn’t leave her behind… she was going home for Christmas no matter how long it took her to get there… we can listen for and love the train whistle as Chris did… wherever Christmas will take place for us.

There were a number of desires Chris expressed when she came out of prison in the Spring of 2007. I met her one winter day in the quiet room of Grand Valley Institution. In a small dark room with little more than a couple of places to sit, a bookshelf and a coffee table, Chris shared some of her story with me. She was coming out in a couple of months and her only connections on the outside were the staff at Ellen House in Brampton and her long time friend and partner Lisa.

She had stayed in that halfway house once before and it meant a lot to her that Pam and the other staff at Ellen House were willing to give her another chance. She wanted it to be different on the outside this time, “I want to give back to the community in some way – not sure how yet.” She was really grateful that the staff at Ellen House was willing to take her back again. Their acceptance of her touched her because it conveyed the message that she was worthy, that someone believed in her. Being at Ellen House until she could find her own place, where she could sit on the deck, look out onto the surrounding trees, listen to birds sing and watch flowers grow – all this meant a lot to her. She wanted to heal.

She longed above all to reconnect with her daughter with whom she’d lost contact for some years. “I don’t even know if Selena’s alive but if she is, I want to find her. I pray for her all the time.” God was important to her. She’d experienced God’s presence and comfort at moments of great need in the past – she wanted more of this – more of whatever would help her continue on the healing journey she’d begun this time around in prison.

Chris left Grand Valley Institution on May 8, 2007 and she would stay out of prison until her death on September 13, 2009. In those two years she did much more than stay out of prison. She remained connected with some of the staff at Ellen House calling them often to share with them the ups and downs of her living on her own. With the help of Dorothy and Ida and other dedicated chaplaincy volunteers, Chris had moved into and furnished a basement apartment that felt like a safe haven – a place she could call home.

Chris also allowed herself to be led by her friend Dorothy to participate in the Dismas fellowship in Toronto. She felt very much welcomed at Dismas and it didn’t take long before Chris began to refer to this community as her ‘family.’ She shared some of her story in the circle, she asked for prayers for physical healing, as her health was often precarious, and she never tired of reminding people to pray for her daughter Selena. She welcomed the fact that there was a circle of church women in Markham who she’d never met who were praying for her every week. She herself became part of a weekly yoga and prayer group that met at Dorothy’s home every Monday evening. Here too they prayed often that Chris would one day find her daughter Selena.

And after much prayer in community and faithful perseverance on Dorothy`s part, Chris did find her daughter. Dorothy connected with Selena on Facebook and in time Chris spoke to Selena first by phone, and shortly before her death, in person. Chris not only found her daughter, she was able to tell her daughter that she loved her and to hear the same message of love from Selena. A few days before Chris died Selena had visited her mom and brought a homemade fruit salad. Chris would not get to see the birth of her little granddaughter Eleanor but she came to hear her own daughter tell her she loved her and this meant everything to her.

God gave Chris the opportunity to give back to the community in a creative way. She was the first participant that artist Linda Duvall interviewed for her project “Where Were the Mothers?” Linda invited men and women who battled addiction, life on the street, and time in prison to work with a professional musician to develop an original song about their mothers. After interviewing Chris, Linda realized that the project needed to be not simply the recording of songs but about the whole collaborative process between the participant and musician. The creative process gave Chris a sense of purpose and allowed her to realize one of her deep desires which was to give back to the community in some life-giving way, the way her own daughter found a way to give back to Chris.

In the end, Chris’ story was part of a bigger story… which is God’s story. In the end, Chris found a new beginning. She came home to Christmas in the heart.