Celebrating the life of Bonnie Lynn Draser shared by her sister Kathie Liddle or as Bonnie called me KaKee
November 2nd, 2011
If a fulfilled life is one filled with friends, loved ones, a safe, happy home to live in, activities that bring you pleasure, and moments that make you laugh, then Bonnie has lived a full, rich and fulfilled life and she has taught us much about how to live.
In 1949 when Bonnie was born, there was no such thing as email, texting, skype or web-cam. In fact our grandparents didn't even own a car, so to a young couple concerned about their baby, St. Catharines must have seemed light years away from the support of their family. They made a decision to move back to Kitchener, however when they approached local doctors, and the doctors were not sure what was wrong with the baby and thought perhaps the problem was more to do with her Mother.
I was born just before Bonnie started kindergarten. At her very first class the teacher basically marched her out and informed our parents that there was something wrong and she did not belong in the classroom. That was the beginning of their treks to London to seek a medical opinion at a higher level than the family doctor.
All through that time, we were just living our lives. Bonnie was not to touch my toys so when I was old enough to have friends over to play, she didn't like my friends touching my toys either. If I left a toy in the backyard she took it into the house....even if I wasn't finished playing with it. Nancy experienced the same thing some seven years later.
Bonnie was a challenge to Mom. She would often change her clothing, replacing clean clothes with other clean clothes and tossing the lightly used ones in to be washed again. She would lay in bed at night making a strange croaking sound and scratching a spot on the bedding until a small hole would appear, then she would make it bigger and then just take both hands and simply tear it. And there was the bed wetting. Mom would later say to me, that neighbours must have thought she was taking in laundry because she washed so much bedding and hung it out to dry. She certainly did. Bonnie and I both wet the bed until around the time Nancy was born.
Bonnie was twelve when Nancy was born. Within a few years we tried camping. Nancy will say we went camping, but I think we were just trying it out and it didn't really fit with our family. We both remember the infamous camping trip, where it wouldn't stop raining and all through the thunder and pouring rain Bonnie screamed and she would-not-let-us-close-that-camper door. What fun. Well...Nancy thought it was anyway.
Neighbours all knew Bonnie as the young teenager who rode the biggest tricycle around. She loved that bike. Bonnie also passionately enjoyed music. She would listen to music on her radio or watch Bandstand on TV and kick her legs out in circles jumping up and down over and over. If she ever fell or had what they later called "a drop seizure" she would get angry.She reasoned that the person or piece of furniture closest to her was responsible for her fall, so if you were close, you had better get out of her way or risk being kicked.
We remember Bonnie sitting for hours cutting faces out of old Sears and Eaton's catalogues, sorting her decks of cards, colouring in her colouring book or sitting on the couch bouncing back and forth and back and forth. We were the first family on the block with a TV, because Dad thought that watching it would help Bonnie learn to talk.
Bonnie had a few trademark phrases that have become a family icon. Even when she was not present, there were times when the telephone would ring and you would hear someone call out PHONE or the doorbell will ring and it would be DOOR. Just the way Bonnie would have said it. She also said other short words or phrases that have continued throughout her life. If the dog was barking or scratching to get back into the house, it would be DOG. One of our family pets was a gold fish that we kept it in the kitchen. This caused a problem for Bonnie who could no longer drink anything from a glass with any markings on it. She would point to the fish bowl and pucker her mouth to make a fish face and fishy sounds.
It wasn't always easy for her either. One time as we were playing in the front yard, Bonnie picked up some gravel and threw it toward the street...actually toward a car. The motorist stopped and yelled at Bonnie and when our Mom came out, he told her that she should be kept in the back of the house. Another time when she was around fifteen, I came up the street to find that a few tough kids from the next block had tied her to the tree on our boulevard and were hurting her. It became my mission to try to protect her.
Bonnie was well aware of things going on in our home. Since it was her nature to want to participate in everything, we learned to downplay things that were happening in our own lives, so that she did not feel left out. She became so excited about upcoming events like her birthday and especially Christmas, that she would become physically ill. We often had Santa come the day school was out for the Christmas vacation. That way she could settle down.
One great thing for our family was when the Kinsmen opened New Dawn School in 1958. It was started by a group of concerned parents and was a wonderful place located only a few blocks from our house, so Bonnie was able to walk there and home on her own. It gave her a sense of having a life like ours...she could go to school, and it gave her fulfillment. When, Bonnie was older, she went to the newly created "workshop".
As Bonnie aged and the stresses on our Mother were becoming too much, the family doctor encouraged our parents to place her in an institution. Several openings were offered to them, but each time they just could not take that step and turned it down. The decision was only made when our Mom and Dad were told they had to place her before she turned twenty-one. If they didn't, there would not be another opportunity offered to them. Mom later told me that she felt she needed to make that choice, because they didn't want to burden me with the responsibility of Bonnie, when they were no longer here to care for her. So when Bonnie was twenty, I was fifteen and Nancy eight - our world shifted. Bonnie moved to Cedar Springs in Blenheim and over the next twenty-three years lived in various institutions, from Blenheim to Woodstock, then to a New Hamburg group home, back to Woodstock and then to Palmerston. John and I remember a trip to Blenheim with my parents, so that John could meet Bonnie. Before our visit was over, she had her arm around him and seemed to decide that if he was mine, he was hers too. It didn't seem to scare John off. In fact if he had not been comfortable with her, it's not likely that I would have considered him good husband material.
Nancy remembers her boyfriend Gary loaning his TR6 to her so that she could drive to Woodstock to pick Bonnie up and take her to McDonalds. At some time during her stay in Woodstock, Bonnie's seizures were causing her to fall and hurt herself regularly. She separated her shoulder a number of times, broke her arm and hurt her face so often around her eyes that it became difficult to stitch her back together. The powers that be decided that she would have less injuries if she wore a helmet. Sounds logical. Well, the helmet had a cage on the front and other than drinking fluids with a straw, she could not have food unless the cage was unlocked and moved aside. Bonnie became withdrawn and depressed. We talked about it and decided that I would write a letter to tell the government who she was...a girl that wanted to feel pretty, to wear makeup, jewellery and nail polish. She was a girly girl and the helmet was not improving her health. It would be better for her to be happy and if that meant she needed a walker or wheelchair, then that was a better choice.
As a family, we felt that Palmerston was not that bad a place for Bonnie to live. She had a room of her own that she was very proud of. On our visits we could take her to the cafeteria, or over to the park grounds and once we had a picnic in their inner courtyard. So in 1992 when word came that the government wanted to close institutions and move the residents back into communities, we were very concerned. Would Bonnie end up in a nursing home and have no one to relate to? Would she end up further away from us? Did we have any say in where she would be sent to live? This was a big concern and something we prayed about. But God was already at work preparing for this time.
Six years earlier, in 1986 a group of parents met to figure out how to best meet the challenges of providing for their adult children when they would be alone in the world. They purchased the first home, in what would become Parents for Community Living. In 1992 the second home was purchased on Crimson Crescent in Waterloo. Bonnie became one of the original residents of this home. The move to Crimson House 19 years ago changed the texture of Bonnie's life. Now she lived in a home with three other adults. She had a room full of jewellery, stuffed animals and pictures of her friends and of places and events she had participated in. She had a social life in parties between the group homes and Monday night friendship circle. She went to a day program at ADS during the week. She went on vacations to a cottage they rented together. When her wheelchair, that I affectionately dubbed "The Tank", became too large and heavy for us to handle, the staff started dropping her off for family events and picking her up afterward, so that she didn't need to miss out.
The PCL staff drove the Crimson Ladies to Luther Ranch to visit and have a BBQ with Nancy and her family. They took her on excursions to African Lion Safari and Marine Land. They went to the movies. They would go out for a drive to pick up ice cream cones. The other year they ‘scored' tickets to the Pantomime at the St. Jacob's Theatre. When the evil Sheriff taunted the crowd to generate responses of hisses and boos, Bonnie really didn't like the fellow, thought he was a bad guy and yelled out some inappropriate swear words at him. Now that was Bonnie.
The girls that worked with Bonnie at Crimson reminded me about the insults she would give you if she was not impressed with you. If she told you to GET A HAIR CUT or GO PEE THE BED those were grave curses. It may not sound like it to you, but keeping your hair properly trimmed was important to Bonnie and she felt humiliated if she wet the bed as an adult. At Crimson she would sometimes pull her covers up to make the bed just to hide the fact that it was wet. She was ashamed. So the curse of ‘Go Pee the Bed' was her way of humiliating you and you needed to be ashamed.
As a girly girl she loved to shop. PCL staff included Bonnie on many shopping trips, even when those trips were just to drive to the store to pickup toilet paper, though jewellery and clothes shopping were her specialty. Everywhere she went, many people seemed to know her. Perhaps that was because she said hi to complete strangers and the staff at her regular places to shop, like Build a Bear, knew her by name. When she spoke to women she would comment on colours that matched, noticing if you were wearing the same colour as her. Her famous line was "Where you get it?" As if she were going to go right over to that store to purchase one for herself. She was really giving you a compliment. Bonnie even loved to have her nail polish match the outfit she was wearing. She was thrilled whenever she had her hair cut and pointed it out to you if you had not noticed her hair and commented on how nice she looked.
( I GAW A HAIR CU ) (said to the rhythm of Nana nana boo boo)
And, what does a girl need even more than going shopping for clothes and jewellery? GIRLFRIENDS ! Bonnie was blessed with several wonderful girlfriends. Three of the girls are also Crimson Ladies. Her relationship with Audrey is that of bantering siblings. Cory is her happy friend that loves everyone and makes us all smile. Barbara and Bonnie have had a special connection for all nineteen years that they have lived together at Crimson house. They had inside jokes between themselves. Barbara could make Bonnie laugh just by poking her and Bonnie looked out for Barbara. We saw that particularly on one occasion when John and I were having supper at Crimson house. The Crimson Ladies love anything Chocolate and Bonnie made sure that they had a serving of chocolate dessert for Barbara.
Another girlfriend is Melissa. In 2003 Melissa decided to be a volunteer and was matched up with Bonnie. Who would know such a strong friendship would develop. Melissa visited Bonnie regularly, doing crafts with Bonnie, or going to social events with her. Melissa helped us to fundraise for the trip to Disneyland and then went along to help with Bonnie, but mostly to be a companion for this trip of a lifetime. Our family is grateful to Melissa for touching Bonnie's life and adding so much joy. On Sunday's Bonnie came to church by Mobility Plus. She sang and bopped along to the hymns she loved. Good Lutheran's that we are, we sat at the very back behind the last pew. That spot was perfect for us because the children would touch her wheelchair and speak to her on the way to or from communion. Everyone that goes to Reformation knows Bonnie. If there was announcement that mentioned an event or dinner Bonnie usually spoke up to let us know she wanted to go. She paid attention to the sermons and would sometimes speak out a word that she picked up on, as if her mind was thinking "I know that word, I know what he is talking about." My job was to turn the pages of the hymnal and point out the page for her, so she could follow along -- even though she couldn't read. She just wanted to do what the rest of us were doing. If there was something different about the church service and she was not sure if she approved, those of us at the back of the church certainly knew because her scrunched up nose and pursed lips showed that something was up.(A quick sticking out her tongue worked too.) Coffee hour found Bonnie enjoying her coffee and snack, but even more than the treat, she loved that so many of her church friends stopped by her table to say hi or talk to her. Of course this was the perfect time for "Where you get it?" The PCL staff would often say to me that she wanted to go to church to see me, but really, because I'm notoriously late in arriving, Bonnie spent a lot of time with John and as long as he was at church she was pleased and she really enjoyed our Church family here at Reformation.
At Crimson House and at the other homes in this organization, Bonnie and the other residents live fulfilling and joy filled lives. Staff that care for them become much more than caregivers, they become family. Yes, there is a need to carry out the professional requirements, but PCL is blessed with amazing people whose hearts are touched by the residents and in turn, they give much more than what is basically required.
Bonnie didn't make it easy for the Crimson staff, particularly new staff. As soon as she met them, she had a keen sense of who was for real and would fit in. One staff member told me that they should bring Bonnie into the interviews to get her opinion. The staff needed to be confident around Bonnie or she could lash out at them. Not out of anger, but fear that they didn't know what they were doing and she felt vulnerable. She was fussy about her clothes and new staff were not allowed to touch them until she invited them into her domain. Yes she had quirky habits, but you could let it get to you, or you could learn to love that about her.
This year we have watched Bonnie's health decline. I have talked with staff about this decline and we all wondered out loud about how long her body would struggle to survive. It's been hard to watch. Nancy and I have been concerned about the possibility that Bonnie would need to be moved from her Crimson home to a nursing home. Could she emotionally handle that, especially after the type of care she has received at Crimson? Even with the Hoyer lift in her bedroom, in the washroom and in the living room, there was going to come a time when her health would make a decision necessary. Even after saying that, I was surprised when the doctor called from Grand River Hospital to discuss choices about life support and then was still totally unprepared for how very sick she was when I got there. She is my big sister. I don't know this world without her in it. She played a big role in forming me into the person that I have become. My heart wanted her to stay, but I knew her body was so tired and I told her that it was time for her to go home. God had prepared a place for her.
There are so many stories to tell - but don't worry, I won't go on. She really was larger than life and such a character. So I will end by speaking to a big event that connected all of Bonnie's families.
(Summary - The impossible dream)
Last year PCL joined Reformation Lutheran to help fundraise so that the Ladies of Crimson could take a Trip to Disneyland in Florida. All of the homes of Parents for Community Living joined in to support the Spaghetti Dinner and Silent Auction. We all had such a great time. It was quite a feat to logistically take four challenged adults, with their medications, equipment, supplies and need for regular meals and snacks on such a journey. Yet these amazing women thought of everything. They organized and accomplished the impossible and made it look as if living large with any challenge is just a matter of determination and your attitude in life. They clearly listened to the lessons that Bonnie taught us.
As for Nancy and I ... we wonder how they got Bonnie to let them close the door of the plane.
Love you Bon
Things that Bonnie taught me:
Bonnie showed me what the world would be like if everyone was absolutely upfront and honest. Frustrating at times, but never confusing, I always knew where I stood and why. A world where I can be mad at you now, but we'll forget about it playing cards later.
Bonnie taught me how to sing and dance. Not the cliché "like no one is watching".... The actual "I'm-going-to-dance-and I-don't-care-what-you-think" kind of dancing. Around Bonnie, if you didn't sing and dance and be silly, you were weird.
Bonnie taught me to speak up if I had something to say ... and just be quiet if I didn't. Either is OK if it's honest.
Bonnie taught me that you can save many words (often necessary) by simply sticking out your tongue ... and moving on with your day.
Bonnie taught me that not every day has to be a happy day ... That it's OK, we are in fact entitled to grumpy day. Tomorrow will be happy.
Bonnie showed me that friends are great, but family can make any day brighter. Her "Kathy and Nancy" could make the sun shine through the pouring rain.
Bonnie had a big heart and she wore it on her sleeve for all to see. She shared her big smiles and little "hi" with everyone (unless they didn't hear her the first time... then less smile and more "Hi"). I will always strive to be as loving and giving as she was.
Don't miss out. Join in whenever there is something ti do.
Dance until you fall down.
Beauty comes from inside and a smile always works.
It's good for you to help someone else.
It's not always about you. Sometimes it's about Bonnie.
When it's your sister's house, you can tell the kids and the dog what to do.
Don't get caught laughing when your sister gets a spanking or you may be the next one in line for it.
Say "Hi" and laugh as much as possible.
Take time to look your best every day and don't forget the accessories.
Always accessorize. Everybody needs a little bling!
Smile and enjoy the music.
Take every day to its fullest.
Bonnie taught me how to love my birthday, and how to be a kid again.
You're never too old to enjoy a Disney movie.
Dance always, even on the sad days.
Love to live. Live to love. Accept, protect, cherish.
Bonnie taught me how to enjoy a good old hockey fight, as when the gloves dropped, Bonnie would holler "Oh shit!". Bonnie taught me to live life to the fullest everyday. We both had a love of fashion, jewelry, and shopping. She was my fancy lady.
Paint the best Easter eggs.
Bonnie lived in a completely different world that most. Than me. She welcomed me into that world, and I will carry it with me forever. I will always remember the Bonnie-isms that changed my life, that made me a better person. I will always remember and love Bonnie.