He is intent on finding justice. On righting wrongs. On creating equality for those who have little to no voice. For those who do not have the capacity to fight.
He is intent on creating a system of care that will serve the elderly. For bringing the public’s attention to what he sees a gaping wound in our society: the fact that so many of Canada’s seniors will end their final years without dignity, without hope, without care.
“We have to stop this,” he tells me as we sit in a local coffee shop one afternoon. “We must ensure that every Canadian from the Prime Minister all the way down to the man and woman on the street gets involved.”
It’s all about awareness he tells me and gives me the statistics. 68,000 doctors in Canada, only 300 geriatric specialists. Only 30 percent of those who need palliative care receive it. But even beyond the numbers is the unescapable truth. We are an aging population and there’s not enough care to go around.
I ask him why he’s so passionate about this issue. In the four years I’ve known him, he’s talked about it, shared ideas, spoken of his goal to raise his voice and draw people out to support him. But still, justice for the wrongly accused would make more sense. Isn’t that what happened to him? Isn’t that what he is most passionate about?
He acknowledges he is, but it is too close, he tells me. It still has the capacity to mess with his head.
His name is David Milgaard. He is one of the most amazing human beings I know.
After 22 years of being wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, he is not bitter. He is not angry. He does not carry a chip on his shoulder. He does not blame or deride or denigrate those who put him behind bars or the system that was so evidently lacking in its commitment and use of due process it stole over 22 years of his life. He was 16 when he was arrested. 18 when he was convicted to life imprisonment with no chance of parole for at least 10 years. It is one of the sad ironies of his case. He never did receive parole. He wouldn’t confess to a crime he didn’t commit and without a confession, the parole board did not consider him fit for parole.
And still, he is not bitter. He is not angry.
He is kind. He is passionate. He is caring. He is humble.
One day, I’ll be counted as one of the elderly, he says. So will you. Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can, right now, to ensure there’s something to look forward to? A system that will take care of us properly?
He is right.
We can do better. We must do better.
David wants me to get involved in his campaign. He’s mounting an event, The Assembly of Hope, to raise awareness of elder care, to demand changes in our social policies and framework to ensure government enacts the necessary changes to take care of the elderly with dignity, respect and better care.
And I think of my mother.
My sister Anne and I are blessed with our eldest sister Jackie. Our mother lives in an assisted living facility and Jackie is her main care-giver. She drives her to doctor’s appointments, advocates for her care, takes her for lunches and invites her friends to join in. She knows her doctors, her nurses, all the staff at the facility by name. She is constantly working to ease the load of my mother’s 91 years, constantly on alert for changes in her moods, her needs, her physical health. Jackie is constantly taking care.
Jackie carries the burden, she lessens our load, even our guilt, of not being there for this woman who gave us life. Anne lives a thousand miles away. I live in the same city and still, I do not step in. I do not intervene. I let Jackie do the work.
Perhaps it is time to make change happen. Perhaps it is time to stand up and add my voice to the mix, not just for my mother but for people like my sister who give so selflessly to ensure our aging parents have the care they need.
They are the wayfarers, the pioneers, the trail-blazers who have set the course. Perhaps, if the government constructed its elder-care framework around the system of care my sister has built around our mother, there would be no need for anyone to raise their voices. Because in listening to those who do the lions share of the work, the answers are already there. The path is laid out. The way is clear to what needs to be done.