Please don’t let me die alone.

There was a time when Terry drove a semi back and forth across America, delivering livestock to rodeos and ranches across Canada and the US.

He loved his life. The freedom of the road. The camaraderie of truckers. The unstructured life.

For years, he didn’t need one place to call home. He had the wide-open road.

And then, life caught up with him. A gambling addiction. Alcohol. His body wearing down sooner than expected. No life-savings.

He ended up at a homeless shelter.

But even there, Terry didn’t succumb to the ennui of that place called ‘homeless’. He volunteered every day. His favourite role was carrying people up and down the elevators. He loved having that swipe pass. He liked the status and the opportunity to greet clients and visitors on every ride.

“I’m driving them where they need to go!” he’d joke.

Terry joked a lot. “Life is so bizarre you gotta laugh,” he’d say.

About once a week he’d ask me to marry him and then rescind the offer. “I don’t want to have to fight C.Cl” he’d joke.

Terry was small in stature. Big in heart and attitude.

When a cancer diagnosis befell him, he swore he was not going down without a fight.

He fought hard, but within months it was obvious, even to Terry, that the cancer was winning.

It was a few weeks before Christmas and Terry was failing fast. He decided to take one more kick at the can and for his Wishlist ask that year, he told the young woman interviewing him that all he really wanted before he died was to visit New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I’ve driven through that city countless times with my semi but never during Mardi Gras.

The young woman who was interviewing him for the Wishlist (an annual event sponsored by an amazing couple Dan and Jenny) had met Terry many times volunteering at the shelter.

She decided she was going to make his wish come true.

Terry’s health failed to fast for him to go, but here’s where the miracle of this season takes center stage.

One of the media outlets who came to support Terry’s wish was the Calgary Herald. The reporter was so moved by Terry’s story, he wrote a full page spread.

That article was read by a woman in Calgary who happened to know one of Terry’s brothers who lived in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Terry’s brother had been looking for him since he’d run away from home at the tender age of eight years old and was picked up by social services.

When his brother read the story, he showed his wife who promptly went on line, found the number for the shelter and called me.

I was there the day Terry and his brother were reunited.

It was one of the most beautiful moments I ever experienced.

And though Terry never did get to Mardi Gras, before he passed we held a party in his honour at a Cajun bar in town. Over 100 people turned up to wish him well.

“I don’t deserve all of this,” Terry insisted.

“You deserve so much more,” was the response from pretty well everyone there.

See, when Terry was first diagnosed he insisted he did not want to die anywhere than at the shelter.

I don’t want to be in a strange place surrounded by strangers he insisted.

We did everything we could to ensure he was comfortable, safe and well cared for. But in the end, hospice was the only answer.

I drove him to the hospice the day he moved in. His brother met us there and spent the next two weeks with him.

And the most miraculous part of it all is that when Terry took his last breath, he wasn’t amongst strangers. His brother was sitting at the side of his bed, holding his hand.

This is a story Metro News did on Terry.

11 thoughts on “Please don’t let me die alone.

  1. Elgie,

    As you do so well, another touching story at a time of year when we are emotionally available/vulnerable to absorb the message. What I take from this piece is not the homelessness story but the illustration that whatever/wherever our circumstances deposit us, there is magic in connections. This is not a story about dying unless you see it only that way; it is a story about living on one’s own terms, and it’s a story about the storyteller using her skills to spread an important message to others.

    We are not 8 billion stories about 8 billion people living in 8 billion spots on a planet; we are 8 trillion stories; we are one planet, we are never alone, and we are never so unique in our uniqueness that we are not all the same. We can all relate to the story, the storyteller and the life of the person whose story is being told. This is not about homelessness or loneliness, and it is a story about a community – a town with 8 billion citizens. We’ll always have village idiots, but we send them to Ottawa. We always have class clowns, and we’ll all want to be as popular as they are. We’ll always have friends and rivals, we’ll have classmates and workmates and life-mates – and sometimes, on Fridays, we’ll have real dates. We are never alone.

    Thanks for a great reminder of all those things,


    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I gaze out over the magical winter wonderland that arrived overnight your beautiful tribute to Terry Pettigrew, a man I did not know, resonated deeply. The true meaning of the kindness of friends and stranger alike ensured that Terry left this world knowing that people DO care regardless of one’s choices.
    Thank you for the “grounding” moment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aww, I wanted you to say that he took a dramatic turn for the best and made it to New Orleans and is doing great today. Not to be . . . but it’s great that Terry died not alone, but surrounded by friends. I can’t think a better of way of moving onto the next world. Lovely story. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. this is such a deeply touching ‘story’ – and a whole life of a beautiful human being told in simple, heart-reaching words. Thank you so much.
    (and you were and are so very beautiful!)


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