As I sit to start my chat with Tanya, she is in motion, smiling and expressing herself through voice and face and hands. It is in fact movement that resounds in her story, with a journey marked by change and an ever forward momentum.
Tanya is a support worker at Island Crisis Care Society’s Hirst House. Her job is to come alongside clients who are part of the programme, support them and listen to them – and share of her own.
“It’s been quite a journey. I just want to help others. I want other people to see that life’s so short, and there’s a chance, there’s a chance for everybody.”
She grew up in Newfoundland, one of 24 siblings. Her parents were alcoholic, and her father abusive, but when she turned 18, she and her now husband left, moving across Canada to start a new life and escape the dead-end existence of their hometown.
“I met my husband and he said ‘Come, let me take you away from it all.’ I said, ‘where are we going to go?’ ‘Right over to the other side of Canada.’ ‘Really?’ I jumped in the truck and we left, and I never looked back.”
Life was good, they married had two children. They were living northern BC however when a different kind of motion stopped everything. Parked at the side of the road to move their sleeping children out of their car seats late one evening, a drunk driver barrelled into them, decimating their car – and their lives. Tanya and her husband were severely injured, and their five-year-old son was killed outright. Only their nine-year-old son survived unscathed – as did the drunk driver of the truck who was completely unharmed, though he had totalled his own car as well as theirs.
Tanya and her husband were medevacked to Vancouver, and both their sons were taken to the morgue, one dead, and one alive, but with nightmare images of sitting there with his dead brother forever imprinted on his psyche.
Tanya’s recovery took two years, and she still has pins in her neck which must be replaced every few years. But though she left the hospital physically better, she was buried under a weight of prescription pain killers and medications which threatened to take the rest of her life away.
“It was so easy to give up,” she remembers, “It was so easy to stay in my room, take the pills and cry all day. It was hard to come to grips.”
The day came when her surviving son walked into her room and she didn’t recognise him – he had grown up and she had missed it. That was the day that she gave it all up cold turkey and started to move forward again.
“I can cry an ocean, I’m not going to bring him back… what do you do? I have another little boy who looks at me for so many answers… so I’ve got to be the strong mamma and say c’mon, it happened, we cant change it, we’ve just got to stay positive and move forward. ”
Through her life she had seen so many people who got caught in their past – her siblings, still stuck in her hometown with no hope for the future, others who were buried under the weight of an abusive or substance impacted past, and were caught in a downward spiral. She didn’t want that.
After all she had suffered, she wanted to give back, and so she went to Discovery College to study to become a Community Support Worker. After an internship at Safe Harbour – an ICCS programme in Nanaimo – she found her calling and never looked back.
Now she works at Hirst House and thinks of it as her second home. Her husband (now of 24 years ) and her son laugh at her that she loves her job so much, but she doesn’t mind. For her, it is so important to keep reaching out, hearing stories and accompanying people on their journeys – an always making the choice to move forward.
“…once you learn and you understand what you’re going through, everybody can make a change. Some people just need help that’ all. Its that love, support that connection – that’s what I give them all.”
Tanya won’t let anything hold her back – even the worst thing that happened to her, the death of her son. She knew that the anger she felt was stopping her from flourishing, so she went back to see the drunk driver. She knocked on his door and forgave him – for herself. “ I cant change what happened, I cant change the past – none of us can, so we need to learn to deal with what happened from that moment … I was angry for many years. I had to forgive the man who killed my son. Once I forgave, then I let go.”
Every day, now, Tanya comes to work with a smile on her face. When I ask her what she wants to do in the future, she says that she is happiest here, bringing brightness to the lives she touches, and affirming them in their own journeys.
“If I can do it, everybody can do it. … Life’s hard. I get it, I so get it, but you know if we all stay positive…Imagine if everybody was this positive with everybody, imagine how life would be? The world would be such a beautiful place.”