Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, September 30, 2022

Through the Valley of Shadow, Part 2 of 4

Taylor Pryor
While Doug Pryor remained in Portage la Prairie for work, his wife Darseen was grateful she’d retired from her nursing job only a year earlier. She’d also given up her position on the board of the Portage Pregnancy Support Centre, not knowing what might be coming but sensing God leading her to hand over that position. As their daughter Taylor’s mental health continued to digress and need constant vigilance, Darseen knew she could never have done it if she still had those other demands on her time and energy.

Despite all the efforts on their daughter’s behalf, despite wonderful community support, Taylor’s suicide attempts continued to increase. Over the months that followed, she attempted suicide at least twenty-two times. She saw at least thirteen psychiatrists and five other medical doctors. In one instance, seventy hours passed while health professionals bounced her between three different facilities before she was finally admitted. Everywhere the Pryors turned, they received conflicting messages. One doctor would say she needed the psychotherapy treatment program available at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. Another would decide she wasn’t well enough to go. One would prescribe medication; another would take her off that and give her something else. Some staff would communicate freely while others would state that Taylor was an adult and privacy rules prevented them from sharing the information with Doug and Darseen.

Waiting in noisy, chaotic ERs where the staff seemed focused on settling Taylor down and sending her home did not work. Many times, they would release her and within twenty-four hours she would be back in the hospital after attempting suicide. With a choked voice, Doug tried to describe the pain of standing helplessly by while several professionals tackled his daughter and held her down so they could shoot a sedative into her.

In one incident, Taylor’s sister Raela found her on a bridge near St. Boniface hospital after Taylor left the ER. Raela knew where to look because of something Taylor had said while seeing the bridge from a hospital window. Sure enough, when Raela arrived, Taylor was preparing to jump into the Red River below. A stranger in a bright orange shirt stopped to help. Taylor did not resist but allowed the young man and Raela to escort her back to the hospital where her parents waited.

In the chaos, the young man simply disappeared, and they never learned his name. Doug is convinced he was an angel sent from God, wearing Taylor’s favorite color.

In August of 2019, a passerby found Taylor lying in the middle of the road on William Avenue after she was discharged from the Crisis Response Centre. Police picked her up and took her to the Health Sciences Centre ER.

Doug and Darseen managed to secure an appointment with a concussion specialist in Calgary, a full day’s drive from home. While they were there, another suicide attempt caused Taylor to miss the appointment. They returned home in defeat. The constant vigilance was taking a deep toll, despite feeling tremendous support from their church community. Doug served on his church board at the time, and sometimes the pastor would stop the board business so they could pray for Taylor. There were nights when family and friends were out searching for Taylor in Winnipeg while board members prayed back in Portage. They texted Doug about what God was showing them. In one instance, a praying board member received a vision of Taylor sitting on a park bench. From that description, the family was able to find her.

They continued trying to get Taylor into the treatment center in Selkirk, typically a six-month wait. With the help of Manitoba Legislative Member Dr. Jon Gerrard, Taylor’s name was moved up the list, reducing her wait to two months. While they waited, her family grew hopeful as they were invited to join a support group for families of other Selkirk patients already in care.

On October 16, 2019, another attempt sent Taylor to the hospital where she was seen by psychiatry and kept overnight. Although she asked to stay, she was discharged the next day.

She walked out, then began to run. Her mother tried to follow in her car but lost sight of Taylor after she scaled a fence along a busy highway and disappeared into a wooded area at the University of Manitoba. It was the last time Darseen saw her daughter alive. She was four days away from being admitted to the Selkirk treatment center.

Continued next week.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Through the Valley of Shadow, Part 1 of 4

Doug Pryor slumped to the forest floor, exhausted. Was this the last time search parties would be sent out to look for his twenty-one-year-old daughter?

“God, I can’t go on.” He prayed. “I just need to know. Is Taylor safe?”

Just then, he spotted three deer not too far away.

“Lord, if she’s safe, bring one of those deer to me.”

The deer took off.

That’s when Doug knew.

Taylor Pryor was well known for her spunk and enthusiasm, her love for God, and her compassion for the downtrodden. As a student at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, she was in her element—encouraging the other girls and leading a Bible study. Video footage from a 2017 Missions trip to Guatemala reveals a vivacious young woman ready to take on the world. More than anything, she desired to make a difference in the lives of those God placed in her path.

Ending her first year at university with a round of written exams, Taylor flew immediately to Ontario to work in an asparagus-packing plant. Already exhausted, the isolation, long hours, and “no music” rule quickly took their toll on this extroverted young woman. When anxiety and suicidal thoughts began to surface, she returned to Manitoba and worked the rest of the summer as a camp counselor—for which she was far better suited. She returned to school in the fall.

During a college soccer game in October of 2018, Taylor collided mid-air with another player when both jumped for the ball. In the weeks that followed, she began to exhibit physical symptoms such as blurred vision, hearing problems, and an inability to stay focused or sleep. She saw a concussion specialist at a sports clinic where she received physiotherapy for her eyes.

Gradually, personality changes became apparent to her family and even more so to her friends in residence. She displayed anger and anxiety they hadn’t seen in Taylor before. She used language she would not typically use. She began to push her parents away, insisting that she could deal with it on her own.

“We let her do that for a while,” her mother Darseen said. “But it was really hard.”

“She distanced herself out of shame. She was embarrassed about where she was at,” Doug added.

Taylor pushed through that first term and came home for Christmas break, but her parents were beginning to see an entirely different person than the girl they knew. Back at school, things began to snowball. In February, she made her first suicide attempt. By March, Taylor had been in and out of hospitals numerous times. Her parents decided to find her an emotional support dog. Leaving the hospital on the day she was given a pass to go pick out her puppy, Taylor admitted to her roommate that she had no idea how to pick out a dog.

“Just sit back and wait. Your dog will pick you,” was the advice she received.

Taylor with her "baby"
So she did. Sure enough, as Taylor watched the little fur balls wrestle and play, one dog broke away from its siblings and waddled straight to Taylor, later falling asleep in Taylor’s lap. Although the dog’s name is officially Everly, Taylor’s main name for her was always, “My Baby.”

While the dog helped, the chaos escalated. It seemed the vigilance required simply to keep Taylor alive was becoming a full-time job. When Taylor was asked to leave the dorm because of all the disruptions, her parents began to look for an apartment. Finding a suitable one seemed impossible. They needed a place on ground level, near Taylor’s school, that accepted pets, and that was nice (putting someone struggling with anxiety in a run-down space is not helpful). With that sort of laundry list, the odds seemed impossible. But when a friend of a friend told them there was one available apartment in her building and they went to check it out, Doug and Darseen were able to check off all their boxes. In mid-April, they’d secured the apartment and Darseen moved into it with Taylor. As a bonus, their building was surrounded with lovely biking trails, one of which led to Taylor’s school in a ten-minute ride. It definitely felt like an answer to prayer.

To be continued next week.


Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Mouse House

In the fall of 1986, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers with another on the way. Christmas was coming. Money was tight. What I did have was a new Pfaff sewing machine. My father had died earlier that year and we’d received a bequeathment. I knew I wanted to use part of the money to buy a good sewing machine. I’ve never regretted that decision, and I think of Dad every time I use it.

I also owned a trunk of assorted fabrics, old clothes, and crafting materials. When I found a pattern for a little fabric doll house and its three family members—which you could make either as bunnies or mice, I decided to make our three-year-old daughter a mouse house.

This, of course, required working only while the children slept.

The first step was cutting out ALL. THE. PIECES. The walls and roof were reinforced with plastic, then padded with batting before adding fabric on both sides That’s a lot of pieces. The roof and carrying handle were made from leftover fabric I’d used to make my husband a shirt, the walls from a discarded dress. Half the roof lifted up while the front wall could be raised or lowered using zippers along each corner. Each wall included at least one window, complete with shutters and flowery window boxes on the outside, curtains on the inside. The little red door opened and closed with a snap. I even found an old pair of child’s pajamas printed with cute little mice to cut out “family portraits” to hang on the inside of the walls.

Furnishings included a little bed with a quilt and pillow. I made the sofa and matching armchair from a dress I’d worn in Grade Seven.

The three mice were made from fuzzy blue fabric with pink lining for their ears and tails of braided blue yarn. Mama Mouse wore her own little bib apron, while Papa and Baby sported only red ribbons around their necks. 

Those walls stood much straighter in 1986.

As Christmas grew closer and my belly grew bigger (our third arrived January 7), I feared I’d never finish the mouse house on time. Then hubby had to attend a conference that involved staying in a downtown Winnipeg hotel. Did I want to go along? Boy, did I!

We farmed out the kids. I packed my sewing machine and all the cut-out parts, then set up shop in our hotel room. Two uninterrupted days to work on this project felt like the biggest treat. There I sat, larger than a house myself, working away at a sewing machine. Thread, stuffing, and Velcro bits lay scattered about. I can only imagine the “guess what I saw today” story the housekeeper told after leaving our room.

Our girl spent many happy hours playing with her mouse house. Last Christmas, she discovered it in our storage room and decided to take it home. I said, “At least let me fix it for you.” The roof was falling off, the furniture coming apart, the mice looking extremely ratty.

She didn’t argue. I put the house in my office so I wouldn’t forget about it.

Seven months went by.

Finally, realizing I would see Mindy again at the end of September, I got to work. This time I used a glue gun for several of the repairs, saving myself a ton of stitching. The mouse family received new whiskers. I reinforced their tails. Mama Mouse underwent eye surgery which altered her appearance, but her vision remains unchanged.

I probably spent a good six hours fixing the mouse house. Although none of those hours were interrupted by children, I do find threading a needle more time-consuming than I did 36 years ago. Go figure.

Jesus of Nazareth, the most talented carpenter who ever lived, is preparing a place with “many houses” for his beloved children. I like to think he’s putting all the care and love into mine that I put into Mindy’s mouse house—but with a lot more skill, and no need for repairs in 36 or 360 or 36,000 years.

I can’t wait to open the door to mine!