SUMMERSIDE — Mark Enman is watching a miracle unfold right before his eyes.
It’s a miracle born out of love for his parents and his desire to, for what he feels may very well be the last time, show them an outpouring of love and give them, at least in the moment, a Christmas not to be forgotten.
As a youngster, Christmas was huge in the Enman household. It was a time when his mother, Bev, loved to decorate, play Santa Claus, write cards to loved ones near and far and display the cards she received in return.
“She loved Christmas, she really did. She started the tradition of getting the tree up early,” Enman said with a laugh, pointing to his tree that has found its place nestled in the corner of his living room, up and decorated in late November.
“She really was the one that drove that Christmas spirit in the home,” he added. “We weren’t the most religious family but we were a very close-knit family. I have nothing but fond memories of Christmases with my parents.”
Another of Bev’s special holiday traditions was displaying Christmas cards.
With bits of scotch tape, she would lovingly place each card with its handwritten message of holiday cheer on doorframes around the family home.
Now, sitting in Enman’s Summerside home chatting about Christmases past, the door to the dining room is surrounded by cards filled with holiday cheer.
“When Mom got them in the mail they would go on the wall,” recalled the youngest son. “She had one friend from childhood named Dolores who she knew as a teenager… and they always continued the tradition of mailing Christmas cards to each other.”
And, as Bev, husband Don, Mark and his older siblings Dawn, Brian and Barry nestled together in front of the television during the holidays, a favourite, especially for Bev, “Miracle on 34th Street,” particularly the courtroom scene where bags of letters and cards were emptied, proving Santa’s identity to those who didn’t believe.
As Emnan and his siblings grew and had families of their own, new traditions were added to the old.
On Christmas Eve, Enman, wife Karen and children Carly and Hayley played host.
“The tradition was we would do Christmas Eve here and Mom would have us over for Christmas dinner. She would make gravy from scratch, which I can’t do,” he said with a chuckle. “My Mom, she always put other people in front of herself. She would never sit down until everybody’s plate was completely full.
“It drove us crazy at the time but, now, you look back and say, ugh, I miss that. That was really special.”
Christmas now for the Enmans is far different.
Three years ago, Enman started seeing changes in his mother, an active woman involved in the community who loved to go RVing with Don, loved to help organize bluegrass festival. and, most of all, loved spending time with her grandchildren.
In the summer of 2010, Bev became forgetful and, at one point, recalled Enman, drove to the grocery store and when she got there couldn’t find her car.
She was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, which progressed quickly, prompting Mark to sell his parents home and move them into a seniors unit.
“By spring, I had to take her to the emergency room because she was just not controllable anymore,” he said, his voice breaking.
* * *
Little over week ago Enman and his sister Dawn, who lives in Germany, were chatting via Facebook, reminiscing about Christmases past and wishing there was something they could do to make the holiday brighter for their parents.
They recalled Christmas cards their mother sent and loved to receive.
“Dawn was like ‘I wish we could do something’.”
That was when the idea struck Enman — why not ask family and friends to send a holiday card to their mother?
“I said give me a half hour and watch my Facebook.”
In that half hour, he found a Journal Pioneer clipping of a story done on his mother in 1998, which detailed her Christmas tradition. That was quickly scanned and posted on Facebook and the group, “Give Don and Bev a Miracle on 34th Street Christmas,” was born.
“I shared in on my page and asked my friends to share it. They did and their friends shared it and their friends shared it.”
* * *
As Bev’s dementia progressed, the family was left with no other option but to put her in long-term care. She now calls the Summerset Manor home.
Soon after, Enman noticed changes in his father, who had come to live with him.
“He was losing things, very cranky, very agitated,” he recalled.
He knew it was dementia but the diagnosis, unlike with his mother, took longer.
The scary point came when Don, who had moved out on his own for the winter, called Enman.
“It was a winter day. Snow was gusting and it was blowing. People were told to stay off the roads. The phone rings. ‘Your mother’s gone. She was here and she said something mean to me and she went out. I’m going to look for her. I was like, no Dad.”
Enman, in a state of panic, braved the weather and drove across town to his father’s apartment. The door was wide open and Don was gone.
“That’s when I knew that I had to get some help.”
Getting that help was a slow process.
“There is nobody with the answers. There is no manual that says here are the steps. There needs to be that.”
Soon, the roles of parent and child reversed. Enman, being the only one of Don and Bev’s children on the Island, got his father into long-term care.
In another dementia unit, on another floor, Don, too, lives at Summerset Manor.
Most days, husband and wife don’t realize the other is there.
* * *
In the first two days, following the Facebook post, dozens of cards came flooding in, prompting Enman to trek the manor to ensure his call for a miracle for his parents met the staff’s approval.
“People are still joining the group every minute,” Enman said of the outpouring from all over the world, most from complete strangers, many with a loved one with dementia. “I didn’t expect this to happen the way it has. I thought my friends and family would send my Mom cards. It just spread like wildfire.”
To date, hundreds of cards have flooded the manor.
“There was a manila envelope full of cards from one family.”
And, just like in Bev’s favourite holiday movie, a Christmas miracle is taking place.
* * *
The past three years haven’t been easy, admitted Enman.
Losing his parents one memory at a time has been difficult, often painful.
“I am the only one here on the Island and I’m the youngest. I have a full-time job as a teacher and I have two young children involved in sports,” said the Grade 4 teacher at Central Queens Elementary. “It becomes a juggling act and something’s got to give. It has been stressful. It’s not now that they’re in care.”
There are admittedly good days and bad.
“She always remembers. My father, he’s not quite sure. He knows I’m someone he knows. Some days he’ll know me. Some days he’s not sure.”
Bev’s dementia has leveled but has robbed her of the will to thrive.
“She just won’t get out of bed. I think a lot of depression gets mixed in with dementia. That’s what got her down. Physically, she is fine.
“We feel that mom will be with us for many Christmases to come."
The same cannot be said for Don.
“Dad continues to physically and cognitively decline each time I see him. My goal, my hope, is that, for this year, "that Dad is able to enjoy Christmas,” said Enman.
"We don't know how many Christmas's he may have left, so each one is precious,” he stops, his voice trailing off.
After a moment, he continues on.
“That’s what it is, it is a loss. It is not a physical loss, but it is a loss of my parents’ presence anywhere besides in the manor. They are there but they are not there.”
That’s why making this Christmas miracle happen is so important.
Manor staff are collecting the cards, setting them aside until just before Christmas.
“It has touched a lot of people and that’s why I think it has spread so quickly. People can relate. Dementia is on the rise and there are not very many people that I know who aren’t affected in some way.”
On Dec. 20, Enman will go to the manor. This time his parents, now separated by only a floor, will come together and the cards will be read.
“I think she will get it. She has better days than Dad does. I really do think she will get it. She still lights up when you walk in,” said the son. “I think there will be thousands and thousands of cards.”
The overwhelming outpouring of support has deeply touched Enman.
He found it hard to express his gratitude, but was determined to articulate into words his appreciation.
“This is turning into something I will never forget.”
Anyone wishing to participate can send a card to:
Don and Bev Enman, C/O Summerset Manor
15 Frank Mellish St.