I asked Irene to write this post about her sister.
Terreeia and I get a front row seat in hearing updates on her story – it’s far from finished and we decided we wanted to be part of it. But in a way that could really go so much farther with the power of many instead of just a few.
I’ll let you know right know that I’m doing something I’ve never done before and probably won’t do again (unless I’m really compelled). I’m setting up a fund to raise money for this extraordinary woman to help her get on her feet. If you have the heart to give a little money to this great cause I want you to know that every penny you give will go right to her and her children.
And then you can be part of this story too. You can make a difference and change the world for the better. Here's the story from Irene:
"Twelve years ago we lost my sister, Aimee. Actually, she started to slide away almost 17 years ago, but after five years of sliding, we really did lose touch completely.
What we didn’t know is that she never wanted to be lost. We didn’t know that the man she married was severely mentally ill and his illness was what was stealing her away from us and away from the rest of her world. When she said she didn’t want to be part of our family we didn’t know it wasn’t her voice we were hearing. We didn't know that moving away was his agenda to "protect" her and their children.
For ten years we prayed that she was safe and happy and being loved by, and loving her husband and their four little children. We prayed that one day she would remember that she was cherished and missed by her two parents, her five siblings and their spouses, and her 16 nieces and nephews – and that we would never get over the hole her disappearance had left.
Let me tell you the “end” of the story first.
We found her! Two years ago she called and let us know she would be coming to town in order to take two of her children to the Vancouver Children's Hospital. Would we like to see her? You can imagine the tears of joy and happiness that were shed as we eagerly gathered together to hug her along with her (now) six children.
And that’s when we started to hear how truly lost she had been. Over the next months we learned that her last ten years had been spent virtually imprisoned in a house on the outer limits of the town they had moved to. She was not allowed to answer the door or the phone, speak to any neighbours and was never allowed to go anywhere by herself.
Aimee and the children were locked in the house each night and were kept captive by her paranoid husband. He was certain any planes flying overhead were only there to spy on the family, and sure that anyone approaching the house was an enemy. Not only did he fear attacks from the outside, my sister was viewed as the enemy within and subjected to abuse and torment.
After seven years of living in this state of siege, he decided it was too risky to ever leave the family alone and the only way to make sure everyone was “safe” was to quit work and stay home 24/7.
With no money coming in other than a monthly government family allowance check, an already hard life became grimly hard. Food was in scarce supply and came mostly in the form of vegetables from a backyard garden, chickens and the barest of essentials. Electricity was a luxury to be only used to keep the a freezer, fridge and stove powered.
The catalyst for change came when the landlords of the property announced they were selling the house. A move to a different location meant giving up the vegetable garden that was their primary source of food. In spite of an increase in the assault of threats she faced on a daily basis my sister made the heroic decision to brave the town and search for a job in order to buy food for her children.
And what seemed like a disaster was actually deliverance. Once she began to interact with people from the outside world she began to find herself again and remembered that life before marriage to paranoia had been good. And safe. And full of love. And definitely not as soul-destroyingly difficult.
So began a slow return to life and to family. It took time to fully escape the prison that was their home life, but within a few months she and five of her children fled, first to the haven of a safe house, and later to a small house of their own.
(Left) Esther & Joe (Right) Emily, Aimee, Dan & Sam
It’s been two years of radical change. The two children with serious medical conditions began to finally receive the care and attention they so badly needed. All six children had the new experience of going to school and, for the first time in their lives, were relating to people other than their immediate family.
At 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 these were hard adjustments. Some quickly blossomed and some struggled but they’ve all made great strides.
Emily, now 13, has blossomed at an extraordinary rate. Born with a rare genetic syndrome that impacts almost every part of her little body, as well as a serious heart condition, she has endless challenges. Her intellect is and will always be, that of a little girl. But her "heart" heart, the one that has love and kindness and giggles, is in perfect health and is utterly beautiful.
She lives her life with arms wide open. Literally.
When she meets you, you will automatically get a hug and when you leave you'll hear, "I miss you. When I see you again?"
She is unendingly grateful for anything she receives and says, "Thank you," for absolutely everything. Even after hours of needle pokes she will look up at the doctor or nurse with perfect trust and say, "Thank you."
Whether it's a little treat or a new picture book or help putting her shoes on, she lives as though the whole world loves her and can't wait to be her friend. And that's how it is for her.
I didn't get to meet Emily until she was 11 but both Kevin and I were instantly smitten. We think she is the closest we'll get to meeting an angel in this world.
She is never cranky, never mean, never grumpy or complaining. She is filled with, "I love you so much. You so good, Auntie Renee. What Uncle Kevin doing? Oh, he miss me so much. I love you. When I come to see you? Okay, that be good."
Last summer we were lucky enough to have her to ourselves for an entire week. The picture above is Emily standing by the ramp Uncle Kevin built her outside our renovation project. As you can see, he painted her name on the ramp so she would know it was just for her.
Even though she can't read she recognized the letters on the ramp. As soon as she saw this, she put her little hand over her heart and squealed, "For me? You think of ME?! Oh, I love you so much."
At the end of our week together, I was helping pack her bag. We walked towards the front door and she said to me, "Auntie Renee, I go say good-bye to my room first." Curious to see what that would look like, I followed her at a little distance.
Oblivious to my presence I watched her walk around the room, looking at everything. "Goodbye bed," she said, "Goodbye pillow, goodbye window." She then picked up a pair of pink crocs her Auntie Laura had just bought her but which needed to stay behind. She kissed her new shoes and whispered, "Goodbye shoes, I see you soon."
Mission completed we walked out to the car. As I bent to give her a hug she cupped my face in her two hands and said, "Auntie Renee, you so beautiful. I love you so much and I miss you. I come back to see you."
Life isn't easy for Aimee. After two years on the "outside" she is just now starting to move beyond survival. Two of her six children have serious physical and intellectual conditions; the other four have development and relational issues. Ongoing meetings with social services, counsellors and medical staff have to take place. Money is tight. Life is still a challenge but now it's a challenge with freedom and blessings as the reward.
I am in awe of her courage and strength. Honestly, I am in awe that she gets up every morning and doesn't stay in bed with the covers over her head. She gets up and she fights to help her kids gain the ground they lost all those years. She fights for herself and is grateful to be found and to be free.
It's an incredible story and this only scratches the surface of her struggle and survival. The money we raise will go towards helping her furnish their home – as you can imagine there is no budget for anything more than the absolute basics – my sister has never had anything but hand-me-downs and furniture from thrift stores. It would be amazing for her to have a lovely, colourful living room to sit in and for all five children to have a decorated room of their own."
Here's the link to the website where you can safely give your donations via paypal: www.youcaring.com.
Our hope is to raise $20,000 in 30 days. I have so many readers that if each of you gave even a small amount, we'd still get beyond our goal. Or, look at it this way, if you gave 1% of the money I've saved you by reading this blog, that would be such a huge contribution to this family. The power of numbers is so big!
Please note that your donation can be completely anonymous, every little bit helps, so if you've just got $1 or $5, it all adds up! Even if you just share this using the icons below, that is a huge help too : )
Donate here. Please note that the fund is in the name of Monique Tute, the kind lady who is holding all the monies collected to give to Aimee.
Thank you so much in advance for your generosity!