Penner-Piché, Caroline #9 *

Caroline Penner Piché, honoured by Laura Piché

My aunt by marriage, my friend by choice and my firstborn’s Godmother by honour, Caroline Penner-Piché has been a steady, guiding light throughout my adult life.

My first meeting with Caroline found me admiring her long, long dark hair, her large eyes and a smile so wide it filled Memere Piche’s kitchen. She was, to me, my comrade, a fellow Anglophone swallowed by a typical everyone-talks-at-once large French Canadian family. She was just a few years older than me and wonderfully sharp witted.   I learned she was a brilliant academic from her school of pharmacy and a trusted professional pharmacist for her own drug store on Manitoulin Island. I was immediately comforted by her presence and it was only then I noticed her need of arm braces to help her walk. In her 20s, newly married, Multiple Sclerosis became a part of Caroline’s life and it was unrelenting.

My children have known Tante Caroline as one of Disney’s staunch fans; a follower of baseball, of country music, of the game show Jeopardy, an online shopper and a maker of hand-made greeting cards.  They remember her taking walks for ice cream and they know her patience. Her wheel chair, numerous pills, accessible doorways, audio book library, hospital furniture and rigid schedule of home care though seem to be invisible and have subliminally increased their sense empathy. For this character building alone, I am eternally thankful.

MS can seem unfair – but it is not to be pitied. Never have I pitied Caroline. I have been humbled by her strength to live and accept such a debilitating disease. I am most certain, if she could, she’d briskly walk a mile in my shoes…yet I’m not convinced I’d last a mile on her wheels. To have the ability to walk, run, have clear vision, normal hearing and personal privacy robbed by an incurable disease and replaced by public inaccessibility, judgment, and medical red tape, reduces my everyday gripes to dust.  This is my constant reminder that juggling the many balls in my every day air space is, for the most part, my CHOICE… and not my necessity. This is my reality check. Hopping in my car to go to the mall, a night out dining with my husband and friends at the restaurant of our choice, traveling the globe, a refreshing dive off the dock at the cottage, climbing stairs of my home, choosing when I lay my head on my pillow seem so everyday…but they’re an unattainable luxury for someone living with advanced Multiple Sclerosis.

For me, Caroline’s ability to make me stop what I’m doing; pause and breathe – even for the duration of a phone call, out weighs any of her disabilities. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve simply sighed and said to myself, “Caroline” and by doing so, she has brought me perspective, grace and energy.

“With much love, laughter and respect, Caroline….”