“You don’t know how many hearts you touched all these decades with that story we did together, “said Shane just two weeks ago.
Pastor-Doctor Shane Andrus is a man I met producing a story over twenty-five years ago that changed my life, his and - apparently - the three-hundred people of Burstall, Saskatchewan in l995.
I had called him out of the blue this past week because my 90 year-old mother had gone from being in hospital Emergency to ICU to Palliative care — all in the span of three weeks, and I was seeking the kind of ’spiritual guidance’ one does from a Pastor when you’ve gone several decades without any.
But Shane was always different, right from the get-go. And if there is anything remarkable about writing about a story nearly 30 years after the fact - it is that ‘remarkable’ doesn’t change. It almost never morphs into mundane. It remains sublime. And that is something the heart can never forget.
The story in l995 was broadcast nationally and it caused a feverish anxiety, concern and love over the loss of five teenagers who were killed crossing a railway track, on their way home from Bible Camp. One of the fathers was in the lead in his own car going over the tracks, hearing the train, seeing it from a distance. He would say to an audience, I thought they would see it…he thought they would stop, not try to clear it. But…they didn’t. His dear son had miscalculated.
The reason Pastor-Doctor Shane - he has a Psychology degree to supplement the care he provides through his church- and I reminisced in this deep-dish reflection was more about the healing qualities grief provides long after the fact of impact. A crossing of the Rubicon at the still point of the moving world of now. It can only happen by going to, ‘remember when….’
“I remember how I told you from Regina, six months earlier, that I did not want to be one of those TV producers who rushed out to get the footage of 6 coffins, ramming a microphone in the face of people with, how do you feel: the biggest idiot question of all time, particularly in the Covid nonsense we have all been surviving in 2021.”
I remembered too, that he was surprised and relieved to hear my philosophy. I added at the time, that I did, however, want to talk to him and the families in six months, because it is in those six months people ‘think you have gotten over a death,’ when really you never will.
That smart sensitivity was borne out of my own experience when my husband died in my arms less than a year earlier from chronic myeloid leukemia - the same cancer that would claim Barbara Frum, the broadcaster I worked for. That too, made an impact. Shane and I were both in our 30s. This was his very first position as a Pastor. It was my very first production arriving on the vast, bald prairie after being out of the TV world for four years.
“You know. one of my favourite stories from that period,’ I told him, “was when the CBC network decided they loved the idea of telling this story for the ever-fateful totally ridiculous ratings period - always a strangle-hold on creativity especially these days. So you and I had talked, and yep, the families would all talk to us, on camera. We would stay the weekend to record the interviews. We were exhausted. Then we arrived after six hours of traveling in a car through country roads, on that Friday night - and you met us at the door to say, “…I’m sorry but they have all changed their minds. They don’t want to do it,” I couldn’t believe my ears.
We both laughed on the phone in the retelling.
“But Shane, what you may not know - and I am going to tell you right now for the first time - is that I secretly made a deal with God, without telling you, when I said to you, could I just introduce myself and tell the families, that honestly they did not have to tell me their story, it was fine. It was all ok, if they didn’t. They didn’t have to worry. We wouldn’t do it…at which time, Donna, my reporter pinched me in the back where she was standing behind me and the camera man, Kevin, kicked my shin.
“I had no idea, Sulaika; this is hilarious and I had forgotten that I did invite you in to my living room, where they were all waiting. All crying.”
“Yep, there I was standing in front of them, with my fingers crossed behind my back, saying to all of them, Mr. and Mrs. Plato and the other four parents, that ‘no’ they did not have to worry about it at all because I understood grief, as my husband had just died and I did everything myself, no hospitals, in our home, how I loved him, how I held him….I don’t think I really knew what I was doing, or even had a plan - really - I just had my fingers crossed because I knew I had to think of something…. But that I had one request. One tiny request that I hoped they would just think about. And that was, after Pastor Shane’s Church service on Sunday if they might just think about possibly maybe telling their story. Because in telling their story they would help so many other people to get over their own griefs. …Just to think about it…
“That’s beautiful, Sulaika, because that’s exactly what happened.”
“At a price…I sure got hell for it from Donna and Kevin who worried all Saturday and Sunday morning about whether or not we had the ‘story’ when I knew it was really the ‘heart’ of them themselves that was the total point of even being there.”
But we got the story.
We got the heart.
And we even won an award from the prestigious - 44th Annual Columbus International Film Festival…just for the ratings.
This is one of my top ten stories because you don’t know at the time you are doing something what effect will leave its permanent stain on your very soul — until you are thirty years distanced from it. I am lucky to have lived it. And I am lucky now proceeding into another story of loss: the eventual one of my mother.