Today’s Interviewee: Kelly MacDougall-MacPhee

For this interview, I have chosen someone close to my heart. I first met my wife Kelly 13 years ago this month. Approximately two years later, we purchased a home together and then married in 2013. Kelly and her younger son moved to my city so that we could be a family here. In 2014, after only one year of married life, I was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Thankfully, we are blessed to have a large and supportive family.

I have decided to interview Kelly for two reasons. Firstly, she is the love of my life and I have deep respect for her. Secondly, I believe we can all learn something about life by listening closely to other people’s experiences.

Kelly has three sisters, Kathy, the oldest, and younger twins Kim and Karen. Her father, Dean, is deceased and is survived by her mother Linda.
Please enjoy the interview!

Q. Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Where were you born?
A. In Perth-Andover, New Brunswick.
Q. How many siblings did you have?
A. Three sisters.
Q. What are your favourite memories from childhood?
A. The feeling of innocence and the ability to go wherever we wanted and being carefree. We didn’t have school shootings and things like that. Some of the most fun things would be in the woods with my Dad, on the manure spreader with my papa, and in the barn most likely.
Q. Of the four girls, which one is most like your father?
A. That’s a toss up… I’m not totally sure. I think it would have been me at one time. But Kim has a lot of his traits.
Q. How are they similar?
A. Kim is a bit frugal, and she doesn’t like to lose at card games. Her favourite holiday is April Fool’s Day. Dad was always playing a joke on somebody.
Q. What was your father, Dean, like?
A. My Dad was a man of few words. He had a lot of integrity. He didn’t always have many monetary goods. I can remember the twins saying once about how they were going to get a Christmas tree from a lot that Dad supplied. As they were traveling to the lot, they saw a good tree lying on the side of the road. The girls wanted to take it, but to Dad it was obviously a tree from a lot. So, Dad picked it up, and took it to the Christmas tree lot where they were going because he knew that it had fallen off a car and figured that someone would come back looking for it. He could have just taken the tree and left. He just did it because that’s the kind of man he is. But it also taught the twins a lesson. He was a wonderful practical Joker, and he was a great person. Sadly, his drinking took away too much of his joy in his later years.
Q. How was he a torment, like you had mentioned?
A. He would get up early because he worked in the woods. He would get ready for work as we were getting up for our day. In that time, he would have everybody wound-up and fighting… and then he would walk out the door. He would stop at a neighbour’s place, which was a friend of his, and their young fella would be out at the road. And he would stop and say, “Hey, there is only half a day of school this morning”. The kid would run in and tell his mother, “Hey, Dean said there’s only half a day of school this morning.” And his mother would say, “Yes, but there’s half a day in the afternoon too.” And he loved to torment Shirley Demerchant best of all. She was his cousin Blake’s wife and a good friend. He was always teasing her and doing something.
Q. Which sister is most like your mother?
A. That would be Karen, the youngest.
Q. How are they similar?
A. They are similar in their facial expressions and what they say as an answer to something. How they react…not act, but react. 
Q. How many nieces and nephews do you have, and who is your favourite?
A. Eleven. I don’t have a favourite. Each one of them has a special thing. Kendra is my goddaughter, and I’m proud of her for everything she’s endured in the last few years. Chelsey is very bright, smart, and artistic. Veronica is a beautiful girl who is smart about things related to computers and Internet. She also has an artistic side. She is working to better her life for herself and her sons by taking courses. Amber is very pure of heart and very innocent and very goofy. She is always fun to be around. She is just a pure little light. Matthew is a bit of a tease and torment. One day, he will grow into his body and his brain. I get a kick out of him. Abby is strong. She doesn’t realize her strength, but she will over time. She walks her own path. Kristen, she’s a spark, and I like sparks. She is much like myself and takes the path not taken. She is a good one. Liam is innocent and kind and generous. He has a very giving soul. He is goofy sometimes, which makes him even sweeter. Likewise, he is a pleasure to be around. They all are, actually. I love to be able to get with them all. Donovan is a smart little boy. I like to tease him. He’s scared of things in the woods when we’re walking. He doesn’t like to get dirty, which is different for a little boy. Stephane, I believe, is all boy as he is all about the dirt bikes and the four-wheelers and snowmobiles. He likes to test the waters and try things. Like I said before, I like them with a little spark to them. Speaking of sparks, Charlotte is a mini spark. She is highly intelligent, kind, and sweet. She has a bit of them all in her. Not only that, but she seems to light up everyone’s life. 
Q. How many children and grandchildren do you have?
A. I have two sons and three grandchildren.
Q. What could you tell me about your sons?
A. My two sons were born nine years apart. They are quite different, except when they get together. That’s probably when I have the most joy, seeing the two of them play video games and stay up until midnight just being brothers. Since they were nine years apart growing up, it was quite hard until they got older. Luke is strong, hardworking, determined, and hard-headed. He’s a mama’s boy. Logan is also strong, hardworking, determined, I’ve never seen anyone study like him. He knows where he’s going and how he’s going to get there. He’s got this great sense of wit and humour.
Q. Which grandchild is more like you? How are they the same?
A. According to everybody, it would be Kaliyah. It’s probably because she doesn’t take any B.S.. She is pretty set in her ways. She’s tough on the outside and very soft on the inside and doesn’t always show that, kind of like her grandmother.
Q. What lessons have you learned from each romantic relationship?
A. When you’re choosing a partner, choose for the long-term, not the short term. Even though I may have thought in those terms, and it may have been precisely what they thought as well, sometimes it just doesn’t work out and people grow in different directions. In hindsight, each previous partner and I weren’t that well suited for one another. 
Q. When did you first know that your current husband was going to be the best man on the planet to be with?
A. I didn’t figure that one out yet. It certainly wasn’t your morning disposition. You didn’t wake up until about eleven. I think it was the kindness that you showed others, especially your parents. You always wanted to take care of them and look after them. I think that was it, but I’m sure there’s more to it.
Q. What was the most difficult choice that you had to make for you and your husband to be together?
A. I had to move from my home in Bristol and away from my son and grandchildren and my Mom and Dad.
Q. What were your thoughts and feelings when your husband was diagnosed with ALS a little over a year after you were married?
A. That’s a hard one… extreme sadness and anger. Moreover, deep sadness for him and his parents. We didn’t have any idea of what was going to happen or what was going on. It was just scary.
Q. What was the most difficult thing about having your husband living with a progressive and debilitating disease?
A. In the early stages, I think the first big loss for me was when he could no longer hug me. And the losses just kept coming.
Q. Were there times when you considered leaving?
A. Oh hell yes. It was so chaotic here at home. As much as I loved almost every one of the caregivers that we were lucky enough to have in our home, it just became so overwhelming. Always having people here, never having room to breathe or the privacy that we wanted… it was what it was. I think a lot of the time, without him realizing, even though I was probably his biggest supporter and advocate, I was the person he blamed when things didn’t go right.
Q. What advice would you give to others who have a spouse with ALS?
A. Firstly, do not be their caregiver. Whatever you can do, get people in place if it’s at all possible. Maintain your marital relationship as long as possible. Secondly, go on a trip or do something you’ve always wanted to do. He wanted to go to Egypt; he should have gone to Egypt.
Q. What mistakes did he make as a husband? What could he have done better?
A. It was his inability to talk through his feelings. Or not putting himself in my shoes when he wanted to talk, about personal things, at midnight when I was already asleep for a few hours. It was the way he holds stuff in for so long. And I’m not just talking about our marital relationship… I’m talking about with his personal problems and not dealing with them.
Q. He lived at home for five years after diagnosis. What has changed in your life since his move into the hospital?
A. No people are coming and going all the time, and the machinery isn’t here with the noises at night. Moreover, people aren’t up walking around when I am trying to sleep. But, now that I live alone, I miss having face-to-face conversation… thank god for FaceTime! 
Q. What person, dead or alive, would you consider to be your hero? Why?
A. I have a few. I’ve always been quite fond of Jane Goodall and David Suzuki from when I was young. Had I lived on the West coast of Canada, British Columbia, I would have probably been one of the goofballs in the Greenpeace organization. Greta Thunberg is very much one of the icons or hero’s of today’s world, in my opinion, due to her work fighting climate change. Impressive at such a young age. I’d have to include my Mom . I say that because she could turn the simplest things into meals. She had to put up with us four hell raisers who did or tried to do everything. She probably has wings waiting for her in heaven. I would say that I respect anyone who’s had to deal with having their spouse live with a terminal illness. I had the pleasure of traveling in 2018 with several breast cancer survivors to Italy, and I’d have to say those girls rock!
Thank you, Kelly, for answering my questions.

Editor’s note: This is a transcript of a telephone call. I have edited it to remove long silences, illegible sounds and for clarity.

Transcription and editing services provided by Shalyn Arseneau

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