PRINCE GEORGE — In the lead-up to the holiday season, B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond asked her husband, Bill, what he wanted for Christmas. The answer she received wasn’t something she could buy, make or provide — but he got it anyway.
“[My husband] has been dealing with major heart issues since the summer, and I asked him a month or so ago what he wanted for Christmas,” Shirley Bond said Thursday. “He said to me, ‘;If I had my Christmas wish, it would be to get two new [heart] valves and a bypass.’ From that perspective, my husband got his Christmas wish.”
Bill had successful open heart surgery on Dec. 18 and the Bonds spent their Christmas in the cardiac unit at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Shirley Bond, the long-time Prince George-Valemount MLA and current justice minister and attorney general, said the experience showed the couple the Christmas spirit can touch people in many ways. There were gifts from total strangers, hospital staff donning Santa hats while giving holiday greetings and a surprise visit from family in the days after Bill’s surgery.
“I think it’s taught us some life lessons about generosity and about gratitude,” Shirley said. “And how many, many families go through this at Christmas, and if you haven’t gone through it, you probably don’t think much about it.”
After his heart issues in the summer, Bill had been waiting for the crucial surgery for months. Confirmation of the procedure didn’t come until about a week before, which meant Christmas plans had to be quickly changed.
Shirley and Bill arrived in Vancouver on Dec. 16 for pre-surgery preparations and have been there ever since. The six-hour surgery on Dec. 18 went well and Bill’s prognosis is good — although there’s still a long recovery ahead.
The most challenging part of the holidays came on Christmas Eve, when Bill and Shirley were alone in the hospital. Shirley brought a small Christmas tree from Prince George and a pair of stockings to bring holiday cheer to the room.
“Normally on Christmas Eve we would spend that evening with our family playing games and doing things that many families do like attending Christmas Eve service,” Shirley said. “That was probably the low point for us, feeling very much alone.”
The Bonds were able to forge camaraderie with other families on the cardiac unit, including one from Prince George.
Although the Bonds’ children and grandchildren were at home in Prince George and Nanaimo, Shirley and Bill found ways to connect and share Christmas memories.
“I was so grateful for technology,” Shirley said. “Our ability to BlackBerry message with our kids — they sent us pictures of our grandkids on Christmas morning — and just the ability to get comments from our family and friends from Facebook and Twitter. It’s amazing how that adds a sense of connectivity. . . . It never replaces having your family around you, but I think I have a whole new appreciation for what it’s like at Christmas for families going through those types of circumstances.”
Then there were the unexpected Christmas Eve gifts, which the Bonds found very touching. First a couple who had experienced life on the cardiac unit over the holidays in the past came in and gave poinsettias to everyone on the ward.
“It was just a wonderful gift that they came and they gave back,” Shirley said. “They remembered what it was like to be there during the Christmas holidays, that was incredibly touching.”
Then an acquaintance of the Bonds sent up a full turkey dinner with all the fixings to their room.
“My husband and I had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve basically on his hospital tray,” Shirley said. “It was very special and we were just so incredibly touched that someone would think about doing that.”
Even the staff at the hotel where Shirley was staying got into the act, putting a small Christmas tree in her room and showing her once again how a little generosity can make a big difference.
The biggest surprise came Boxing Day when the Bonds’ children and grandchildren visited.
“Our little grandson ran into the room and it was so amazing. I haven’t seen my husband smile that broadly for quite some time,” Shirley said. “The only thing we had to watch was the hugs had to be very gentle — hard for a three-year-old.”
The whole experience gave Shirley and her family a new perspective on the holiday season.
“It was really a chance to far better understand what many other families go through and a deeper sense of gratitude for men and women in health care and first responders — people who don’t think twice about working over the Christmas break,” she said.
Given the nature of her job, Shirley Bond had to juggle important ministerial duties in the days leading up to Bill’s surgery. The day before his surgery, Bond was leading the government’s response to the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry.
As justice minister, Shirley Bond was given time to review the report by commissioner Wally Opal before its Dec. 17 release.
That morning she had the emotional experience of meeting with a number of the families of the women who were missing or murdered. At that time she didn’t make public her husband’s pending surgery because she knew the enormous grief the families of the women were going through couldn’t compare with the stress she and her family were feeling.
“It was an extremely emotional period of time for me and for our family,” she said. “Balancing the work load was very difficult, but I was incredibly well supported by my staff both in Prince George and Victoria.”
Bill also understood why his wife had to work while he was preparing for surgery.
“I’ve been in public office for almost two decades and my husband has been incredibly giving when it comes to time to do the job that I do,” Shirley said.
Bill was released from hospital this week, but the Bonds are staying in the Lower Mainland for now until he has enough strength to travel home to Prince George.
“I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are about soon — hopefully — being able to fly back home together,” Shirley said.
© Copyright 2013