Mrs. Mattock and the Snowbirds

I was given the chance to do some photos with the Canadian Forces Snowbirds today for the local weekly newspaper.  It was a pretty straightforward assignment; pilots and crew were spending some time at the local hospital visiting with long term patients.  For me, the story began before their arrival though, when I was introduced to Linda Allen.
Linda explained to me that her 89 year old mother was just diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Turning 90 in October, Linda wondered if there was something special she could do for her mom.
When the Snowbirds arrived, they spent about one hour with 20-30 patients of the Complex Continuing Care wing of the hospital.  These pilots and crew were remarkably down to earth.  They clearly enjoy this part of the job and take time to speak with each person answering a multitude of questions.  Capt. Padruig Macintosh explained to me that when they are seeking new members of the elite flying team, they look beyond their flight skills and actively search members with an engaging personality who truly enjoy the art and joy of speaking to people in different settings.
As Capt. Marco “Polo” Rusconi spoke to the patients about the simple nature of the jets, comparing it to driving a car, he explained that they don’t have auto-pilot nor is there radar.  He said the benefit of flight, though, is that there is no traffic in their way which allows them to focus on their flight partners.  One very interested patient in her 90’s asked a series of questions about fear, training and length of service.  Capt. Rusconi explained that their training is like Lego: The picture on the box is nice, but you have to put the parts together.  They spent hours upon hours learning each piece of the show before putting it together for the final product; one that is worth watching.
With 100 flights each year, the Snowbirds train to face situations of all kinds so that if a problem comes up, they are prepared.  They learn not to fear, because they are prepared.  Many patients weren’t convinced, and one said it’s okay to be afraid.  I wonder what she is facing in her life.
I talked with Capt. Rusconi, he spoke with passion about Canada.  Flying coast to coast, he sees it from a birds eye view.  Hailing from Victoria, British Columbia and now stationed in Moose Jaw, he expressed his love for the beauty of Ontario.  He spoke of the lakes and the sheer green of the forests we have here.  Canada is indeed beautiful.  I have driven it coast to coast a couple times.  If you haven’t traveled this country, you need to, there’s nothing like it.
As we had waited for the Snowbirds to arrive, Linda shared that her mom, Helen Mattock, was a War Bride.  She moved from London, England, to Woodrow, Saskatchewan.  Moving from England to Woodrow was such a shock to her, Helen often wondered if she had made the right decision.
On May 23, 1947 and now living in Moose Jaw, Helen gave birth to Linda and often recalls the story that Snowbirds flew past the hospital that day.  Even today, at age 89, she beams proudly and says, “There is nothing more Canadian than the Snowbirds.”
There was something that Linda could do for her mom.  Helen was a patient at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, where we were to meet the Snowbirds in just moments.  Cathy Fox, Communications and Public Relations Specialist at the hospital, who has known Linda for some time, made arrangements for the Snowbirds to pay a special visit to Helen.  This would be a moment in time that wouldn’t be forgotten.
As the Snowbirds finished up with the group of patients from Complex Care, we walked through the halls of the hospital, past curious onlookers.  Up the elevator three floors, I explained to the Snowbirds what the background story was of Helen Mattock.
When Cathy and I arrived in the room, Helen was sleeping, but was woken by Linda who was very excited that the Snowbirds would take the time from their day to visit with her mom.  Once awake and told that there was a surprise waiting for her, the legendary Snowbirds entered the small hospital room to make the day of Helen and her family.
As the pilots and crew surrounded her bedside, she shared the story with them of the memorable day in 1947, when she figured something special must have been happening.  One of the pilots interjected, saying, “There was something special happening that day, you had a baby!”  This baby, 64 years later, brought the Snowbirds back to her.  These men are genuine in their care for people and it showed on their faces as Helen embraced this experience.
Capt. Marco Rusconi spoke of training as Lego, but it can be used in our lives as well.  We will finish our life with a full picture, a completed plan, but the parts need to be worked on first.  Each moment in time, each event we experience, is but one piece of the finished product.  Today, along with Canadian Forces Snowbirds, I was blessed with sharing in a moment in time for this family.
The simple act of taking 10 minutes to make someone’s day could be the most memorable time of that person’s life.  Remember, everyone has a story.  Is yours going to be a complete story of events shared with others?  Are you making memories along the way?  Are you touching the lives of people you don’t even know?   I encourage you to make a difference.  Tell your story.  Write your story.  Live your story.  Everyone has a story.

UPDATE: I received the following email from Linda on Wednesday, July 14, 2011…

Dear Todd, I am giving you the news that my Mother passed away yesterday the l3th quietly and peacefully and knowing full well the snowbirds paved her a way in the clouds as she requested ha ha. Thankyou again and may we be in touch.
May Helen rest in peace, and may her family be comforted. Todd

Rear Row from Left: Capt. Padruig Macintosh, Pte. Craig Rautenstrauch, Me,  Cpl. Winston Rose, Capt. Brett Parker
Front Row from Left:Capt. Marco Rusconi, Capt. Denis Bandet


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