Published: June 09, 2011 12:12 a.m.
There are certain instances in one’s life where something clicks inside you and life instantly changes. It’s rare but when it happens, it’s undeniable.
I was scared walking in to the Drop-In Centre on the cold December morning, six months ago, when I was first going to interview Terry Pettigrew.
Seeing my camera bag and notepad, one of the clients muttered some less-than-kind words under his breath about reporters as I walked by. That didn’t help.
I was preparing to interview Terry about the DI’s Christmas wish-list program and, though he didn’t know it at the time, a former staff member had granted his wish for a bus ticket to Mardi Gras.
Terry was in his bunk bed when Louise brought me up to meet him. I kept a cautious distance at first, knowing he was ill and not wanting to disturb him.
“Tell her if she wants to talk to me she’s going to have to come closer,” Terry told Louise. “I don’t bite.”
From there on out, my interactions with Terry were much the same — full of humour, honesty and an unparalleled sense of kindness.
In January, I pitched the idea of doing a short documentary to Terry and Louise.
At the time, I thought the focus of the documentary would be the despair of living your remaining days in a homeless shelter. I quickly realized that wasn’t the story.Terry was kicked out of his home at the age of eight. In our multiple interviews, he remained mum on many of the details that led him to homelessness, but it was obvious he’d never felt a sense of family until he came to the Drop-In.
Before beginning this project with Terry, I had a wildly inaccurate, preconceived notion of the Drop-In Centre.
I had only been there once before on high school field trip to feed the homeless, which, if we’re being honest, serves to pad the “Volunteer Experience” section of a student’s resume more than teach them anything about life.
I thought of the DI as more of an institution for the destitute than a building filled with love, caring and hope.
In the months leading up to his death, Terry wanted nothing more than to stay at the DI, surrounded by his friends and those he considered family.
After seeing the incredible care and love Terry was surrounded with, I couldn’t blame him.
“It’s almost like I’m a God,” Terry said of how the staff treated him, tears streaming down his face. “And I’m not.”
I realized the story of Terry and the Drop-In is not about the sadness that comes with death in a homeless shelter. Terry’s story is about how no matter which path we follow in life, we all deserve to be loved.
Terry was more than he gave himself credit for. He often said he was just a grumpy old pervert, but the truth is, he would willingly give you the shirt off his back.
He mentioned several times during our interviews, his goal was to leave a positive stamp on the earth.
Mission accomplished, Terry.