Difficult times bring joy

Anna Radchenko
Nov. 10, 2019

Finding the silver lining in life’s challenges isn’t an easy task,
but sometimes, life is the silver lining.

Shelly Dalueg, 56, registered nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital, wasn’t always the person she is today. Her cropped haircut is the result of a makeover from years before. She said she was “kind of a geek” with an “afro that was all blond and fuzzy on the ends with these dark roots,” and there were also gapped teeth and glasses she would be blind without.

But that’s not all. She lived as infant Corena Ann Logan in an Edmonton foster home for three months. But only after being cradled in her mother’s arms in her first five minutes of life in a big green chair on Feb. 12, 1963.

From an oversized chair in her office, Dalueg recounted the discovery of her birth mom, Gerry. They looked into each other’s eyes for the first time in this very space, significantly impacting Dalueg’s perspective, her life and her career. 

“So many good things came with the hard times,” said Dalueg, “and I think that’s when I really would let myself feel love.”

Her work as an outpatient therapist in the in the department of psychiatry allows her to feel the pain others experience, thus enabling her to love. “To me, it’s almost a selfish thing, because I don’t do something for self-care. I am allowed to feel what other people have. And then that feeds me,” said Dalueg.

Dalueg lets herself love her schizophrenia patients, because she feels their pain. Her perspective allows her to notice the good in people and show empathy. “So many good things came with the hard times,” said Dalueg, “and I think that’s when I really would let myself feel love.

“I cry with patients sometimes just because I feel what they’re feeling,” said Dalueg. She hardly cries otherwise, but does sometimes while thinking of Gerry. “When I was 30, we found each other,” she said softly.

“I believe that God lives in every one of us,” Dalueg said. “I really believe that people have whatever they need inside of them, and it comes from God through me to find that.” This perspective has allowed Dalueg to find joy and see the good in others.

When she was five years old, Dalueg’s family moved to Strome, Alberta. By then she knew she was adopted, and this made her feel special, so she told new friends. Confused by their responses, she looked to her parents, Lyle and Judy Thorburn. Her dad said, “The girl with a baby in her tummy was too young, so we got to have you.” This made sense to Dalueg.

She eventually learned that her mom even quit her job just to wait by the phone. “Back in the sixties,” said Dalueg, “babies stayed in foster care for three months in case the mother changed her mind.” Her mother worried herself sick, but realized she was actually pregnant, and her brother Cam was born just a few months after Dalueg. Eventually, she ended up with three more siblings.

Dalueg loved growing up in a small town. “Riding my bike around town as long as I wanted,” she said throwing her head back, “that was the best.” She recalls her dad thanking her mom for supper every night. “That was so wonderful,” she said.

She went to high school in Daysland. “I wasn’t the kind of girl that any guy really would have asked out,” said Dalueg, “but I had my girlfriends.” Lynn Sherwood arrived from Camrose, the big city, in grade 11. “And somehow she wanted to be friends with me!

“She was so popular. I tried to be like her. I got into contact lenses, and I’d try and eat really slowly like she did. I lost a lot of weight. Probably too much weight actually,” said Dalueg. She was a new woman after visiting Merle Norman Salon. Her afro was gone, and her own brother didn’t recognize her. She had never worn makeup because, “I couldn’t see to put it on,” said Dalueg. And that’s when she met Russell.

Dalueg started working at St. Mary’s Hospital on Nov. 6, 1984, 35 years ago. She thought she’d be like the nurses on Ben Casey, a television series that aired in the sixties. “Pushing patients down the hallway and giving needles,” said Dalueg. “It never dawned on me that I’d be in psychiatry.”

Hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Suna Smith, immediately became a mentor and teacher. She explained how the brain created raw emotion and ordered medications for patients sick with depression and anxiety. “She just made it so fascinating,” said Dalueg. When terrified patients woke up from brain surgeries, Dalueg became the person to look in the mirror with them for the first time to see their bald heads laced with staples and incisions.

Dalueg became passionate about mental health and schizophrenia. “I did not want to work with people in schizophrenia, because in my nursing school days people with schizophrenia 30 years ago, were very, very ill and not very friendly.

“I just was privileged to watch them get better. It was like a flower unfolding, people coming back to life.

“You’ve got to be careful that you don’t get burnt out and you restore your energy; yet, after working with those guys, I was actually pumped at the end of the day,” said Dalueg.

When she told her friend Anita about it, she said, “Because you’re letting yourself love them. And when that comes from Christ, then you feel the love that he has for people. Let yourself be who you are.”

Early in Dalueg’s career, when she had her first baby, a cowlick in her hair, the same one Dalueg had, made her wonder who else the infant looked like.

But her parents had divorced. Then two years later, when she had her second child, she built up the courage to ask for her adoption papers. “Maybe I could get that brown envelope for the girls’ baby books. That’s what I told my mom,” she said, laughing.

One day her Parent Finders case worker spotted an obituary for a man named Arthur Logan in the Edmonton Journal. Dalueg knew this to be her birth name. The woman listed second in a list of 11 children was the only one living in Alberta, so she looked up her address. “I wrote a letter,” she said, “but didn’t hear anything.”

A year later, pregnant with baby number three, she sent another letter, a final attempt. “The letter said something like,” Dalueg said, “I once knew a lady at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton in 1963. I think you might be this lady.” She signed as Corena Ann Logan and included her current name and phone number, hoping this would protect Gerry’s secret from anyone looking at her mail.

Then one day it happened. “This is Gerry Day calling,” the woman said. It took a moment to realize it was her. “And just like that my life changed,” Dalueg said, “after years of looking in the mirror, wondering who I looked like.

She came right to this room the next day. She was beautiful. She had blond hair and big brown eyes.

She told me that while she was she was pregnant, she had met a man who was supportive of her giving her baby up for adoption,” said Dalueg. “They got married after I was born.”

Gerry had three children with him, two boys and a girl, also named Shelley, who had schizophrenia, the disease Dalueg has become so passionate about.

They spent two more days together that same week and Dalueg learned that Gerry eventually divorced her alcoholic husband and remarried years later. “She had received both my letters,” said Dalueg, “but she was in a very abusive marriage.” Her self-worth led her into abusive relationships and Gerry told her how horrible she felt for giving her away.

Despite her fear, Gerry worked hard to end the marriage to pursue a relationship with Dalueg. She became educated and independent. While helping Gerry with legal papers, Dalueg empathized with Gerry’s experiences. Gerry told her that she figured she would know by looking at Dalueg’s face whether she had forgiven or hated her. 

“I think that’s when how she felt about herself started to change,” said Dalueg. “Then she met Danny Geringer, a man who worships her. They were in their fifties by then.”

Gerry would come out to the farm every Wednesday,” Dalueg said, “to see the kids and build a relationship. She put a lot of effort into it.” She spent days at the hospital intensive-care unit when Dalueg’s fourth and last child was born.

Shelly and Gerry spent Wednesday afternoons together. submitted by Shelly Dalueg

Gerry became sick in January 2016. Cancer she had in 2006 had returned and in 2014 she was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which gradually causes paralysis.

Gerry would be placed in hospice in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where she and Geringer lived. Dalueg decided to move in with her. “I had been dreading it because I knew what it would mean. You only go to hospice when you die,” she said.

Dalueg flew from Daysland many times from January to July. Gerry tried to reimburse her for some of her travel expenses, but Dalueg said, “No, because then I can’t control everything.” They cried together. “That’s when it hit me that this isn’t going to get better.”

“The hospice was new with a huge kitchen, balcony, family room, card table, piano and firepit,” said Dalueg. “Suddenly, Gerry just got better. She even planned a dinner party.” Dalueg and Gerry watched the Bachelorette, sipping on small glasses of wine, and she got to know relatives when they visited Gerry.

“I had the privilege to go over and stay with her for six weeks at the hospice,” Dalueg said. “I actually moved into the hospice with her. Here I was dreading this, and it was the best part of the whole thing. There was one point when she said how bad she felt for taking me away from my family and I told her, ‘I’m being selfish because I love doing this.’”

The fold-out couch in Gerry’s room became Dalueg’s bed. “I actually climbed into bed with her one night,” said Dalueg. “We were both crying. I said some things that I’d always thought about but had never told her. About my thoughts of when she must have just held me in the big green chair for that five minutes. And she told me some things she had always thought about, about me as a baby; so, we had all this closure.” This was one of their last conversations.

Dalueg flew home to be with her sick daughter who had just given birth, only to be called back days later. Gerry was becoming delirious and uncooperative. When Dalueg arrived and told her that the two of them were living together in hospice, it settled her. 

Dalueg and Geringer spent Gerry’s final hours with her. Geringer, now 81, said, “Shelly and I clung to one another and Gerry was now in a coma, but we were there and wanted to be there, and it was a fairly smooth ending. Gerry was ready for death and quite satisfied that she was going directly to heaven.”

Gerry found peace in her perspective, and on July 13, 2016, she closed her eyes for the last time.

Perspective can enable one to find blessings in difficult times. Dalueg says she is privileged and has found her purpose “over and over again.” Dalueg’s perspective has shaped her reputation.

“I always thought I’d have to hold back, you know, if I poured myself into it too much, it would scare people off.”

“She has a reputation of being so kind and accommodating for anybody and everybody,” said Geringer. “All the time she was out at Abbotsford, she gained friends and she got to be acknowledged as a terrific caregiver, because she cared. And so, she had a great reputation for being more than just an average caregiver. She was a super caregiver.”

Talking about the moments in the big green chair with Gerry provided healing and reinforced Dalueg’s perspective. “I never thought it would happen to me,” she said, referring to blessings in her personal life, and about her career, she said, “I always thought I’d have to hold back, you know, if I poured myself into it too much, it would scare people off.”

Dalueg finds joy in simple things: Anne of Green Gables, gardening and her four grandkids. “Kids are just so honest,” she said. “I get energy from that.”

Her support group consists of colleagues, best friends and her husband who helped raise the kids while she worked long hours. 

As retirement approaches, she will spend more time at home but will continue working. Her home overlooks the golf course, pond and walking trail in Daysland, a reminder of the beauty she experienced from life on the farm.