N.B. woman documents her last days with her dad in series of heartwarming posts

·6 min read
Joanne McGouey and her dad, Colin Tulip, in one of the photos she posted to Instagram. (Instagram@joannemcgouey - image credit)
Joanne McGouey and her dad, Colin Tulip, in one of the photos she posted to Instagram. (Instagram@joannemcgouey - image credit)

Colin Tulip looks calmly at the camera. He's comfortable with it, even a little amused by it.

"Dad, who was your most troublesome child?" his daughter, Joanne McGouey, asks.

Tulip doesn't hesitate for a second. He lifts his finger and points directly at the camera she's holding.

"Joanne Tulip," he says as she bursts into laughter. "Worried me to death."

It's a sweet moment, with a dollop of sass, and it's exactly the kind of thing that's been drawing hundreds of viewers from around the world.

Almost every day, for the past four months, McGouey has posted vignettes of life with her dad from her home in Baxter's Corner, northeast of Saint John, to her Instagram, TikTok and Facebook accounts.

The videos are endearingly funny, showcasing Tulip's wry humour and McGouey's no-BS style.

Which is remarkable, considering the journey the family is on.

Instagram@JoanneMcGouey
Instagram@JoanneMcGouey

Caring for dad at home

Tulip, 81, has terminal esophageal cancer.

It's not his first go-round with cancer, either: he's battled back from prostate and lung cancer, beating them both 13 years ago despite dauntingly steep odds.

When McGouey learned about this latest cancer, she and her husband did exactly what they'd done the last time her dad had cancer: "We busted him out of the hospital," she jokes, and moved him into their home so she could care for him there.

And then she did something she hadn't done the last time. She started filming videos of her dad and posting them to Instagram.

It started out as a coping mechanism, moments of humour to cheer her dad up and help both of them feel connected to the outside world at a time they felt set adrift from it.

As the days and weeks passed, viewers started following along.

They posted heart and prayer emojis, sent well wishes, asked for updates.

They sent cards. Hundreds and hundreds of cards.

Strangers from around the world — Australia, England, Ireland, Norway, even the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club — sent messages of encouragement and support.

McGouey and her dad have been blown away by the outpouring.

"Anybody who commented, sent cards ..." She pauses, searching for words big enough to hold what's in her heart.

"I don't think people can ever understand the impact they had on us."

Submitted by Joanne McGouey
Submitted by Joanne McGouey

'We made a pact to only post when he feels good'

For anyone who might wonder, Tulip needed no coercing to star in his Instagram photoshoots.

He knows his own mind and doesn't fret about much.

"He's always done exactly what he wants," McGouey says. "He's gotten through some pretty trying times. He grew up in the war in England … his father was a prisoner of war at Dunkirk, he had his own family at 17, then left the country and worked all over the world."

From the get-go, her dad told her to "post whatever the heck you want."

"We made a pact that we'd only post when he feels good," she says. "We don't talk about when he's not gonna be well, but I don't want to post anything when he's not at 100 per cent."

So there have been posts of Tulip enjoying a dinner he's requested (he valiantly takes a few bites before it has to be pureed so he can swallow it), Tulip soaking up the view from "his favourite place" on Earth (McGouey's garden-view deck), Tulip recovering from a tumble and gamely offering this summary when asked to share what happened.

"I went bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bumpity-bump-bump-bump, down the stairs," he says, with a chuckle.

"I'm not laughing," McGouey tells viewers in a caption that pops up behind his head.

But laughter is better than the alternative, she acknowledges.

Submitted by Joanne McGouey
Submitted by Joanne McGouey

A message from the Blue Jays

Everything about their life these days is geared toward making Tulip as happy and as comfortable as possible.

When the autumn chill threatened to banish him from his beloved deck, the McGoueys installed a heated chandelier to keep him warm.

When McGouey asked him what cheers him up, he said he likes "a nice card."

So she got a post office box and invited people to send a note. Cards arrived by the hundreds; he read every one.

And when Tulip, a devoted fan of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, told viewers he hadn't missed a single game that summer, McGouey mused on her Instagram account: "I wonder if the Blue Jays saw this, would they send him a card?"

She was gobsmacked when a letter arrived in the post office box, emblazoned with the Jays logo.

"Dear Colin," it said, "it has come to our attention that you are a very big fan of the Blue Jays. We've also learned that you are going through some difficult health issues and wanted to let you know that you are not alone."

It went on to thank him for his support and wish him strength.

"As you continue your journey, please know that the Blue Jays are cheering you on every step of the way, just as you have done for us."

The jokes and laughter had to share stage with tears of gratitude that day, McGouey says.

Instagram@JoanneMcGouey
Instagram@JoanneMcGouey

'A significant decline'

McGouey doesn't know how much time her dad has left, how much time she has left with him.

In May, they were told to expect about six months.

Every day since then has been "a gift," McGouey says.

But time is running out now.

Tulip looks frail, and McGouey's trademark boisterous cheer is faltering a bit.

In a post on Thursday, showing Tulip swaddled in a blanket and McGouey leaning in with a chocolate cake, she notes:

"I'm sad to share with you that there has been a significant decline in dad's condition in this past little bit, and the time to send cards and have the meaning intended has passed," she writes.

"You have no idea how much of an impact you have made for him (and us...) the support received since sharing our journey has been more than anyone would dream of …

"Here's a pic of dad helping me blow out my birthday candles! Me trying not to cry, him all smiles, of course."

She'll post some earlier videos on days ahead when her dad doesn't need a camera on him, not because he'd object, but in honour of his dignity and their earlier pact.

McGouey asked him once how he feels about the fact that someone might see these posts after he's gone and realize what families go through at such times.

"Well, that's the whole point of it, isn't it?" he said. "That's the whole point of life, is to help other people with their lives."

The blessing of it all, McGouey says, is that it's also helping them with theirs.

"Dad used to say when I'd read him the comments, he'd get kind of teary and emotional and he'd say, 'Geez, there still is good in the world, isn't there?' And that's what this has brought out. There is good in the world."

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