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Living with Joy and Abundance

When I get Shannon Aziz on the phone, she and her family are holidaying at their cabin. Going to the cabin in the summer can be a wonderful family time. For the Aziz family, it’s both a challenge and a blessing: a challenge because they have two children who live with complex care needs; a blessing because being with extended family means there’s lots of people who are willing to lend a helping hand.

As Shannon Aziz shares her family’s story, it is clear that this mixture of blessing and challenge has been a part of the journey for more than fifteen years. Their oldest daughter, Melissa, who is now 15, was born healthy and able-bodied. When their second blessing, Olivia, was born a little over a year later, she was born with a challenge: cerebral palsy with atrophy of the cerebellum. The diagnosis meant that Olivia would need around-the-clock care for the rest of her life.

Because of this diagnosis, Shannon and her husband underwent genetic testing, the results of which were inconclusive.

“When Mckenzie was born with the same condition as Olivia, we were devastated because we knew what it meant for her and for us,’ Shannon remembers.

Mckenzie Aziz enjoying some quiet time at Matthew's House
Mckenzie Aziz enjoying some quiet time at Matthew’s House

As parents, they accepted the challenges and did what needed to be done, adapting to the physical and emotional demands that come with two children who have complex care needs. The Aziz family home is equipped with overhead lifts for transferring, shower and toilet commodes, standing frames, walkers, wheelchairs, comfy mats and chairs.

Having two children with similar needs requires a great deal of organization. Shannon tries to schedule all of their therapies together. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, movement therapy and horseback riding therapy are all done at the same time. Because each child needs constant care, Shannon cannot do it alone so there is always one caregiver with them at all times.

“But even with that, I can’t get a break because one caregiver also can’t care for both girls by herself,” she explains.

This is why Matthew’s House is making a difference to the Aziz family. Matthew’s House supports families by providing quality care in a homelike environment to children with complex care needs. Just like the Aziz home, Matthew’s House has all the necessary equipment to care for children like Olivia and Mckenzie and provides one-on-one, individualized care to ensure that the girls get the attention they need. At first, coming to Matthew’s House was a challenge because the girls have a hard time with change and were afraid to leave their parents.

“The girls are both very personable and relational,” Shannon explains. “They have loving personalities and form strong attachments to the people they care for. But this good quality also makes it difficult for them to handle transitions or try new things.”

The sisters have been visiting Matthew’s House for a year, at first, visiting once a month. Now, they come once a week for a 24 hour visit, which has created a familiar routine. Shannon says that it gives the girls a sense of satisfaction, knowing that they are able to stay overnight and it will be okay. It also makes an enormous difference to the rest of the family.

“Being able to bring Olivia and Mckenzie to Matthew’s House means we can do typical family things,” Shannon says. “It also gives us more time to spend with Melissa.”

As our conversation draws to a close, Shannon reflects on the blessings that Olivia and Mckenzie have brought to their family. The first word she uses is “joy.”

“Having children with disabilities means you appreciate each day and appreciate all that you have,” she says. “You focus on the day because you don’t know what the future holds, so you don’t worry about it.”

She also says that her girls have brought them into a world they would never have entered otherwise, a world with other families like theirs. Shannon has realized that sharing her story with others is a way to encourage them.

“I’ve learned that as hard as it is, it’s do-able,” she says. “You can still live with joy and with abundance.”

We finish our chat with the sounds of life at the cabin in the background; sounds of laughter, sounds of a happy extended family, the sound of blessing, joy and abundance.

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