Difficult doesn’t begin to describe Carrie Tailleur’s life.
A born survivor, her story is one of courage and strength.
Tailleur has fought polio, suffered a stroke while already in ICU, raised two children as a single mother, found herself in a wheelchair after being diagnosed with osteoporosis and she watched her youngest daughter lose her life to drugs.
Her life has been a series of obstacles and tragedies that began before she started Kindergarten.
Somehow, she’s still smiling.
Stories of adversity like Tailleur’s will be front and centre at a Nightshift Street Ministries-hosted event called Unmasking the Truth next Monday.
The event aims to showcase inspiring women and topics often hidden behind a mask, in celebration of International Women’s Day.
Tailleur is one of four speakers.
“Carrie, for me, is the epitome of physical pain, grief, loss, death, separation, divorce,” said MaryAnne Connor, Nightshift founder. “Then look at her. She is a survivor.”
The modest, slightly shy 60-year-old paused when asked to tell her story.
After all, there’s so much to tell.
Tragedy first struck Tailleur at age four when she was diagnosed with polio, a highly infectious viral disease that attacks the nervous system. She was paralyzed from the neck down.
“I was in an iron lung (also known as a tank respirator), and the doctors told my mom I wouldn’t walk again,” said Tailleur, sitting in a wheelchair inside Nightshift’s Whalley office.
But walk she would. After a year and a half at Vancouver General Hospital, she was let out of isolation after hard work in her physio and rehab.
“I was able to leave with two long-legged braces that went from my waist down and crutches. I did that. That’s how I started school in Grade 1.”
When she was nine, her parents heard about Shriners Hospitals for Children and she spent eight years going back and forth, having roughly a dozen operations. And of course, more physio and rehab.
Eventually, she got by with just one long-legged brace.
As she grew up, she began working, got married and had two children. Things were going well.
Then she went through a divorce and found herself raising her children alone.
“I had to work two jobs, not to give you a sob story, because he wasn’t able to pay child support, so I worked a full-time job and a part-time job. Brooke was 13 and Rochelle was 15,” said Tailleur.
“They were too old for babysitters but they were too young to be left alone. That’s when it started.”
“It” was drugs. Brooke’s poison was crystal meth.
(Tailleur holds up a photo of daughter Brooke, pictured on the right.)
Tailleur sprung into action, putting her youngest daughter in several treatment centres. Nothing seemed to work.
“She would detox, go on a wait list, only to go back out again because she would have to wait. It was extremely frustrating for me,” Tailleur said.
In 2004, she sent Brooke to a recovery home called Samaritan Inn in Prince George. Brooke spent just over a year there.
Brooke then went to Surrey’s Pacific Life Bible College for two years and had a daughter, Cora.
After graduating from PLBC, Brooke enrolled in Regent Christian Academy. She was doing well, her mother recalled.
“She was an awesome mom. She had such a tender heart and she really, really, really wanted to help people like herself. That was her passion. When she went up to Prince George, free from all the drugs, she said, ‘Mom, I want to help people.’ That’s why she went to PLBC.”
Then tragedy struck in 2005 when Tailleur, 50 at the time, was in an ATV accident.
“It was life changing for me. They didn’t give me much chance because six days in the ICU and I suffered a stroke,” she said. “They didn’t think I was going to make it. I had so many internal injuries. But I made it. I spent four months in the hospital.”
Two years of physio and rehabilitation followed.
“I tried to get myself to the point where I could walk independently again because the stroke, it really affected my right side.”
Once more, through hard work and determination, she was able to walk again.
Things were looking brighter until 2010. Brooke began using again after five years, more or less, of sobriety.
She was dead within a year.
Brooke was found lifeless after an overdose in a Whalley motel on March 7, 2011, just one month shy of her 30th birthday.
“Apparently I screamed,” Tailleur recalled. She got the news over the phone.
“And I wanted to run. I just wanted to run,” she said, gazing down with teary eyes.
“The autopsy came back that she had pneumonia as well (as meth being in her system). She might have been doing something else, too, and heroin,” Tailleur said.
“There was a lot in her system. I don’t believe she did it intentionally. Brooke always thought she would still get better. She just had the faith that maybe not today, but God’s going to heal me tomorrow. Right to the very end.”
But hardship hadn’t yet ended for Tailleur. Three years ago, she fell and broke her heel.
“When I broke my heal they discovered I had severe osteoporosis. That was why I broke my heel. That’s why I’m in a chair now,” she said.
Though sadness is evident in her eyes, she smiles as she says she’s determined to carry on.
“I choose to remember my memories, the good things about Brooke. I still have my (eldest) daughter, my two absolutely gorgeous granddaughters, they have such good hearts,” she said adoringly.
“I still struggle,” Tailleur admitted. “I don’t want to pretend that everything is OK because it’s not. But I’m still here.”
Sitting beside her as she shared her story, Connor said there is “beauty beyond the pain.”
“Sometimes you find the courage or the faith to cope through the pain… How you get there is the beauty when you’re entrenched in the middle of it. Some people are still going through their pain. You are,” Connor said to Tailleur. “Loss. Grief. You’re in a chair. But there’s a beauty about you.
“You don’t talk about your struggles and your challenges because you think, ‘Who really cares? Who really needs to hear this?’ But we do need to hear this. It’s hope,” Connor mused.
“If Carrie can get through this, this non-stop assault, and you’re a survivor and you beam and you smile, then there’s hope for someone out there who’s in the midst of it.”
Unmasking the Truth, an event in celebration of International Women’s Day, is set for 6 p.m. on March 7 at Eaglequest Coyote Creek. It’s an annual event put on by Nightshift Street Ministries and proceeds will support women’s initiatives at the group’s Care Centre.
The event is now fully booked.
To be added to the waiting list, visit Nightshiftministries.org.
OTHER EVENTS IN SURREY CELEBRATING INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY:
• “SheTalksYVR” event March 5 at Surrey’s Chandos Pattison theatre from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., featuring “16 inspirational women, 8-minute stories, 1 amazing day” in celebration of International Women’s Day. Tickets are $40 regular (after Feb. 14), $25 student/senior. Event info, including the list of speakers, and tickets: http://shetalksyvr.ca.
• Surrey’s 22nd Annual International Women’s Day Celebration on Saturday, March 5, 12:30-4 p.m. Queen Elizabeth Secondary School, 9457 King George Blvd. Free admission. “Women are invited to celebrate International Women’s Day with an afternoon of fun, entertainment, snacks, refreshments and door prizes. Children are welcome. Pre-registration is required for transportation purposes only.” Info: Facebook.com/Surrey-International-Womens-Day-1535041763440896, 604-588-8008 or 604-597-4358.
• “I Am Woman! Hear Me Laff!”: “Join famed female comedians for an incredible evening of hoopla. This ‘herlarious’ gathering of stand-up comics will raise the bar for all comedians, proving women ‘got it’ when it comes to big laughs,” on Wednesday, March 9 at Surrey Arts Centre. Tickets and show info: 604-501-5566, Surrey.ca/culture-recreation/11570.aspx.
• Surrey Women in Business Awards: Seventh annual event hosted by Surrey Board of Trade, 11 a.m. Tuesday, March 8 at Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel, Surrey. Keynote speaker is Christine Day, CEO of the Luvo food company. For event tickets and more info, visit Businessinsurrey.com or call 604-581-7130.