Al and Val Love have been partners in many aspects of their lives; through marriage, their business and as parents to their son, Scott. The first of these partnerships began 40 years ago when, in 1976, they said “I do” in Val’s hometown of Cabri, a small town in southern Saskatchewan. Recalling their first meeting — both were working for Sears in Regina — Al said he knew he would marry Val someday, which he said was particularly awkward since he was in a relationship at the time. After smoothing out the wrinkles that separated their being together, Al proposed and, less than a year later, they were married.
Then in late 1977, the Loves learned they were expecting. The first-time parents’ excitement was replaced with worry relatively quickly, when, at five months pregnant, Val began experiencing contractions. They set out for the hospital. At that time, the medical treatment to stop the contractions was an alcohol drip. For four weeks Val was confined to a hospital bed, barely cognizant of the world around her. She says she has little memory of that time, but a friend who would visit her often says they’d laugh together and cry together, depending on Val’s oscillating moods. In Val’s 24th week of pregnancy, the Loves’ son Scott was born weighing one pound, eight ounces.
“He was a fighter right from day one,” Val says. “They put him in a kidney pan and ran him up to the neonatal unit and the nurse said to me later on ‘I knew he was going to live because when I was running up those steps every step I took he cried.’”
Scott was released from the hospital, four months later, the size of a newborn. Before they took him home for the first time, the doctors told the Loves the high levels of oxygen Scott required had caused scarring in his eyes and he would be completely blind.
Life continued on for the Loves and visitors would often comment on how happy Scott was.
“When Scott was a little kid he was really happy, there were times when he wasn’t, but he had a laugh that was so infectious,” Al says, recalling those first couple years with Scott.
Then, at a routine checkup when Scott was two, Al and Val were informed that Scott was also completely deaf.
“At first we didn’t really believe it,” says Al, adding that they’d attributed some of Scott’s behaviours to him not being able to see.
“When we walked into a room and called his name and he wouldn’t look at us we’d think ‘well, he can’t see, so he’s not going to look at us.’”
With the combination of deafness and blindness, Al says “it was like no one really knew what to do.” Eventually, in 1981, when Scott was three years old, the Loves learned of the J.D. Williams School for the deaf that was to open in Saskatoon by Special Education. Living in Regina at the time, with Al still working for Sears and Val at home with Scott, they knew they needed to move. Al says he was lucky to receive a job transfer, but they would have moved regardless. With the only other school for deaf and blind children at that time all the way in Ontario, the Loves saw picking up their life in Regina for Saskatoon as their best option.
With Scott in school, the Loves started looking forward to imagining what a future for their son would look like.
“We were lucky in the sense that we all realized very early that we were going to invest 15 or so years into teaching our children how to live independently or semi-independently, but once they got out of the school system there was nothing there for them.”
Because of this realization Al, along with Val and the other parents of deaf and blind children, laid the groundwork for the opening of the Saskatoon chapter of the Canadian Deaf Blind Association.
“Coincidentally,” says Al, “it came at the same time the government was looking at deinstitutionalization and closing the school for the deaf and blind. It was lucky we talked to other parents and we went to the government to say ‘if you’re looking into a residential program this is what our needs are.’ They were quite willing to look at it because the timing was right.”
The Saskatoon chapter of the CDBA, of which Al was president, opened three group homes for people who are deaf and blind, with many of the residents moving into the homes after finishing school. The residence the CDBA established has staff present at all times and a program of teaching life skills and doing activities. Val says the caregivers communicate with Scott through cues, such as “doctor” or “swimming,” so he knows where he’s being taken.
Scott mostly recognizes people through the feel of their hands, Al says, but he also checks for jewelry. When Scott has visitors he always knows when it’s mom or dad, Val says.
Like with any other adult, Al and Val want their son to have his independence, so when in 1997 there was an opportunity to start a Sears dealership in North Battleford, they both agreed they were ready for a change. It was a difficult transition, Al says, between being a first-time business owner and maintaining a close relationship with Scott in Saskatoon. Eventually they settled into a routine, with Al and Val visiting Scott in Saskatoon every two weeks.
In 2007, after 10 years as owners and operators of the North Battleford Sears location, the Loves were once again ready for a change and sold their business, with Al moving on to manager of Handi-Bus on a part-time basis and eventually moving on to oversee the Public Transit Service in North Battleford and Val deciding to work part-time at Home Hardware before moving on to cook for a local daycare. Around this time the Loves learned that Scott’s brain had been underdeveloped as a result of being born premature. Upon learning of this extra hurdle placed in Scott’s path, Al says doctors were “amazed that Scott is able to do what he does.”
It hasn't been an easy path, but the Loves' say they don't think they've done anything any other parent wouldn't do.
"There’s so many people who tell us that we’re wonderful parents and we tell them ‘you know, if it was your child you’d do the same thing.'
"You deal with it. I don’t want to say it was never a challenge, but it was never more of a challenge than it would be for any other parent. Until it happens, you don't know."
That may be true, but the rarity of Scott's circumstances highlights the immense patience and loving support of his parents.
This past year, both Al and Val retired from their jobs. It was time to focus on his own health, Al says. Val remarked that through 40 years of marriage, she and Al never had a fight. There were disagreements, but, says Al, "as a result of having Scott in our life we’ve learned that most issues are pretty small and that the challenges we face everyday our pretty minor compared with others.
"If everybody has a story I think, Val and I, the biggest thing in our life is our son Scott."