Day 6

An Albertan reconciles happy memories with her unvaccinated father's death

Amid a fourth wave that has largely affected unvaccinated Albertans, Trudy Ballard reflects on the moments she shared with her dad leading up to his death at the hands of COVID-19.

'I did feel like I got hit in the stomach,' says Trudy Ballard

Trudy Ballard, right, says her father, Jim Culham, was well-respected within their community. (Submitted by Trudy Ballard)

Albertan Trudy Ballard remembers the happy memories she shared with her father, Jim Culham, who made her laugh and feel loved.

But after the 85-year-old died of COVID-19 on Oct. 3, she says she's had to reconcile those memories with his painful decision to refuse vaccination.

"We have a lot of thoughts on that and a lot of confusion, to be honest," she told Day 6 host Peter Armstrong. "It is quite heartbreaking for my brother and I."

Culham was one of thousands of Albertans who've battled COVID-19 in recent weeks. As of Oct. 14, Alberta reported 6,182 cases over the past seven days, the most among any Canadian province or territory. 

In an effort to convince vaccine-hesitant Canadians to take the shot, Ballard spoke to Armstrong about her father and coming to terms with his death.

Here's part of their conversation.

I want to just start by saying how sorry I am for the loss. How are you doing? 

Well, at this moment I'm doing fine. You can wait five minutes and ask me and it might be a different answer. 

I'm so encouraged that so many people have reached out and I'm so thankful for the man [Jim Culham] was.

I've been reading a bit about the man that he was, and he was a remarkable character. What do you remember most about your dad? 

My first thought is he could make me laugh. We had so much fun, and laughter and smiling [are] very big in our family.

I really, really felt — always — that I was loved unconditionally. He's a man who's just full of compassion. 

Jim Culham, centre, pictured with son Rod Culham and daughter Trudy Ballard. He died on Oct. 3, not long after being hospitalized. (Submitted by Trudy Ballard)

He was really intelligent. In fact ... when dad was [in his] last stint in the hospital, [the doctor] was talking about how well-read my dad was. 

You hear these stories and I read his [obituary], which was so beautifully done; that he cared so deeply, that he was so community-minded and so well-read. And yet, he refused to be vaccinated. Why do you think that was? 

We have a lot of thoughts on that and a lot of confusion, to be honest. It is quite heartbreaking for my brother and I. 

Even though he's so well-read, I think he heard so many things on some media channels that were just not accurate, and he took those on — which was really surprising to us.

There's so much misinformation out there. Please try to find the real information and make the right choices.- Trudy Ballard

Did you try to change his mind?

I wrote to my dad and I asked him, "Would you for my sake — for your great-grandkids' sake and the sake of your grandkids — would you consider doing this?" And I listed a few things, and I pretty much pleaded with him. 

He told me he loved me and that he respected me asking him this. But no, he would not change his mind. 

It was not the answer I was expecting, and that was really hard. However, we were still able to say we loved each other, even though we were polar opposites on this subject. 

'We had so much fun, and laughter and smiling [are] very big in our family,' Ballard said of her late father. (Submitted by Trudy Ballard)

That must have been so hard. Tell me about the day you learned your dad was ill, that he'd contracted COVID-19. Where were you when you got that news? 

I had had basically a week where I'd been kind of really upset with dad about some things he had posted, and I just needed a little space. But finally, I was like, "You know what, Trudy? This is your dad." 

I actually had my phone out. I was just going to send him a message ... and a neighbour sent me a message that he was in bed, had the chills, wasn't getting out of bed.

To be clear, he did believe that COVID was real. He didn't think this was a hoax. 

We got him to the hospital, and then he texted me that they did a rapid test there and he was positive for COVID. 

What were you thinking in that moment?

I did feel like I got hit in the stomach, but then I thought, "Well, you know, maybe dad will get a little scare, he'll come through this and then maybe he will reconsider the vaccine." 

Ballard says her father's decision to not get vaccinated was heartbreaking for her and her brother. (Submitted by Trudy Ballard)

He went in on a Monday, and the Tuesday night, I got a phone call. They weren't happy with his blood oxygen levels…. They ended up transferring him to to the COVID ward, and that's where he stayed. 

The doctor called me, he said, "Are you aware of how serious his situation is?" And I said yes. And they worked things out so that I could go see my dad the following day. 

There's a beautiful photo of the two of you from that day. Can you describe that photo for me? 

I came over; I was all gowned, double-masked…. And so I was able to go up and just touch him, give him a little hug. 

I was going to take a selfie and the nurse [said], "Oh, I'll take a picture of you… Jim, you can just take off your oxygen mask just for the picture."

So he took it off and he gave us his beautiful smile. And I am so thankful that the medical people allowed that to happen and let me be there. That meant so much to both of us. 

Ballard takes a picture with her father. He died on the same day this photo was taken. (Submitted by Trudy Ballard)

This whole story [and] your whole interaction at the hospital sounds like such a testament to the humanity and the empathy and the hard work of the nurses and the doctors that were there during those last days with your dad. 

I don't have kind enough words for them. 

The main gal who was with me for that day, she was working a double shift. And there was one point where I was almost depleted. I did not have another bit of energy in me. I was so heartbroken. 

She came over and gave me a sideways hug, and just told me she was sorry, and she also cried. 

Trudy, it's only been a short time since your dad passed away, and it can't be easy for you to do an interview like this. I wonder, though, why did you decide to share your story?

If this could make a difference to even one family — I don't know if it will or not — but we wanted to try because we feel that the vaccine is really, really important. 

There's so much misinformation out there. Please try to find the real information and make the right choices.

Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Annie Bender. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now