© Jim Day - The Guardian
Dave Bradley hugs his “best buddy” Lilly. The Charlottetown couple, married for 43 years, have had plenty of love to go around, caring for more than 50 foster children over the years.
Parenting is a partnership for Dave and Lilly Bradley.
The pair has teamed up over the years to care for more than 50 children.
The Charlottetown couple started with three biological children: Jason, Jodie and Teena.
While a trio is plenty of work, the Bradleys still believed that they had excess parenting energy to burn while still caring for their own offspring. They talked long and hard about the prospect of fostering a child. They took the plunge with a young boy named Colin.
Colin was five when he headed home with his new foster parents, Dave and Lilly.
He couldn’t speak. He could walk, but in a shaky manner. Clearly, Colin would require considerable care.
The Bradleys thought they were up to the task, daunting as they anticipated it would be.
“It was a big step to take a special needs child,’’ recalls Lilly. “We both had a good life and good parents and we wanted to give something back.’’
Both Lilly and Dave can trace their caring nature back to their own childhoods.
Growing up on Union Street in Charlottetown, Lilly wanted to be a nurse, but school was a struggle. She left in Grade 8 and was only 13 when she started work as a waitress. She also babysat many, many children.
“I just kind of always liked looking after people,’’ she says. “I cared for half the neighbourhood.’’
Dave, who grew up on “the dirty end of town’’ on Dorchester Street in Charlottetown, has like Lilly long held a soft spot in his heart for children. During his upbringing, he was exposed to a number of children that had physical and mental disabilities.
“I was quite comfortable around them,’’ he says.
So Dave and Lilly were cut from the same caring cloth. Together, they were destined to be a nurturing force to reckon with.
The pair dated since Lilly was 13 and Dave was 14. They have been married 43 years. Over those years, so much love and respect has been extended to one another to provide the fuel for the couple’s relentless caring team approach to looking after so many children.
The tally of tenderness is mindboggling.
The Bradleys fostered 51 children in total over a 20-year period.
Roughly half of those children were babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that results from alcohol exposure during pregnancy and can cause physical deformities, mental retardation, learning disorders, vision difficulties and behavioral problems.
Some of the babies would cry and cry and cry, seemingly for no reason, Lilly recalls. Others would outright scream.
The remainder of the children fostered by the Bradleys ranged in age from newborns to three years old. They all had special needs.
Providing care was exhausting. It was also a delight.
Dave says the pair followed a system, always working as a team.
“Then we would just fall into the bed at night and we would be gone,’’ says Lilly.
“I think we just wanted to help people,’’ adds Dave, who worked for many years at UPEI as a maintenance repairman.
“It’s not all roses and sunshine. There are days you want to pull your roots out.’’
Still, the highs have always outweighed the lows for this caring couple.
When the Bradleys brought home five-year-old Colin, a boy with severe mental and physical challenges, friends and family members questioned them as to why they would possibly want to take on such a handful.
“That’s what we wanted to do and I knew I would be good at it,’’ Lilly says by way of explanation.
She was also confident that her husband was more than up to the task.
“I knew David had a big heart,’’ she says.
After raising Colin for two years, the Bradleys were able to convince social services to allow them to foster babies.
They developed a system that worked well, one that saw newborn after newborn placed in their care.
Starting each day with a prayer, they would roll up their sleeves and divvy up the daily demands. The key, perhaps, was tackling each task with a whole lot of heart.
Both have battled through major health events: Lilly beating cancer and Dave first dealing successfully with an aortic aneurysm and then surviving a heart attack just a short time ago.
At 61 and 62 respectively, Lilly and Dave still feel they have the ability to be quality, loving caregivers.
They currently have two special needs adults under their roof. Oh yes, and Colin is still there too.
After immediately falling in love with the then five-year-old boy, the Bradleys never let him go. They got legal custody after serving eight years as the boy’s foster parents.
“Even though he is not our biological child,’’ says Dave, “it seems he has always been here.’’
Lilly finds great comfort in knowing she and her husband have been able to provide a loving home to someone in need of great care and tenderness.
Colin, she says, was such a lonely, withdrawn boy when he came under the care of the Bradleys.
“We know that we have made him very happy,’’ she says with a warm smile.
Both Lilly and Dave feel that fostering so many children together as a team has also made their strong bond as a couple even stronger.
“I just love him more because I know he’s a big teddy bear,’’ says Lilly.
“My best buddy, I guess,’’ says Dave as he looks with great affection towards his wife.
“No guessing, you are.’’