I saw this view and took a photo from the top of Blomidon Provincial Park in Nova Scotia. I then used the photo to illustrate the post entitled Slip Sliding Away. I felt that it perfectly illustrated the sense of loss around that horribly sad time. Lately I came across the picture and tried to paint it – now that I am trying to paint just about everything. I’m pretty satisfied with how my simple watercolour turned out. It is a hauntingly beautiful place and in the winter it is particularly quiet.
Slip Slidin’ Away
You know the nearer your destination
The more you’re slip slidin’ away
And I know a father who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons for the things he had done
He came a long way just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and he headed home again
Slip slidin’ away
I was awake at 3:30 am when the sirens went by on Main Street down below our house. I had no idea to what sort of tragedy the sirens were responding.
Then I received a call at 6:30 am.
Come over right now! My closest girlfriend said.
What’s going on? I asked.
Just come over. Her voice urged.
On my way. I said.
I envisioned helping with a flood or some other household problem, like a lost dog.
I was up, dressed in the car and driven the snowy few blocks in six minutes. What’s going on? I called out in the direction up the steps from the entry. The air was thick with emotion and fear. I could almost see it hanging there.
He died. She said simply.
Who died? I screeched as I ran up the steps in my boots, snow falling off. I was glancing around for a body.
Calvin. She said.
A sound came out of me involuntarily. I grabbed her and hugged her small body fiercely. The sound was primordial. Painful. A deep keening. Her Ex, the Dad, appeared and enclosed us in his arms and we all cried together for a few seconds. In my mind’s eye I was still looking around for his body.
I asked… where is he?
He had been the first of three steps at age three, when we moved in next door. Our Leo was the second step at four and his older brother Kevin at five was the third step. Fast friends who ran all over the neighbourhood together, Calvin usually bringing up the rear, on his toes – he was a toe-walker then and so cute as he nimbly rushed to be included. Countless sleepovers, snacks, tumbling, trampolining. He would sometimes gather up his courage and ask me for a drink of water, almost like I might say no. I must have been scary to him?? In recent years, in their teens, Leo would visit and and he would later tell me how Calvin had offered him tea, or soup, or whatever was available. Leo told me how kind Calvin was.
I had watched Calvin grow into a six foot two, curly blond-haired, blue-eyed quiet young man. He loved the outdoors, experiments with pond-like aquariums, fishing. He was a fierce competitor in jujitsu and, sadly, had some other darker pastimes which I would guess were self-medicating. He struggled with anxiety, addiction and with social situations. For the past several months, he could not sleep, due to anti-depressant medication. This would be the straw that broke the camel’s back – the not sleeping. I had heard about many many attempts to get him into counselling and to a psychiatrist or even to get him to emerg. He just would not go. How does a parent force this? It’s next to impossible.
Daisy told me the whole story of the few days leading up to this disaster. We sat by the fire on her couch in the early morning hours. When the door opened and her eldest, stepped in, he collapsed against the wall crying and keening loudly in despair. I slipped unnoticed out the back door. My Blunstones leaving their distinctive print in the freshly fallen snow. Down the back deck steps and around the house to my car. I drove home in a daze. I walked in to find my husband Dean and my son Leo silent with despair. All I could manage to do was to make a pot of soup for my friend in her grief.
In the wee hours, Jonah had followed his son’s bootprints (and many obvious signs of his slipping and falling on the trail, like bad snow-angel attempts). He entered the park, slipping and cursing the hidden ice as he went. A few hundred meters in, he saw Calvin’s backpack at the base of a tree and looked up, his headlight finding the silhouette of his youngest son hanging in the tree. Jonah struggled to get him down. He was still warm. He did CPR for almost an hour, crying, praying and shouting at him to wake up but systematically counting in keeping with his elite military training. The paramedics finally arrived having had a hard time locating them in the dark woods and slipping and falling many times due to the deceptively slick ice under the layer of snow.
Jonah called his ex-wife, The Mom, telling her not to come to the park. She went up there anyway. At the gates she was met by a cop who loved Calvin – knowing him through the dojo they shared. He avoided her eyes. Her heart sank to its deepest despair.
Where do you go when your child takes his own life? There is nothing worse than this.
Dean and I organized meals and visits to Daisy so that she wouldn’t be alone, especially at night. The outpouring of support was incredible and humbling. Thousands of dollars were raised through a single email asking for support on her behalf. Daisy couldn’t work due to grief. No income, bills and life carrying on. A full day of yoga was organized by a group of women with lunch, live music and incredible local art in a silent auction. Daisy was given therapies like massage, osteopathy and reflexology. Two cords of wood were delivered, fully paid for. The guys from the dojo arrived and stacked it in fifteen minutes, based on a simple request to them that morning. We cleaned her house, her friend washed the floor with great care. Dean shoveled the driveway. Another friend swept the chimney. We walked the dog, picked up the mail, painted a room, helped her sort through the bills. A friend baked her a cake and brought flowers. A woman knitted a special scarf to encircle her in love and comfort.
The celebration of life was at a large hall downtown. Every aspect of the day was taken care of by volunteers: planning, decorating, food, drink, crafts for little ones, boughs of evergreen, writing implements for sharing snippets of memories. Hot drinks and marshmallows outside by the fire like Calvin would have wanted. A beautifully hand-crafted wooden box to store parchment pages of written memories — the blond wood the colour of his beautiful hair, his name etched in the sliding cover. The place was packed. One friend introduced the speeches and thanked all those who helped. The owner of the dojo gave a recounting of the fierce fighting competitor that Calvin was and also of the kind teacher with a huge heart for his young charges. The gym guys shoulder-to-shoulder, sniffling, their hands folded tightly. Eyes lowered. Cheeks wet with tears.
Jonah and Daisy talked about Calvin’s life. The kind of person he was, the kind of brother and son he was. His personality and some funny memories of him. Jonah finally said that he had decided to find solace in the joy of seventeen years that they had had with Calvin. At least they had had the honour and pleasure of him for seventeen years.
Extreme grief and mourning ensued for the loss of one of our boys – the first step of three.
Some years have passed since we lost this beautiful young man. I feel that he slipped through the cracks in our mental health system. He was so loved and so well taken care of, yet he still slipped through. Can you imagine the youth who do not have attentive parents?
I feel sick that I personally couldn’t DO anything to help with this nor could I stop the loss of his life. I replay my last face-to-face with him when I dropped off a huge bag of dog food because our Lady-Jane had passed. Could I not have asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about? Could I not have swallowed my pride and told him that I too suffer with mental illness? It’s so fucked up. I find that I am still quite angry about my lack of ability to help with this. To take action. To DO SOMETHING.
I know one thing for sure. The next time I detect a sadness in someone, I will ask them if they need help. I will simply ask them.
Rest In Peace dear dear boy.
Because We Love We Cry
By Sheree Fitch, Poet and Author of Nova Scotia, Canada after the tragedy in Portapique, Nova Scotia Apr 2020
Sometimes there is no sense to things my child
Sometimes there is no answer to the questions why
Sometimes things beyond all understanding
Sometimes, people die.
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared, suffering, confused
Even if we are not together
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Sometimes the sadness takes away your breath
Sometimes the pain seems endless, deep
Sometimes you cannot find the sun
Sometimes you wish you were asleep.
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Wish that I had answers, child
Wish all this wasn’t so
There are impossible things, child
I cannot bear for you to know .
When it hurts like this, my child
When you are scared and confused
Even if we are not together,
Together, let us cry
Yes, there is still so much love
Because we love, we cry.
Copyright: Sheree Fitch, April 2020
I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together… (Paul Aikins 1965-2019)
‘I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song. Seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, So Long’
Just to have a laugh or sing a song…. the poignant words of the ditty by the eighty-something Carol Burnett whom Paul adored. He said they both had a slight palsy in the side of their faces making their smiles a little crooked. He connected with her and so, once a week, we would sprawl on the Aikins’ wall-to-wall cream-coloured broadloom in front of their floor-model, mahogany encased TV in their living-room (the Aikins had cable!) enraptured by Carol Burnett And Friends. Jinx, their moody Siamese cat would sleep on top of the TV for its warmth, tail flicking even in her sleep.
Well folks, something horrible has happened. We have lost this amazing person. He is gone. Never to return except to live on in our memories.
Paul was five years old when we met, and I, four. We moved into the red brick bungalow next door. They lived in the brick mansion next to us. There were eleven kids in the Aikins family. We were seven kids. The sheer numbers of kids (and the lack of hand held devices and video games, ie: none) made for hilarious adventures and play times between the two homes.
We each had at least one member of the Aikins family to play with who was our age. We walked to school together. We played outdoors and in for hours together. It’s hard to believe that none of us ended up married to each other. I always believed Paul and I would be wed. Not to be.
Paul was one of those friends who was just simply THERE for me. I cannot recall a single argument with him. We discussed all manner of topics. I confided in him regarding my tough relationship with my dad. Consequently Paul would never address dad as Mister the way dad would have liked him to. This would irk dad every time. We would snicker about it later.
We competed in Miss Cuthbert’s typing class together at St Joe’s, typing as fast as we could in rhythm to Martha and the Muffins’ Echo Beach. Paul won. We did gymnastics
and music recitals together. Projects and fund-raisers. We decorated for dances and chaired meetings. I’ll never forget the amazingly fun times we managed to have with very little money but very large imaginations and unstop-ability. We would lip-synch to our fave tunes, throwing ourselves whole-heartedly into it and making each other double in two with laughter. Little did we know then that Paul would become this incredibly beloved teacher at Etobicoke School for the Arts.
For several years of our friendship, Paul would come by greyhound bus up to the camp on Lake Cecebe to hang with me there for a week or two. We would canoe, trampoline, clean cottages, paint docks and picnic tables together. It didn’t really matter what we were doing, we would just make it fun. My little brother emailed lately to remind me of this time that Paul and I were playing piano together in the office and he was imitating someone. Ricky rolled on the floor over that one, he recalls. Ricky also reminded me that Paul could imitate dad perfectly, especially the corny face Dad would put on when he was ushering mass at St Mary’s.
I remember the first time I felt that I had lost Paul. It was when they moved from next door to a few streets away on Eugenia Street. The second time I lost Paul was when I moved away for a year when my parents were in the midst of a horrible divorce. I missed him so badly that year. My buddy was too far away for my liking. It was a tough year because of this. He came to London by bus to visit once and we had a blast.
I remember one time he was hired to feed the cats at the convent on the corner of Berczy and Eugenia St in Barrie and I went with him to the massive, empty, dark gothic-style mysterious house with crucifixes affixed on nearly every wall. Well, of course we proceeded to hide behind doors and jump out at each other and to scare each other with a well placed ‘boo!’ several times so that we were frazzled nerves by the time we finished the chore.
Paul was a ball of positive and artistic fun and a fantastic old friend of mine. I will miss him dearly and am so sorry for the loss of this incredible person. I am sorry for his Mother and five brothers and four sisters and his adoring nieces and nephews. I am sorry for Fred, his partner of twenty plus years and how he must be reeling at the sudden and unexpected loss of Paul. I am sorry for his students and for all those whom he will not get the chance to teach. There are simply no words. I know though, that his inspiration will live on in the memories of all those who loved him.
Paul Aikins was an incredible light that shone for 54 years. I will miss him dearly. Rest in Peace dear Paul. Your work is done here but your legacy will live on powerfully and forever, for you have made a difference.
To My Furry Girl-friend
When you see my Lady, with the twinkle in her eyes, tell it to her softly and hold her if she cries. Tell her that I love her and I will till the day I die. Tell it to her gently when you tell her that I won’t be coming home again
~ Burton Cummings
How I shall miss you my best furry girl-friend of the last decade.
Every time I pulled my coat from the cupboard to turn around and you’d be there. Tail wagging. Wet nose smelling. Long tongue lolling. Eyes asking, me too, Mom? If I told you not this time, you would turn and lay down. Disappointed but disciplined. Stoic.
Every time, without fail, the cheese came out of the fridge. From the far reaches of the house you came a trotting.
Running clothes on, Dad? Let’s go, your body said. I’m ready.
Danger in our yard? You would inform us with an important chuff or alarm bark, and make us feel safe, especially from the most feared: a cat! You were ON it! But should a friend come by, there was nary a woof. Not even if years had passed.
I see your water bowl, food bowl, your leash and collar, your tie-out rope, your bed of old blankets. All are sad reminders of your doggy-ness. Your unconditional love of us. Your pack whom you would protect, without question.
This morning I awoke and waited for your bedside greeting. Every day for ten years your nose was there nudging my hand. Your tail wagging us into a new day. Walking to my office where you would take up your spot under my desk. I would warm my feet under your furry belly. Time to go home? Up, shake, let’s go.
But the last months something was wrong. A growth grew. An infection. Blood. A smell that was full of not good. Piddly pee. Howling at the vet’s office – singing the song of your people, the Vet said. Wagging tail stopped wagging and now clamped under to hold the foreign growth on your haunch. You would sandwich yourself between my legs and the cupboard when I was chopping. You would pant and pace. You were not yourself. Oh dear. We would have to face it. You were not feeling well, dear Lady, searching our faces with those pretty brown eyes.
Those hard days are over. We have let you go. We will not forget your sweet furriness and your wonderful doggy-ness. You were love itself.
The Loss of Dane
Lightning crashes a new mother cries
Her placenta falls to the floor
The angel opens her eyes
The confusion sets in
Before the doctor can even close the door
The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse. I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me immediately. It looked normal. I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — or practice contractions that prepare the womb to deliver in the future. I had had experienced them with Leo’s pregnancy. I knew that this was NOT that.
I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves. At one point, my sister Amy called from three provinces to the west and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.
The next day, I found blood on my underwear.
“DEAN!’ I screamed.
“WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL !!”
The pains became worse and worse. We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends whom we had known for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together. We knew each other very well.
I did not want our little Leo to see me in this kind of pain.
Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly. When the picture came up, it looked different. Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus. There was no amniotic fluid. How could Dane be alive? I had been in so much pain, my brain was messed up.
It would not conclude that which it should be concluding.
Nor did the Radiologist then tell me that which he should have told me. Thinking back to the exhausted state I was in with very little sleep over the past two days, I remember that I glanced at his face and he just looked at me, then away. He didn’t explain anything. (Later, he apologized for that).
I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room. On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering. Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together a decade earlier. Through the haze of pain and exhaustion, I was touched that they were here for this. Here for us.
I would get through this and we would all be fine and well. Dane would be okay. All these people were here to support us.
Dane would be fine. Right?
The pain continued. The nurses were good to me. One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back, as my johnny coat was open and allowed it. It felt like heaven. At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop. They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom. I pushed. I pushed again. One more time…
Then, I looked down.
there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.
“What’s that?” I asked, perplexed. My red, sweaty face a question.
A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear. It’s going to be okay.”
Something of size came out.
It was not tubes.
It was Dane.
It was not tubes.
It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.
I held him in my hand. He fit the length of it perfectly.
Little eyes never to open.
Tiny hands never to hold.
I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision streaming down my face.
I cried, “My heart is breaking. Ohhhh No No No. My heart is breaking.”
I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane. And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again. Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.
What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure. I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow. I had failed to be a good woman. A good mom. I was a failure at making a baby (which was stupid since my body had already made Leo).
But, thankfully, time heals and now, over two decades later, I have a different view of this. I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do. There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last years, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.
It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.
I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.
I wonder about the lesson in this loss.
Why did it happen? What is it meant to teach us? The value of life? Gratitude for our blessings? I’m not sure, really. But, I am sure of this:
I love that little soul
that was in that little body
that I held in my womb
and then in my hand.
I wish for him to be forever at peace.
(Thanks to George Baker, an old high school buddy for the crane photo.)
Moving East with Peanut In Belly
When my son was two years of age, I became pregnant for the third time. We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999. It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move from the Toronto, Ontario area to the East coast of our huge country of Canada.
Hubby found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time. Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.
While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, and then newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!
If we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house. It was a sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.
Dad and my step-mom, Wen, came to visit for a week. They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up. The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove. The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with our two big dogs, Delta and Grizzly, and away we went to the second best known landmark in Nova Scotia (the first being the Fortress at Louisburg Historical Site).
When we rolled into Peggy’s Cove, after the twisty-turny roads, we all felt a wee bit squeamish. We wanted to just exit the car and get some fresh air and stretch the legs. I look over to the left, see a brightly painted old school house with a sign that reads: ‘FREE JAZZ CONCERT TODAY’. I say the words aloud to Dad and Wen, and it was like, well, music to their ears. Golden, simply golden. We clambered out of the wagon and made our way over the beaten-earth pathway to the Old School House. Walking in, Dad began to smile and to take Wen’s hand. It was the music of their age. From their day. They began to dance. When the song ended, Dad said, ‘If I just had a black coffee now, I would be all set’.
‘Back in a flash,’ I said and out I flew, down the path and over to the cafe, which wasn’t far away. Peggy’s Cove is a tiny village and harbour with colourful wooden houses, flapping clotheslines, hat-wearing locals, tour buses and fishing shacks, and let’s not forget that lighthouse. Upon my return, the musicians were conversing with Dad and Wen who both had large, wide smiles and the glassy eyes of reminiscence. They took a coffee each, thanking me, and sat back, the picture of relaxation and contentment. We hadn’t even seen the lighthouse yet. Imagine.
The next day we went to one of the best beaches on the south shore: Bayswater Beach. For once we were not fogged in but enjoyed the perfect weather. The added pleasure of this part of the visit was that my step-sister, Paulie and her family were staying in a cabin on a large beautiful lake and we arranged to meet them at the Bayswater Beach, it being the hometown area of her husband, Seth. Seth set up lawn chairs for everyone and then Dad said, ‘If I only had an ice-cream now, I would be all set’.
‘Back in a flash’. I carried back a couple of trays of soft-serve ice-cream for all of us bought from the lady in the truck selling all manner of take-out food. I marveled watching Dad and Leo who were obviously enjoying their cones the most. We had a very sweet time on the beach, Leo playing with his two big cousins in the warm stream of water that runs to the sea. The ocean, being the North Atlantic, was beyond freezing cold. Of course.
For the next couple of nights we stayed in a cabin, close to the one that Paulie and family were staying in and enjoyed hours of swimming, canoeing, story-telling and eating. It was ideal. I’ll never forget the interactions between Leo and Paulie. Especially when it came to saying I love you and goodbye. At that time Leo wasn’t speaking very much, but he was signing. And he would sign ‘I love you’ — dimpled hand held up with chubby ring finger and middle finger bent to his palm. This one day, while saying our goodbyes, he signed ‘I love you’ and then with his index finger pointing at Paulie, he signed ‘I shoot you’. When I saw this I was horrified. But Paulie, in her sweet gentle way, saw the fun in it and chuckled loudly making Leo want to do it again and again.
Then it was back to just the three of us, with now a jumbo-sized peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger. Hearing our baby’s heartbeat and being told we were to have another boy, we were over the moon. His name would be ‘Dane’, after the great soccer player, Zidane.
Then one day, out of the blue, on the Friday morning of a long weekend, I was having tea and toast at Tina’s house, watching Leo and Jude playing and I began to get a strange sensation in my lower belly. It was the same type of feeling that would come at the beginning of a menstrual period.
‘Ah oh’, I thought. ‘Can’t be.”
Crane photo courtesy of an old high school friend G.Baker
Theory of Loss
Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms
We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us? It just is not fair.
Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister. They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland. They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention. There are now several grand-children who will never be held, played with or read to by Poppy Ted.
When I met Ted, I knew instantly that he was one of those truly good people. With his clear, gentle eyes and sweet smile. Always helpful. Always offering quiet advice. Always chuckling at my lame jokes. Always taking Leo and going off for a good play, running around outside playing shoot ’em up games, flying Buzz around, or reading books or squished up into Leo’s play cubby building Lego. I would sometimes forget how much time had gone by. Leo would be so well amused, there was no need for mommy. One time, on a day we were expecting Ted and Lanna to arrive anytime, I over heard a conversation between two six-year olds: Leo and his buddy, Kevin from next door. Kevin was asking would Leo be able to play after lunch.
Leo’s response: Can’t. Uncle Ted is coming.
Kevin: ‘So? Do you want to play?’
‘Oh no, I’ll be playing with Uncle Ted.’
‘He PLAYS with you? asked an incredulous Kevin.
‘Like, anything you want?’
‘Yeah. Anything I want,’ answered a dreamy Leo.
‘Wow!’ said Kevin.
Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of the elderly in his neighbourhood. He may be out there for hours after a snow fall – come in for a bite to eat and a cup of decaf tea and then right back at it. There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness. We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?
What would TED do?
In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed. Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna. One of them already having his pilot’s license. We never saw them again. It was a very small school. We all knew each other. We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other. We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates. We lived in this big old four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm. Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while one cadet blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.
Everyone was wailing. Tears streaming down faces.
It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates. I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry. Again, the question of why? Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.
When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind. Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame. She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was. Birthdays of relatives and friends. The location of each pin in our house. Phone numbers and important details of her seven children’s lives. I remember calling home from Comox when I was posted out there and the dawning realization that Mom was losing her memory. She just could not answer my questions the way she would normally. She was almost stuttering and saying things like: I must be nertz! Mom did lose her memory. It didn’t go overnight though. It went slowly over the next fifteen or so years, until she was just a shell of herself. Sarah McLachlan sings a song called Mary. One time it was playing on the radio around the time that mom was getting more and more ill. Hearing it and the lyrics:
Down to the water’s edge
And there she hangs her head
To find herself faded
A shadow of what she once was
had me weeping and moaning at the early loss of such a great person. Another time, Dean and I were watching a movie in our basement apartment on a rainy day the months before we moved to the Arctic. There was a scene of an older woman in a nursing home who resembled mom in her looks, as well as in her dementia.
I began to cry.
I laid back on our bed and pulled my knees up toward my chest and rolled on my spine side to side. The sobbing came from deep in my centre with loud heaving moans that I could not stop. It was primordial. The feeling of loss was profound. I would have been embarrassed by this raw show of emotion but then I realized that I was grieving for the loss of my mom before she was even dead. That awful fucking disease had taken her long before her time. I missed her very badly. Mom was a good person. Everyone who knew her knew it. At her funeral, Mark sang his song that had grown men weeping with tears streaming down their faces.
Our special mother through all those years. Who gave us hugs and dried our tears. To help us out in every way. Always knowing just what to say.
A harder worker you could not find. Heart of gold and open mind. Thinking of others before herself. Even when she was ill of health.
But when Mom had the time to spare. Her special talents she would share. She swam the lake with graceful strokes. And sang us all the songs she wrote.
She would go on a painting spree. Paint the rocks white at number three. Paint the porch at number one. While singing her song, Please Mister Sun.
A gourmet meal was made from scratch. Pickerel, pike or small-mouth bass. Homemade soup and sugar pie. Crumbled fruit of any kind.
Even with the crosses she had to bear. Her strength and hope were always there. To get us through another day. In our hearts she’ll always stay.
So thank you Mom from all of us. For the care and love you gave so much. You truly are our guiding light. That will shine forever day and night.
We know you’ve finally been released. And now you’ll always rest in peace. AS you look down at us from heaven. Farewell for now, your loving seven. Copyright Dec 2001
Theory of loss? Could it be that it is not the event that is meant to teach us a lesson, but in the reaction to the event and in the love that is shown in support of the grieving? * In fact my sister Eva reminded me of it because I had been tearfully telling her about the tragic loss of a lovely 22 year old young man here in my neighbourhood. I was asking, ‘Why? Why should such a wonderful young person die?’ Eva reminded me. Perhaps it is just that simple.
* I just saw this idea portrayed in a television program called ‘Call the Midwife’.