I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together… (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’
~Carol Burnett

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

paul 3
Paul Aikins age 16 and Martha Valiquette age 15, St Joe’s talent night

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.

paul year book2 (2)

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 (2009-2019)

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.

lady
Photo by Taylor Marie Brown, good friend of Lady Jane

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.

Lady Jane, 2 years old
Lady Jane, 2 years old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(First and last photos by Martha Valiquette)

Remembering Matt (1966-2003)

Wilson L. Matthew Jan 14, 1966 – Dec 1, 2003
brother, uncle, teacher and friend
Nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much

After reading the previous post by Al Kinsella about the loss of his father, Eric commented about the power of the poem Al had written.  I took the opportunity to then ask Eric if he had a story for my blog and here is what he offered.  It is a story about a mutual friend who lost his life suddenly and way too early.
A guest submission by Eric van Wesenbeeck:
Writing this was a way of dealing with the grief of a lost friend, who left us way too early in life…

 

A while ago, I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jim’s mother. Jim O is an old high school friend whom I still keep in touch with. In fact, we were neighbours for a few years when our kids where just young and even now we live in the same town. A mutual friend of ours, Matt, planned to come up to Barrie for the weekend to join the Saturday evening festivities. Matt lived in Bradford where he worked at his dream job as a high school English/Drama teacher. We saw Matt a few times a year when he would come to Barrie to visit friends and I looked forward to seeing him again, soon.

He first came to our house for dinner with me, my wife, Chris and our three kids. As always, Matt brought his old guitar with him and entertained the kids (okay, all of us) with a few of the hundreds of songs he had filed away in that jukebox brain of his. Afterwards, we headed off, guitar in hand, to Jim’s parents’ house for the party. On the way, Matt and I chewed the fat, toasting our common interest in music and pop culture, savouring the latest gossip of our many mutual old high school friends and digesting hearty servings of what life had recently dished up for the two of us. Matt had just broken up with his latest girlfriend and, although he hid it well, I could tell he was heartbroken. Matt had had a few serious relationships but unfortunately for him, none had worked out in the long term. I figured the evening’s party may be a convenient distraction for Matt on what may have otherwise been a cold, lonely November Saturday night.

We had great time at this Irish birthday party and a happy surprise it was for Jim’s mother! Her friends and relatives from Ireland, New York City and next door joined in to celebrate. The Irish beer and whiskey flowed and it wasn’t long before the atmosphere in the rec-room had transformed to that of an Irish pub with card games, darts, billiards, laughter and song. Ah yes, song. One of Jim’s aunts sang a few haunting Irish folk songs that mesmerized the gathering. Of course, Matt had brought in his guitar and it wasn’t long before he had many of us singing along as he pounded out the chords on his trusty Gibson six-string. As he wound down his “set”, Matt called me over to help him sing the next song, “I’m One” by the Who. Going back over twenty years to grade eleven, the love of music was something that closely bonded Matt and me. The only difference was that he could play and sing it – I could most definitely NOT. Consequently, I awkwardly stumbled through the verses and then enthusiastically helped Matt belt out the chorus in my tone-deaf voice. We had a great time.

Later that evening, as the revelry wound down, Matt drove me back home. Before leaving to crash for the night at Jim’s house, Matt stood in my driveway with me and we chatted for a long time. Matt was usually up-beat and lighthearted and rarely exposed his darker corners but that night he was particularly reflective and nostalgic and it seemed, just a little melancholy. Chronic health problems had caused him several setbacks in life, back as far as I could remember. He divulged to me a drug habit that he had only recently wrestled into control. He lamented that yet another relationship had failed. He felt that he was missing out on a certain part of life as he watched his friends get married and raise families of their own. Matt loved kids and I think he longed to be a father. I felt bad for Matt and tried to comfort him with my words. I reminded him of all the kids at school who loved him – he was an extremely popular teacher because of his gift for connecting with the students with whom he was so involved. I reminded him of all his siblings and the many nieces and nephews who looked up to “Uncle Matt”. I (regretfully) suppressed an urge to reach out and give him a hug. It was getting late, so Matt, feeling a little comforted, hopped in the car and drove across town to Jim’s house.

As Matt drove away and I made my way to bed, the tune “I’m One” kept playing in my head. I hadn’t listened to that album in years and Matt’s rendition of it had rekindled the flame I carried for this old “favorite band”. The next day, I pulled my “Quadrophenia” CD out of the dusty archives and threw it in my car for future listening.

Two weeks later, on a Monday morning while at work, I got a call from Jim. Jim somberly announced to me that our friend Matt had passed away. I sat in silence, stunned. Jim explained that Matt had gone to the hospital by himself on the weekend, not feeling well. He must have been feeling awful because with all his past health problems Matt had spend too much time in hospitals and now hated going there. He wouldn’t go unless he really wasn’t well. He passed away two nights later with congestive heart failure. Just like that, Matt was gone. I was shaken and had to leave work to clear my head. I got in the car and drove to the lakeshore and stared silently out onto the foreboding gray waters. I thought about Matt. About the conversation we had only two weeks ago. About the years we had spent together in school. About the music, friends, parties, camaraderie and life we had shared. I remembered him singing recently at the party. I loaded the CD I had left in the car and listened to “I’m One”. I listened to the track again and again. Suddenly, the lyrics spoke to me with such clarity. Matt had sung them so passionately and now I knew why. This angst ridden song of a misfit trying so hard to fit in somewhere and be “someone”, reflected perfectly what Matt was feeling. Matt felt he was only “one” and he wanted so badly to be more than that…

matt grave

It’s seems to me, that Matt never realized that he had, in fact, become more than that. There were over 400 people at his visitation, funeral and interment. Standing room only. Many were students, who felt like they had lost a big brother. Through his classroom enthusiasm and antics, his passionate dramatic creations and his rousing participation in floor hockey, Matt had so closely touched so many students. Matt was awarded, posthumously, an award for teaching excellence. A student achievement award was created and named in his honour.

I won’t easily forget Matt. I visit his grave occasionally and take a few moments to recognize all the good things in my life, even if, at that moment, things may seem kind of bleak. I remind myself to enjoy each day to the fullest because each one is precious and a chance to leave a positive impression on those I meet. In the end, we are all just “one” and that’s really not so bad, is it?

~Submission and photo by Eric van Wesenbeeck…thank you)

__________________________________

For me, Matt was one of those school friends that I met in kindergarten in 1971 and besides grade 10, we spent our all of our school days together right up until grade 13.  Matt and I served on the student’s council at St Mary’s together, we hung out in groups on weekends and we played ball on the paved (yes, paved) yard at recess, after school and sometimes on weekends.  Matt loved ball.  He knew all the calls the hand signs the lingo.  He could be very dramatic and it was contagious.  We lived a couple of streets away from each other and attended the same masses at St Mary’s church.  Losing Matt felt like a blow to my stomach and a dark inner pain that just wouldn’t stop.  Dean, Leo and I were in Honduras on Roatan when I received the email from Flo that Matt had died. ‘WHAT??’ I exclaimed and my fist flew to my mouth with the shock of the news.  When you are school friends for so many years, back when people just did not move away, you really got to know someone and it is profound how much they feel like a part of you.  How well they knew and understood you.  They would just have to.  Matt used to call me ‘Marth’ and he was the only one who would.  I’ll never forget him.  He was a good friend and will always be missed.  Go well Matt.  Rest in Peace.

 

I’m One
Every year is the same
And I feel it again
I’m a loser, no chance to win
Leaves start fallin’
Come down is callin’
Loneliness starts sinking in
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
Where do you get
Those blue, blue jeans
Faded, patched secret so tight?
Where do you get
That walk oh so lean?
Your shoes and your shirt’s all just right
I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I got a Gibson
Without a case
But I can’t get that even tanned look on my face
Ill fitting clothes
And I blend in the crowd
Fingers so clumsy
Voice too loud
But I’m one
I am one
And I can see
That this is me
And I will be
You’ll all see
I’m the one
I’m the one
I’m the one
Songwriters: Peter Den

 

While Sitting At Your Grave

Though things we knew not how
When it was clear and loud
I hope you’re watching now
I hope we do you proud….
~Allen Kinsella

Guest writer Al Kinsella…

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago on a Nov 6th. Today would have been my father’s birthday. It would always require a visit to the cemetery where I do a ton of thinking. Well it’s that day again today – he has been gone for 6 years now and here is a poem I wrote in 2015 while sitting at his grave.

 

I thought of you today

I know you’re no longer here

Had so much left to say

I say in thoughts and tears

 

The more I think things different

The more they just don’t change

I find I’m more and more like you

is it funny or is it strange?

 

Though things we knew not how

When it was clear and loud

I hope you’re watching now

I hope we do you proud

 

Not a day goes by I don’t realize

You would never not bother

I think of you daily to my surprise

Happy Birthday Dad my Father

 

Although on this special day

when you are not here to celebrate

Watch over us and pray

And make our worlds illuminate!

 

 

 

*****

Photo by me (not Al)

The Loss of Dane 💔, Part 2 (2001)

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
~Live

Continued from The Loss of Dane, Part 1

Warning…this part is graphic…

 

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.

Dear God,

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 a decade 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.

 

highway

 

Please consider leaving a message and telling of your loss.

(Thanks Google images and creative commons licence for the pics).

He Grows Up 💕

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain.

pregnant in N Carolina
Leo-In-Belly at the Outer Banks, NC. A fun weekend with Nancy and Family.

My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999, well, he is now a tall young man.  Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. (But, this is his mother writing.  What else would I say?)

He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University.  I have five weeks left with him before he departs.  My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time.  I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either.  That’s life, right?!  It sneaks up on you and BAM!

Your son, your only, is leaving for University.

But, what about that big adventure you ask?  Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France.  Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally.  They will do duties:  watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties.  I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too.  They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.

About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.

WHAT??  

Already?

What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear?  Or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills?  The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!

The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm.  The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together.  The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”

hiking on Wolfville trails, from our door

Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him?  Did I do enough for him?  Did I help to shape a good young man?  Will he find his way?  Will he find a love?  Will he miss me?

He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park.  Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.

Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip.  Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden.  While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in.  I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.

The curious thing happened.  While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen.  Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦 and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and snagged the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet.

Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it.  From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone.  My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again…shaking. Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.”  When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me.  You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.

Cape Split nap
Napping at Cape Split, NS

Almost nothing phases him.  But, I had to remind myself to take stock:  he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career;  a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet.  So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny.  All I wanted to do was make it better.  Take away his strain and nerves.  Jeepers.  I’m gonna need to chill.

Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:

When we first moved to Halifax, we lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking.  So…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful.  That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

(Photos by the author)

The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Leonard Cohen
Bird on a Wire

When my son, Leo was two, 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 to the East coast.

My husband, Dean 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, 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!

Public GardensIf 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 hell of a market.  A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.

Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, 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 all 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 Wendy, 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 Wendy’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 Wendy 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.

Peggy's cove village

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.

Bayswater Beach

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.”

Continued at Loss of Dane, Part 2

 

 

 

*******************

Crane photo courtesy of an old high school friend with the initials G.B.

All other photos from google and pinterest

Leave a comment. It tells me you were here and also, tell me of your experience of loss.

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

….Dire Straits

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 Lanna.  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.

child running

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. 

‘Yep.’

‘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?

***

cessnaIn 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 licence.  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.

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:

Mary walks
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

track
Photo by Eva Player

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.

trouble river

 

* I just saw this idea portrayed in a television program called ‘Call the Midwife’.