Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sitting Vigil

Hubby's grandmother is a fighter - all four feet ten inches of her. She has spent the past four days with her willpower tightly clenched around life, defying medical reason, going out just as she lived - on her own terms. No use leading her to the light... she'll let go when she is good and ready.

We tried to offer MIH some respite - she has been holding a one woman vigil, unwilling to leave her mother's side just in case she would pass away alone. When we arrived, MIH was dressed in a flamboyant turquoise outfit of blouse and capri pants. Apparently they let her shower at the residence and the only clean clothes at her disposal were her mother's. Hilarious when you realize that my MIH is at least five foot nine or ten and her mother is under five feet tall - hence the "capris". Yes, there is still humour to be found in the hallowed halls of nursing homes and bedside at deathbeds.

Nana was no longer resting peacefully - but rather, waking up after only short naps bewildered and distressed. Her squeals of terror were jarring and it took MIH's constant reassuring and kisses to convince her that she was safe. Not our idea of "making her comfortable".

And so the cycle continues. The end of our lives is very similar to the beginning. Helping someone die is reminiscent of child birth with its excruciating pain and unpredictability. And it's something you have to go through to get through. At the other end: bitter-sweetness. In death there will be no baby, but there will be a life to celebrate.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Long Goodbye

Hands of love from MIH
The room is dimly lit. And by your side, in a soft chair fit for your diminutive height, is your devoted daughter.

The journey has been long – at ninety-nine years - longer than most. We’ve watched as bits of you slowly fell away, and you fell into yourself. Alzheimer’s is cruel that way; it robs the family of the familiar and imposes a long, painful, reluctant goodbye.

And painful it has been; your rage against your aging and loss of independence ever-present, simmering barely beneath the surface; your daughter braving smiles and brandishing hugs as you ask her where your daughter is…

Pound for pound you are the strongest and feistiest woman I’ve known. You like things done your way, and you have always been a lady who knows exactly what she wants. And you have been fighting to live.

And now, as the time for final farewells draws nearer, you surrender to peace. The rigid line of your jaw relaxes, and your eyes finally close and your body relaxes into deep slumber.

And in a soft chair, fit for your diminutive height, sits your devoted daughter, by your side, to usher you lovingly to your eternity.

Much love to my dear MIH.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cottage Sojourn

Back to reality after the inaugural long weekend of the summer - and with the glorious golden weather, it couldn't have been more perfect. Hubby and I headed north to sweep the cobwebs off the cottage, chase out the vermin and hook up the indoor plumbing (I like rustic - I'm not a fanatic!). We accomplished all of the above and even squeezed some relaxing in too.

My lofty perch on the deck gave me a perfect vantage point from which to supervise Hubby as he positioned the dock and hooked it up to the ramp. All kidding aside, he actually did need my help and I was happy to lend my Herculean strength to paddle the dock into position, and hold up my end while he slipped the bolts in. With my brains and brawn, and Hubby's Hulkish strength, we made like a team of superheroes to get our floating piece of heaven in place.

Of course we encountered more wildlife than I could capture with my handy cam - some even outside! Saw our old snapping turtle by the roadside, our usual red squirrels, chickadees, nuthatches, a  Black-throated Green Warbler (I had to look this one up) and a bossy hummingbird who decided to guard the feeder for himself - or maybe just hang out to pick up chicks. My favourite though is the haunting call of the loon at the sun lowers in the sky. It marks the end of a perfect day in cottage country, and a reminder to take a moment for silent thanks.

And as you drift into certain slumber from the heady potion of songs of the forest mingled with fresh, earthy night air, it isn't hard for your heart to be filled to overflowing with gratitude, and peace.

To share the love, here are just a few images from this first weekend of our summer season.

Sprouting up

Mixing it up with my summer reads...

Bossy hummingbird

The trillium - Ontario's official flower

Sunrise - best time of the day

Out our kitchen window
Fritz in waiting

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Celebrating and Remembering


Today is Mother's Day.

I used to dread this day and everything that went with it: standing vacantly in front of a wall of cards, reading prose that no longer applied, wishing that I had to buy one; watching mothers and daughters on their outings at the mall ...

Their were times when I didn't want to get out of bed; preferring to immerse myself in your memory, and in what "was", instead of what "is". I would replay mental memory strips of moments with you in them, remembering the warmth of your hugs and the special spot on your neck where I would land when you comforted me. I remembered your soft but infectious laugh -- it was more of a giggle-- and how you sang as you did your housework. I would spend the day wallowing in want - wanting you to be here.

Today is Mother's Day and I'm better now, Mom. I can relive the memories without reliving the pain of your loss. I have moved from grief to gratitude. I remember each and every lesson you have ever taught me and the rest of the sibs. We speak your name every day and I start alot of my sentences with "my mom used to say...".

My girls have inherited all that you taught me, and that which your mother taught you. They are good girls Mom. In fact, all of your grandkids are good people, bound to be solid citizens of the planet. But somehow I feel like you already know that; I can feel your smile at special occasions and I know you would be so proud of them all.

So today, on this special day dedicated to mothers, in the tradition of celebration, I will graciously accept all of the love and attention  that my daughters want to share with me. I am filled with gratitude for these lovely ladies that I have been blessed with, and for the mother who taught me so much and is proof of the most important lesson of all - that love never dies.  Happy Mother's Day. I had the very best.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Little Town

Down in the valley
Who says you can't go home? Well you can go back, but you won't find it exactly as remembered - that dusty-but-rosy version of yesteryear firmly lodged in your memory. The main street looks tired and run down; favourite haunts are now just haunts, and empty lots now sport new chain restaurants. What hasn't changed is the welcoming spirit of my little town.

My sister and I drove the five hours back to our home town for the funeral of our beloved family friend. Our chatter got livelier with each mile we put between us and the four lane freeway, bringing us that much closer.  Cows soon replaced cars and wide open spaces, two-lane roads and 80 km speed limits signalled the descent into the Valley.

Before the funeral, we met up with our parents and family friends for a visit and story swap. We did what my family does best -- we reminisced -- with each tale getting tastier by the telling.

My dad and his two buddies, with decades of friendship borne from a shared profession, sat around the pine-lined sun room sharing memories, putting names to characters, and weaving garden talk into the mix. And as they chatted in their easy, familiar, manner I couldn't help but marvel at the treasure before me. As children, my sibs and I served cocktails to younger versions of these people as they gathered at our place before a dance, or just to relax amongst friends. In the late hours we would peer from behind barely opened doors at parties that would inevitably end in a sing-song complete with ukuleles, accordion, and spoons. The faithful friends that my parents started with in what was then our new town, are the same friends my dad has to this day. Their friendship has endured and watching it in action warmed my heart.

The church was packed to the rafters with a community who wanted to show their love, caring and respect for our dear friend. He had been humble in life, willing to blend into the background, so it was fitting that in death he should finally take centre stage among those to whom he was a loyal, generous friend.

After the service, in the church basement among egg salad sandwiches and homemade sugary squares, the real visitation took place. Friends, former teachers and neighbours, and familiar faces whose names escaped me flooded the room with good wishes, updates, hugs, smiles and laughter. The re-connections were audible and the mood took a celebratory tone. I'll say it -- it became a party and the only thing missing were a few dearly departed and the sing-song. I swear I could feel our departed friend's pleasure with the result and  I am certain it rolled out exactly as he had planned. Mission accomplished.

I think the growing trend of people opting out of funerals and other such services is unfortunate, robbing us of life-affirming opportunities to come together in community to remember, celebrate, and re-connect. My sister and I got a healthy dose of our roots and a reminder of what was best about our little town - that which has never wavered - the people. You can go back. We should and we will.
Behind every man ...

Friday, May 4, 2012


You think you have it all worked out -- how to integrate the mounting losses into your daily life; how to choose to be grateful for the people you still have around you - loving you, supporting you, and reminding you why it's great to be alive. You choose to see the glass half full and count blessings, and not that which, or whom, you do not have.

And that is what I do, that is, until I get ambushed while running on the treadmill and "Back Home Again" starts playing on my mp3 player, triggering the slideshow of past performances of that song, morphing my joyful bout of singing-with-wild-abandonment-like-no-one-can-hear-you to sobs. It comes from nowhere, this overwhelming, gut-wrenching grief for everyone who cradled my childhood in love and cocooned me with the security and unconditional acceptance that is my big, remarkable family.

Scenes of my after dinner family sing-songs, Uncle Arlen playing his faithful guitar, taking requests or surprising us with, "I have a tune I think you'll like"; my mom (alto) and her sister Mugs (soprano) singing harmony with their brother and the rest of us providing choral support as we sat at their feet. Inevitably, we  got around to the family anthem, Back Home Again by John Denver, and inevitably, Uncle Arlen would get a twinkle in his eye, wink and smile as he sang "it's the sweetest thing I know of, just spending time with you".

Those moments, shared by us all, were cohesive strips binding us together. Back then, it never occurred to me that these moments were rare gifts made from a recipe of seasonal ingredients.

And so today was an emotional mash-up. I still see the faces and smiles of those who have gone before me, and more importantly, I still feel their love. And my heart still yearns to hold them. But wherever their unearthly spirits landed after their heavy earthly armor released them, I hope they found one another, and that they know they mattered and are missed. Love is eternal, and does not die.

And yes that was my egg that exploded in the microwave, and yes, my sobbing made me lose track of time thereby resulting in me exceeding my exercise goals. Whatever works ... thanks Mom.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


He had a place at our table for holidays, famjams and even not so special occasions. He was not married; he didn't have children of his own; and if he had someone special in his life, we never met them. And apart from his beloved dog and cats, and his lovely little mother, we were his adopted family - one of several. His friends were his chosen family.

He tagged along on family vacations. He had a way of being there without taking up space. He blended seamlessly  into the tapestry of our family life, celebrating milestones and sharing the painful times. He was a listening ear for my mother, a loyal friend to my father and a kind and generous person to everyone he met. He was the first to volunteer - for anything - and filled in the gaps with his quiet, unassuming demeanor.

And last Sunday, after church, he died suddenly. And as my father put it so succinctly, another door closed.

He will be missed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Getting Traction

It hurts so good! I could barely suppress my giggle-fit as I lay on the massage table, my head clamped into the electronic traction device gently having my skull firmly pulled off my spine. "Let me know if it gets too uncomfortable" she said. What constitutes "too uncomfortable", I wondered. Funny enough a pebbly path of a little pain and discomfort led to great relief.

As the massage therapist dug her hands into my shoulder socket, working out knots that I didn't know I had, I focused on breathing through her tough love, knowing how good I would feel when the heating pad would signal she was finally finished.

And of course, true to expectation, I left the therapy in less pain and with more range of movement than I arrived with. And really, isn't that true with most things in life? Often we have to traverse a journey of pain to get to the good stuff that awaits on the other side - the peace, joy, love. Yup - hurts so good.