All the Difference a Day Makes

“The robin flew from his swinging spray of ivy on to the top of the wall and he opened his beak and sang a loud, lovely trill, merely to show off. Nothing in the world is quite as adorably lovely as a robin when he shows off – and they are nearly always doing it.”
― Frances Hodgson BurnettThe Secret Garden

 

 

 

 

I went home to Ontario a few weeks ago to celebrate the joyful occasion of one of my daughters new beginnings and ended my trip unexpectedly with one of my greatest life sorrows, a ceremony of remembrance and of saying goodbye to a very special, long-time loved friend,

Robin.

 

I have been struggling since then to put words to this loss properly because that is what I always try to do when marking moments in time.

 

I knew it was coming, I’ve had almost 15 years to prepare and yet the news caught me off guard.

A sucker punch to my heart and to the hearts of 100’s (I am not exaggerating) of people who loved her too, most especially her husband and children.

 

May everyone have. at least once in their journey, a friend like Robin to love and to mourn and to weave her magic into their lives.

 

On December 20th of 1996 Angus and I, with 3-year-old Catey and 1-year-old Aidan moved into our brand new home on Endeavour Drive in Cambridge Ontario.

 

We were so proud of that house and all it’s new finishes, in spite of the fact it was the dead of winter and there was nothing really but barren new subdivision lots around us, that we were so maxed out to make the down payment that my aunt had to loan us $200 for groceries and I didn’t know a soul that lived there.

 

Every house and homeowner was new, mostly young families or empty nesters and it wasn’t long until the house beside us took shape.

 

I looked out the kitchen window one day soon after we moved in and saw a couple animatedly pointing and looking at the workings and details of their new home.

 

I can’t say I noticed Paul (sorry Paul) I was so fixated on the stunning red-head who looked as if she was about to drop a baby that minute.

 

“My God”, I thought. “ what can I possibly have in common with her? She’s so stylish and clearly too rich for the likes of me.”

 

In those days of babies and being a full-time stay at home Mommy, track pants and Angus’s old sweatshirts were my standard attire, make-up was intended for grown-ups (still is, I’m not really one of them), I sat on the floor all day, not the furniture and the only thing interesting I felt I might possibly have to offer was what Oprah talked about that day.

 

I was wrong … sort of anyway.

 

Robin became my neighbor and my friend.

 

She was always better dressed, better at cooking and entertaining and always very confident in herself, something I got better at as I got older.

 

She wore brilliant red and fuchsia lipstick with aplomb and gusto.

 

She loved to wear the colour purple and mow the lawn in her bikini.

 

She was also, occasionally, a gigantic pain in the ass.

 

Paul doted on her and she was, let me be the first to say and certainly not the last, a bloody diva.

 

She loved fine food, fancy cocktails, travelling and spoiling herself.

 

She loved great reads, art in many incarnations, galleries, museums and dragonflies.

 

She loved spending time with her family and her friends.

 

She loved every animal that walked the earth, even her horrible cat Taffy, that hissed and hated every other person on the earth I think, except Robin.

 

God help the person who served her instant coffee, her coffee-making was an art in itself.

 

She had a housekeeper, well eventually and actually a friend and confidante who also cared for the house once a week, from almost day one I think and in later years went far above and beyond to support Robin and her family.

 

I was terribly jealous about her having Marianne come cleaning and told Robin so on more than one occasion.

 

Her response, almost always to my complaints, was to throw back her head and laugh and make me eventually laugh right along with her.

 

The obvious truth is we couldn’t have afforded it in those early days and I was (am) such a control freak I probably would have cleaned the house first anyways.

 

The other, ultimate truth was, that in later years Robin would have given anything to be able to clean her house herself or to go up and down a flight of stairs with a laundry basket perched on one hip with ease, instead she had to fight to be alive and present as many days as she did.

 

The years we lived as neighbours brought Jamie and Mairin to Paul and Robin.

 

We built our fences together and planted trees together.

 

Paul built snowmen in our front yard with Catey and Aidan when Jamie was still too small because he was excited as they were with the first big snow.

 

Our kitchen windows faced each other and Aidan and Mairins’ bedroom windows looked into each other.

 

One day a defiant 7-year-old Aidan stormed downstairs sometime after bedtime, which in those days was 7:30.

 

“Why?” she demanded to know “ does Mairin still have lights on in her room and get to play when I have to go to bed sooooo early. I wish Robin was my mommy, she’s always nice,” she hollered over her shoulder as she stormed back up to her room.

 

I remember thinking then that Robin was always nice because she was always nice to herself first and then giving myself pause to let that sink in.

 

Life lesson, thank you Robin …

 

Robin and Paul were there to support us when Catey was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, when Aidan had brain surgery, when I had to have a hysterectomy at 32.

 

They were our neighbours and they were our friends at a time when I was beginning to think the Universe was out to get us.

 

When the dust settled and we found our new normal, different opportunities for work meant we made the decision, after almost 8 years, to move.

 

The day we listed our house I was in tears all day.

 

I wasn’t sure about leaving and was secretly hoping the house wouldn’t sell and we’d stay.

 

The sign went up about 10 am and we had a full list offer, that same day, at 6pm.

 

The next morning, Robin had a seizure.

 

I woke up to Paul in the front yard, half-dressed, his nose bloodied because she had punched him in the face during the seizures while they slept, an ambulance parked in front of our houses and fear in his eyes so deep and raw it haunts me to this day.

 

That was the only time I think Paul ever really let his guard down, after that he spent the next 14 or 15 years being Robins rock.

 

I would never have left Endeavour Drive if that had happened one day earlier but it was done.

 

As moves have taken us here and there over the years, I have always tried to stay connected.

 

Robin was always positive, always the one making those who came to comfort her find comfort.

 

She had two little children and a whole lot of living left to do and she was damned if anyone or anything, especially a brain tumour, would take her away from that.

 

No person with her original diagnosis had reached 10 years post craniotomy and she was determined, as was Paul, to beat that milestone and fight her disease, no pun intended, head on.

 

It was not ever easy.

 

It took a host of people to help.

 

It took residual wells of strength and love and patience from those closest to her to face each day.

 

There were terribly hard times and terribly joyful moments.

 

Slowly, post surgery an as the meds were weaned off and the fatigue and other symptoms diminished, the family got their life back.

 

Their sort of normal rhythm returned.

 

They started travelling again and Robin, in all her optimistic glory, took up diving, like deep-sea diving, despite the fact that she had undergone such invasive brain surgery followed by radiation and chemo.

 

I couldn’t believe it.

 

She was so joyful when she talked about being “under and into the ocean”.

 

No fear, just determined as ever to have fun and find joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Breathing Underwater”
I’m the blade
You’re the knife
I’m the weight
You’re the kite
They were right when they said
We were breathing underwater
Out of place all the time
In a world that wasn’t mine to take

I’ll wait
Is this my life?
Ahhh
Am I breathing underwater?
Is this my life?
Ahhh
Am I breathing underwater?

I’m the blade
You’re the knife
I’m the weight
You’re the kite
They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes
When they bowed at their feet, in the end it wasn’t me

Is this my life?
Ahhh
Am I breathing underwater?
Is this my life?
Ahhh
Am I breathing underwater?

Nights are days
We’ll beat a path through the mirrored maze
I can see the end
But it hasn’t happened yet
I can see the end
But it hasn’t happened yet

Is this my life?
Ahhh
Am I breathing underwater?
Is this my life?
Ahhh
Am I breathing underwater?

 

 

 

 

She told me once, as we were driving to the Juravinski Cancer Clinic for an appointment that she hated the MRI, she felt panicky when she went in each time.

 

To deal she played this song, it was her way to feel calm and relaxed, like diving.

 

How beautiful it was to see a photo of Robin, full scuba gear on and waving to the camera, on the back of the Order of Service for her services while we listened to this song.

 

Around 4 years ago (I think it was late summer or early fall) Robin called me one day and asked if I’d come pick her up.

 

She had been having some seizures again and a few nagging symptoms.

 

She had been back to the Dr’s and had another MRI and she was waiting for the results.

 

I think the whole family was on edge, the kids were teenagers by then, Paul was super busy with work and Robin, having lost her license because of her medical issues was feeling a little overwhelmed.

 

She knew what was coming and needed some time and space to steady herself.

 

Our little drive ended up being a four-day holiday of sorts at my farm.

 

She told nobody where she was and I was sworn to secrecy.

 

We sat in the sun, played with the dogs, she napped most days and we sipped wine and watched the fire burn at night.

 

The girls were at school and Angus was working and somehow it seemed we were mostly alone.

 

We were quiet most of the time, she and I laughing and reminiscing as we shared those precious days.

 

She got the phone call one afternoon, there was nobody home but the two of us, one of my dogs beside her, head in her lap, a beautiful sunny day outside.

 

I didn’t know what to do so I poured out the Scotch.

 

Robin hated scotch and actually had never drunk it but I insisted, guess my dear departed (really) Mother-in-law was with me too that day, somewhere in the shadows.

 

Robin choked it down, then asked for another and we inhaled, exhaled and talked about the “next”.

 

She was afraid for her family, for her independence and for all the people who this news would affect.

 

We talked about her children, how much she loved them and how the hardest thing was feeling like she had coloured their childhood with this heavy thing called cancer.

 

I assured her that her children had the best and hardest working Mother they could have ever had and her example of optimism in the face of terrible odds, strength in the face of uncertainty and pain and love, of them and with her husband Paul, in spite of it all, was the greatest thing a mother could ever offer.

 

Of course, I was a little tipsy J

 

I took Robin, after a few hours of sober Sarah, to her parents’ home then so she could share her news.

 

I wept’ all the way home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the years leagues of people came to help the family, supported them with meals, rides, and hugs, whatever they could offer.

 

Robin was a teacher and made friends at all the schools she worked in.

 

She touched many people and they in turn wanted to help her too.

 

Her appreciation to these people was also huge.

 

Here is an email she sent out as one of her many up-dates to her friends and family.

 

 

” please call and don’t worry about waking me up. you may make the tea or open the wine  – I May put you to work ;0) but i really can fall asleep again any time almost anywhere,

thank you to all of you who have been lifting my spirits! i definitely have more good days than bad thanks to you!

Robin ”

 

 

 

 

A while back Robin called Catey, my daughter, in Australia.

 

To this day I don’t know how she found the number and by then she was sometimes a little confused.

 

She said, “ Hi Cate, it’s Robin. How are you? I miss your Mom “

 

A few months later Cate was experiencing some health issues and got an email from Robin.

 

This from a woman fighting her own battle half a world away but worrying about my girl after a phone call with me and trying to bolster her spirits.

 

 

 

With Cates’ permission I am sharing it. This was an incredibly literate woman, a teacher. Her typing was hampered by a weak hand and trouble with her vision. Her message, however, was clear and sweet.

 

 

 

 

Hi Catey –

Y!ou will get through this with flying colours, but my thoughts and prayers are with you all the same! you are such a strong woman already! – halfway through med school at your age!!!i know you come from 2long lines of crazily strong women who have overcome unbelievable circumstances because they HAD TO…..YOU HAVE A GREAT FAMILY ,  great life ahead of you full of possibilities, and you will get through it, just like you have with each diabetic roller coaster event! The music teacher at Woodland Park and her twin were both born with celiac disease, and have led fully normal lives, had kids etc…. Pauls boss acquired it in his 30’s and has had to have a few surgeries since, removing part of his intestine, but when i ask what to cook when he comes over, he says ‘whatever you were planning is great”………i’m are you know much more about it than i do, being halfway done mad school! Believe in medicine, your body’s ability to heal and in the power of prayer and positive thoughts coming your way//…….my neurologist is amazed by me still alive after two brain tumours removed ten years apart still fighting 14 years later after a 3-5 year prognosis in 2004. She says we are now in uncharted territory with me she knows of      NO ONE ALIVE WITH 2 craniotomies  &THIS MUCH CRANIAL RADIATION AND CHEMO TO THE BRAIN Anyone who had my first tumour and what i had done is now dead. She also knows of no marriage that has made it this long’s old and out of shape but as I’m going under anaesthetic and healing i just thought of all the family things i needed to be around for – mairin’s senior prom, trillium equestrian shows with her new horse Max, touring university

 

 

 

 

 

 

When my friend Lorraine let me know about Robin, I was sitting in a hotel room in Toronto, about to send Aidan off to a ball to celebrate her writing of and excellent performance on the CFE, a designation exam as a Chartered professional Accountant

 

I had made a flash trip from the Island to the city and planned on a flying trip to Cambridge the next day and then home again, to plan yet another move, this time back to Ontario.

 

I was so excited to tell her I was coming back and once again, a day made all the difference.

 

There is a sharp intake of breath in those moments when you get news like that.

 

A moment of panic for me, that I couldn’t quite breathe and fogginess in my head.

 

And then the tears came.

 

Poor Aidan went to her ball, blotchy eyed and tear streaked and wanting not to party with her friends but to stay and try to comfort me.

 

I had to push her to go, after all, Robin would have been appalled that anyone miss a party on her behalf.

 

That was her spirit and her light and I wanted Aidan to honour it.

 

I hope in all the dark days ahead her family will hold that spirit close and remember that living, not just living but living well and with joy, was the legacy their mother, wife, sister, friend, diva extraordinaire’ wanted people to hold close.

 

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4 thoughts on “All the Difference a Day Makes

  1. Such a wonderful tribute to your friend and enduring friendships – beautifully written, Sarah. So sorry for your loss.

    Like

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