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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The Greatest Remedy for Ignorance is Travel

If you ever feel like you’re stuck on pause, that life has become too predictable and maybe you’ve become too set in your ways and fallen out of touch with what really matters, I have some advice. Take a trip, get away, go explore and get somewhere unfamiliar and even slightly uncomfortable. At least that’s what I recently did and it was exactly what I needed to break up the winter and re-centre.

 

Nothing shakes things up, alters your normal pace and makes you focus on the really important stuff of life like leaving your comfort zone and getting a fresh perspective. Either locally, regionally or globally, get up and go anywhere but where you live.

 

My husband, Angus, and I recently travelled across the world to Australia. I actually had never felt a great compulsion to go there, at least not like I did for exploring all the corners of Europe. It’s a long way from Canada and I guess I never had any strong ties that drew me to visit there. It was not until my daughter decided to go there for Medical School and most likely has decided never to return that I felt inspired to make the long journey. Of ‘course I never bet on anything being set in stone but she is pretty determined that the Land of Oz has stolen her heart and she’s never leaving. So instead of heading east this time we flew west, way west.

 

I have been inundated with stories about Australia, Melbourne especially, for three years now and thought I knew what I would find. As it turns out, there was so much more than I could ever have imagined and I’m sure we only just scratched the surface. I kind of feel like you do when someone makes you read a book you really aren’t interested in and would never have chosen yourself and then are amazed, surprised and slightly embarrassed that you loved it so much.

 

I was also surprised (to use a little metaphor) to realize I have a very snug fitting invisible cloak. I can’t see it but I know with all certainty it’s red and white and sports a big maple leaf. Sometimes it fits very snug, so much so that I feel a little constrained, wrapped up in my ‘self shall we say. Sometimes I was tempted to peel it off, play a little looser and care free but the darn thing is hard to shed. There were moments that I wanted to twirl it up in the air proudly, letting the colours fly and declare it to be everything anyone ever needed to know about me, an integral part of me and what has defined me since the year of it’s Centennial and the year of my birth, 1967. Lastly I realized with some alarm, that the edges have frayed a little and I need to put some more effort into keeping it clean, shiny and beautiful.

 

I left Canada on a rainy day at the end of November. We caught a ride to the ferry, took the 1 1/2 hr. journey to the mainland, hopped a coach to the airport and waited until after midnight to board our 14+-hour flight. In an effort to mitigate the effects of economy seating on my chronically painful back, I paid the little bit more for the “extra leg-room” seats by the exit door. The unexpected pitfall to this meant the chairs didn’t recline and my hips were bruised by the metal armrests that stayed fixed and wouldn’t budge. The good news was we had a little “patio” of sorts in front of us where we could stand and stretch, bend, and keep everything moving.

 

Our little plot was a rather popular space for others seeking to move around and happened to be right beside the toilets, a popular spot to line up and hang out. There was nothing much to do but people watch for most of the trip from our prized seats. We empathized with several young couples struggling with young babies and toddlers, excited to be on their way home to visit families and wondered if someday this would be our Cate. There were vacation weary Aussies who had been in Canada on holidays, maybe to ski and who looked happy to be headed home. A few business people seemed resigned to yet another long journey, more than one couple going to see their University student kids there like we were and a few solo young adults, flush with excitement and obviously just a little scared. I myself was mostly fretting about our youngest, alone for the first time ever at Christmas, our house and the dogs and my friend who we’d left to manage it all alone and whether I’d survive the seemingly endless hours aboard that flying tin can. I was already feeling nostalgic, for Canada and Christmas and home.

 

Landing finally we walked into a wave of heat and a world that was much like ours but definitely different. It seemed somehow louder, more colorful and faster moving. People were helpful but spoke fast and the accent caught me just a little off guard. I had to really focus to listen and that is difficult to do with a cacophony of sounds and noises and in unfamiliar surroundings. We’ve landed in plenty of foreign places before but never I guess so weary from travelling. Perhaps it was the sleep deprivation and the hours confined to such a cramped space but I felt a little as if we were free falling and was glad to have Angus there with me to help navigate our way, I can’t imagine how our Cate must have felt three years prior, all alone and not knowing a soul.

 

The next few days found us off and running, well walking actually, all over that beautiful city. It felt large to me then, at least until we next travelled to Sydney and then Melbourne, which are bigger places than I think I’ve ever been. I find it best to explore by foot and of ‘course I almost always have my trusty Nikon strapped around my neck or wrapped around my wrist. It’s how I document things for my memory and how I love to see the world, over and over again. I think the bulk of my friends would like to burn my damn camera so that for weeks after I go somewhere their Facebook feeds and emails are not inundated with my pictures but nonetheless, I keep snapping. Angus has grown accustomed to walking and losing me along the way but eventually I find my shot, remember where I am and hurry to catch up. It was here, in Brisbane where I had my first “A ha” moment and felt my Canadian cloak wrap itself around me.

 

There is a fabulous development along the south side of the river that travels through Brisbane called Southbank. The Brisbane River links the different districts and is crisscrossed by bridges and water taxis that connect people easily and efficiently. Along the Southbank development is a fabulous park development that has an extensive walking and biking trail, a man made beach, playgrounds, gardens and countless outdoor activities that are open to the public and remarkably free of charge. It makes for lovely time spent outdoors and congregating people, who visit and chat and enjoy each others company and meeting new mates in addition to familiar ones. Along this route we encountered many friendly people and shared a few conversations along the way beyond a simple hello or as is the more common phrasing in Australia: How are you going?” We met one young woman who had no accent, at least to our ear and asked her if she was Canadian. She smiled and said, “ sadly no. I’m an American but I’ve been here for 10 years and will never return if things there don’t change. I am so embarrassed by what is happening there. I tell everyone I’m a Canadian, it’s so much easier and honestly it makes me sick to hear what’s happening there.”

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I was shocked, saddened for her and felt a little tug at my heart for my Canadian passport. I assured her that all Americans were not painted with the same brush in the eyes of the world and that the current political climate is unacceptable to such a growing number of people that an end must be in sight, perhaps before the end of the current term of office. I cannot remember any time where I felt compelled to hide my citizenship, which must be a sad feeling.

 

That said, there were moments that came along as our trip progressed that had me question my Canadian identity, at least what defines us as Canadians. On five or maybe six occasions, when someone I met along the way asked if we were Canadian or American, their first response was always a familiar one that began to almost irritate me and feel compelled to explain in more detail. It went something like this.

 

“ Oh, you’re Canadian then. You’ve got the good looking Prime Minister “

 

“ Oh well then, you’ve got the punk bloke in the top job.”

 

“ You’ve got your own JT then (as in Justin Timberlake)?”

 

Truly, in my interactions anyways, if Justin Trudeau has put us on the map it’s first and foremost because he’s good looking. I guess that is okay but hardly a defining characteristic one should first consider in developing their international reputation.

 

One person even went so far as to say ‘

 

“ Well I guess his Dad was the leader once too. It’s like our parliament I guess, lots of mates to fill the seats and I imagine all the Sheila’s loved him too.”

 

Politics is a hollow thing at times and more often than not one’s popularity and pocketbook can dictate the outcome, not the validity, of the choice the voters make. Honestly I hear nothing in the news about Australian politics save for what Cate tells me and the Popular entertainment headlines that have on rare occasions served up a story about a certain creature in their Senate named Pauline Hanson who is so deplorable in her views that sometimes they can’t resist reporting on her antics. Otherwise I live in my North American bubble. Australian TV seems to carry a few American networks and there are definitely some strong trade partnerships with the USA there. They have their own car brand, Holden, that I think used to be manufactured there but is now manufactured elsewhere. Certainly the trucks were carbon copies of Chevy Colorado’s and there were lots of other North American models there too. I think there is far more of an interest in America than Canada amongst most Australians, probably because of trade and economics and maybe because what do we identify as, hold out to the world as uniquely ours and enticing enough to want to seek out?

There were a few occasions that my own reaction to things caught me a little off guard. One was when I saw a Bryan Adams Ultimate Tour poster splashed out on a brick wall on the streets of Melbourne. I had this weird possessive moment of ” He’s my guy. I’ve seen him in concert! Bet nobody here knows how good he is on guitar ” and then I checked myself, ” duh . you and a million other  people Sarah. Really now?”

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Weirder was the day I saw a Margaret Atwood book in a bookstore window. I was cooing and pointing like a new Dad at a nursery window when I realized my reaction was a little too visceral. I settled on taking a picture and a few minutes of silent self-congratulations that she was “my people.” Seriously strange I know. Had it been Jan Ardens’ ” Feeding my Mother” I probably would have cried.

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A few weeks later we took a tour of The Shrine of Remembrance, a war memorial in Melbourne. It’s a fantastic memorial of the men, women and even horses that served for Australia in World War 1 and beyond up to Present Day. An older gentleman in uniform, museum garb not military literally greeted us as we walked in (no admission, by donation) and proceeded to take us on a guided tour. He would have talked to us for hours and it was wonderful to have him explain because I must admit, I knew little about the famous battles Australia were involved in, short of a made in Hollywood version of Gallipoli I think I saw as a teenager. The man told us he was Jewish at some point in the conversation and then talked at some length about the anti-Semitic undertones that surrounded even the military at one point. He also talked about the shameful way the aboriginal people who were conscripted to fight were treated. I was slightly aghast and then had to check myself because, ours is in many ways a shared history. It is only now that we are learning about it, talking about and making attempt at cultural repatriation, if only in a symbolic way, because the damage of ‘course runs deep and across generations. I would have spent the day with that man but of course we were trying to see too many places at once. He made me think, he made me feel and he made me see in a different light that the writing on the wall sometimes did not hold the whole story. I told him that much of our history has been shrouded in secrecy, hidden from our history books and certainly was not taught to my generation but there is new light on these stories now. He said, “ the children must hear this, so they do not repeat it. “ As we left he pulled out some Australian poppies of remembrance and handed us each one. I will keep those always.

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I talked to lots of people during my long stay there and these are the things I got reflected back. We have the Rockies, the winter wonderland and Niagara Falls. I’ve realized we’re just really nice and well, kind of boring. We’re quiet, reserved, sometimes considered uptight and too stressed out. Some of us are open and welcoming to all genders, races, religions and some of us are still bigots and racists – yes, I said that. We are forced for long parts of the year to move indoors and that makes us more isolated and by nature, less social. We don’t sit on open patios or rooftop bars or in parks or beaches more than probably 4 months of the year, at least comfortably. We worry about weather because it’s real, we have to. It affects our day-to-day most months of the year. We tend to live to work more than we work to live. We need to have more fun, less stress, more joy and to embrace each other more than our stuff. Perhaps we gather things to fill the void where there should be more people. More parties, more getting together, in bare feet at the park. We are global citizens but we might just reflect ourselves to the world as slightly stuck up about that, like the irritating girl who always ran for School council (yup, that was me).

 

So I came home, delighted to put feet down on my Canadian soil and a little more clear about who I want to be next time she celebrates a big birthday, maybe even in 2067. I want the world to see that Canadians are beautiful because of our hearts and that we’re not just there for the show. I hope that as we grow as a country we continue to build our own identity, to define that which makes us Canadian. I think we need to develop better avenues for tourists to visit our country. Every large city I went to had a beautiful botanic garden and every one of them was free. Museums and Art Galleries were free, except for special exhibitions, which you could pay extra to see.

 

I want my daughter to understand that I love where she lives, it is a beautiful place with beautiful people but also to understand that for me, this hot and cold, wet and wild place is where I’ll always call home. I will collect less stuff and more people and open myself to more firsts and more uncomfortable situations. I’ll keep my cloak, tatters and all, because it is me and I am Canadian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double D Knock-Out

 

 

Hello Ladies (big smile, arms spread wide, really…I mean it)

 

This ones for you!

 

Any men out there in the digital abyss that might happen on this blog, you’re welcome too but you’re probably not going to relate …

 

So I recently achieved a big milestone – 50 years circling the sun and counting.

 

In those 50 years things have changed, especially the bits and bobs, or in this case, boobs, that make me, uniquely me (trust me, Too Much Information is my middle name – just ask my kids).

 

My once lithe and limber (well ok, comparatively lithe and limber) self’ seems to have morphed into middle-aged mediocrity but hey, I’m still here and for that I’m thankful.

 

As a little gift to “moi”, I’ve decided to step up my self-care a little. That is eat less, drink more water and less “other beverages”, exercise more – ok baby steps, like walk more and remember to check out all the things that women of a certain age are supposed to check. In that vein, I decided to book myself in for a mammogram. Certainly it seems we are more and more obligated to take our own health care in our hands as my GP has offered no suggestions as to what I should do or even scheduled a physical. I phoned the BC breast screening and booked this myself and am told women over 50 should do this every 2 years.

 

Today was my mammo-day!

 

Just a quick disclaimer here before I begin. I have friends and family who have faced breast cancer and fought bravely, stayed strong and resolute and I am forever grateful that most survived and are still here today. A few lost their lives, more in my younger years than now, thanks to advances in breast cancer research. The tragic few I personally knew died prematurely and left their friends and family all too soon. To all of them, the women who have coloured my life, I mean no disrespect in my rather comedic reflections on this day. I just have to put it out there. For my friends, my lady friends and I guess technically men friends too, who might be wondering what it’s like and what to expect.

 

A very friendly and rather exuberant sounding young woman called yesterday to remind me of my appointment today. It was booked for 12:30 but she insisted I should arrive at 12:10, so I could be “fully prepared”. She rang off with a chirpy sounding “ don’t wear any deodorant and follow the pink line when you get to the Imaging department” which only served to make me imagine walking down the middle of a giant First Response test stick, rather than to my boob squashing doom.

 

I arrived on time, only to be greeted with a line-up of ladies, most of us with sweaters pulled tight or purses clutched fiercely in front and across of our soon to be wounded girlfriends, as if perhaps their presence might protect us from the indignity that lay ahead. The tight-lipped and oh so not warm and friendly breast clinic ambassador at reception was clearly not the bouncy babe who had called before, she was the brisk and militant type who reminded me of Margaret, from Mash. She checked my credentials, pointed to the door next to her desk, without ever looking up from her computer and said “go in there, pick-up a red basket, read the form. Everything off from the waist up. NEXT!”

 

Since there were no warm fuzzies to soothe my soul to be found at her desk I nodded and followed her lead. The red baskets turned out to be exactly the same as the plastic ones with handles you find in the grocery store. Next to the stack of them were four little cubicles with curtains that looked as if they’d been recycled from recycled prison garb. The baskets each held a unisex one-size-fits-all house-coatey thing and a paper with instructions. Once I had jammed myself and my d-Cups into the wrapper provided I shuttled into yet another waiting area. Wearing my one-size backwards kimono were my peers, amongst whom were a petite woman heavy with child whose distended naval we were all privy to, an elderly lady whose teeth were audibly chattering three seats over, me and my Grammy style cleavage and another lady of about my age but of considerably less girth who actually had everything tucked in. Dignity was making a swift run for the door when my name was called. “ MCKAY !!!!”

 

Christ, I jumped a foot. No one has hollered my name like that since gym class I think. I jumped to attention and scurried down the hall after my new Napoleonic nemesis.

 

This woman was a petite thing, probably no more than 5′ tall and yet somehow scary as hell at that moment. I’m going to name her Broom Hilda for this stories purpose. She started with a questionnaire, verifying my identity first. I tried to break the ice by querying, “ like who would impersonate anyone to do this?” Raised eyebrows and a look of disdain were my only response. Next she wanted to know the sort of normal things I suppose, like family history, had I ever done this, blah, blah.

 

I have to tell you that at this point I’m getting kind of nervous. There’s a big machine with another freaking pink line looming in the corner. There’s a painting on the wall, it’s fruit I realize and all I can think of is Monty Python ( at least I think it’s Monty Pythons voice) singing ” don’t touch me plums.” Fitting n’est ce pas? I’m trying to imagine exactly what will happen and where my boobs might go  as she rambles on. Suddenly she is done with the conversation, clipboard returned to her desk and she says rather abruptly ” take off the robe and put it over there.”

 

I guess I should have felt less embarrassed about getting naked in front of this complete stranger because my boobs were practically popping out of the stupid robe anyway but I hesitated for a minute. I am not the walk-around the change room in the buff kinda’ girl, I’m the one hiding under a towel, always have been modest that way. I swallowed hard and steeled my resolve and took it off, leaning forward to place the robe on a chair.

 

Broom Hilda was impatient I guess and had a schedule to keep because she was moving into set up mode with the machine. As my head moved forward and down her right hook moved up and out and she punched me full on in the face, literally, Ka Pow, right in the nose!

 

My glasses hit the floor and my new nakedness and discomfort at that was immediately eclipsed by the water stinging my eyes and tears pouring down my face at the shock of being hit in the schnozz! Broom Hilda gasped and reached out to steady me, abject horror on her face. “Whew,” I thought, “at least she doesn’t enjoy inflicting pain.”

 

Once she’d apologized and I’d established my septum was still where God intended, we were back in business. Imagine the following. You’re naked and you’re 5’7’ tall. A tiny lady who is eye to eye with your collarbone, with strong, cold hands grabs your boob and serves it up on a glass platter (part of the Mammonater ) and says simply “ this will hurt.” After you’ve just been slugged in the face this causes some pause.

 

Then the other glass plate comes down and you suddenly experience boob pancake.

No kidding, the nice little lump of pearly pink flesh becomes about the density of a slice of pizza and you’re still attached. The punch in the face was merely a blip compared to that and we got to do it again with 4 more poses. She huffed and she puffed and she tugged and she heaved, all the while treating my boobs like inanimate rolls of dough and me as merely the vessel that spawned them. She probably did this twenty or thirty times a day I reasoned, me not so much. I think the fact that I was a lady, nervous and uncomfortble was something long forgotten and I resisited the urge to shout, “Hey witchie, how ’bout we stick your boob in here for a minute eh, and hold your breath whilst’ I take a quick pic? Jeez…”

I’m not sure there’s a push-up bra on this earth that could make the girls return to normal, at least today.

 

As I left and headed back to my curtained cubicle, I saw the ladies still waiting patiently. “ So that was fun,” I offered. The elderly lady, who had thought to bring a book, looked up and said, ” I imagine fun is not the correct word. Let’s be optimistic and call it interesting. Of ‘course I’m sure if men had to do this every other year there’d be a better test.” She returned to work and I made a beeline for my bra.

 

Fingers crossed all is well and if not, well I’ve been punched and squished and lived to tell the tale. Bring it on I guess!

 

Love yourselves ladies and get’em checked once in a while, just remember to duck left if they swing right !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Years and counting …

 

Photo on 2017-08-25 at 11.08 AM

 

It’s my birthday and I’m annoyed.

 

Annoyed not because I’m another year older but because there is so much emphasis on this being a “FANTASTIC” day!

 

It’s like most holidays or celebrations we mark, the pressure is on for it to be incredible!

 

Make it great! Make it super fantabulous, over-the-top and totally awesome!

 

Really?

 

I am not a super fantabulous, over-the-top, totally awesome kinda’ girl.

 

I prefer the slow burn, the ease’ myself into the day with coffee, the paper and silence, the I prefer my decrepit slippers, the ancient Crocs with the sheepskin inside ones and comfy clothes that stretch and bag and keep me warm, to high heels and high fashion that binds and hurts and makes me look different than the me I am.

 

I have had my share of tumult and excitement in this life and my perfect day begins and ends with quiet and serenity and involves just my husband Angus and I, wandering gardens or antique fairs or galleries, sipping a nice warm Cab Sauv or a chill Sauvignon Blanc and turning off the world for a little bit.

 

The only surprise in this world I would enjoy, literally, figuratively and if there was any doubt in your mind, even minutely find amusing or pleasurable, would be to have my girls walk through my door unannounced because they are both so far away and I miss them dearly. That’s it. Nothing else.

 

I love my friends and family and would love to have them come visit me but not unannounced. I need time to fly around and clean like a mad harpy, stock my fridge with expensive stuff I don’t normally buy, Google recipes I can’t really handle and don’t know how to prepare, until I revert to throwing stuff in a pot and hoping I don’t kill anyone and yelling at Angus to stop hiding outside and help me get ready god damn it! Then yelling don’t walk on the floors as he slinks in for good measure. Now you know my secret, I’m actually not the together gal you thought I was …

 

So today, on the occasion of my 50th birthday, I’m in a funk. I was booking tickets last night on-line for tonight, at my new favourite spot, a movie theatre with reclining chairs, when Angus stopped me. “Uhmm, we’re having dinner at your Moms’ tomorrow so we can’t do that”, he mumbled. I have explained to him and everyone else who would listen that I want nothing for this birthday except a day for me. Butchart gardens, early dinner at Pagliaccis and then The Glass Castle to follow. I glowered at him over the glow of my keyboard and said, “ No, I told you I’m having a me day, no fuss, no people. We can go to Moms’ this weekend.”

 

 

Since I’m hitting this ½ century point people seem more intent than ever that it must be “marked” as a special day. Everyone but me seems to share this sentiment. I don’t get it. It’s not that I have any issue with getting older, really. Bring it on I say. Thank you universe for giving me time some of my dearest friends never got. I’m truly ok with aging. As my oldest friend forever emailed me this morning “ beats the alternative.”

She knows, she faced death squarely in the face and won not too long ago.

 

It’s just this insistence we as a society have on marking days and events instead of just appreciating every day and trying to find joy, even on Mondays, drives me crazy. Holidays and birthdays hold special joy for children because they are developing their minds; their imaginations and they adore the magic of it all. I was the most exuberant of all for holidays, ask my kids because I knew it was so very real and wondrous for them

 

Sadly, most adults with exception of the ones, let’s be honest, we label as slightly off their rockers or schizophrenic, know that real life is hard and most of that magic does not really exist. My youngest exclaimed, one Christmas morning, “ I know Santa is real because you and Daddy could never afford all this.” Sigh … such is the reality and belief of a young child and I protected that as long as I could, until the reality of the world crept’ in. We create it, we buy it, we engineer it. So on holidays and birthdays now I look for real, unfiltered beauty and joy in simplicity not over-the-top, fantabulous days.

 

I do believe in the adage that with age comes wisdom, or perhaps it’s just a better balance. I am not fussed, as my daughter firmly planted in Melbourne for three years now likes to say, about very much anymore. I choose my battles with more care, I limit my exposure to stuff I know will stress me out. I give of myself to the things in my community I think will help bring positivity and I am weary of those who pretend there is nothing they can do and expect others to always champion what’s right. If I see injustice, bigotry or hate I will not hesitate to call someone on it, I care less than ever about being popular or on the “ A list “ if it means compromising my principals. But on this day, I really just wanted to be a little narcissistic, a little reclusive and a little apart from this world.

 

Back to Angus and his complete inability to lie to me without the side of his mouth scrunching up just the same way both of his daughters do.

 

Apparently my mother is having a surprise gathering tonight – sorry AnneMarie and others, your cover is blown. I feel like I’m 12 years old. I’m stamping my foot and saying no, all the while understanding that I have no choice really but to show up. I have pretty much hated my birthday since I was 11 and my parents chose that day to put my elderly best friend Chinook, a Collie- Australian Shepherd cross down. Apparently work schedules conflicted with scheduling the vet …what? Clearly 39 years later I haven’t gotten over it. Then there was the sweet 16th night that involved a belly dancer, a shotgun and sleeping on the floor – not a night I could ever forget and certainly one that fueled my birthday curse theory.

Maybe the 21st birthday night that I spent watching someone dear to our family take her last breath in hospital, after a long and horrid battle with breast cancer solidified it. Basically I really don’t like my birthday, any year, any age.

 

So my friends and family who warmly offered your birthday wishes in cards or fb or email today. Thank You, I love you and lets just get one thing straight for the next 50 years. I really will try to have a nice day. I will try to have a nice day everyday of my life that remains. It probably won’t be fantabulous, over-the-top or totally awesome. I will go to the damn party tonight because my Mom wants me there and I will probably have a great time with my friends, reluctantly and with caution. That’s who I am, where I’ve come from,how I’m built and will most likely always be. No pressure, it’s not New Years …, which by the way, is matched for unrequited awesomeness and fantastical proportions.

 

In closing here’s my favourite excerpt of all time because it reminds me of me.

 

 

 

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams BiancoThe Velveteen Rabbit

 

 

 

 

We are all in this together

If my fans want to do something for me when that time comes, I say, don’t waste your money on me. Help the homeless. Help the needy… people who don’t have no food… Instead of some big funeral, where they come from here and there and all over. Save it.

B. B. King

 

Two things I’ve encountered recently have made me consider more than usual the tragic things that plague our society, like homelessness and addiction.

 

One of them was a reflective piece written by my daughter, Cate, which I’d like to share momentarily. The other came when someone I was having a conversation with recently said, in an apologetic way, “ Oh my family is totally messed up. It would be hard for you to imagine.”

 

I almost laughed out loud, not that it was a funny topic or that I felt their discomfort amusing but that my immediate thought was, “ Oh Honey, you don’t know the half of it.”

 

Funny, that on more occasions than I can probably count, someone has said or inferred that their collective history in this messed up world is so complicated that no one else can begin to comprehend it and yet it seems, we all imagine ours to be the worst.

 

We are all flawed humans, messed up family histories and members we’d rather leave in locked closets, we have all had our heartaches and challenges and moments in time that have shaped us. We all had parents, or at least “biological donors” who have influenced who we are. Nature and nurture then play their competitive roles in our development, our relationships, and our worldview. This is not exactly rocket science; I just know this to be true. Love them or hate them, whoever brought us in to this world and whoever cared for us until we reached independence, we cannot turn back time or rewrite history.

 

Certainly my family, like everyone else’s I know, has dark secrets and a not so stellar history of dealing with that darkness. I am not really focusing on the particulars of my own background though, just the collective feeling we all have, the shame I suppose, that we have such trouble divulging and which we carry with us.

 

Why, I wonder, is it human nature to be controlled by something over which you had no control in the first place? Why do some of us struggle to keep ourselves above this collective hurt and why do some of us grow stronger?

 

Homelessness and addiction, at least drug addiction, are not topics I confess I am very familiar with. Alcoholism has plagued some people to whom I am very close, so I feel like in that am at least entitled to have some opinions. I am, I confess, loath to confront the issues of drug addiction and homelessness head-on because it feels so overwhelming to me. I am actually a psych major and should be better equipped to deal with such things but find words and action escape me. My daughters’ words and my discussions with her recently are making my self-imposed ignorance harder to preserve, it is making me look at the issue, however ugly, with a fresh perspective.

 

 

Cate is in third year Med and is currently on her Clinical Rotation with a GP. I should note that she is not in Canada, where there is Universal healthcare (at least that’s what we’re led to believe despite the regional differences in access); she is in a country with public and private health care systems. I had imagined this would be a few months of vaccinations, childhood illness, maybe mild depression and normal disease processes. I thought it would be comparatively one of her less stressful rotations. I was very wrong and naïve in that assumption. She has been working with an extraordinaire GP in a rather extraordinaire clinical setting. The clients are overwhelmingly those hat most of society ignores, avoids, even fears. These are the homeless, the mentally ill, people on probation recently released from prison, people from violent backgrounds and poverty. Refugees from places where children are bought and sold, violence is normal and families are broken. There are also people who do not fit into this lost segment of society, people who somehow manage to maintain jobs and homes and “ normalcy” but harbor secret addictions. It is a methadone clinic and here is a segment of what Cate has experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

“Honestly, doc, I would rather be back in prison than be where I’m at right now.” This is a phrase I’ve heard so many times now it has started to feel if not reasonable, then at least not absurd. I have begun recording some of the quotes from patients at the methadone clinic I’m training at, because I never want to forget how their words make me feel – the first time I heard a patient express the desire to be picked up for jail, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I grew up in a household where there was never enough money for many ‘flashy extras’, but my parents worked very hard to ensure my sister and I were well-fed, educated and happy. By the time I was born my parents had ceased smoking and drinking alcohol, and I had never considered jail as anything other than a nightmare, a worst-case scenario. Becoming homeless, I have learned, opens a door to a dark world of desperate choices, hopelessness – and eventually despair. Whether people are homeless because of drug use, or because they have been forced from their homes due to family violence or lack of finances, or pre-existing mental instability or (oftentimes) a mix of these factors, it is hard to judge people for breaking the law to gain access to jail. Once on the inside, they have a stable routine, room and board, the possibility for training and other education – and most importantly, they become incorporated into a rigorous social system that cuts them off from the street drugs they use to manage the sometimes-lethal indifference of the world on the outside.

 

All of the patients I see are not homeless; and many of the homeless people I do see do not use drugs. That said, the two seem to be highly affiliated, and one patient sticks in my mind when I think of this: 29-year-old Mr. CH. Born in 1988 to alcoholic parents, he lost his mother early in life and like most of his first and second-degree relatives, began using drugs before he reached high school. He ended up in prison, and on release he went straight back to the heroin that had caused his arrest (and allowed him to dissociate from the memories of abuse in his early childhood) in the first place. A tall, athletic young man prior to developing his habit, he retains a handsome face but it now has sunken cheekbones and sad eyes, and his clothing has the frayed, cigarette-smoke sweatshirt esthetic common to many heroin users. He apologized for his appearance to me on entering the room, murmuring “Sorry Miss, I usually take care to look nice when I’m clean.” The ‘Miss’ was my first hint at his background – many ex-inmates employ these otherwise outdated formalities when opening conversation. He was brought into clinic by a relative after two unsuccessful suicide attempts in the past week, and this is where the shocking part of inequality in healthcare provision truly stood out to me – he was discharged from the emergency department of a major  hospital without so much as a referral for psychiatric follow-up care.

 

The man who brought him in to see my supervising doctor is a patient of hers as well, and he provided much of the background and revealed it was only on his insistence that his cousin had agreed to come for this appointment. A former heroin addict himself; the cousin had been successfully recovering from his addiction on the ‘Program’ with my supervisor for several years. How, he wondered angrily, could the psychiatrists at the hospital have possibly thought his cousin was fit for discharge after two intentional overdoses in less than a week? He was obviously the one motivated to have Mr. CH start on the suboxone program, for when questioned by my supervisor Mr. CH muttered that “Life seems pretty much pointless now,” and when questioned further on his goals for treatment, he expressed his desire for the aforementioned prison sentence.

I am an empathetic person by nature, and while sitting there for some reason I could not stand the sadness I saw in his eyes. While the doctor had her back to the patient writing notes I blurted out the only thing I could think of, “Did you see that dog out in the waiting room?!” Another patient had come in with a dog, and I thought maybe talking about animals would make him feel better in the same way it does for me. He smiled and replied that yes, he had seen the dog, and would one day like to adopt one like it (a ‘staffy’) from the RSPCA. “But it has to, you know, be abandoned and a bit messed up. Some dog other people would pass over. Like me.” Again, an unremarkable statement from the outset, but heartbreaking when you analyze it a bit further.

 

This man had attempted to take his life twice in the past week, and he had been ‘kicked out’ of the hospital without so much as an opioid treatment plan. His cousin, a similarly troubled and formerly homeless recovering heroin addict, had been forced to take matters into his own hands and take the day off work to bring Mr. CH to our clinic and convince my supervisor to add him to the Program. This in itself even proved to be more difficult than usual, as we had to call three pharmacies before we could find one to take him. I have nothing but praise and appreciation for the pharmacists in this city who agree to open their doors to the high-risk population of former addicts needing methadone and suboxone to survive their days.

 

The lenses of social inequality, gender and culture all feature in Mr. CH’s life and treatment to date. He is a young male from a relatively poor socioeconomic background, who throughout his life has suppressed his emotions and dealt with stress the only way he was taught – by shooting up into his arms. He was arrested, recovered while in jail, and then relapsed as soon as he was ejected back into the comparatively stressful, uncaring and even cruel world that  society can be when it comes to ‘homeless people.’ He is on the ‘dole’, but the money from the government presumably goes largely straight towards feeding his habit. This is inarguably a poor choice on his part, but addiction is a disease. A disease which at its worst is punishable by homelessness, jail and death. Somehow, his two attempts at suicide didn’t raise enough red flags for him to be ‘sectioned’ under the mental healthcare act. As a student , I have good reason to suspect that similar attempts at suicide would raise more intervention and ongoing help if he had been under treatment by a  psychiatrist at a private hospital. There is nothing my GP could do for him further, though, except to refer Mr. CH to the social worker affiliated with her practice, and arrange follow-up appointment and urine drug screens as well as standard bloodwork for Hep C and other common illnesses of the addicted.

 

In the future, I have learned enough from my time here to know there is no magic ‘fix’ for addiction and homelessness. Sadly, often people relapse or are lost to follow-up, and the GPs willing to own and operate methadone clinics are severely overworked and underfinanced, so there is never enough time to spend with people. I only hope that I can actively listen to future patients, continue to empathize with people like Mr. CH, and hopefully find ways to work together to find some reason to want to stay alive (a future staffy?) in what can be a very cruel and inequitable world.

 

 

So it is with a different lens I now see the complexities of the issues around addictions, mental health and homelessness. There are no simple solutions and there are surely not enough resources directed towards this. I think there is a need to focus on the early years of development and to creating family supports to help bring entire families healing and understanding of the issues that lead them to trouble. I think we need to better prepare people who have been incarcerated for their re-entry into society and offer them better supports. We need better housing opportunities for people with low incomes so that they may create their own safe havens and find purpose and optimism for a better future. We need to remove the stigma around mental health issues and support people who battle depression or anxiety the same way we might support someone with cancer or MS. Mostly I guess we need to remember to see people, of all races, ages, genders, affiliations and socio-economic situations as people who need our compassion, our help and our attention. Cate has told me she will never give a homeless person money again because it may end up in their veins. She says she will feed them; offer them a hot coffee or a sweater and a kind word whenever she can. I will try to do the same.

 

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Moments and Chasing an Invisible Ghost

 

My youngest daughter, Aidan is days away from finishing her Masters of Accounting Degree. Her Undergrad was a double degree in Math and Accounting. Her father and I are so very proud and amazed at what she has accomplished in her short life thus far. She is after all, just 21 years old.

 

She has an incredible work ethic and incredible smarts which have carried her to this day and it makes me reflect, as I am known to do, on days not so far away when her brilliant future was not so clear.

 

Both of my children have incredible drive and have already done so many wonderful things. Their Dad and I pale by comparison I think most days, and are awed by their strength, determination and beauty. Today, as she is finishing one Chapter and moving on to the next, I am thinking of Aidan, all that she has done and had to overcome.

 

I’m thinking of people in general who have faced difficult illnesses or adversity and who may have lingering effects of that, battle scars that may or may not be visible. Aidan has debilitating headaches for instance, that plague her now and probably forever as a result of what she endured as a child. It is part of who she is and it means sometimes her plans must change. I forget to tell her sometimes how brave I think she is to deal with that and continue on in spite of them.

 

Following is a narrative I guess that I wrote about 13 years ago. I found it today when I was looking for something else and those words felt as raw and real to me as they were when I wrote them. I didn’t edit and apologize for fragmented sentences and run-ons …

 

Today feels less like a funny reminiscence kind of day, although I have lots of those, and more a need to put it out there to the Universe and hope it reflects back with positivity on someone who needs to know that we’re all in this together.

 

Our stories may differ, but we all have one.

 

 

Moments

 

 

There are moments woven into our personal histories that change us, disassemble our certainties and forever re-arrange our planned being.

 

 

“Are there any muscle group disorders in your family?” says the woman on the other end of the line.

 

These words, I immediately understand, are going to change our lives.

 

I think I’m going to throw-up, instantly fear and nausea overwhelms me.

 

She has introduced herself as a Language Pathologist for the School Board. She has assessed Aidan today. She has “ concerns…”

 

A swell of water has suddenly rushed into my head. I try to focus, sound intelligent, understand what she is saying but I am drowning already in fear. I decide to breathe, to smile because the girls are watching me, little ears on alert, always curious. I will do as she advises, I will call the Dr. as soon as we finish our conversation and I send the girls outside to play just as soon as I “gather myself.”

 

I used to think that was a funny expression, before I understood that life is about moments.

 

The phone rings three days later, it is 7 am. Angus is already off to work, keeping the school buses on the road. I feel my breathing slow when I look at the caller ID. It is the Dr. and he is calling at 7 am. Nobody calls at 7 am, especially Dr’s…

 

Thank God the girls are still asleep I think as I say “hello.” I am calm, remarkably so, as he explains the CT results. There is a mass, looks like a fluid-filled sac, which remarkably is good thing, in her brain?

 

“What? Her brain? No. She is eight years old. She is happy. She is brilliant. She is funny and sweet. Why is that good?”

 

DSC_0005

 

I’m filling up with water again. I’m having trouble focusing. “Please slow down, stop talking while I breathe, I need to breathe “…

 

 

Four years before we had a moment where everything changed.

 

Catey was six, it was Easter weekend and she ate a lot of chocolate and the next night, she wet the bed. I knew, in that instant, that something was very wrong. Angus laughed when I called the Dr. for an opening that morning. He went to work; blissfully unaware that life was about to change. He was thinking, I know, that his wife had enough to worry about without creating drama in her head.

 

I went to the Dr and insisted he check her urine and I was so miserably, pathetically, resoundingly correct. My first born, my love had Diabetes. He was astounded that I was already there.

 

I knew, in that moment, we would never be the same.

 

Three days in hospital immersion in diabetes then. They came at us, over and over and over, no mercy, and no capacity it seemed to understand.

 

“ This is our child, we are her parents,” I screamed in my head.

 

“ My heart is broken, do you understand, our hearts are broken, we are terrified.”

 

Still, unrelenting they came at us. Nurses, Dr’s, therapists, nutritionists…

 

“Understand now,” they demanded. “Listen to us, watch this, inject your kid.”

 

“Make her hurt willfully, are you crazy? How can I do this?”

 

“ Learn, hurry and get this, then you can go home,” they smiled.

 

“ Go home and what?” I thought then. “ I’m terrified I’ll kill her, overdose her with insulin. How will I do this? Who’s going to help me?”

 

We had adapted, survived, changed. One income now, no career in my future but she was safe and happy and we were ok. We had a plan, a strategy, we could do this. We could live with diabetes.

 

But this now? This unknown, in her sisters’ brain?

 

How do you fight an invisible ghost?

 

More Dr’s and tests and hospitalizations and theories and possibilities and potentialities and educated guesses. This was not the same, this was worse.

 

I had no control. Nothing to learn or change or do but wait for the best option scenarios. Endless moments of worry, what if’s and why’s.

 

Another call, “this is a strange number”, I muse. “Telemarketer?”

 

For once my antennae s not working. I am caught off guard.

 

“ Please hold while I put the Dr on the line”, and my knees buckle.

 

I sit on the floor, back to the kitchen cupboards and wait. This is the new Dr., the Supernova that all the others look to; he is the one who chooses my moments now. He talks, I listen. I nod, alone in my kitchen, planning as I digest his words. I think,” Ok, breathe, we will survive this, and we will be Ok. Get up now, quickly pack.”

 

I quell the weeping teachers fears as I pull her from class, breathe, smile, and no fear for Aidan. “This is an adventure” I say and calm Catey. “Daddy will be here soon and then Aidan and I will go.”

 

“ Time is not ours,” they said at the Dr’s conference somewhere in the US from where he called after presenting her case.

 

Drive to the hospital, we must hurry. I hate this pace, this rush, no time to think, to ponder, to question. Catey at home with Angus and insulin and fear; me alone with Aidan and forms and papers and decisions now. It is a blur. I need to breathe, I need a moment …

 

Hold her hand and smile as they wheel her away. “ She looks so little,” I think.

 

“I’ve braided her hair, will it all be gone” I wonder?

 

I cannot weep, yet. I will fold up into a little ball and cry when I am alone.

Now I must be calm, erect, in control. Angus is weary: he is not accustomed to our unit being broken and of fear that goes on and on.

 

I have signed consent for them to fix her or kill her or leave her blind or unable to remember moments, mute? There is no definitive plan. There is hope it will go well and no guarantees.

 

Four hours they said.

It is nearing ten. Ten hours in surgery. Ten hours working on her brain.

“How is Catey”, I wonder? I worry but cannot be there now. How many directions can one heart be pulled in?

 

I want to peel off my skin, tear out my hair, scream. Anything to break this vigil. I want to know, this minute. Where is my girl? Have we lost her?

 

I look around the room, the waiting room. I see faces like mine, in agony, in fear. Moments taking an eternity we all must endure. The silence is heavy and consuming. I forget my grief for a moment and consider theirs. We are all parents and all working to stay clam, positive, in control. I smile for Angus, squeeze his hand, struggling with the weight of this fear. He has no words for this. It is too painful to discuss and so we sit, quiet and still.

 

Finally he steps into the room, the Magnus Opus of Dr’s, our hero. He opens his arms to me and smiles and suddenly I can breathe. This moment is good, it is hopeful. It is done and we will have her back, whole and safe. She is still ours, she will be Ok and we will be Ok.

 

He leads us to her now. Her head is blue and battered, swollen and almost unrecognizable. Beautiful. She looks at us and smiles, a new moment to cherish, to hold on to.

 

“Ten seconds, ten minutes, ten hours, ten years,” they say

 

Measure these moments, the impact they hold, the destination they plot, the struggles they cause and the joy they will bring.

 

We have struggled before and we will again. I know this with certainty. These moments will return in different form, in sometimes painful measure and sometimes joyous release and I will continue to breathe.

 

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Getting Older and the Three Faces of Eve

 

 

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age. “  

 

Sophia Loren

 

 

 

 

 

Aging “gracefully” is kind of an ironic statement.

 

I prefer to think of it as a quest in essence.

 

More like an epic journey in which we must survive the vagaries of life.

 

By that I mean the joys and sorrows, the challenges and the rewards we reap along the way in the act of living that life.

 

A lifetime of education or lack thereof, good jobs and bad jobs, kids, relationships, family commitments, finances, glass – ceilings and pecking orders, not so presidential presidents, irritating bureaucrats, foggy crystal balls, fame and fortune or best laid plans too flawed to ever succeed, mediocrity, trial and error, environmental catastrophes and essentially world chaos.

 

Sounds terrifying and kind of overwhelming?

 

Some days it really is.

 

All this as our bodies eventually begin to wear out, in incremental degrees that remind us we are growing ever older.

 

As I approach my half a century mark in the very near future, I think more about this each day, and as an observer of people, I am intrigued by the way we all approach this inevitability, certainly not as a collective but in very different fashion.

 

I spent the day recently with my Mother, who is in her early seventies. She is an active person, a young senior I would say, in fact she is very often mistaken for my sister (which is actually as irritating as hell because it’s been happening most of my life). She’s got nice friends, lives in a nice house with lovely massive gardens she looks after herself, would happily canoe and portage 200 km if someone would go with her, invites her neighbours for tea and would be described as kind by any who know her.

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However, I’ve discovered of late, and most particularly on a recent day spent shopping together – she has a crazy and somewhat dark side, exacerbated by age, dimming vision and perhaps the lessening of ones inhibitions as you move into that self-actualized state of : “ I don’t really give a shit what anyone thinks of me” time of your life.

I think going forward I’ll refer to Mom as Joanne, as in Joanne Woodward, Academy award-winning Hollywood star, because. The similarities in her most famous role are awesome. You know, pretty but villainous, nice but terrifying on occasion …Have you ever seen the Three faces Of Eve? Really quite an extraordinary movie and kind of reminiscent of my own Mommy Dearest (of course that was Joan Crawford but if the shoe fits?)

 

Angus and I are experimenting with a one-car household, in the interest of the environment and fiscal responsibility, which is normally not a problem but did mean that on this particular shopping trip Mom, who we will refer to as ‘Joanne’ going forward, had to drive. She worked as a sales representative for many years and drove all over a vast territory, sometimes for weeks at a time, without any trouble and so it’s never been an issue. What I hadn’t realized because usually I drive I guess, is that some kind of Mario Andretti/Jekyll and Hyde persona has begun to occupy her body once seated behind the wheel.

 

 

I now understand why the little leather straps above the passenger seat are sometimes referred to as the Jesus Handles. I’m pretty sure they’re not really there to help you get out of the car, they’re to calm your desire to jump out the window at 90 km an hour in an effort to save yourself. I considered this revelation whilst’ grabbing said handle with more haste than my already buggered rotator cuff could bare and screaming “ Jesus H. Christ Mother, slow down “ on more than one occasion. Twice, she glanced over curiously while my white knuckled hand sprung from its’ vise grip on my seat to the ceiling, as the tires on the right side of the car threatened to leave the black top. She might have noticed my distress or might not have, who knows really, as she tore down the roadway and hollered obscenities at drivers in her path, CBC Classical music blaring almost as fiercely as the air conditioning set to subzero to temper her permanent hot flashes. I’m not sure which made my teeth chatter more, the arctic air in the cabin or fear of my immanent demise.

 

Joanne was told by one Optometrist 5 years ago that she had cataracts that would need attending to within a few years. In defiance and denial, let’s be clear, mostly denial, she immediately decided that the Dr was a “quack” and didn’t know what they were talking about and waited three years to find herself another Optometrist. I imagine that her evil alter ego stepped out in the preliminary exam phase and assured/ threatened through barred teeth the new recruit that she would “NOT find cataracts OR ELSE”, and so the subject was not mentioned and Joanne determined that she had no cataracts. As of the moment I embarked on and survived our latest field trip, I am 999% sure the offending cataracts are here and as ‘thick as thieves’ so to say. This would in part be attributed to sweet little Joanne, roaring down the highway and screaming things like  “ Nice signal Dick Wad! “ at the little blue Mazda who moved into the lane ahead of her. In fact the offender had signalled well in advance of his very nice and legal lane change but Joanne, who has apparently lost her depth and colour perception, had absolutely no clue and lambasted him rightly! This was repeated on more than one occasion. I might have spoken up but by then my throat muscled had constricted with the rest of me and I was essentially immobilized, hand still holding on to dear life with my Jesus handle.

 

Joanne is not as familiar with where things are having not lived here that long and so I was tasked with giving directions. As we approached a left turn with two turning lanes and with still time to comfortably change lanes I suggested she stay in the right lane, as we would next be turning right. “ Tons of time” was her quick response as she stayed in the left lane. After the turn she panicked when she saw how soon we would need to merge right and zoomed in front of a gravel truck. “ Good thing he wasn’t loaded” she chuckled. This was quickly followed with the loud expletive “ God damn now look! I’m stuck behind a fuckin’ Hun-Day! I hate Hun-Day drivers, they all suck. You watch, this fuckin’ guy will do something stupid, just watch”

 

Mercifully the “Hun-Day” driver, moved to the next lane while I hunkered down in my seat, head to chest and knees up cause I vaguely remembered that as being a crash position, and most likely saved himself.

We now found ourselves behind a teensy’ little convertible. “ Now that’s a car, don’t you think?’ she queried but not actually waiting for my response, so enthusiastic was she. “ I want one of those cars, a little British sports car. That would be so groovy I think”, she slammed her hands on the steering wheel for emphasis, a big grin on her face. “ I really want one, like a Fiat or a MG but every time I tell Don we need one, he changes the subject. Damn that’d be fun to drive.”

 

Don incidentally is my Step-Dad who, having driven with her more than I have, has undoubtedly decided a Sherman Tank might be the safest option. I remained tight-lipped on the topic, having lost the ability to do much more than gasp for air at that point. Interesting though that she wants a racecar instead of a Buick I silently mused…

 

So as she ages, my Moms’ driving is becoming a concern and the rather voracious potty mouth, well, she’s always enjoyed a colourful vocabulary shall we say. She’s getting older and as soon as I come to grips with that I guess we’ll have to re-visit the cataract discussion. In the meantime, I’ll drive.

 

My very longtime friend was here with her Mom last week for a visit. Her mom is probably about the same age as ‘Joanne” and she also is very lovely and vibrant woman who looks and acts much younger than one would assume. Of course I know nothing about what aches and pains she might suffer when she wakes up each day but I did spend some time with her as she revisited a time and place in her life where she was a teenager. Photos did wonders in bringing names of friends and recollections back to mind for her and I think she enjoyed that time to reminisce about a year in her life so many years ago and looks ahead with great enthusiasm to all the years ahead.

 

It made me think about how I will look back on my life, how moments that seemed big in the past become so small and some that seemed insignificant can become so big. It made mepause and try to remeber to spend more time with my Mom, her trucker mouth and Indy Circuit Driving. It made want to take more pictures and write more things down so if I can’t see someday in the future at least someone can read me my stories and remind of what was.

 

Aging is not always graceful and not always fun but it is a privilege we do not all enjoy. I have lost and almost lost friends and family far too young and I have celebrated each birthday of those that I love and care about as a result with a different perspective.

 

Gifts and parties mean little to me, it is the living I love and for each day I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

“If it seems as though things are under control, you’re not going fast enough.”

 

Mario Andretti

 

 

 

And off she goes …

I am a mother.

 

If you want to know me, know that first. There are, of course, many layers to “me, myself and I” but this is what defines me with the greatest accuracy.

 

I have two children, had whispers of more and they bring my greatest joy and sometimes my greatest sorrow. I will focus on just one of them today but know also that they hold absolute equality in my heart and soul.

 

My eldest daughter, Cate, was the calmest baby I have ever known. She watched the world move around her in quiet contentment. Of course, having imagined motherhood for years and then finding it so much more emotional than I could have dreamt, I catered to her every whim and would have held her 24 hrs. a day. She demanded two things; to be held almost constantly and to nurse for hours on end and later have her bottle, ‘ba ba” as she named it, with her always. She came into this world slowly, at her own pace and time and emerged finally, a beautiful healthy baby, stealing our hearts for ever after. She walked early, spoke early and had an extensive vocabulary at age two. We once snuck a newly decorated play kitchen into her room while she napped and on waking she smiled, a big delicious toddler grin, pointed almost immediately at the kitchen and said “ my gracious Mommy, look how pretty it is.”

 

Her nighttime ritual as she grew older was to ensure that her multitude of stuffed toys, probably 20 or more, be properly situated in her bed before we could read stories. Every one of them had to be accounted, retrieved from hiding places all over the house and yard, for and tears would occur if we did not place them all just so. This was not because she was frightened or stalling, it was because she didn’t want anyone feeling left out or alone. These inanimate creatures were as real to her as her friends at school and deserved the same respect and care.

 

We couldn’t walk to school without saving worms on the sidewalk, we couldn’t leave baby birds out of their nests and the questions about why’s and what’s and where’s never ceased each day. She excelled academically but sometimes struggled with her peers because she didn’t understand, even then, how some of them just laughed and giggled. She asked me in Kindergarten “ Mommy why do some kids don’t know how to think”? People described her as an “old Soul” as “mature beyond her years” and this was before, at the age of six, she was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic.

 

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It is not something one who has not had a child diagnosed with a chronic illness can really understand. The pain of seeing your child in pain is not a tangible number on a scale that exists. It breaks your heart; it leaves you feeling guilty and helpless. Imagine that serious little old lady of six the first time we said you need a needle, six needles, everyday and always. And we will need to prick your finger, on purpose, until it bleeds, at least six times a day and lots of times when you are asleep, everyday and always. Therein lies the sorrow that having children brings. Their pain is yours, magnified because your own life brings understanding that your children cannot yet have.

 

My Cate faced this dread disease and continues to face it each and everyday head on. No, it is never “ under control”. Illness, hormones, stress, food, not enough food, mechanical issues with pumps and syringes, bruised injection sites, flawed test strips, physical activity, mental fatigue – life as we know it makes each day different and affects control. In the face of this she grew into an even more serious child, introspective and determined. It shaped her; it shaped us – our family, her sister, dad and myself. We learned that to survive we needed to have faith that all would be well, that there are no guarantees and that sometimes life makes it hard to breathe.

 

It was at this point in our lives that our first of many dogs joined our family. We had resisted until then, not wanting the “inconvenience” a pet brought to the table. How silly that seems in retrospect, they have brought us so very much more than we could ever have imagined. Pixie was the first, delivered by my sister the day before we came home from the hospital and a bribe, to be clear, to my poor girl to learn to inject herself in case one of us could not be with her in an emergency. The little white Bichon was the salve we all needed to mend our broken hearts and she became a cherished companion. Cate began to write, long sagas of adventure, poetry, things that were deep and inspiring and way beyond her years. Her Principal at school, who became my boss and friend, said to me one day “ Catey will not find her place until she’s in her twenties. She’s just got too much happening in that little head of hers.”

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And as happens all to fast, she grew. As she got older her restless spirit emerged. She was curious about everything, researched subjects at school because she had to know why, felt like no one her age had a “clue” and sought out new adventures. France in Grade 8, Nataushish, Italy, Europe again – always on a trip with other students or solo, she was determined to do everything everyone else could and more, diabetes be damned. All the while I held my breath and then reminded myself to breathe. I worried and worried more. Parenting is hard at every stage but perhaps the worst when you have to start letting them go. Sleepless nights with babes in arms is one thing, but sleepless nights when you can no longer protect them is quite another. I have this constant running dialogue with myself about not being selfish, not holding them so close that I smother them with my love and trust me when I say, it is so very hard to do. Cate has tested this time after time.

 

Catey and her sister are intertwined in a way that her father and I cannot even begin to comprehend. They love one another unconditionally but can go weeks without talking and can fight like stray cats in a dark alley – verbally, never with fists. The barbs they zing at each other can be impossibly cruel and cut to the heart of each other but their defense of each other is just as acutely powerful. They always know exactly what the other is thinking and feeling and they frequently remind me that with things like “mother, you actually don’t have a clue.” Here, as case in point, is an excerpt from an old fb group chat I was included in regarding Disney movie soundtracks.

 

Aidan: This is on my CD 🙂 Pocahontas and Mulan have the best songs

 

Cate: Definitely! 🙂 Breaking gender stereotypes and preaching environmental conservation through the lens of an interracial relationship.. Frozen is honestly not that big of a deal

Aidan: LOL best songs Catey, not best morals (although they have those too). And Frozen broke gender stereotypes in its own right… you’re just mad because it reflects us so well (i.e. you cause the problems, I fix them)

 

Cate: If you’re saying I’m more like Elsa I wholeheartedly agree : p

 

 

 

 

 

 

She had a teacher in high school who knew then that she wanted to pursue medicine. He wanted her to write, as did I. He pleaded with me to convince her to choose a different path.

He said, “ she’s an introvert and an Empath, a true one. It will consume her, I know this…”

He scared me when he spoke this truth because I knew then that what I saw in her was becoming clear to others. I could only say to him, “ telling her to stop is liking asking her to stop breathing”.

 

This excerpt is so much like Cate in some ways it is as if it were written by someone who knows her. An exception to this is that she is not “open”, rather more introverted in terms of expressing her own true feelings and would never be characterized as ignorant but more likely assumed to be “stand-offish”.

 

 

TRAITS OF AN EMPATH

Empaths are often quiet and can take a while to handle a compliment for they’re more inclined to point out another’s positive attributes. They are highly expressive in all areas of emotional connection, and talk openly, and, at times, quite frankly in respect to themselves. They may have few problems talking about their feelings.

However, they can be the exact opposite: reclusive and apparently unresponsive at the best of times. They may even appear ignorant. Some are very good at blocking out others and that’s not always a bad thing, at least for the learning empath struggling with a barrage of emotions from others, as well as their own feelings.

Empaths have a tendency to openly feel what is outside of them more so than what is inside of them. This can cause empaths to ignore their own needs. In general an empath is non-violent, non-aggressive and leans more towards being the peacemaker. Any area filled with disharmony creates an uncomfortable feeling in an empath. If they find themselves in the middle of a confrontation, they will endeavour to settle the situation as quickly as possible, if not avoid it all together. If any harsh words are expressed in defending themselves, they will likely resent their lack of self-control, and have a preference to peacefully resolve the problem quickly.

Empaths are sensitive to TV, videos, movies, news and broadcasts. Violence or emotional dramas depicting shocking scenes of physical or emotional pain inflicted on adults, children or animals can bring an empath easily to tears. At times, they may feel physically ill or choke back the tears. Some empaths will struggle to comprehend any such cruelty, and will have grave difficulty in expressing themselves in the face of another’s ignorance, closed-mindedness and obvious lack of compassion. They simply cannot justify the suffering they feel and see.

People of all walks of life and animals are attracted to the warmth and genuine compassion of empaths. Regardless of whether others are aware of one being empathic, people are drawn to them as a metal object is to a magnet! They are like beacons of light.

Even complete strangers find it easy to talk to empaths about the most personal things, and before they know it, they have poured out their hearts and souls without intending to do so consciously. It is as though on a sub-conscious level that person knows instinctively that empaths would listen with compassionate understanding.

Here are the listeners of life. Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things. As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one–if only for peace of mind.

Written by Christel Broederlow Copyright (c) 2002 Christel Broederlow Shortened Version from The Empath Report 101

 

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Cate went to Haiti, not once but twice, to work with a medical mission. While this was an organized group with much experience and a committed team, it was not without risk to health and safety, Haiti is a country in crisis and has much human suffering and pain. The first time she suggested she might go I adamantly, vehemently opposed such a thing and was laughingly ignored with a perfunctory back rub and a “ you worry too much” as she started filling out forms and introducing me to words like Dengue Fever and Sawyer filters. The second time I just shrugged my shoulders, sighed heavily and asked if her vaccines were up to date.

 

She boarded yet another plane with a little wave and swift spin away from her Dad and I three years ago, abrupt in her manner of departure because she could not bare to see her weeping mother. I weep every time I go to the airport and every time I promise myself I won’t and fail. That time she was headed to Med school and the other side of the world and pieces of my heart flew away with her. Fear for her was an understatement, alone in a place I’d never seen on the other side of the world but somehow I found the strength to let her go.

 

This morning, before my first coffee I might add, she sent another Tsunami of emotion flowing my way. Her GP rotation has in fact turned into a semester in a Methadone clinic. She has been threatened, assaulted by patients, seen all manner of addictions and the devastation they bring to these people lives. Many have mental health issues, were raised in violence and are now violent, suffer depression and suicidal urges, the list is long and dark and sad beyond sadness. She is not thinking as most of us might that she need only survive this place for the allotted time that her Medical School dictates but in fact this may be a path she might continue to follow. I am verklempt’, afraid and fearful of course. I argue with her “ she’s a female and personal safety is paramount, she’s too young, she’s a diabetic, her heart will be broken a million times over, her sorrow will grow too big for herself and pull her under too, it’s the system that needs fixing and she can’t fix every one, she should work with children and social services and save the next generation …”

 

To all of this I basically get told that “this is interesting, it’s about people who are broken and forgotten and still people who need help.”

 

“Really Mother,” she says, “ you should volunteer more…”

 

So I go on with each day, my heart in my hands, my fear ‘kept at bay with frequent face time chats and texts and emails. Heck, I even have snap chat so I can see her face and her Australian adventures when she chooses to share them with me (she’s my only contact).

 

A woman I know who has no children (or at least I hope she doesn’t have any) recently said to me at a gathering; “ don’t you find children to be such a waste, like they turn into adults after they’ve wrecked your body and consumed your life and they just leave and they’re never thankful. They just seem to suck the life out of everyone I know with kids.”

 

I was so taken by surprise that I didn’t know how to respond. And I didn’t say anything. I have thought about that more than once since then. I know now, given time to reflect, what I should have said.

“Poor you, who has not enough love in your soul to understand that a child brings joy, in a multitude of moments and dimensions that you cannot begin to fathom. Poor you that you feel entitled enough to diminish the love a parent has for their children with your selfish and critical appraisal of the bond that exists between a parent and a child. I do have childless friends who are that way by choice or by fate and I would not presume to understand how they feel or how they perceive their situation, how dare you presume to understand mine?”

 

To anyone contemplating children or forging their way through the uncharted terrain that each child brings, I salute you and I wish you well.

 

To my daughter Cate, the intrepid adventurer with the fragile heart and fierce soul, please take care and never lose your convictions but once in a while, go easy on your poor old mother. You grew up way too fast …

 

 

Me and my Guy

“A stunning first impression was not the same thing as love at first sight.

 

But surely it was an invitation to consider the matter”

 

Lois McMaster Bujold

 

 

In 1981 I started reading a book by Robert Ludlum called The Bourne Identity (perhaps you’ve heard of it)? I was 14 years old and loved to read murder mysteries, thrillers and desperately romantic short novellas (which sounds ever so much more exotic than the 104 or thereabouts Harlequin Romances I read one summer). They all had stories about things I did not fully understand but of course was intensely curious about. Most of my friends read Tiger Beat or Seventeen or nothing at all, so I pretty much discussed my latest book of intrigue with the dog or the cat if they’d listen. I was interrupted in the middle of Jason Bourne and his Greek satchel entering a bank vault and finding his stash of passports and money and guns, when Angus McKay knocked at our door. His best friend Pete had recently started dating my sister and he was looking for him. He was almost 5 years older than me and I knew who he was but had never spoken to before. The conversation went something like this:

 

“Who’s book are you holding kid?” said Angus, acting cool and sporting a smug smile, hair that curled and messed on top of his head like he’d not brushed it in days.

 

“ I would appreciate not being called a KID first of all and it happens to be my book but perhaps a Neanderthal such as yourself couldn’t understand such big words!” (that was me, sweet and such)

 

Throws head back and laughs. “ Well looks like somebody shit in your cornflakes this morning kid. Bourne gets killed in the end you know, have you made it to Berlin yet?”

 

Sarah, momentarily fluxed, pulls out the big zingers in her 14-year-old repertoire, stamps foot for impact. “ Well you are ridiculous, of course he won’t die. Honestly can’t believe you couldn’t even make it through ‘til the ending so you made that up. I refuse to speak to you any longer!” Stomping out of room, back straight, shoulders back.

Angus, chuckling calls out “ don’t skip to the back, just ‘cause you can’t stand it now!”

 

And that was our first meeting. Epicly underwhelming I know but it set the course for many more years of fun for Angus and me, like an old dog, never fully developing the capacity to resist reacting to his always deliberate attempts to make me stomp my foot. For him, it’s like sport.

 

For many years thereafter Angus and I hung out with a crowd of friends from our hometown. I was one of the youngest but somehow always connected with this group. We drove around in the guys ‘souped up cars, hung out in driveways and coffee shops and at night held bush parties in fields far away from our parents, car radios at maximum volume ‘til the batteries died or the sun came up. We never dated, just circled the wagons so to speak and more than once I asked him if he liked me, which he vehemently denied and then would proceed to tell me that whoever my boyfriend was at the time, he didn’t deserve me. He organized camping trips for us all on more than one occasion, booked the sites, rememebered to bring wood and an axe, reminded us to bring food and tents and beer and basically looked after us all to a degree. When my parents divorced and my living circumstances changed dramatically, he didn’t miss a beat, just showed up at the new addresses as I moved, again and again and never questioned the whys or the how comes?

 

When he graduated from College, he took me as his date, even though he insisted we were just friends. His father showed up in full Navy formal dress whites and boomed and saluted everyone, and his Mother delighted me with stories about being a girl in Montreal. There was a (not to be indelicate) “larger” girl in his class who was good friends with him, who leaped up on a table in the full swing of events at the dance and crashed to the floor in a magnificent boom and splintering of wood, much to his amusement and my horror. Later on that evening, sitting on somebodies living room floor. while Angus and his multiple Rye and Cokes snoozed in a corner, she kind of threatened my life through clenched teeth in a whispery, Cruella-de Ville kind of way and told me he would someday be hers. In reflection, I think I viewed that as a challenge.

 

And so our lives moved forward, diverged and intersected and our friendship remained strong. My Grandmother loved Angus for of course, his parents had taught him how to treat and respect their elders. She’s wink and say. “ Is that boy coming ‘round whenever she’d visit, the one with the curly hair?” I ‘d long since given up on whether or not he was interested romantically until one night when a bunch of us went to the best, or worst, depending on perspective, bar in town, across the street from my University, Wilfrid Laurier. The rules at Phil’s Grandsons Place were pretty much don’t look up, don’t look at the floor, don’t wear sandals and beware the barbers’ chair. We were all hanging out and enjoying our cheap drinks and too loud but great music when a mystery blonde sidled up to our table and started putting the moves on Angus. I was aghast and irritated by this ‘Trampenstein! “ Like seriously who does she think she is?” I fumed to my bf Michele. Michele just laughed, long and deep and then looked me in the eye and said “ Sarah my dear, I think you’re jealous.” I was so taken aback by that statement I couldn’t react immediately (well that and the shots from the barber chair). I protested “ Of course I’m not jealous, like I don’t want him, he’s too old for me and well it’s just that nobody else can have him… wait, uhmmm… Whatttt??? Arghhh…” and I stomped my foot.

 

Fast-forward a few months, literally three or four months, and we were sitting on a bench in Stratford and engaged. My friends at University were shocked, thought I was rushing things. My grandmother was over the moon and gave me away at our wedding. One of our friends (well not really friend since I’d declined his romantic gestures several years earlier) said, the night we ran into him in the beer store parking lot, “ hmphhh, I give it a year.”

 

So began our marriage, 27 years and a day later (I struggle with timelines) and a million moments all building a thread in time. Twelve houses, renovations galore, “up” sales and “down” sales, friends and neighbours all along the way. Two children born, raised and off in the world, our greatest tribute to our marriage is those girls. He held my hand through the thick and thin, always trying to understand the Venus in me with the Mars in him.

 

When my Grandmother was dying on the 6th floor, I was suffering our third miscarriage on the 4th and I told him to stay with her and say nothing. I left the recovery room and came upstairs, took a deep breath and smiled as I entered the room. She lit up when she saw me and told me how she’d been telling “the boy” about her dreams of our new baby, it would be a girl with red hair. She loved our firstborn Catey so much and was delighted we were expecting again. He was smiling with her and didn’t ever let her know, for that I am ever grateful because I am sure it was very hard for him to sit and pretend. She died dreaming of that baby and as it turns out a year later our second daughter, Aidan (Gaelic for little fire), was born.

 

When Princess Diana died and I walked around for weeks bursting into tears at random moments, he was perplexed to be sure but didn’t, for once, tease me in my grief. I still don’t understand that myself. When our girls were faced with Diabetes and brain surgery, he let me do what I needed to do, focus all of my Mom energies and he kept’ all the proverbial balls (mortgage, bills, life outside of hospitals) up in the air. We have rebuilt and restored homes, moved across the country, travelled some and dream of more. We are in sync most days, not all to be sure but always together inspirit. Sometimes in recent years our 21-year-old brains have been betrayed by our fifty + year old bodies and we laugh about it and move on anyway. Our breakfast these days involves Vitamins and Bran Buds, not quite the sexy scene one might have expected that sunny day in May, 27 years ago. Still we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

So happy anniversary Angus McKay, love of my life and in-house everything ❤