Sunday, June 26, 2011

Journal 36 Wonder at it all

The catch-up--on laundry, on dishes, on the dust on the floor, on work files, on reading, on living. I have seen almost no one, socially, over the last three months, I just haven't been able to put on the brave face. I've limited my engagements to that of lawyers (making wills), therapy (writing notes, no doubt on how insane I must seem sometimes, ranting in her office), and to the sheer will of getting out of bed every morning at a different time, never knowing if I will sleep through the night, or if a blog entry I'm toying with or a biography I'm reading and trying to see through, will keep me awake until all hours. The off-kilter sleep is a real killer for me. As in previous posts, I am all about routine, and having it disrupted is a huge issue for me (see therapy in the first few lines....I must work on this).

So I battle to keep the sanity, the sleep, the office hours of a fully-engaged worker, and the duties that so often befall the oldest child of the family, all that paperwork, organization (laughable really. I'm carrying some of the most important paperwork I've ever been entrusted with in a wine bag, have been for months. My lawyer gasped when I took out the bag at my last appointment with him. Then shook his head.
"Carolyn, you must devise an organizational system for all of this".
His secretary's concerned look, then her comment;
"Howard, she's overwhelmed"
And I felt just that).
I managed to get through that meeting and hold myself in check until I was out the door of their office, then I dissolved on the front steps, people looking, I'm used to it.

Fast forward to this Saturday, yesterday, my first church visit since my dad's death. I was entrusted with my nephew for the afternoon, and dutifully, he came with me, a knapsack of toy cars, plastic monsters, and pokeman cards to keep him busy during a quick Saturday afternoon mass (Oh, if all my demons could fit so neatly into a little bag.....)

We began our visit in lighting prayer candles for the souls of those we miss. One for my nephew's Papa, my dad, one for my dear friend G. My friend A.'s sister. My grandparents. All in a nice row, keeping each other company. I brought R., my nephew, over to the St. Jude statue, the prayer spot for 'hopeless causes'. I told R. we were going to pray for Papa. I started, saying it aloud for R. to hear, normally I just 'think' it. "Dear God, please take care of my father, he suffered so much. Please make sure he is safe and in a happy place."

My nephew, with all the perspective and magic children bring to situations, was much more direct with God: "Hi, I want Papa to open his eyes, and be awake, and be alive again. Thank you". I teared up at this. I want that too R. Only without the trach, G-tube, and the horror of these spring months. Without the intensive chemo-radial schedule that defined my father's last summer, a summer that was warm and lovely and should have been spent in the backyard, on a lounge chair, with the latest issue of Macleans.
I silently cried in front of St. Jude. In front of the other church-goers as we walked back to our pew. I took my Dad's card out of my wallet, and my friend G's, and I propped them up on the pew. R. took this pokemon card and propped it up beside it.
He played with his cards while the adults took in the homily, the standard prayers, and when it came time to say the Lord's Prayer, it was no longer that dull verse I listened to over a PA system in public school, it had meaning, it had specialness. It had been the verse that had seen my Dad out of this world, into the other.
I cried all through church on Saturday. I had one lone kleenex, which I held on to tightly.

The sermon was, fittingly, about wonder. Wondrous it is, a new thought is always 'wondrous' to me. The idea of the other horizon, wondrous. For the priest it could be a glass of water, the wonder of the church itself; if we feel this wondrous in the building, we should feel even more wondrous outside of it.

I think about wonder as I try to quell anxiety. I think about our simple planet, us complex creatures, making our way along, to our eventual, unpredictable, unknowable death date, that we pass every year, with out thought, a future anniversary that we will not need to celebrate.
I've had many up and down days the last thirteen (that number again) days. I've had days of prayers of gratitude for delivering my Dad. I've had moments of utter despair, ruminating on my failures as his daughter, the fracture sometimes evident in our relationship a source of real pain. I have moments of pride and peace, thinking about my dedication to making his hospital stay more bear-able, of the conversations we had, the ones that will last me the rest of my life. The poems, the stories, the spirits hovering nearby. The pink-and-silver bird alighting on his window sill, peering in one day, a gentle warning, I look at it as. A symbol of peace. Does Ontario even have pink birds?

I continue to catch-up on my own neglectful spirit work, nourish the part of my soul that wants to take a nap. Escape, run into oblivion, but no matter how far I run, I stop, in the throbbing stillness, finally, of my head, but my troubles somehow kept up. Not to banish them is my goal, but rather, just to tame them. To stop the coming from fear, which is where I live right now. Fear, the cracks of only slivered light shafting in. Tasks that I attempt often end before they begin.
I'm grateful, even for this rambling blog post, to let people know how I am in one fell swoop;
healthy (and grateful for that)
up and down
and yes
a little overwhelmed.
I continue to write, not so much to share, but to get this out of me.
It is, as Capote said, haunting.
It has its own life, too.
I make plans, plans for life. Too see M. whom I am missing far too much at this moment, about which I can do nothing for the missing until I see him, late summer. I make plans to see L., to allow her radiant company to pull me out of this, out of me.
I put my fears aside, and contiue to go forth in this life.

What choice do I have, surrounded by all the wonder?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Journal 33 What the Obit Did Not Say Part Two

I made it through half my workday on Monday, June 13th, then I made up a schedule to get through the rest of the week, allowing me to be present for appointments, meetings, etc., with my dad's doctor, making plans, as we often do, so innocently sometimes.
I got through all my emails and did two reports, sort of on automatic when I look back on it, one part of my mind still on my mother's phone call, one part on my aunt and cousin's intrusion, the other keeping an eye on the clock, reminding myself that I'd promised my mother I'd be at their house by mid-day, late-lunchtime.
I ate my lunch at my desk, slowly, not really hungry, but needing some source of energy.
The drive to Ajax had no traffic, even though it was Monday, and the sky began to cloud over, from what had been a sunny, bright day. By the time I arrived at my parents house and had parked the car in the driveway and gotten out, a misty rain was falling, and the cloud cover had thickened.
I walked up the driveway, on the porch my mother was sitting, having her illicit cigarette, I have a comfort too, xanax is a small relaxtion. I don't smoke it, but it's my adult 'blankie'. We all need one. Or maybe not. I do. Especially now.

It is my exhausted mother's first break all day, I can see it in her flitting expression, her tired eyes alighting first on a peony bush, not yet bloomed, the cement of the porch, then finally, to me. We go inside.
Up to my father's room. He is lying, on his back, oxygen mask on his trach, eyes to the ceiling, and he seems to be sleeping, almost--but with his eyes open. He barely registers I'm there, but at last he brightens his expression and swivels his eyes toward me, recognition to the end. I smile.
I am wearing a green patterened dress, and it is 1:30 in the afternoon. My mom and I each take up a chair at my dad's bedside. Like yesterday, and the day before that, he's having a tough day. But there have been lots of those, so I don't over-analyze my place there, at his bedside. I hold his hand, he motions for the blanket to be taken off his legs, I move it out of the way, mentally thinking "I don't want you to be cold Dad..." but I don't say it aloud. At this point, my eyes are doing the talking, my face is stringing the sentences together.

I call my sister briefly in this stage.

She answers immediately. "What's happening?"
Me: "Nothing. Same old, same of the same.. Listen. I can work my schedule so I can be here to meet with the doctor tomorrow at 11 am and deal with what needs to happen re; drugs; Can you get here for 2:30 pm, meet with the Social Worker, and get some advice of how we're going to deal with Aunt K and Tam going forward?" She agrees to adjust her schedule and I exhale. We have a plan. A plan is part-way to a solution.
I go back upstairs.

As I sit, holding his hand, phrases, song lyrics, unbidden, float into my head.
One is "holding the hand of the dying"...this phrase comes from somewhere, as I look at my father's eyes, heaven-watching, rolling to look at the ceiling, seeing something that my mother and I cannot. Then a lyric; "the world, slows down, and my heart beat fasts right now"....and my heart does. His doesn't beat in the same powerful rhythm. A half hour goes by. The last real coherent sentence I read from my father's lips; "What time is it?" Me; "Two o'clock." The clock is near his bedside. My father is agitated. We offer his Ativan, I ask him to squeeze my hand if he wants it. Squeeze. I get the Ativan and try to put it under his tongue, but twice I do this and he spits it out. My mother is leaning forward in her chair, she is doing her worrying; it's swirling around us, and there is alot in the room right now. I mean, people wise, just me, my dad and mom, but the air is heavy, not with humidity, rain, or weather. I talk to my Dad about our family dog Shadow and seeing her. This provokes a genuine grin, meeting his eyes, but not like before. He's there, but...not.

We ask my dad in a soft voice if he wants to have a rest. He doesn't answer. He is trying to get his hand to his dry lips, the skin cracked. I realize his hand doesn't know where his mouth is. My mom gets a washcloth, wet with cool water, and we apply it to his mouth, helping with the dryness. I hold the washcloth there to his lips, my mom says he likes that; I do it for a short time, and he then tires of it, and pushes it away. I tell him my mom is going to have a cup of tea, is he ok if we both go downstairs? He doesn't answer, doesn't even try to form words to lip read; and at this point, when he does, I can't understand them. It's like he's not talking to me.
We go downstairs, my mom gets her tea, and cigarette number two, and I go to the kitchen and call my sister again. "Do you think you'll get here maybe a bit later in the day?" She says she can. I am interrupted by the ringing of my dad's bell, that stays beside his bed, his means of calling for help. Not one single ding of the bell but a few short rings. "Lisa, Dad's ringing, I'm going upstairs, call in a bit". She's says ok, I run upstairs, two at a time, to make sure he hasn't pulled his trach out, or anything is amiss.
He is lying, still, blanket still aside, and now he's taken the oxygen off.
"Dad? Dad? Are you ok?" No response, his eyes lolling, the ceiling, the unfocussed open-eyed look. I talk to him about meeting our family dog, Shadow. His breaths, if possible, become more ragged than before. My mom comes up from her tea break as I am leaning over him, helping him turn onto his side, his frail arm reaching for the bar of the hospital bed.
Then his eyes go wide, wide, and I am a daughter, not a doctor, and all those "end of life" pamphlets that we got from the hospital are gone from my mind, and I'm rubbing his shoulder and he's gasping, and my mother is in slow motion of facial expression. She needs a job. "Call the nurse, Mom, call her now, right now". I am talking to my Dad, slowly, softly, while he gasps, half on his side.
"It's me, Carolyn, it's me, Dad, I'm here, your daughter. It's're going somewhere very safe.." I tell him to not be afraid, to do so is to minimize my own abject terror. "It's me Daddy." I can't even say 'Daddy'. I haven't said that in at least 25 years. I dial it down. Back to Dad. "Dad, I'm here." My mom wraps up her phone call. We are saying the Lord's Prayer as his eyes lose focus for a final time. I'm holding my Dad's grandfather's cruicifix, as I have been for the past two hours, a talisman, a wish from God; you helped your son, can you help this one too? I rubbed the crucifix as I thought this. He is not breathing anymore and his eyes are half closed. My mother's face is registering an expression I've never seen. She needs another job to do. "Call Lisa. Call her right now". She rushes out of the room. I'm still talking, still murmuring "Our Father" and saying that it's safe, it's alright. My mother gets my sister's voice mail. I tell her it's okay. We sit beside him, still re-assuring. Maybe he can hear us, somewhere.

He's gone; white as marble almost immediately, cold, but calm.
I am like marble too. Cold.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Journal 35 OwnLife

What the Obit did not say, Part two, will arrive shortly, but I'm having a bit of a time writing it tonight.
I'm also reading other blogs I like, ones that I categorize under the heading "cheerful" and "twenty-something" and I love their energy, their sense of fun, their playfulness, underneath I recognize the terror, (that terror of "what am I going to be am I going to BE SOMEONE?") but you can push the terror down in the under-30 mode. You can tame the terror.
Afterwards, things get tricky.

I listened to my positive affirmations today, driving home from my mom's. (I keep wanting to say "driving home from my parents"). We had dinner together again, outside in the backyard, the same persistent robin hopping from fence to grass, from tree to shrub. I like to think that the birds and animals (my sister's cat another example, he didn't leave my mother's side when she was at her house yesterday) have extra-sensory perception and are sensitive to my mom's sadness, even when she masks it behind creating a delicious meal, or having a single gin-and-tonic (I'd like to have had four). When she brings out a plastic container to the backyard to fill up with water since it hasn't rained and she wants the birds to have moisture. When she puts out stale bread.
I had been working on a Mother's Day post, in May, obviously, and it sits, unfinished, in my 'edit posts' log. I will finish it. Maybe today was Mother's Day. Maybe all last week was. Watching her put on a brave face, much like my own, while inside some part of her must have withered along with my dad's frail body.
I can't finish Obit Part Two tonight, I have to work in the morning, and I've wrung enough out of myself tonight, today, this past week. As I type, my father's ashes sit in a green drawstring bag beside my desk, his brown and beige globe (not the typical blue) peeks out shyly from a shelf, here in its new home, and I marvel at the unreality of it all.
Where did my twenty-something self go? Much like that poem I posted a few weeks ago, they were never stingy those twenties. And yes, if I met her in a bar I'd have a good few drinks and listen to just how hopeful she was, putting on yet another brave face, while falling into impossible love, and working two jobs, and praying to the facade of the church she lived across from on Bathurst Street. She would have felt so bad for me at the loss of my Dad. Probably would have wanted to know what she could have done. Her mouth would have been downturned, but not in any way mocking or false.
The word I want is more than's.....carefulness. It's tender. It's...beyond empathy.
The thirties do their work on you, make no mistake. You leave behind that self-obsessed-ness, you have to, so many are depending on you to, even if you don't have children. You take care, you give over your own life, you get used to putting the needs of other's first. It was something I first came across when reading essays by George Orwell. How he felt that after the age of thirty, most of your life was spent caring for others (children, ailing parents). In 1984, he covertly, so I think, entwined "ownlife" into Newspeak, to sum up people who lived on the fringes of family life in society. When I was in my twenties I idealized this ideology. My mission was to live my own life to the end. Now I see how impossible that is, with a heart, a brain, an age already behind me, more than a decade of adult life.

Bye Twenty-girl. I still miss you. But I've bigger fish to fry.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Journal 34 Suburbia Part Two said via email to my friend A.;

Part of me (Peace be damned) wants to send this Obit blog post to my aunt. But I have refrained.
My heart tells me my father would not want this to happen, and I have the blog as my private
sounding board, as my aunt has my cousin, and vice versa, the major difference I guess being
that they mirror exactly what they want to hear/see.
Well, I'm happy to see the time of almost 10pm. I really want father's day behind me, god forgive me for rushing one of his days.

I fell apart last night in the grocery store in front of a display of father's day cards, thought to myself, could i not just have bought one early? but then i thought, and then when would i give it to him? early, saying, here, in case...didn't want to invade his hope like that.

i might still buy one tomorrow, write it out and offer it into the universe. what would that be like.
tracing the tears....they come when i remember i've forgotten he's not here. When i go to ask my mom "how is dad?" when I look for the email that doesn't come.
when i jog through suburbia, empty of people, just me, my running shoes, the birds,
a swingset (i'm writing a blog post on suburbia is it obvious?)
the tears arrive then. They come from my non-belief place, the part that can't believe
I am still able to slip into a bath, have a bite of chicken, a sip of wine, a calming pill, listen to a new song, and he's still gone. Fuck, I just finished getting to a better place in grieving for gerard and now all this. New grief, and it's completely different.

Your flowers are doing well, orange and bright, I brought themn home with me, eucaplyptus,
staring straight out into the world, giving my apartment some life amongst all the sadness.

Ahh the Beatles. Here Comes the Sun.

love and light

Journal 34 Suburbia Part One

My e to L says it all tonight...

Listening to madonna, just dashed off a blog post, and i've
treated this weekend like I've been at an all inclusive--unlimited
pills, cheap wine, good meals, and staying at my mom's or on my
sigh sar. it's not nearly as hedonism II as it sounds. Bed by 10, slow
thoughts, tears, near-empty glasses of wine, regrets, bad tv, books,
and my head, my head in the endless loop of missing of why of
no no no.
I've caught myself on the phone to my mom "how is dad" and caught
myself wanting to send him an email, to hear his frail voice, to watch
his face light up as I described some crazy thing my cousin had done.

Thank you for being 'sad by association' sar' i know you are.
OH god. Madonna just came on "This Used to be my Playground".

I didn't run today. Every muscle aches (physical pain of grief as Joan Didion
decribes in Year of Magical Thinking) I did run 3x this week, and swang on the
empty park swings of a suburban playgroud (my next blog entry is about
barren suburbia yes I made some notes. creepy. I would go out for my runs,on trails, behind peoples' HUGE fence-in back yards and NO ONE was ever in's like that song...Sprawl. I went on three long runs, and on two of them I stopped at an empty park, swang on the swings which held my weight, thankfully, pumped my legs toward the sky, felt a little less 'earth-bound', just me, my shoes, my tunes, and the birds. And the maybe five people I saw walking small overweight dogs).

Today's bitch slap blog
post was brought to you by my roof, my deep anger at my aunt, and the
hot sun beating down as drank light white wine out of a gatorade bottle.
As of right now, I'm xanaxed, bathed, orange-thyme candles lit, rosemary cream,
calamine for my burnt shoulders, and it's official, with the excetpion of 2 hours with tricia on the roof and driving my mom into the city with me, i've been alone all day.
alone with the pictures, the prayer cards (i'll mail to you as soon as canada post
decides summer vackay is over), with the bouquets of flowers, with my
feeling of unreality, with my wine,/gingerale combo, chicken dinner.

Oh god Madonna. ... "The best things in life are always freeeeeeeeee....wishing
you were here with me". and by you I mean you and my dad.

sunday. can't trust that day today.
Ok the blog. says it better than i can.
re; father's day double at the whistle (didn't your scope mentione a WHISTLE?)
be true to thine own self.

Suddenly, in these last few months, life no longer seems long. It seems short, precious,
and very very elusive to the grasp.

much love to you and to your fam..yes, they did cheer, in thru my closed window they shone
some light.
xoxoxo cc

Journal 33 What the Obit Did Not Say Part One

It's been the nicest, hottest, most-consistent weekend, weather-wise, of 2011. That's saying alot.
It's Father's Day, that Hallmark Holiday that arrived with such ill-apt timing this year. Invented, it feels, this year, for those of us who are lacking.
And I feel lacking. After all, it's my first father's day without him. It's only two days since his funeral, with all its' surreal surrounding circumstances, meeting people I didn't know, missing people (his sister) whom I thought for sure would make it through. On another odd note, the origins of this post didn't start in my loft, on my computer, my fingers flying on the keys; they began in a notebook, a way of writing I left behind almost a decade ago.
I'm on my rooftop garden, alone, pen in hand reviewing the week that has been, and here is some of what the Obit does not say.
It didn't say that I drove to work Monday morning, June 13th, with my heart in my throat. I had missed my mother's early morning call (I was in the shower, getting ready for work), and as I tried to call her back, the line was busy. My slow Monday-morning drive continued as I inched along in traffic, finally calling my sister to get her to try and call my mom and make sure 'nothing was really wrong' mother's message was a vague call for help, but by now I was used to these signals. But as my sister reached my mother, her haltingly worried speech something new, something different, my efforts for a well-planned day were slowly, softly, unravelling. I said to my sister, while still in the car, crossing the 401, where the DVP turns into the 404, "I can't take much more of this". My sister was worried. I'd repeated this phrase, privately to her only, a number of times in recent weeks.
Also what the Obit does not say.
That the blow-up with my Aunt and Cousin, my dad's sister and niece, respectively, whom, although loved and welcomed, had made it their Business from Day One to be as plaintively interfering as possible, my Aunt taking cues from her mentally-ill, unbalanced daughter. My favourite aunt, the one who talked me off the ledge, as I sat on the floor of my loft last July, after a smarting break-up. The subtle blow-up occurred anyway.
In my previous entries I wrote about how insanely protective I was feeling of both my parents that Sunday morning, June 12th, intuition on full-tilt, family privacy a matter of right, not something granted by extended family members when they deemed it so.
Some instinct in me was telling me to be with my family, my family of origin that day, with no interference. My reaction was so over-the-top, even for me, that my sister decided to go with me to my parents for the Sunday visit, and to make sure my Aunt and Cousin knew that when we arrived, it was their cue to leave. They had been filling up my father's sick room with their energy, raw, possessive, and angry, for two full days.
I had been filling my own head with thoughts of utter hatred towards my cousin, and the thought that my own strong-willed, kind, aunt, could not rein this adult in, keep her in check somehow, seemed obscene and infuriating to me. I was very on edge as Lisa and I arrived at the home we'd lived in with our parents, where these outsiders insisted on ruining our peace, to the very end.
When we arrived and went up to our father's sick room, my aunt and cousin made a hasty exit, I will note, my aunt pulled up a chair for me to sit near my father's bed. My cousin gave me her best saccharine "I DO feel real emotions" stare, her eyes empty, my hands limp at my sides; no hugs, no slaps. I restrained every part of myself to allow some peaceful time with my father. Our imperfect relationship loomed large at this point, but at no time did I think that I had less than forty-eight hours to say good-bye. I was so focussed on my ire toward my aunt and my cousin, especially after seeing the note my mother had shown me after I came downstairs. My mother had written down the cruel words my cousin spoke to her as they arrived, univited, at my parents' house;
"Don't worry, Aunt Paulette. After Jim is gone we won't impose or bother you ever again". Well, at least she admitted by then that they were imposing.
When we arrived, they ostensibly left. But, it turned out they just went to get themselves a bite to eat, offering my mother nothing. They came back. My cousin stayed in the car, Hollywood-shades on her face, a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth expression; my Aunt came into the house, my Dad finally having some rest, and as she mounted the stairs, this woman I loved like a mother; I heard myself hiss at her:
"He's sleeeepingggggggggggg".
Much like her arrival that morning,she defied my wishes again.
My sister sent me out to get my mom's groceries to avoid further confrontation, and I will always remember her level-headedness about this; I backed out of the driveway in a fury, tires squealing, bombing down the street, my cousin's shocked look in my head as I went to the grocery store.
My Aunt commented to my mother I neither hugged nor looked at her.
I wish my Mom had the presence of mind that I had asked for privacy for all of us that day, and that she defied my wishes, even though I was on the verge of losing my father, my only father, my imperfect father, me, his imperfect daughter, but my mother, amiable to the end, let this go.

The obit does not say how they skipped the funeral, and in some respect this was my prayer answered; not so much for my beloved aunt but for her sick family; and at no time have my aunt and I had an opportunity to talk about the 'discord' as her brainless daughter so flippantly describes it, that went on. Her daughter talks about a possibility of stroke. Of forgetfulness upon the news of my dad's death, which I called to tell them about around 6pm Monday June 13th, three hours after he died, my mom and I with him. My sister arriving after, to say her own private good-bye.
No "I'm so sorry".
The other evening, in my parents' house, where I stayed for the last week, I had a late-night crying jag, alone, in the den, on the couch that has been my bed for the nights that I've stayed there. I cried, missing my dad. I cried, for all his suffering, his fear, his pain, and my inability to make any of that better for him. I cried for the new memory of being there with him, holding him, as he took his last breaths. About the person who I would have wanted comfort from more than almost anyone, my Aunt.
And how loud her silence has been this week.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day Dad

June 17th, 2011

Thank you for coming here today to celebrate Jim—our Dad, my Mom’s husband of more than forty years, a “Papa”—your friend.
Dad loved a joke, a smile, a good political debate, but most of all he loved his family.
He had an air of peace about him at all times, even in the last stages of his illness. He simply exuded dignity and calm.

Dad started his life in Collingwood, Ontario, the small town just north of Toronto on Georgian Bay, the youngest of three children, a ‘late’ baby in an English-Irish household. Being the adventurous soul that he was it took only until his nineteenth birthday for him to decide he wanted to see more of his beloved country. He hitchhiked out west and arrived in British Columbia, to teach on a reserve with Native Canadian children. He taught music, one of his life’s passions.
He met our mother here, she from an Ottawa convent, and he, a rookie teacher, on his own for the first time. He proved irresistibly charming, and they returned to Ontario—my mother leaving the convent, and then their marriage soon after.

Life in Toronto, after the birth of my sister and I, revolved around family, and around his office, Phoenix Personnel. My mother stayed home with Lisa and I, and our father regaled us with stories of his office high-jinx.
My father was a known practical joker, and he arranged, for a favourite target, um, I mean colleague, who had the habit of slamming the phone down with gusto after a conversation with a client had not gone well, to loosen the nuts and bolts holding the phone together, so that the next time such a conversation took place and his co-worker slammed the phone down, the entire phone fell apart, much to the chagrin of his coworker, and the hilarity of the rest of the office.

One of our earliest childhood memoires, among many, involved a speech that my father had written, for a headhunter conference he was both attending and speaking at. He called the speech “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly”, an analogy on the eighties job market, which he coined “The Employed, the Unemployed, and the Underemployed.” By the time came for my Dad to deliver the speech, he had practiced so many times in the living room of our townhouse that we had all practically memorized it and could quote random passages at will. He had also taped himself saying the speech so he could play it back and critique his performance, which we found hilarious.

I mentioned before about my father’s love of music, and he loved all kinds. He was a consummate piano player, obliging guests late at night when my parents had parties, playing many of the James Bond themes at the piano, for which he owned original sheet music for, purchased in the sixties. He didn’t just play the piano when we had guests though. He also played for just the four of us as a family, after a Saturday night spaghetti dinner, Beatles songs were the favourite, and he sang as he played. We grew up thinking that the song “And I Love Her” was about us.

Dad also loved political news, current events, and reading, both the newspapers and news magazines, like Macleans, a subscription that my sister renewed, automatically each Father’s Day.
Rather than watch our fallen troops make their journey home on the tv news, he regularly made the trip to the overpass at Harwood Avenue in Ajax, to watch, in respectful silence, with the families of the soldiers, their procession home on the Highway of Heroes.
Canada was our dad’s “home and native land” in every sense of the word, he had numerous tee-shirts with the Maple leaf on them and he wore them proudly. A flag flew from our house, and Canada Day was a big deal. At the last federal election in April, despite his advanced illness and having been released from a six-week hospital stay only weeks before, we still managed to get him out to the advance polls to cast his vote, something he impressed upon us as our civic duty, otherwise phrased as “Well, If you don’t cast your vote, you have no right to complain about what they’re doing”.
He was not by any means, though, a ‘serious’ person as he enjoyed a joke and laughter way too much to take things that our government was doing to impede upon his way of life. Law abiding to a point, his only real rebellion was in his special way of ‘recycling’ stamps off of envelopes that he would re-use.

Dad’s other love was the outdoors, especially when exploring it with our family dog, black lab, Shadow, who came to our family as a father’s day gift to my dad in June of 1995. She was definitely my dad’s dog, and he walked her up to three times a day, taking her to local conservation areas so she could swim, never worrying about the mess a wet Labrador made of his car. She was my father’s faithful companion, and when we put her down Easter weekend of 2006, after a short, devastating illness, it was one of rare times I saw my father cry.

With our Dad, childhood was anything but dull. Once the VCR came out and movies could be rented, this was an activity he really enjoyed, bringing us with him to the video store to pick out videos, his favourites being horror films. I don’t’ think there are too many seven or eight year olds today who have seen The Exorcist. One afternoon, as the three of us, my Dad, sister, and myself, sat, rapt with attention , watching yet another age-inappropriate movie, my mother, who was doing the laundry in the next room and noticed the shrieking coming from the tv set (and from my sister and I) repeatedly questioned our Dad about what we watching. He pretended not to hear her. She asked one more time and he finally blurted out “It’s called Invitation to Hell, Paulette, Invitation to Hell, OK??”
My mother was not too impressed by this, but simply shook her head.

Two teenage daughters in the house was not easy, and my father caved early and had a second phone line installed. He also bought us a car to avoid the constant chafeurring about town.

For my 21st birthday my sister and I had the idea that we were going to go down to the States, Sandusky Ohio to be specific, to go to the Cedar Point amusement park (and to enjoy the bars). My father immediately went to CAA, got us maps for the road, driving directions, and hotel discounts. I think he and my mother were so happy to have a weekend where we weren’t coming in and out at all hours, they were glad to help. But really, I’m not sure if parents today would allow something like this, but to me, it illustrated our father’s trust in us, both to find our own way and make the right decisions. He had also once told me that his own parents believed in never forbidding something—it was the quickest way to get a child to do exactly that. Gentle guidance was more his parenting style, suggestive rather than dictative.

The last fourteen months proved daunting for all of us. After surviving a massive heart attack in 1996, and a bike accident, we felt our Dad was invincible and would live forever.
The sore throat that nagged him began in March of last year, nagging, and refusing to go away. By Easter I could see the beginnings of what looked like a lump on the side of his neck. My mother’s birthday dinner last March was a painful reminder of his yet-undiagnosed illness—he declined to come with us, saying he was fine, just not feeling like eating dinner. It was out of character for him to turn down a family meal out.
His diagnosis was a tremendous shock for us all, and the summer of 2010 loomed before us—more than eight weeks, Monday to Friday, of radiation and chemotherapy, downtown, at Princess Margaret Hospital. The Canadian Cancer Society had a program that drove patients to and from the hospital each day, and he rode in the van with the driver and other patients, his keen desire to socialize endearing him to everyone who rode with him.
One of the things that struck me most about his condition and all the difficulties surrounding it was that he never complained. He didn’t complain when it finally came down to the fact that he could no longer eat, despite all the treatment. The loss of his voice was particularly cruel for a person who enjoyed talking and communicating so much.

The final weeks, after the tracheostomy that saved his life, in a most barbaric fashion, were a whirlwind. After six weeks in the Oshawa hospital, he was finally released into “home care” which was where he wanted to be. This is only possible if there is a person in the home who can be the ‘informal’ caregiver, and this person was my Mother. Tireless, unselfish, and giving, there could not have been a better person to take care of my dad. His hospital bed was on the second floor of the house and up until Friday of last week, he was still mobile and able to come downstairs and sit with us while we told him stories of our lives, observed the miserable spring weather, and that each of us was given the time to have our own special conversations with my Dad, as we were expert lip-readers by this time (my sister has a particular gift for this).

I’ve had many conversations with people over the last few months about weighing the merit of ‘going slow’ or ‘fast’. Fast has its own special heartbreak, the no-goodbye being one. Slow, especially with this disease, has its heartbreak too. The suffering, for one. The endless medicines, the side-effects, the decline, so marked, as the days go by. That feeling of the clock ticking, louder with each second going by.

After a battle such as this one, there cannot help but be some relief; my Dad’s stoic suffering was nothing short of heroic, and although my father was not overly religious, he was extremely spiritual and he drew on that spirituality to help him cope. A lot of our last talks revolved around spirit, and our thought that the butterflies he got in his stomach when pondering the end of his life were evidence of spirit.

Dad, I know that you are now at peace, in a safe place, with your parents and Shadow, and this place is pain-free.
Thank you for all of your dedication not only as a father but as a person. You never felt the need for anger or hatred, you had a simple acceptance of all that happened, and I take a page out of your book on faith and on the value of placing yourself in the hands of God.
Thank you. I love you.

Monday, June 13, 2011


James Charles Bignell, "Jim", on Monday, June 13th, 2011, aged 63, after a courageous and valiant battle with esophageal cancer.
Beloved husband of Paulette for over forty years. Cherished father of Carolyn Ann and Lisa Kathleen. Beloved 'Papa' to Elise Charlotte and River James. Son of deceased parents Reginald and Mary Catherine. Youngest brother of John and his wife Lola Bignell, and Kathleen and Altan Sharif. Friends may call at the Simple Alternative Chapel, at 1057 Brock Road in Pickering Ontario,on Friday June 17th, 2011 at 10 o'clock am for visitation, service at 11 o'clock am.
In lieu of flowers donations to the Princess Margaret Hosptial fund are appreciated.

"And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from the restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God, unencumbered." The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Journal 32 The Day After

I said to Lisa this morning...You know you're REALLY angry when you
wake up and feel the same the next day.
I don't know how this situation is going to play out.
I just know that my aunt and cousin completely defied my wishes, and
crossed boundaries yesterday that left me outraged.
They also took my sacred day, my Sunday, and destroyed the peace of
mind I work so hard to create throughout the week, after the stresses of work
take their toll, and the sheer emotional exhaustion has left its imprint.
(And the worst part is...I let them. And I'm old enough to know better).

Anyway. Aunt K. is still my lovely aunt, unfortunately, she has a daughter whose
behaviour encourages her own inappropriate-ness and boundary-levelling.
At this point, I feel no communication is the best form of communication,
as I have no desire to express my concerns and point of view to either of them,
as I do not think I will be heard. They dwell in a place of continual upheaval,
the universe swirling around them, with little (no) inner reflection, nor the
ability to step outside themselves and really ask those hard questions;
"Have I overstepped?"
"Have I crossed the line and caused (insert name here) pain and emotional discomfort?"
"Have I judged the level of care to be so woefully inadequate that only I (them) can
administer the proper level?" (ie, the constant stroking of my dad's forehead by my
cousin, which makes my skin crawl, and her pitying looks. Even in his state--my father HATES this).

I know that they think they are 'coming from a place of love' but their thoughts in this case are overshadowed by their very unwelcome actions.

It is in this place that I remain, unable to move forward with them towards reparations/sanity.

I need my peace right now.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Journal 31 Seething Sunday

I'm posting the email version of me letting out my rant about my aunt and cousin's irrational behaviour today. I think it's easier in this context because I am super-honest with my friend L., and she got the full story from me, with no judgment, and I managed to feel some peace inside just writing it down and 'releasing' it so to speak.
During the past couple of weeks, I have been shocked at just how insensitive people can be, from telling me in detail how someone they knew died horribly of cancer, to telling me about problems that, in proportion, somehow just don't really enter into my consciousness right now. I'm focussed on a monstrously sad situation, and in my effort to deal with it, all I've really requested of people I'm not extremely close to is that I be allowed to have some time to myself, that I'm not up for much lately. (ie, the people I AM extremely close to include my mom and sister, my boyfriend M., my best friends T., A., L., L., K., and N., continue to do their best to bolster, and allow me time alone when I need it, too).
But the situation today, with my aunt and my cousin as a team is sometimes more than anyone can take, even in the best of times. So here's my e to my friend L. I think it says it all...

Darling thank you for this e.
in terms of 'edgy gemini' i have been SEETHING all day;

let me give you the gist of it;
so my fucking insane aunt (yes, let's just get the F bomb out of the way
right now, no edtiting, no cute little symbol to disguise it) and my fucked up
mentally ill cousin spent the day at my mom's yesterday, visiting with my
dad, my aunt up in his room the entire time, even though he needs SLEEP
and REST and good energy; my cousin is still saying she has this job
in Chicago and eats a red pepper , roasted, for dinner every night, with
feta cheese, and is now a size 2, and none of her fifteen-year-old grandma
clothes fit her they are too big blah blah blah.
SO. They go home last night (all the way back home to London Ontario) and
then my cousin has the AUDACITY ( btw this is going on my blog, am NOT sugarcoating
it) to call my mother and tell her she looked up the final stages of life on the internet
to 'prepare' her for what is to come. At this point I was open-mouthed, speechless, when my mom
told me this last night. They had also both expressed disappointment that I wouldn't be coming over as they 'wanted to see me'. Well, did either of them even bother to call me and say "How is Saturday for you, we'd like to see you, is this convenient?" No. So what I am? Some kind of fucking mind reader now?

This morning, my mom called me to tell me they had called (this is Sunday am) and
'informed' my mom, that they were coming back today. I FREAKED. Lost it on my
mom, and said, "I love you but I do not understand why you cannot stand up for
yourself, and tell them this is MY day to visit, and Sunday is all I have--I mean neither
of them WORK for Chirst's sake, and they spend the WHOLE WEEKEND here?
After driving back home? "

Anyway. I lost it. So my mom called them back and told them that I was upset and
wanted to see my dad today on my own, and that I run errands (it's called HELPING) for
my mom, and THEN they called ME and I REFUSED to answer, and they called my mom
back and said they were coming ANYWAY.

So I know I am a little unhinged as it is, but luckily, rather than calling them and giving them
the verbal equivalent of a bitch slap, I went to Starbucks, got my tan, and ran 10k in one
of the shortest times every (ok, really, 9ish k) because I was so fuelled by anger.
A. said anger is just sadness, or fear, but today I think anger is anger, and anger is
frustration, and violation, and 'who do they think they ARE?' all rolled up into one.

I calmed down and restrained myself from calling them. Their party line is "Why can't
we all just visit together?" My answer in my head: Because your daughter is
FUCKING CERTIFIABLE and creates and CRAVES conflict where ever she goes and
gets off on causing people anguish. But really, since there is no nice way of saying that,
I take the adult version of the high road and remind myself they are family, this is how
wars start..etc, etc (I'm convinced wars start because there are people like my cousin in this
world, many of them in fact, and they get into positions they shouldn't be in, ie, making
decisions, and there you have it.)

I am going there at four pm with Lisa, I told my mom to tell them to leave then, and I do
not want to see them today. We shall see what happens. I've taken half a xanax, that seems
to be kicking in, and tho I'm dying for more coffee I am denying myself. (tension)
So again.
Am sorry the kitchen staff felt the need to 'judge' you and that happened sar.
Never good, esp 14 hours in.
Women in Power--I like it. Alot! I have to do some affirmations in the car a bit today.

I also cannot believe my peaceful sunday has been ripped apart like this ....this is
my cousin, the demon. She is, you know. A demon, a thorn in people's lives.
Much like a Gr. type of person. Infective, worm-like, and very, very ill.

Go for a run; if the NYC weather is anything like TO today, you will have a fantastic
run. It's cool here, but not chilly, it's sun/cloud mix, so not too bright, and there is a
breeze to cool you down at just the right moment. I wore tight black nike running shorts
(hello little booty!) and a tight top. The toning--I can practically feel it working as I run,
and I've been eating less (who can eat with relatives like this?).
Am going to affirm my strength, post this e as a modified blog entry, and go pick
Lisa up. We're driving to the 'jax together in my car.

Loving sar. Pray for me in church.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Journal 30 Routine

I've spent the day by myself, the only talking I've done has been on the phone, to my mom, my sister, my boyfriend. A few text messages here and there to friends, a few emails.
I haven't even felt like exploring the news, I've caught up with magazines, instead, perched at my breakfast bar, doing my 'combination' activity, where I have the tv on to a show that is mildly interesting, while I flip through the pages of a magazine, or read a book, and sometimes as I sit there, I mentally leave, I'm staring out the window, shafts of sunlight streaming in vertically, the early evening, rain passing by.
I even skipped church. But what I've really skipped today was people. Their neuroses, their needs, their wants. I did my standard Saturday morning routine, Starbucks, a tan, a long run, and when I got home, by about noon, I couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do. Go to a movie, maybe, but again, the people factor. No. Can't do it.
Instead, I ate a remarkably early dinner, and I am, writing again, writing for practice, while I gear up for my real writing, which doesn't really happen anymore here on this blog.
This is still just my online journal, the kind of laundry list diary, "I did this, I went here, I felt this" real as it can be, as real as I let it be, it's still not all really on here. It couldn't be. I would cease to exist.
Instead, I let it be my little space to unwind and prepare.
I finished dinner, a movie on in the background, and I loaded the dishwasher, putting my coffee cup and favourite wine glass in side by side. I thought about how tumultuous my work-week had been, the stories of my co-workers, how compelled they felt to share things, and how it felt to me like they were just burdening me more than I already am. Then I straightened my shoulders and reminded myself of what, exactly, the role of 'pillar' is. A support in a way. Holding something up.
I thought about my boyfriend, in his far-off state of Maine, working away, taking life at such a different pace, and I'm reminded I get to set the pace of my life, too.
It doesn't have to be break-neck.
A reading at a friend's house last night reminded me to be courageous, and to nurture--I take this to mean both myself and others. The final card, featuring the angel of death with wings out-spanned, reminded me of the real source of my desire to conceal myself, to hide from the world, and all its demands. My melancholia, disguised as simple social withdrawal. But it serves its' purpose for me, it always has, allowing me to retain strength, save it up like animals save up food for winter. The first time I thought about how I do that I thought about how crazy it sounded.
But sitting here typing in my exercise pants it feels the farthest thing from crazy as I could possibly be, it seems sane, it seems healthy, and it fulfills my need for 'safety'.
So here is my latest in the laundry list, I ate chicken and asparagus, I'm having Australian chardonnay, the days are as long, the sun is still up, even now just before 8 pm, and I scrubbed my bathroom today, after my run, after soaking my running clothes.
See? Boring.
But really, routine is so much more than we care to give it credit for.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Journal 29 Shivers

I had the kind of run tonight that most of the time, eludes me; I think about it, I dream about it, I remember it, but sometimes I just can't get there.
In my head, I had a mental imprint of the words I've read about running this week;
loose, relaxed, limber; I also took a completely different route, one that I have never done on my own, a standard 8 km for many runners in my neighbourhood, but for me it was brand-new.
At one point, I was on a heavily-foliaged trail, the only others I saw were cyclists, and no joke, I had little explosions of panic inside when I thought, really thought, of how isolated I was.
But I persevered, reminding myself that at no time on the run did I not see a cyclist at least every few seconds, it was still early evening, and the sun was beaming down.
It was in this secluded area that I wanted to push through that I had that moment. It's not just 'runner's high'; it feels more euphoric than even that.

My runner's high is when my thoughts merge into one thought, and that thought is "How am I doing on this run, how is my body, what hurts, what part of me could keep going forever?" but this moment, this other euphoria is different. It starts as a wave from within, and pulses outward. I no longer think 'real' thoughts. I no longer worry, analyze, focus, or critique. I simply exist, with goosebumps, shivers, and that wave washes over me, my legs moving, my arms pumping, gasping for air, wanting water, and there truly is nothing else like it. Today I threw my head back as I ran, wanting the sensation to last as long as I could sustain the pace I was at, and I literally felt earth-less, like I didn't need gravity's blessing, I didn't need the burden of my own complicated thoughts.
Earth-bound again, and my outlook is improved immeasurably. I've looked around my apartment tonight, trying to choose a book, thinking post-running thoughts, the kind infused with those fabled endorphins, which, in the best of times, are as tangible to me as a calorie, but tonight was different.
I was different.
I am different.

And I always will be.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Journal 28 Dreams and Heroes

Sometimes you just need new ones.

The dreams part I rely on nightly; anything else seems so far off right now, mired in ferrying myself back and from my parents' house, noticing how I zone out during parts of the drive.
I remember my dreams, for the most part, and examine them at length, were they 'visit' dreams, or were they dreams that were vying to give me vital information that my brain doesn't get to on a daily basis?
As I said today, last night was the first time, after eighteen months of running outside, that I dreamed about running. It's never happened before, and I was in a coffee shop, dodging people as I ran.
Dreaming is exploration, and I feel that way about running too. After discovering an amazing blog written by an amazing woman named Reagan, whose writing I instantly warmed to, whose life story this far could have brought some to their knees, finding out she was also a life-long runner was like the icing on the cake.
Which brings me to the heroes part of this post.
I also discovered (four years into my vow of not reading a newspaper anymore, after current events started to stress me out more than I could bear) a columnist, Ben, who writes a column about running. Another amazing writer. I instantly fell under his spell as I read about my favourite pastime.
So far, two new heroes.
Heroes inspire dreams, and like dreams, they sometimes 'find' you.