Monday, 19 August 2013

The beginning, the end & everything in between...

I registered this blog name with Blogger a few years ago in order to write about my adventures in middle-aged dating-land, but didn't write a word until last month for many reasons; not the least of which is that I've barely been dating in the past few years.

But two public events in the past month spurred me to start writing again.

The first was the death of Canadian actor Cory Monteith.  As I read through the stories online about this young man, I also read some of the comments.  Interspersed with all the RIP and love from fans were the "who cares" and "just another junkie" and the "why should we care about this guy when so many other people struggle with and die from drug addiction every day?"

10 days later, His Royal Highness Prince George of Cambridge was born and the commentary turned to "just another baby in this world, why should we care?"

The young prince's grandmother, Princess Diana, changed the way the world reports and looks at celebrity; I would say that it is sadly not for the better.  The public seems to have developed an insatiable appetite for the private details of the lives of public personages; though if one was to turn that spy glass around on the lives of those demanding to "know", I daresay they would find it an intrusion in the extreme and would lash out, as some in the public eye do from time to time.

I developed an appreciation for that during a very public trial conducted at the courthouse where I work.  One day, I was accosted by a news camera-man while trying to get into my workplace, and after that incident, I was kindly chauffeured to and from the office by several co-workers for the duration of the trial.  The first afternoon I was driven home, I understood what some celebrities go through, as photographers stood on the ramp to our parking garage, photographing everyone leaving the building, hoping to get that one shot of the accused or the "star witness" against him.

It was an eye-opening experience.

Some people DO care very, very much about what happens in the lives of others.  The reasons vary from cheap thrills, to "there but for the grace of *insert deity here* go I, to escapism from the poverty of their own existence.

I am not one of those people who care about every random "famous" person, but what does bother me is the desire, almost need, of some to diminish the feelings of those who DO care.

Yes, thousands of babies are born into this world every day; but only one will be King of Great Britain and the Commonwealth (if it still exists when George takes the throne).  And there are many more thousands of people around the world who see this child's ties to his late grandmother and wonder "what if?"

Even more, I am perturbed by those who seek to diminish public mourning at the death of a public figure.  If someone has an impact on your life, who are we (the rest of us) to negate your feelings, be they expressed on a message board, the comments section of a news site, post-it notes attached to a store front (as happened upon the death of Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs), chalk drawings at City Hall (Jack Layton) or through leaving flowers at the gates of a palace?

It is sad when a young life is lost to drug abuse (or cancer, or an accident), and it doesn't matter to the family of that person if they are a "celebrity" or not.  Amy Winehouse's parents were very open about their grief after the passing of their daughter; I doubt their grief was any greater or any less than that of the family or friends of Jane Smith or John Brown who died of an overdose the same day.

Had I known Jane Smith or John Brown, even in passing, I, too, might have felt a pang of sadness.

At the most basic level, we are all linked together on this spaceship called Earth.  We all share the same fate.  This is why I try to never forget the immortal words of the Renaissance poet John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

(The words above are taking on more significance for me today following the death of a co-worker over the weekend.  It was a pleasure to work with Bonnie over the past couple of years and I cannot believe that I will not pick up the phone again to hear her say "Hello, dah-link, it's Bon!"  She'll be missed.)

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Holding On to Yesterday*

My re-post yesterday from my old blog (no longer online) was a direct result of a brief conversation I had with my Uncle Tony.

Yesterday was his 50th wedding anniversary and at my cousin Audra's request, I called in to the party being held at her brother Rob's house.  I spoke to my Aunt Erika for a few minutes; she was genuinely delighted to hear from me and insisted that I visit "home" (Kapuskasing) soon.  Then she passed the phone to my uncle.

As soon as I heard his "hello", tears sprang to my eyes; he sounds so much like my dad.

For a few minutes, it was like 12 years fell away.  I could pretend I was having a conversation with my father.  But it was just pretend and it was just a few minutes.  There is no holding on to yesterday...

*With my apologies to Ambrosia for appropriating the title of their song.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

It must have been...

(This is a repost of a blog entry from another site that I originally wrote on March 31, 2005.  It was the day that Terry Schiavo died after she had been on life support for 15 years.  Her husband and parents had fought for a long time over the decision to discontinue the support; her husband wanted to let her go, her parents wanted to keep her alive at all costs.)

...the warmest day of the spring, on that day when I made the decision to let my father die.

By the time I got off the train from downtown Montréal at the station near his hospice, the sun was high in the sky, and the mounds of snow in the parkland I walked through were melting away fast. It was early April 2001.

I didn't want to believe what the doctors had told me; the cancer had spread to papa's brain.  A lifetime of cigarettes had caught up with him the summer before and the tumor in his throat caused strokes; the second one leaving him paralyzed on one side.

He chose rehab over radiation.  He had already chosen not to have the standard surgery in cases of throat cancer - he wanted to be able to talk.  The doctors said without the surgery they could only give him 6 months to 2 years.  But his older brother had suffered the same cancer and lived 2 silent, painfully long years, never again speaking, after his surgery.  My father didn't want to do that to himself, to us.

During the winter, the cancer moved silently as papa made progress at regaining use of his left side.  Then I developed pneumonia and was unable to visit him for 5 weeks.  When they at last let me in to see him, his mind was going.  He talked about going fishing with his father, asked if we had talked to his older brother, called my step-sister by her mother's name.

The year before, I had worked for the head of the Neuroscience unit at a research laboratory.  I knew far too well the damage that illness and trauma could do to a human brain - my father's brain.

I asked for his file and read through the list of chemicals being poured into his body.  The head nurse asked me to come back to talk to the director.  As my father's oldest child, I would have to make decisions.  He was in no condition to sign the power of attorney form I had brought with me.

I asked for a CAT scan to make sure; maybe, just maybe they were wrong and the cancer hadn't spread that far.  But it had.  I had it sent via email to my former boss.  He pulled it up on the computer screen.  I had seen enough brain scans to know that what I was looking at wasn't right.

And so, on that April day four years ago, I went back to the small town on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and sat with my father.  I fed him his lunch and I sat holding his hand while he drifted in and out of consciousness.

Only when he was asleep did I beg him to tell me what to do.

But I already knew.

When the director of the hospice handed me the DNR, I hesitated.  But I knew, with painful clarity, that it would be cruel in the extreme to keep my father alive for long goodbyes that might not ease my sorrow at losing him.

I put the pen to paper and signed it.

My father died a month later - on a hot, sunny day filled with the promise of summer.

There are dark, lonely nights when the seeds of doubt creep in and voices whisper "you killed your father"... but when I think of how cancer ravaged his poor body and took his mind...

I know I did the right thing.