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Emptiness

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He always had something interesting to say, my neighbor. When I say interesting I mean it was something that never would have occured to me, but I found interesting nevertheless.  I don’t knew how the thread some of these conversations began and truly they were more like monologues that verged on haranguing, but I never cut him off. I would always stay on for the ride on every occasion though usually I was late leaving to get somewhere or arriving laden with groceries or worse dizzy having just made it in the door after a torturous journey to get home. And I never knew his name. We didn’t do that hey nice to meet ya neighbour thing. It could have been Ralph or it could have been William and I didn’t ask out of some overwrought sense of politesse. It seemed we’d hardly known each other for too long to begin making introductions to one another. 

My neighbour (let’s call him Mr. 102) lived below me on the ground floor. He never opened his curtains for the morning sun, nor did he open the sliding door for air and didn’t place even a lone chair on his patio. He had told me it would be an invitation to the raccoons and anyway the soil from the garden splashed up on his cement slab every time it rained. It created a mess and wasn’t all that inviting. There was no reason to acknowledge it existed much less make it homey. Still every time I arrived back home I would look to his suite in the hopes of seeing him out reading a book, or perhaps standing at the patio door looking out, as I often do at mine.

The last time I saw him i was aghast, it took my breath away. He was a mere shell of a person hardly resembling the hale man he had once been. It seemed as if he had shrunk in size perhaps because his body was stooped into itself. He took carefully minced steps with his eyes cast to the ground. On the rare occasion I passed him I found that if I tried to engage him he had nothing to say, and didn’t seem to want a conversation of any kind; no more long chats about any myriad of topic. My first reflex was an offer to help to him, so I did. I knew he seemed a proud man so I wasn’t surprised when he politely declined anything and he demurred even a mere dinner invitation. I saw him less and less until I didn’t see him at all.

Today the curtains were pulled fully back to reveal an emptiness that was once his home. Thirty-one years he lived in that small space. For some reason I first noted the awful shade of carpet. And then it hit me. I just knew but I had to confirm my suspicion. I walked down to my manager’s suite and knocked on the door. I felt it an awful imposition but I asked anyway and she answered affirming what I already knew. I won’t be seeing that neighbour ever again. He had just passed away. I’m almost sure I know when. An ambulance had quietly arrived and left the building 2 days ago. I went back to mine and cried for a man I scarcely knew.

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What do you do when the parent you hardly knew suddenly dies?

My relationship with my father was fractious and tempestuous at times, but still it feels like part of me has disappeared into the ether; my connection to the human race unravelled ever so slightly. This is a ridiculous notion I know, but that’s just how I feel.  Even given how I felt about him at times. I still feel the need to shout it to the world “Hey, stop what you’re doing. Listen up, my father is gone.”  He was ill, this was day was coming, certainly sooner rather than later, however the suddenness made it a sucker punch to the gut. We had only just visited and seen him, sitting up in his hospital bed, albeit frail and small, weak from the battle. Hardly the man I remember from a recent visit, but we still had hope. There’s always hope.

I was separated from both of my parents for most of my life but my father was more the mystery. I grew up knowing my mother’s parents. My search for my father began out of curiosity. It was my him who lent the colour that tints my skin so nicely. It could hardly have come from my mother’s alabaster complexion. His contribution was the reason some black people called me zebra and some white people called me nigger. Finding him was deceptively simple though the only detail I had of him was where he might be living and his name, so I went to the library and looked for his name in that city’s local phonebook. There were two listings. I wrote  both the numbers down and carried them around until I felt brave enough to call. He answered the very first call.

What I wanted I thought was easy enough for him to divulge. I wanted to know where the roots of my tree went, who my ancestors were, what I passed on to my son. Despite the efforts of myself and my brother, my father was unyielding and it became the story of our lives. The more intransigent my father seemed the more we dug in. When my brother was alive we presented a united front. Stubborn. Unrelenting. On and on we danced throughout the years. Problem is what we didn’t know for the longest time was my father never really knew most of what we wanted to know and he didn’t talk about himself much or at all, so we learned almost nothing of his life story. Now that it has come to and end all I know is snatches of this and snippets of that. Looking through the pictures I have it seems to me had we asked a different question it would have made for long interesting evenings, instead I am left with a niggling regret.  Such is life.

After my younger brother died suddenly, my perspective changed. I let go and began to enjoy a different relationship with my Dad, and now he is also gone, just like that. I know this much. I am very much my father’s daughter and always will be and maybe that is enough. So RIP Dad, with love from your daughter.

Goodbye.

 

a reprise….an epilogue

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I just reread the blog entry I just posted about my brother. I wanted it to be from the heart and honest and succinct. Now I just feel like I left so much out.

Truth is, I could have gone on and on, written pages in memoriam, but I restrained myself and now I have this feeling that it fell short of my objective, whatever it was. However, having said that, had I held onto it past the particular moment I decided to go for it, I could have edited it into oblivion and procrastinated for a very long time while I found the most suitable words to sum up how I felt in concert with the man he was. It could have sat in my typepad posts lists with the pencil in the little yellow box beside it for a very long time before I ever published it. So I just organized what I had, added some of what was in my head, edited it for clarity and hit the “Publish” button and committed to it;  owned it. I think Dale would have appreciated that. Take your best shot at the moment and what happens happens. Fair enough.

What I had intended to mention in there somewhere was that Dale transcended a truly awful existence and became a superlative of sorts. The top of his class, a world-class athlete, a man at the reaching the apex in his career; a doting, loving father, a great friend to all his mates. All things to all people, I suppose you could say.

On the day of his funeral I met a lot of tough guys struggling, some with tears streaming down their faces openly, trying to make sense of it as much as I. He was loved. What I left out, mostly by oversight, was that I loved him too.

d.

 

til later Lil Bro

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Dale is gone and he is not coming back.

A day went by, then a week, a month and now another week from then has passed since he died and it is still impossible for me to believe that I will never see him again. This is the toughest truth to come to grips with and I suppose it always will be.

Dale was eulogized to brilliant perfection at his funeral. Still, I felt I had to write something personal. Writing is all I do at all decently, but I imagine even if I managed to produce the most magnificent masterpiece of writing that I could ever craft, it probably wouldn’t be good enough, not by half.  I’m still struggling with the words I wanted to put down. I’ve wrestled with phrases and memories and words, attempting to craft a bit of a perfection befitting him. I’ve agonized over it, to the point of paralysis. Today is the day. I can write a perfect memorial later. It’s time to set this down.

My brother and I weren’t really close, but we had a bond. It’s difficult to describe our relationship, I suppose. It was forged in our hellish childhood days. And even though we lived in different cities at different points later in our lives, we always found a way to reconnect for small snatches of time. We didn’t have to say much. We just were in each other’s heads. We had a similar type of humour and a similar view of the world, so we got along really well when we were together.

By way of explanatory background it is important to know we were apprehended as young children by Family Services from that apartment where we lived on 17th avenue in Calgary.  For a time we lived in a children’s shelter and then we were unceremoniously dumped into a foster home. We were kept separated and both suffered as many kinds of abuse as exists. In this environment Dale seemed to thrive, not as a result, but I would imagine in spite of it all. As if to show those horrible people that they could try as they might but would rise above them. Myself, i collapsed under it. I left when I was sixteen and moved to Vancouver at eighteen. Dale remained in Calgary, eventually going on to attend university.

I took my role of big sister seriously from early on. We would walk together the several blocks to and from school in downtown Calgary; he was 5 and I was 7. There were times when we could come home to a locked door and we would hang out in the laundry room, play in the local park to pass the time or on one occasion we even ventured into surrounding local buildings soliciting neighbours for something to eat. Those were different times then.

I’m still the serious one. Dale was the charmer, the life of the party; always smiling; the joker. The slideshows played at his viewing and funeral bore this out. In most every image he smiles wide at the camera and a glint of mischief gleams in his eyes. Truth is, I envied him as much as I admired him; like a lot of people did.  He had it, that intangible quality so many of us wish we had, including me. He was on his way; the rising star on a steep upward trajectory.

The ache of his absence is palpable. I can be consoled only slightly by a phrase his friend Rob used to start and end his eulogy. “A light that burns twice as bright, burns twice as fast.”

Goodbye Dale, my Lil Bro. I will miss you.

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