Where are we going again?
The Handbasket » Posts for tag 'death'

Jack Layton 3 comments

It is the day after Jack Layton’s funeral, and much of what needs to be said has been said.  I can’t add to the eloquence of a Stephen Lewis, or to the raw beauty of people speaking with their feet, their chalk, their bicycle bells, their hearts.

Some of what was said really didn’t need to be said – and I’m talking to you, Christie Blatchford.

For me, there are three small but significant pieces to this story that haven’t been reviewed to my satisfaction, and I hope to address them here.

Health: When I hear the name “Jack Layton”, the image I have in my head is of an incredibly fit, active, healthy, vibrant man. A man who, even in a busy, active life, clearly made time to exercise. I have no information on his dietary choices. From my vantage point – 99% off the television and 1% from seeing him up close at Pride every year – he looked the picture of health. Always.

I’m finding it hard to draw a conclusion from this outcome. That someone whose physical presence always radiated health and vitality can be cut down by cancer. Of course, I have been surprised and made anxious as I watch some of my “picture of health” friends struggle with the disease. We are told to exercise, to watch our weight, to eat properly.  A huge industry has arisen, selling all manner of health supplements to ward off cancer and other insidious physical ailments. Yet, one has to wonder what is written into our DNA upon conception, and that if our time has arrived, it has arrived and no amount of Greens Plus, broccoli or cardio is going to challenge that programming.

Elizabeth May: Where are you?  Perhaps it is a trick of the media, like a trick of the light, that your voice has been quite absent this week. I see you as a well-spoken woman who usually has something insightful to say. Yet the Green Party has issued a boilerplate condolence message and left things there. I think we need more from the leader of the Greens on the occasion of losing the national party leader who was, in many ways, most closely aligned to that party’s views. Elizabeth – perhaps you weren’t close, and perhaps there was rancour, but leadership demands some class from you at this point.

Apology To Former Students of Indian Residential Schools: On June 11, 2008, the Canadian Parliament apologized – finally – for the treatment of First Nations children and families. What seems to have been overlooked was Jack’s role in encouraging and guiding the Government of the day – specifically, Prime Minister Stephen Harper – to take this action. Prior to making the official apology, Stephen Harper acknowledged Layton’s role in making this happen. Here is Jack Layton making his apology in the House of Commons on that day.

Jack says in this address in June 2008 that this is a beginning, not an ending. Here is Jack, two months plus a day before his death, June 21, 2011, still pressing the government to take action on improving living conditions for our Aboriginal peoples.

I haven’t heard a word about this part of Jack’s work this week, and I wanted to give it a bit of air time. This was a man who was comfortable operating in the full public eye and, yet, able to work behind the scenes in concert with his political foes to get important items hauled to the forefront and dealt with. There is lots to miss about Jack Layton. The part we will miss, without even knowing it existed, is the part in which he laboured, and encouraged others to labour, quietly behind the scenes to achieve momentous things.

We need so many more like him, and yet are granted so few per generation. Salut, Jack, et merci.

Happy Mother’s Day! 3 comments

I'm trying to remember what I did on Mother's Day, 10 years ago, but I just can't pull up the specifics. I know I did *something*, probably some combination of card / flowers / dinner / visit. I remember clearly that I spoke with Mom a  few weeks later, on Wednesday, June 3, 1998, in the evening.  We talked every Sunday and every Wednesday. On that particular Wednesday, she was excited about being almost ready to go back to bowling, having almost fully recovered from carpal tunnel surgery on her wrists. She had survived two rounds with cancer, both treated surgically, and a chronic lung issue, probably emphysema, that was never properly treated. But what she was most excited about was getting movement back in her wrists and being "allowed" to return to bowling. She'd been to her GP that day, in fact, and, in addition to getting some prescriptions renewed, she got the a-ok for bowling, starting the following week.

My brother Ben jumped in on that call for a few minutes, as per usual, just to check in.

I was excited myself as my partner at the time, J, and I were flying out the next day for a four day getaway to Halifax, a city I'd visited briefly and really liked but hadn't explored much. We also had an overnight booked in Lunenberg that I was really looking forward to. I'm sure I rushed through this call with some impatience as I wasn't entirely packed and ready for an early flight the next day.

We closed with loving words, I recall. Rushed, but loving – as per usual.

Our dog, Freddie, was about seven months old and was staying with Dennis the dogwalker and Dennis' dog, Hennessy. Dennis had our trip itinerary, contact info and so on. No one else did – it was only four days after all.

Our flight was delayed for at least two hours on the tarmac @ Pearson. When we finally arrived in Halifax, it was go go go to explore and check it all out. On the Saturday night, our last night in Halifax before heading to Lunenberg, we landed at a lovely seafood place on the water. I had lobster and wine. I think the meal started with a bisque. I had an objective of eating as much lobster as possible on this trip. 🙂 We then proceeded (waddled) from the restaurant to a dessert place, the one down on the waterfront or close to it, for something yummy. Then to a nearby Irish pub and indulged in beer and singing and, well, carousing. Lots of singing. I loved it.

It just occurred to me that I have no photos of that trip at all.

Got back to our hotel room at about 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. There was a light flashing on the hotel phone and I knew immediately that something was very wrong. There were two messages to call home and the voices, my sister-in-law Sue and my brother David, were very distressed. I called David and learned that Mom had died, suddenly, in her rhubarb patch around dinner time the night before, on Friday. She wasn't found until the next morning by a neighbour who was quite traumatized by this. She had gone out to fetch rhubarb make her grandson, Alex, a pie for the next day. She apparently was lying there quite peacefully, with some rhubarb stalks in one hand and a plastic bag and a knife in the other. There was clearly no attempt on her part to rise – she was dead when she hit the ground, apparently.

Died, June 5, 1998 in the evening. However, the coroner issued the death certificate for June 6, 1998 as that is when she was found.

Stunning news to receive in a hotel room in Halifax after a raucous pub night. I went immediately into a state of functional shock. What has to be done? (emergency airline tickets back …)  Who has to be called? (the b & b in Lunenberg …) Air Canada was actually quite gracious and granted us compassionate seating at a reduced fare.

I remember lying awake staring at the ceiling all night. Still had alcohol from our night out in my body and the news was just too sudden to comprehend.

Things had been quite frantic back in Ontario as the family tried to track me down. Not only was Dennis the only one in Toronto who had our itinerary and contact info, he didn't live in the neighbourhood and only one other neighbour, @ #5, was connected to him in any way. In desperation, late on Saturday a.m., my friend Angela's brother, Greg, started knocking on doors at #1 to ask if anyone had our travel itinerary. Ed and Louise – neighbours who first introduced us to Dennis – knew how to reach him.

We know now that Mom had an aortic aneurysm. Ben has had one, and survived luckily, in 2005. Our maternal Grandma died suddenly too, at age 93, in front of her beloved 100 Huntley St. – we suspect aneurysm.  I'm having  some test done every few years to check the walls of the aorta but I don't have the stress of aging (not being 93 yet) or 40 years of smoking. I'm trying to remove the stress of extra weight.

I learned two things from this experience. Probably more, but two come to mind:

a) Leave contact information with more than one person.
E-mail makes this easy. Create a distribution list of half a dozen people who might need to reach you for some reason. Fire off flight and hotel/accommodation info. Dates, etc. Be reachable.

b) Tell the people you love that you love them. I miss my Mom, no question. I must mention this, especially to the people who knew her, frequently. She'd be insanely excited at how my life has turned out, the things I've done and the kind of work I've been able to do. She was pretty proud of me and never let me forget it and, you know, sometimes a girl just needs her cheering section. 🙂

What I do not have are regrets. Mom and I went through quite a long process regarding my lesbianism. She wound up with a comfort level that impressed me – she sure didn't start that way. She got there on her own, it seems. She was always loving and welcoming to my partners – but we were never allowed to sleep in the same bed in her house. Ever. I think she would have got there, eventually. She was on her way.

About five years before she died, I wrote her a one page letter, three paragraphs only I recall, thanking her for being such a great Mom. I heard my friends complaining about varying kinds of abuse, about being tossed out of their families for various reasons, about being left out of wills … and I looked back on my childhood, my relationship with my Mom and felt profoundly, deeply lucky. She did everything she could to give me a rich and complex life. Anything I indicated an interest in, or a passion for, she made it happen. Music, sports, theatre … she would drive me anywhere to do anything. Swimming, hockey, fastball, rehearsals … all pretty amazing given that we lived well away from town where most of this happened. I used to wonder if my Mom had a life. She did, she would say … me. How great, and humbling, is that?

It was my job to go through her papers after she died and that letter was on top of everything, on her dresser. She had a filing thing for papers, bills, important stuff, and that letter sat on top of it all. I'm told she showed it to every one of her friends after she received it. I think she looked at it a lot.

Note: If you decide to do this, and you are writing to someone over 60, write it, print it, sign it, snail mail it. Give them something tangible they can take to the coffee shop and show around.

So, as much as I miss my bi-weekly calls with Mom, and occasional visits, and making mental note of "Oh, I must tell Mom about this …" when interesting things happen … I don't feel that she and I had tons of unfinished business or baggage. It feels … clean. It's ok.

I'm going to mark Mother's Day this year by planting a flower in Freddie's favourite park, surreptitiously. 🙂 Perhaps over in a corner somewhere. We can go visit it when we walk there. 

I need to be reminded that when people are important to me, whether they carry the title of Mom or Mentor or Good Friend, I need to reach out and tell them that. It is important. They might not know if you don't tell them.

Read and post comments | Send to a friend

Top of page / Subscribe to new Entries (RSS)