I have my ticket in my hot little hands and I’m excited.
We’re off to see Breaking Dawn Part 2 tonight – my teenage daughter works well as a prop in this instance – and I can’t wait to see Bella as a vampire. I was born to be a vampire, she says in the trailer, and I was born to fall in love with people (or werewolves, vampires, robots, whatever) falling in love on gigantic screens while eating popcorn. We all have our things.
I realize it’s not cool for a person of my vintage to love the Twilight series, and I have patiently waited for the super-crazy Twilight fans among us to attend their midnight showings and wait in line for hours to see the movie during opening week. I’m a fan but I’m not an idiot. I’m hoping for an empty seat in front of me on which to fold my coat, ensuring a clear view of the shirtless Jacob.
I’m bemused that even after four movies, the series isn’t getting old for me, unlike the Sex and the City movies, which should have died on the table after movie number one. Will tonight be the final straw? Will Edward’s sparkling skin no longer appeal? Will the vampire and werewolf culture fail to interest me? Will I be done with this love triangle, and be happy to say goodbye to rainy Forks? Will I finally have outgrown my addiction?
If you stare straight at the sun, it burns your eyes. And so it is when you lose someone you love.
It’s been a year now. There is a yawning crater where once there was an incredible person, and it’s difficult to navigate. John was a unique blend; he had the wisdom of a village elder coupled with the energy and enthusiasm of a puppy. He was a shooting star in the Milky Way, someone we gazed at in wonder. His friend said God needed John to liven things up in heaven, and that seems to be the only explanation that makes any sense.
If I ruminate over those last moments together, or the injustice of it, or just the fact that he is gone, it scorches my heart and torches my mind. Reality blinds me as though I’m gazing, unblinkingly, into the sun. Life becomes a game: do what you can without thinking about it.
It’s easier for me. I’m thousands of miles away and have three kids to distract me. Much harder for his wife and children, and for our mother.
But still, I have trouble living in a world without my brother, who was no less a superhero to me than Superman himself. Some days are more successful than others. The minutia of life keeps me away from my thoughts, and I skate along the surface of life, doing what needs to be done. Occasions are trickier. When his two children graduated from university last month, I’d guess their focus was more on the one person missing in the audience, than the occasion at hand.
Times like these, waves of memories are too strong to be swept aside. The thin ice that I skate on gives way to shockingly cold water.
The thing about grief is that it doesn’t abate in a clean, linear line, once the empties have been cleared from the funeral reception. It’s more like the tide; it stems and flows and visits you relentlessly. It is a common misnomer that time heals all wounds. Time doesn’t heal anything. Grief hovers beneath the surface of your life, it’s just a matter of how good you become at masking it.
Of course, I don’t want to forget. I will never forget. Who could forget? His smile. His energy. His wit. His intelligence. His light. His magnetism. He was one in a million. He was one in a lifetime. No, I will not ever forget. If grief means remembering, then so be it. I will learn to shield my eyes when I stare at the sun.
And still, I know. John is in the whisper of the wind, the whitecaps on the lake, and in the beautiful blooms in his garden. He’s absent from this physical world, but lives on in our hearts. Someone of his magnitude, who made an indelible mark on so many lives, can never be gone. He’s everywhere.
I have received countless homemade Mother’s Day gifts from my gang. A hand-painted coffee mug, several cards where triangular globs of tissue paper form my body, etched pencil drawings of my likeness, and one year, a handmade lilac scarf with a stick-figure of me drawn in fabric markers. So many Mother’s Days, so many treasures.
But how to tell them that their gift to me is themselves? The amazement I experience as life happens to them. Just yesterday, my seven year old learned that dolphins sleep with one eye open, and she now tells this fact to everyone she encounters, the pride in her knowledge unmistakeable. My ten year-old sporty girl throws herself body and soul into every game she plays, and doesn’t leave an ounce of regret on the field. My twelve year-old daughter laughingly tells me every detail of her first date – how much longer will that last? I am privileged to be a voyageur into their world, and my nose is pressed up against the glass tight.
Easily, the most precious gift they give me is the chance to be their mother. I am quick to point out the pitfalls of motherhood, but this doesn’t mean I don’t bask in its sunshine, and at times its rays are blinding.
True story: I encourage my youngest daughter to stay in her own bed, telling her I can’t sleep as well when she is wedged in between myself and my husband.
She thinks this is due to the cramped quarters, but actually it is not. I can’t sleep because I can’t help staring at her face, perfectly lost in dreamland. I can’t sleep because I can’t believe my luck and fortune that this little face beside me, this beautiful person is my daughter.
She is seven years old, but the wonder of her is new to me everyday.
Their gifts to me far exceed the cardboard box that is kept underneath my bed. Their gift to me is the very meaning and embodiment, the mother lode, of love itself.
Wishing all mothers, everywhere, a very happy Mother’s Day this Sunday.
There are many firsts to celebrate: first words, first steps, first day of school. Before the dust has settled on the dazzling accomplishment we start to look forward to the next, with hopeful hearts. They are precious, these firsts, and so we mark them with balloons and cupcakes, we snap a hundred photos when one would suffice, we take video footage we may never watch. We sigh and oh and ah and gaze in wonder at our talented, beautiful protégé. These moments are our payback for all those times we thought about packaging our sweet darlings up and shipping them to where the sun doesn’t shine, but then thought again.
Today, her first regulation field hockey game, followed by her first date. The game was exciting, but it’s the date we are buzzing about.
At this very innocent and tender age, parental involvement is a key component, so when she asked would I drive her to the theater to meet her date, there was no hesitation. In the midst of a crazy weekend that involved too many things, book clubs, skiing, soccer, field hockey, and dinner parties, the answer was a resounding yes. For you, I would move mountains. Not that I’m keen to thrust her into the world of dating, but for this first, her first innocent coupling, which caused a glow in her eyes and a blush in her cheeks, this we can manage.
He asked her over Skype, which is apparently how it all shakes down these days. My instructions were to deliver her to the theater at the appointed time. I quelled my desire to phone or email the boy’s mom, to her great relief, as apparently landlines are provincial and only a step above snail mail. Yet checking with other moms is as instinctive as putting butter on my popcorn. It felt funny to not double check the time and location with another adult; leaving the logistics up the kids is foreign to me. This is a first, I reminded myself, this is what it must be like, back off.
Sensing this moment called for something – advice? didactic story from my past? lecture? – I readied myself to impart wisdom, but she wanted to listen to the radio. She spotted the boy and his mother waiting outside the theater from two miles away. I instinctively reached for her hand as we approached them, which seems more awkward since we are the same height, and she politely rebuffed me, of course.
Mercifully, the other mother was as perplexed as I was about how to handle the situation. We laughed and talked and watched our kids turn three shades of crimson before sending them in together. I resisted the urge – however powerful – to record the moment with a snapshot, and instead recorded a mental image of two kids, both with freckles, braces, and red ears. Another first to celebrate, albeit quietly.
There were many stories to choose from, so writing a 500 word story about John was difficult. Yet when you have known someone like him, and he is taken too soon from his life’s course, you want to tell everyone you pass in the street about this incredibly dynamic person. As if the loss will start to make sense, the more you speak about it.
I had to virtually sum up his career of teaching kids with a short sentence – hardly doing it justice, knowing that he was a positive influence on countless students. I barely mentioned his close relationship with his wife and children. But that’s national newspapers for you.
At his funeral, his past running coach told me the story about how he ran a 5 minute mile in his hungover state one day. His coach was clearly impressed at John’s abilities, (perhaps less impressed, but still slightly amused, by his priorities). So many athletes wouldn’t have turned up for that practice at all; his youthful bravado and competitive spirit shine through this story – a story long since forgotten by John, but remembered by his coach.
Golfing with John was a treat for anyone, so that story had to make the cut. He took fewer swings than most golfers, so I think he came up with the idea of being the sharpest ball hunter that ever walked the links to challenge himself while the rest of his foursome duffed it out. He proudly told anyone who would listen how he had never in his life bought a golf ball, since he had buckets full of them from his jaunts through the rough. He would stuff handfuls of balls into my bag before we teed off. I blame him for my enduring inability to read a putt, since I would arrive on the green and he would hold his putter where I needed to aim, either to the right or left of the hole. He was always right.
There were so many stories that couldn’t fit. Like the time when travelers were stranded in Halifax during 911, and John ended up bringing two men home, making space for them until they were cleared to fly again. Countless stories about the times he coached Peter or Julia, about trips he and Debbie had taken, and many, many about his antics that were uniquely John. There was truly never a dull moment when he was in a room.
His large personality paved the way for thousands of funny situations. Let’s say he was no shrinking violet. But for the complete picture, he was also smart, generous, warm and caring.
For some people, the word “brother” conjures someone who they rarely speak with and can barely tolerate. The relationship means different things for people. But I was madly in love with my brother, and I know the rest of my family was, too. He was a rare and unique gift. We are missing him, but he is lodged somewhere between our hearts and our minds.
With every breath, I feel his presence.
Sometimes, in fact almost all of the time, the magic of motherhood can be lost somewhere between packing the lunches and shuttling to soccer. There is a fair amount of work required in rearing children, and by work I mean constant nagging. Make your bed, stop texting, feed your fish, stop texting, eat something green, stop... Honestly, I can hardly stand myself by the end of the day. I don’t know how they put up with me.
But occasionally, something sweet and tender happens that is absolutely divine, and I want to freeze time. Generally, I feel these cute-kid stories are overdone, and therefore I shy away from them (but you can’t say I didn’t warn you with the title).
My husband returned from a business trip yesterday. On the way to gymnastics the kids were musing about what little gift he would bring them. Yes, I wonder what he’s bringing me, I joked. My oldest daughter immediately picked up her phone to text him a warning that I was hoping for a present. I laughed, and told them I was kidding, I didn’t really want a present. My youngest daughter said solemnly, I’m going to make you a present anyway, Mummy. I told her a hug from her was all I wanted (my originality is not at its peak that time of the day).
While I was making dinner, she was conspicuously absent, whereas usually she is underfoot. She finally emerged from her room with a piece of paper, laden with her writing.
Here it is, transcribed with her creative spelling:
Why I love my mom
1. She bys stuf for me
2. She loves me
3. She takes kare of me
4. She comeforts me
5. She buys me food
6. She gets me toys even when she dose not want to
7. She touks me in at niuht
8. She sins me up for camp and attivitey
9. She helps me whith math
10. She helps me sleep
11. She buys some stuf for crismess and a bunch of other stuf
12. She gives me money
13. She gave me a houes
14. She gets me brthday
15. She payes alot of mouney
16. She gets me stoueys (stories)
I flipped the paper over, and on the back she wrote a poem.
every night I sing a song
about How I love my mom. And
How she gives me vegtbaball
whith out her Id be so fat!
I love her whith all
my mite and I love you
so mouch that Id clim a ben soukc (which she told me was bean sprout)
(and then she drew a picture of her and the bean sprout.)
At the wise age of seven, she was perceptive enough to see through my rather pathetic ploy for recognition. Her gift made me speechless, which perhaps was the real goal – to dissuade me from nagging for an evening.
Stop growing, stay little, I whisper to her when she’s asleep.
It would be difficult to pay him a tribute that equaled his legacy, but as tributes go it came close.
People came in droves to his three wakes – lined up for blocks and waited over an hour to say a final farewell. The church was brimming to the rafters and at maximum capacity a full half hour before the ceremony began. When it was announced they would be naming the local high school’s new gymnasium the John Regan Memorial Gymnasium, 800 people erupted with applause.
We knew he was special, but it was a tad astonishing to see how widely cherished he was.
Over the last few days we have heard countless stories about how John touched peoples lives in ways they would never forget. Like his friends are too many to count, there are too many stories to relay. The common theme involved his quick smile and unfailing generosity.
Here’s one of mine.
Whenever I got home for a visit, we would go for a run together. When we turned a corner and were faced with a headwind, he would jump in front of me and tell me to follow closely behind him, he would act as my windshield. He always tried to make things easier for those around him, even if it meant things were tougher on him.
He always pulled more than his load.
It’s hard to believe this has happened, it is surreal. We have cried enough tears to sink a ship, but still they are coming, easily triggered by a story or a memory. We keep waiting for him to bust into the room, snapping his fingers like he did restlessly. So often he entered with a “Let’s go to….” or “Why don’t we… ” and we would be off, trailing after him, trying our best to keep up.
He walked quicker than anyone I knew.
If health was a viable commodity, I would have so gladly given him a lung, or an eye, or a limb. Or traded places with him. Everyone in his family would have. And in the days following his death, I met hundreds of people who would have gladly done the same. Strangers to me, these people also loved him like a brother.
He was easy to love.
Luckily, for all of us who knew him, he was generous with his love. I know a lot of people who casually cap the amount of friendships they have – they can only manage so many on top of family and work. Like his energy knew no bounds, it seemed, so did his friendships. In the last few days I have seen a lot of big, burly men shamelessly crying their eyes out at this unfathomable loss.
I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glints on the snow. I am the sunlight on ripened grain. I am the gentle autumn rain.
He will be missed more than I can properly express. But the most amazing thing happened as his body failed him: his spirit continued to grow. His bravery, strength, love and humor grew stronger in the face of adversity. It grew through the roof and became bigger than the sky.
There were a lot of stars out last night, but it was easy to pinpoint the brightest one. And there he was.
Look out, there will be carnage.
We are hurting acutely, our star center forward has left the building, and we are yearning for him. This adjustment to a lacklustre life, sans John, will not be an easy one. We are broken.
But we need to remember, in our darkest moments, that someone who contributed so much, and lived so large, can never be gone. He’s everywhere, his spirit is so strong it encompasses all of our senses. His personality was so big it left indelible marks everywhere. We have indents on our hearts and in our minds. Not to mention his beautiful wife and amazing son and daughter; John, thank you for these gifts, these pieces of you.
He lives on, but in a different way.
I’ll get you across the finish line, Dee.
I’ll be the first star you see in the sky every night.
Who else in the world could sing, in the midst of being transferred to palliative care two days ago, On The Road Again? To have the breath, let alone the humour, boggles the mind.
His brother said, I’m sorry for hacking you at hockey. He replied it’s okay, I deserved it. This was all they needed to come to terms with, some tiffs after twenty years on the same hockey team. Between that and some stolen socks, not bad after fifty years together. Many have fared worse.
And that’s as spicy as it gets. No drama, or fences to mend, just pure and simple. Love, the biggest kind imaginable, from every direction you turn, for the greatest person you could imagine knowing.
If we could all be a little more like John, live and love and laugh as much as he did, the world would be a better place. Big shoes to fill, but is that the message here?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This was not the end he wanted.
Nevertheless it’s happening, proceeding like your worst nightmare on speed. But let me tell you about the love. There is so much of it in the air it is almost visible; I can smell it, taste it, and most of all, feel it.
I look at my brother, shrunken and weak far, far too soon, and know that he has experienced more love in his life than is humanly possible. Take the love I feel for him, which borders on worship, multiply it by a million, and you’re getting close.
He lived a love story.
In a gaggle of children, he was the middle child, and my mother has always freely admitted he was the apple of her eye. To this day she has a soft spot for middle children, although when you’re the fifth of nine it’s hard to imagine the phenomenon is the same. Regardless, he was the favored one, ironically named after my father. And because he was deserving of his plum spot we all forgave him for it and bowed down to our rightful (lower) place.
He married the woman of his dreams, someone who was engaging and beautiful to begin with, who then fell into the folds of our family as though she’d been part of the fabric her whole life. And then something happened that doesn’t always happen: their love grew.
A workaholic (she) and the life of the party (he) meshed and morphed and taught each other things. She learned how to relax, he learned how to work hard to achieve his dreams. A perfect mix.
Of course there has been ups and downs, stresses, harder times as well as many wonderful ones. But underneath it all, love was growing like the weeds in their perfectly manicured garden. Everytime I showed up at their house for dinner they were working on their garden. The workaholic would be weeding or planting, the life of the party mowing the lawn or cutting back bushes. They were always working on that damn garden.
An overused metaphor? Maybe, but it is perfectly true so I’ll take it at the risk of being predictable. Their love for each other and their children grew like a garden that could sustain an army. If it were to produce, say, carrots, it would be the sweetest carrot you ever did taste, packed with fortifying vitamins.
Now, you can imagine the life of the party attracts friends like bees attract honey. Everyone wants to be around the life of the party, party or no party. But not all lives of the party retain their closest friends throughout their entire lives. This one is still best friends with his buddies from the neighborhood, and his brothers he grew up amongst, although he’s picked up hundreds more along the way. They probably didn’t talk much about the love they felt for each other amongst their escapades, hockey and golf, but it’s apparent now and they’re not shying away from it.
Too many friends to count, too much love to measure.
Writing about love is overdone. It can be cheesy and trite. It can be thrown around too casually, or riddled with drama. But I look around at this unquestionable nightmare and the air is heavy with love. It is hanging around like a fifth wheel. I can smell it and taste it and it lingers on collars. It’s in his hair – not a grey hair to be found, by the way – and underneath his fingernails. It’s hovering around him like a forcefield. An aura of love.
He’s been worshiped, revered, idolized, respected, looked up to his entire life by literally everyone who knew him, but chiefly and most importantly his wife and his children. His greatness was obvious and apparent, bordering on flamboyant. But the love in the air still takes my breath away. It’s followed him everywhere the world over like an unrelenting shadow. It’s a wonder he didn’t trip on it.
He says he feels so much love. He is thankful for so much love. His cup, you could say, runneth over.
Something happens to me in bookstores.
Be them old, new, borrowed or blue, when in a library or other place heavy with book shelves, I feel like I am home amongst friends. Although I may have never graced those floors before, I see the old familiar titles on the shelves and I’m calmed. No matter how I felt before walking into the store, once across the threshold I am alive with possibility, awake with new meaning, open to new destinies.
If exercise or caffeine is not doing it, it’s my equivalent to popping an upper.
I feel like each book I’ve read is an old friend. It may sound strange, but I have never guaranteed sanity. I see lots I recognize, oldies but goodies. Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’ubervilles, The Mill on the Floss, Catch 22, Catcher in the Rye.
Oh yes, these I loved once.
I hear of people who have read Jane Eyre seventeen times – who are you and what do you do for a living? I would like to reread these just once, but the stack of books beside my bed is already impinging on the light from my bedside table. Rereading these classics would mean missing out on many others.
So many books, so little time.
Walking amongst the stacks I see many more that I long to spend time with, but haven’t found the opportunity – yet. War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, Freedom. Your time will come.
On the bestseller wall live more recent friends: The Thirteenth Tale, Through Black Spruce, Secret Daughter, Half of a Yellow Sun. We were intimate, myself and these words. I fell in love with them, and they with me, and we sailed off into the sunset. It was lovely.
Not entirely impervious to chick-lit, some of these titles holler to me, reminding me of a time when my attention span was thin and my reading time competed with sleep. The desire to sleep usually won, but when it didn’t I turned to The Nanny Diaries and Sophie Kinsella’s books for silliness and comic relief.
Even the children’s section displays buddies from days gone past, other cherished times. Watership Down, Oh the Places You’ll Go, James and the Giant Peach. Less time consuming and appealing to my children, I have been able to relive these classics. Fewer words but still big in spirit and meaning.
I have a dream.
It involves sitting and reading for a long time.