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Posts Tagged ‘Death’

Father’s Day Reflection

June 13, 2013 16 comments

Dad at work

It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen my Dad, so Father’s Day can be difficult. All those ads for barbecues and razors fill me with sadness because I’m not part of the marketing frenzy this holiday presents. Instead, Father’s Day is simply a time to reflect, a time to remember my Dad and who he was and what he meant to me.

It was cancer, an explanation used too often, but there it is. He died the day before Father’s Day, when the lilacs were in full bloom and the the dichotomy of that has never left me, lilacs being my favorite flower. He’d had cancer and a heart attack before, so it was somewhat of a shock to my naive twenty-two year old self that this happened, that he could actually die.

He was a character, my father.

Dad - surprised

At times he drove me crazy, as parents are likely to do. There were moments when I wished he were different from who he was. Perspective is a funny thing, because looking back, it’s these same differences that made him wonderful.

Ah, there’s the rub, that’s what he would say.

He wasn’t perfect, but as a parent myself, I have a better appreciation for him now, knowing what the constant pressure of raising a family feels like.

And I only have three children. He had nine. It puts his fatherhood into its own category, right alongside the crazy category, but I’m thankful my parents persisted, being the ninth. Sacrifice was not fleeting, it was a way of life when you have nine children. I could not have done it.

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But he was indefatigable. He thrived in the chaos of our family, he was our wise and fearless leader, larger than life and full of stories. When he laughed, he threw his head back and it could be heard for miles around. The man loved to laugh.

Looking back, he seemed to be involved with anything that came his way – the church, the cancer society, the Kinsmen, whatever that is. On top of supporting us, he made time for positions on boards and volunteered heartily – yet frequently when I was walking home in the pouring rain, his car would appear and the door would fling open. He drove around until he found me.

He appeared in unlikely places at unlikelier times, and when no one else was thinking of me, he thought of me.

I once read that when you lose someone you love, it’s like a crater landing in the middle of your life that is never again filled; you simply learn how to navigate around it. And so it is. I miss him, but I’ve learned to live life without him, as you do. The world keeps turning. Last week I was in a used book store in Washington and I took a picture of a set of books he would have appreciated, maybe I would have given them to him for Father’s Day. In that moment, I felt the hole of his absence. Grief does that, creeps up on you, and you feel the loss and the shock, all over again.

He’s gone but not forgotten. I have his blue eyes and skinny ankles. His impatience and stubbornness, his passion for words, his love of sports. I see myself reflected in him, both his good traits and his bad.

He wasn’t perfect, but he was mine.

Happy Father’s Day to all dads, and especially to the fathers who are still with us in spirit, wherever we go.

Dad and I

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In the Stillness We Remember

June 7, 2012 11 comments

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.

Lives Lived

October 27, 2011 7 comments

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.

So the Lives Lived section in the Globe and Mail was a natural target, and today they published my little story about John. For the link to that story, click here.

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.

Waiting for knee surgery didn't stop him from being Ella's running pal for a 2 mile race

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.

Grief, Considered

July 5, 2011 8 comments

This night we danced

Grief is radically different when viewed from arms length. I read about it everyday in the news, it is almost as benign as the weather. I easily gloss over its bottomless depths when it applies to others.

Or I might begin to imagine what it could feel like, shudder, and then continue reading. Or perhaps skip to a different article altogether.

This one I can’t skip. Grief now covers my life in the same way as a heavy snowstorm can alter a landscape. Normalcy is buried far below the ground cover, and you don’t know where to begin to shovel.

The new normal is far less colorful, far less welcoming. Better to dwell in the subconscious of sleep.

The feverish hope we had been clinging to each day and night has been replaced, leaving in its place a cold grief. An unending sorrow.

Physically, this grief manifests as a faint feeling of nausea, 24-7, mixed with lethargy. You realize you need to eat, just to keep moving, but whatever you’re eating tastes like leather. It’s pure sustenance, nothing else.

Limbs that dove into exercise, previously, are hard to coax into action. The energy required to move them could be better put to use – just remembering. Remembering a recent past that was subtly different.

A time when someone was okay, that now is not.

Grief, I’m realizing, is really a mixture of sadness and anguish. Sadness because you miss this person, and would do anything to have them back, just for one more second, but preferably until you die first.

Anguish because we live in a world where extremely wonderful, physically superior, morally impeccable and outright supreme beings can be extinguished by disease, although they have lived their lives so carefully.

And yet so many others live on, careless to their humanity.

It seems so unfair. So unjust.

Rightly or wrongly I am furious at the medical community who didn’t know anything about his cancer, a sarcoma so out of the limelight that it receives no funding, no benefits of research.

Although he was accepting and gracious with the outcome, the one we feared most and could barely turn our minds to, I am not. I can’t stop thinking about the what if’s and the if only’s, desperate to piece together a different ending.

At this juncture, I remind myself that this has happened to countless others throughout existence, to mothers, fathers, lovers, friends, sons, daughters, friends, brothers, sisters.

Others, too, have been taken from this world far too soon.

But this, this is personal. This grief is a permafrost.

We can’t choose our family. But being his sister was fate’s greatest gift.

Never to be Forgotten

June 16, 2011 10 comments

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.

A New Star in the Sky

June 9, 2011 4 comments

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?

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Strong and Brave

June 8, 2011 3 comments

He can’t go yet – we are still learning from him.

He continues to be a picture of grace, flashing his beautiful smile every time someone enters the room. Thanking every nurse and doctor who comes by. Telling us be strong when we cry.

Generally the purpose of these visits is to comfort the sick, but it is definitely he who is doing the comforting.

He has taught and coached hundreds – could be thousands – of kids over the years, so he is taking this opportunity to give us advice and words of wisdom. Be the mentor one last time. A knee jerk reaction when you’ve been doing it your whole life, I guess.

He says he doesn’t want to leave us, but he’ll be watching us from above. Every hour our admiration grows stronger, although I didn’t think that was possible. Every hour his voice weakens.

How he can stay so strong and so brave after all he has endured is truly mysterious. As though he hasn’t impressed us enough with his exemplary life.

Remarkable in every way. He always did rise to the occasion.