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Posts Tagged ‘Terminal illness’

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.

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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.

Here Is The Love

June 5, 2011 15 comments

John

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.

Love grew and it prospered. They had two children who have grown into remarkable young adults, and so the love, again, multiplied.

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.

This blog’s for you, Dad

October 31, 2010 7 comments
A Wright's stained bone marrow aspirate smear ...

Image via Wikipedia

Death is all around us.  We routinely watch people getting blown away on television and in movies, read about it in books and everyday in the newspaper.  But it is a different beast when it visits you personally.  Nothing can prepare you for the death of someone you love.

My father died when I was twenty-two, one month after I had graduated from university. He was a journalist, and I, wanting to follow in his footsteps, had majored in journalism. I haven’t published a written word since his death, now eighteen years ago.

He was a lion of a man.  Physically he was tall and striking, with an unmistakable baritone voice.  He was the center of any room around which all others orbited.  In our family he was undisputably the sun, and we, the children and our mother, the planets.

He was opinionated and loved to argue, hot tempered but also as excitable as a child.  He lived for occasions and elections, during either of which it was not uncommon to enter our house and find him running laps around our living areas.   The nursery rhyme ditty “when he was up, he was up; and when he was down he was down” applied to him perfectly.  You knew which one he was the second you crossed the threshold of our house.  If he was up, his enthusiasm was infectious and there was no better place to be in the world.  If he was down, we tiptoed around and avoided his dark being like the plague.

He was the first person I wanted to talk to when anything happened, the first person I wanted to see when I disembarked from a plane, the person I most wanted to succeed in life for.  When he died, just as I was about to launch the me that was me, all of a sudden any and all of my aspirations also died.  My path in life seemed suddenly of little consequence.  With no one to share my achievements with, achieving anything seemed rather pointless.  He was the north on my compass.  Without him, my life operated like a pinball machine, with me as the ball being batted around senselessly.

He had cancer in his bone marrow, multiple myloma is what the doctor’s called it.  But he had cancer before, and had his bladder removed as a result.  He had also survived a heart attack when I was young.  I stubbornly thought he was invincible, right up until we turned off his life support.  I actually thought once we disconnected all of those lines and tubes he would sit up and say, “it’s bloody well about time you did that!”.  The optimism of youth, or sheer stupidity, I’m not sure which.

It was inconceivable to me, as we walked out of the hospital shortly after, that cars continued to drive and people sauntered on their way on the sidewalk, when my whole world had just collapsed.  It was an out of body experience.  Everything had changed, yet nothing had changed.

I went home, went to his closet and took out one of his favourite sweaters that still smelled like him.  I privately wore it and hugged it at night, like a blanket, for weeks, until it needed to be washed and then lost his scent.

Occasionally, but only very occasionally, I have the most lucid dreams of him.  He is with me again, in my life, his presence palpable.  When I wake from these dreams I want to stay in bed all day, savouring and remembering every morsel of what had transpired. Had he visited me, like an angel?  Had he sent me a message?

Once on the tube in London I saw a man that so looked like my father, even had his beautiful thick silver hair, that it took my breath away.  I stared at him, awestruck, and when he got off at the next stop (very likely unnerved by my behaviour), I cried.

I am now approaching middle age, a time of reflection, and am struck by the difference in myself after he died.  I had once walked with a purpose, striding quickly and impatiently through life.  Once he was gone my pace slackened, my direction became uncertain, and  I strolled uncaringly and aimlessly.

I often wonder at the huge impact his death had on my life.  It didn’t leave me orphaned, after all.  I still had a mother and brothers and sisters, friends and even lovers.  But an integral piece is missing that doesn’t ever get filled, it just remains missing, and you learn to live, somehow, with the missing piece.  Good things that happen just aren’t quite as good, the world has lost a bit of its lustre.

As I tell people, and people tell me, life goes on, and so it does, but in a forever changed sort of way.