My Brother Called Me Sis

This post doesn’t have a lot to do with the title.  Eventually, I will write about the recent loss (death) of my big brother, John.  I may not grieve as others do, but usually it gets expressed somehow through creativity, either the lack of it, the complete stoppage of it, or the manic pouring out of it.  Writing is one of those expressions.  If you think that what I do is ‘unhealthy’, then I suggest that you forego these practices when you are grieving.  I haven’t judged the grief of others and I expect that the people who care about me will do the same for me.  I’m sorry if there is any aspect at all of my grief that is off-putting or frustrating for you.  I can only tell you that your discomfort with me or what I do, in no way equals the discomfort that I am experiencing presently.  Maybe I should write about things in a paper journal where it doesn’t make anyone embarrassed or uncomfortable.  Maybe I could burn the words or hide them at least.

I went to a restorative Yoga class last night.  I can’t believe what an hour was spent with myself, my beautiful daughter practicing next to me on her mat.  But once I got out and into the parking lot, I couldn’t stop crying.  I think that all we can hope for in grief is for some release now and again…some relief.

Today, I feel angry.

Today, I went to the studio.  I set up a comfortable place for Max.  I prepared my birch panels.  The Gesso will cure for 24 hours.  I messed around with some other stuff out there.  I sorted through my music.  I nested.

(just a sec…Max barking! door bell ringing! thump thump up the stairs)

Okay…so, how can I be angry?  This just happened!

Does my sister know me?  Mama bird??  Is that not the sweetest mug that you’ll ever see?  I am consumed with birds!  Thank you, Valerie Jean!  Thank you, Jean Pierre, Louis and Eliane!  I love you.  Any of my readers consumed by grief, please read the brilliant book by Kyo Maclear, Birds, Art, Life.

And, yes, about thirty minutes have passed since I wrote the words, “Today, I feel angry.”  And…again, I cried my face off.  How can I feel sad with so much love surrounding me?  How can I get angry?  It’s just the way it is and I accept it.

From the outset of this post, I wanted to write about parking.  It seems just one of those frustrating things that comes up now and then.  Over the past couple of years, I’ve had many hours spent at various medical buildings throughout the City of Calgary and over a very long period of time.  I’ll never forget the time that I couldn’t find parking at the Foothills Hospital on one visit, not in Lot 3, anyway.  I had an appointment.  I was already late when I decided to abandon my drive around and around and around practice and drove to the complete north end of the building.  To negotiate my way back to the Special Services building, I passed many couples where one partner was using a walker, or a person was in a wheel chair being pushed by a loved one, and even passed an obviously distressed person, a person feeling just like I was.  And on that day, I was in no position that I could assist or help and I flew by these people, ending up 45 minutes late for an appointment I felt I desperately needed at the time.

There are families who arrive at hospital late at night in order to meet up with a loved one who has arrived by ambulance.  There are Chemotherapy, Dialysis and other out patients who must endure repetitive and taxing appointments in various buildings around our city.  There are young fathers, racing to be with their partner for the birth of a child. There are the caregivers and loved ones of people who have been, gratefully/desperately/ horribly sadly, admitted into Hospice care.

I’m writing this post while I’m angry because I think a discussion needs to be opened up about paid parking in some of these situations.  Most incredibly current for me is the fact that I was issued a 65.00 parking ticket by Indigo, a private agency, likely hired by Intercare Chinook Care Centre in order to provide a ‘fair’ public parking solution for the families of residents and for the hard working employees.

I missed the ten day window for paying this ticket, given that I was planning a funeral and dealing with other matters and so just the night before last, I paid my ticket with the penalty, a total of 85.00.

Apart from the Hospice parking, there is an option to walk blocks away to street parking, that is also monitored for its two hour limit.  Anyone opting to use this street parking, would have to return to their location every two hours in order to move their car.

So, it was Holy Saturday afternoon, April the 20th.  I put my regular six dollars in for three hours of parking.  That parking would take me to 12:56 in the afternoon.  When I returned to my car at 2:28, my violation notice was waiting for me, tucked under my windshield wiper.  There were four other cars in the lot.  I stood in the parking lot and wept.  I was thinking to myself, “It’s Holy Week…it’s Easter weekend.  Everyone is home with their families today.  I am here with my nephew and my dying brother.”  It was at 3:00 am on April 21, that my brother died.

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I’ve archived here, ‘some’ of the parking receipts spewed out from the lot machine over the time that my brother suffered.  Is it a bit of a thorn in my side?  YES!  Do I have suggestions or solutions?  No!  But, I truly believe that this is a matter that must be discussed for solutions.

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I’ve turned my seething frothing anger about losing my brother toward this matter.  It seems ‘small’ of me.  Oh well. The efforts made by the Chinook Hospice staff and management on behalf of our family was of the highest caliber.  If ever I have opportunity to evaluate the program and their treatment, I will assign the venue the  highest accolades.  However, if given the opportunity to discuss parking, I will vehemently respond with the fact that there is a need for analysis and change.

At a time like this, it just makes me wonder what has happened with our world/society that we have perhaps lost compassion along with progress and maybe we traded in kindness for economic growth.

 

A Broader Experience

My friend, Wendy, used to delight in really unusual words.  I enjoyed the fact that sometimes, late in the evening, a word would show up in my text messages.  It might be absquatulate or blatherskite.    

I never really understood until now, what a wonderful thing that was…that my friend shared words with me in the night.

(Weird blog post alert…go no further if you are in the mood, more, to tune into Netflix.)

Lately I’ve been having a very narrowing experience that has turned out to be exquisitely broadening at the very same time.  About art, these last ten years, I’ve said that my visual world and sensory interests have become very specific…it’s as though my visual world is in close-up and while shrinking, has become utterly complex.  This started happening as it related to the act of walking. (circling the same pond every day for almost six years/walking a loop at the river every day for the past two.)

It was right about that same time, that I started taking photographs.  Until that time, I had never had an interest.  I think I was wanting to capture a moment.  Birds became a part of that experience, simply because I would find myself standing still in front of a landmark; a bush or a tree; and I would analyse, in a very sensory way, the impact of light, atmosphere, sound, the smell on the air…and from a concentrated state, I would see more than what I anticipated…a Bald Eagle gazing down at me, from mere meters away, water dripping off a branch, a bright yellow bird flitting through low brush.  In standing still, my world expanded.

I guess I first noticed this while spending time with Mom during her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. To give an example,  I remember once leaving a lady’s wear shop, Pennington’s, after an hour of shopping with Mom.  Once stepping through an inside door and into the entrance way and before moving on through the outside door to go to the car, Mom stopped.  I stood behind her, hoping that no other customers would either leave or expect to enter.  I gave her time.  I looked at her face.  Her head was tilted back and her eyes were closed.  I asked, almost in a whisper, “Mom, why have you stopped?”  She said, “Listen.”  It was then that I stopped rustling the packages weighing down my arms and stood still.  There was a very quiet but constant hum of air pushing its way from a vent above our heads…had I not stopped, taken pause, I would not have shared that moment.  After a short while, Mom just moved on.

When the events of my life, over months and even years, became very focused…it seemed that the world continued to bustle as usual…rushing…filling…overflowing and moving on.  All the while, my own focused days became slower.  They became extremely sharp- edged.  They became very specific.

These recent days… for example.

Since mid January, there is a particular rhythm to my days.  I know that particular rhythm through the events that occur, predictably, around the clock.  I find myself in the very same place at any particular hour.  Some times it feels as though I am reliving time.  Some would liken it to deja vu. The name plates beside the doors change, but the events do not.

It was a day like every other except that one of the temporary name plates read, Milton Born With a Tooth.  I drifted past because, well, a person just doesn’t stop in front of some one else’s door and I was, after all, in the rhythm of my schedule, the very same that I had lived the day before.  But, Milton’s name stuck with me.  Didn’t his life somehow intersect with mine?  YES!  I’ve written, over time, about my love for the river.  This passion began while living in the University of Lethbridge residence, perched on the edge of the Oldman River in southern Alberta.  Graduating with my degree in 1977, I had established a connection with the river that would, as it turned out, never be broken.  It was in the mid 80s, here in Calgary, that I became engaged with the group, the Friends of the Oldman River as Ralph Klein’s government seemed to be pressing ahead with the construction of a dam that would, in my view, impact our indigenous brothers and sisters, the environment and encroach horribly on species native to the region.  I was appalled.

Oldman at Maycroft Crossing

Well, Milton Born With a Tooth and the Lonefighters Society were angry too!  Imagine that, all these years later, I should find myself bringing my books and my scrapbooks to share with Milton Born With a Tooth?  That I’d be visiting with Milton…his family members…during such a sacred time as this.

At this point, my readers are asking themselves, ‘how is this connected to your subject, Kath?’  Remember, please, my original premise…that in the workings of my narrowing life, my experience is broadening.

Yesterday I attended a marvelous book discussion at the Fish Creek Library. The book, Separation Anxiety, by Miji Campbell was easily read in the week following our February book discussion. I’m smitten by this group of women… so smart, fun and accepting. While my days are very overwhelming, generally, and while I need to be very responsible and engaged as a caregiver, I will move sun and moon in order to carve out time for this book discussion group.

I slipped in to the room and on to one of the last remaining chairs, just as the moderator was making introductory remarks and introducing the author, Miji Campbell. Her face was open and the feeling in the room was relaxed and welcoming. In the corner, there was a display of very nostalgic items that resonated for me and captured easily, my own narrative as a little girl, growing up in post war/cold war Canada. There was a Barbie Doll case… A Midge doll… some old black and white photographs.

The book discussion was remarkable.  There were interesting questions and engaging responses from the author.  I listened with great interest as the relationship between mothers and their daughters was discussed, topics of birth order, mental health, anxiety and the stigma attached to treatments for such anxiety or even the act of seeking out treatments. The conversation was a real exploration of wellness, a topic that I dearly need to explore right now, but struggle to set aside time for such reflection.

As I was listening, completely engaged, my mind began to piece together wee bits of information that Miji was sharing, connections that had not been made by me while reading the book.  It was as though a light went off when, suddenly, I realized that for years, I had taught with Miji’s mother.  And even more startling was that I was good friends with her oldest sister through my University experience.  At the conclusion of the afternoon activity, I sprung out to the neighbouring Safeway store, in order to access the ATM machine and fly back to the room where I could purchase my own copy of the book and have it signed by Miji.  As I drove home, I wondered about the various layers of this reading that were intended just for me…also, I pondered what messages I was supposed to connect with through the reading and the characters, who were people very much alive in my imagination and in my memory.

Miji’s cousin, Hughe, took video rather than photo, but I am grateful that he captured our meeting!

I think that in sitting in the stillness, I notice more.  I notice the shift in weather, the changes in people, flavours, reactions.  I make new associations.

This morning, I received a brief text message from a friend.  I think it was comprised of fewer than seven words.  But, the words were potent and remarkable and they gifted me with a daytime of support and love.  How easy it might have been, given my past engagement with schedules, events and social media, that I might not have ever realized just how much power a message has…to heal…to wound…to break…to mend.

On Friday morning, I folded clothes and put them away, created just a little bit of order in my seeming chaotic life, these days.  I relished the folding…the simple pleasure of the uniformity of it…the way the order gave me a sense of space and breath.

On Saturday, I went for a drive outside of the route that has become my routine.  I was on sensory overload.   Has this ever happened to you?  There was almost too much to take in.  What an amazing and complex world we live in!  For every vehicle on the highway…a life living…a complex human being, overflowing with challenges, joy, questions, family, self-awareness, belief…open sky…melting ice on the water…stones kicked up…tires spinning…a huge machine beneath me.

Revelation is an act of noticing and being fully conscious to your life.  The protagonist, young Douglas Spaulding, of Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury was the one who taught me that specific lesson.  I want to come back to the revelations of these past months when my world stops shrinking and begins to grow again; when I am in my life as a player more than an observer.  I am wanting to remember that I am grateful, but not in a self-help-book-kind-of-way, but in a really authentic sort of way.    I think it is an important thing to see the beauty in the enormity of the sadness/challenges that face today’s human family.  I think that it is not so much about hope, but about presence.  When I am fully present, I am open to delight, surprise and revelation.

In the meantime, send one another messages.  Create a care package for some one who never anticipates receiving anything at all in the mail.  Place a treasure on someone’s front door step.  Bake cookies.  It all counts for magic in the end.