death

WORDS OF FAITH

WORDS OF FAITH
Standing at my kitchen window several times a day either pouring coffee or drinking filtered well water, I like to take in the depth and expanse of the view and count myself lucky for being able to live on hundreds of acres of bush minutes from the airport. I can get anywhere in Ottawa in under 30 minutes. I have made it downtown to Parliament Hill in twenty-five on a Saturday morning.

After ma died in 2014, we found refuge here after selling our house in small town Cobourg so we could be near my father in his final years. Missus was at Sick Kids in Toronto with her Little Bear having his critical heart procedure. I’d gone ahead to Ottawa to find us a place and after staying at my brothers for not even two weeks, this old homestead fell into my lap.

Bought in a land-assembly for a possible future subdivision, it’s old and run-down. Though, a kindly and conscientious owner did an adequate job getting it ready for tenants after it had sat empty for some time. The place is far from perfect: it is perfect for us. I’ll stay as long as I can.

I didn’t tell missus I’d rented this house. It was one she suggested I look at, whiling away the hours helping with the search while attending to the boy with daughter in tow. Instead, when she left Sick Kids and her room at Ronald McDonald House in Toronto for the last time, I just gave her an address. They arrived on the day in question before I did because I was still out visiting farms setting energy rates.  I’d unpacked a 28-foot van by myself all night the Sunday/Monday before. Nothing was put away. I had been sleeping on a mattress and decided the respectful thing to do was let the lady of the house decide how she wanted everything set up. At least, that’s my story of good intentions.

As I arrived, the children, who were five and almost three at the time, swarmed me, insisting on showing me around in their excitement, not realizing I’d been living there a week. It was the sweetest charade. Little girls teach men about love and Charlie showed me all the features she liked including a six-or so-foot pond chock full of frogs and critters. Every rock of any size had a yellow-sided garter snake under it with the odd red-sided one too.

We get to keep whatever animals we like, can even clear land and plant bigger crops if I was so inclined. That’s a bit too much work for me but I love our expanding organic garden in summer. And chickens. Farm fresh eggs are a true wonder of nature. Boil them up after a week or so in the fridge and the white part is firm and full like a soft meat. I’m an egg man and having chickens has been in the works for ages. I almost took my chances with By-Law and put some in my yard in Toronto before we moved to Cobourg. Now that we have had them a few years, I don’t think I’ll ever live in the city again if I can help it.

Looking out today, I spot a chicken stuck in the snow. We just got a dump of about a foot of soft stuff and the chickens are coming out to eat and heading right back into the coop. We have old hens, some in their egg-laying prime, a mature rooster named Little Dude, some immature hens and immature roosters, and two chickens who have just left their mother within the last two weeks or so.

I sat there admiring the chickadees dive bombing my feeder for oiled sunflower seeds. I can see two red squirrels gorging on their spillage. A group of five immature roosters and hens are hanging around in the shed, out of the wind while pecking through the gravel. Concerned red feathered hen hasn’t moved for five minutes has me mentioning it to the kids. “Looks like one of the Rhode Island Reds is stuck in the snow over the frozen pond,” I say. The kids are curious and quickly pull up a bench beside me —one I salvaged from my dad’s place, from the same set of benches where my nine brothers and sisters and I sat as children—and hop up to see. They see it out at the frozen over pond. It doesn’t move, 15 minutes.

“Who wants to go get that chicken and check on it? ” I say. Nothing. It’s a cold day, bitter cold. I paraphrase the same message. Nothing. “Who will go?” I repeat, getting specific. Nothing.

“I will give you ten cents” I say, remembering I picked up an American dime up off the floor somewhere in the house that morning. I pulled it out of my pocket and slap it down on the counter, at least as much as a dime slaps.

Mild interest.

“Which one of you will go and RESCUE that chicken & SAVE ITS LIFE?”

“I WILL,” says the boy. “I WILL TOO,” says daughter. “I’m a SUPERHERO,” adds the boy. I just needed the right wording looks like.

I help them get dressed. By now, their collective enthusiasm has turned competitive, each trying to get out the door before the other and be the one who rescues the chicken. I hold them back by the jacket sleeves and make sure they are adequately dressed. Off they go. I return to my window.

They race the fifty or so feet to the bird. It remains still, unusual for a chicken. Charlie picks it up gently and on the way to the coop Howie takes over. I see them put it back with the others. I’d be out later with the snowblower to give the birds a better run but had shoveled some space that morning during feeding.

Ten minutes later, there’s Howie walking around with the red hen. They are returning to the house and the boy still has a bird cradled in his arms. When they get inside, I realize it’s a different red hen. They found her in trouble and knew to bring her in. It’s one of the new birds and she’s in trouble alright, ice has formed on her feet. She’s immobile but blinking.

Missus steps in and dons her gloves. She’s not optimistic. I think it’s good for the kids and so, as a team they attend to the stricken member of the flock. She’s blistered up bad. Missus predicts her feet could turn black and fall off. I remind her of Daphne.

Daphne was one of our first birds and a rescue. Some gal closer to the city had been cited by the authorities and needed the birds gone. Missus is a hustler that way, only Daphne had a badly infected foot. Despite miraculous care by missus, the bird pulled that foot up and never used it again. She hopped around for two years. She was the bird I made sure to toss bread scraps to first and picked up in the snow while helping her move from the chicken yard to the shed and back in winter. She laid eggs as regularly as the others too. She sort of got used to us handling her here and there, like she knew. Missus had saved her and she was our underdog chicken, if there is such a thing.

Sadly, I came home from work last spring to an eerily silent yard only to find a great Marsh Hawk eating her while the others cowered under the far spruce tree. I chased it off but it was too late. Missus had resurrected that bird as surely as if she was God and if she wasn’t a hen, we could have called her Jesus.

I had tremendous faith in missus before but the care she showed this bird reminded me why I agreed to let her have my children. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised yet I think it’s good practice: we should reserve more than a little awe for each other whenever we can. Nevertheless, Daphne would never be quick enough to evade a hungry bird of prey moving through in springtime. Nature is like that.

So, there is a bird in my laundry room once again. By now, we have a system of sorts, though each time it’s a bit different as context demands. It just means we have equipment like cages and puppy pads and fences and overhead warming lights if needed. My gal is a pro at it now. Daughter Charlie wants to be a vet. We opened an educational savings account for her in case. She helps her ma. She pets bees in summer.

It took Charlotte almost a year to realize we were eating some of the rabbits we were raising. She came to me last summer, “Daddy, I know sometimes we turn the chickens into meat, but I would not like it if we do that with the bunnies anymore,” said in that quiet little-girl-voice, looking at me as if everything she believed about me and in me was on the line. Little girls teach men about love. We have three pet rabbits now and she feeds them and lets them out every morning. Chinese Zodiac says she was born in the year of the rabbit so there you go. Since rooster is my totem animal, after prolonged conversation and deliberation a couple of weeks ago, she has claimed the rabbit as hers.

But, this bird is hanging in there and I’m inclined to give it a couple of weeks. I may have to dispatch this little hen and I may not. If we can save her what a stance that is. It’s where we all live after all, right in between life and death. We think we have time, but the truth is none of us do.

It’s the Daphne precedent, you see.

Until those legs fall off completely, I want to give her a shot at life. If only one leg falls off, she’s still good, right? Missus is using low dose aspirin in her water dish to help her deal with the pain. She’s eating and drinking. Seems to be working. She’s not chirping constantly like she did in the yard. Missus disagrees, pragmatic soul she is.

I don’t know, maybe this little bird represents something bigger for me. For many years, I didn’t care for such things. More accurately, I couldn’t care for small mercies. I either didn’t know how or had forgotten what it meant. Maybe it’s just that you don’t get to be my age without realizing all of us are special. I’m not sure.

It was what my ma said to me in our last conversation. We managed to get her home and gave her a matriarch’s vigil her final two days. After much prayer and goodbyes, she went on a Friday afternoon, surrounded, touched and loved by her nine adult children while her husband of sixty-two years sat near her head holding her hand and whispering sweet reassurances. The family dog keened mournfully at the very moment she underwent the change at 4:30 pm.

The Monday prior, at the hospital while she was still lucid but in pain, for some time, alone, we had talked of things we had not before. We spoke of her service to her church and kindness to people. She’d had ten pregnancies in twelve years and remained faithful and dedicated to her church and all of us to the best of her ability. I told her I was leaving room in my life for mystery.  She had patted my hand, looked at me with the love and wisdom of the dying and said, “You’ve got to have a bit of faith, Christopher.”  

I do ma, for all our sake, I certainly do

I gave each of the kids a nickel. Canadian.

Stay powerful and never give up
cw

©2019 CKWallace, all rights reserved

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LONG GOODBYE (a poem)

This reminds me sort ofLike when a relative hasA burdensome illness:Many treatments triedAnd recoveries attempted,Sometimes lasting years.And, in the end the familyResigns itself to the lossEventually. Last wishesAre granted, people comeTo say their final farewells.Maybe a place the personWanted to see before theyDie. Like a last Christmas,Birthday, or a christening,Baptism or marriage ofA son or […]

Dedicated New Year

Birth and death are ugly things. Often, usually, there is blood, tears, great travail and prolonged suffering. It’s not pretty.

Oh sure, we humans being meaning-makers, somehow we often manage to find beauty in both of these events. Perhaps we do so out of gratitude, or more like relief. Maybe it’s hope which drives our meanings.

You might know the story of your beginning by now. Maybe it’s part of your family lore. You may have been lucky enough to have sat down with your mother or father at some point while they regaled you with the tale of your arrival.

It may have been right there and then during that little talk when you realized how special you were.  You arrived, and there were people really excited about you, just you and your new place in their lives.

One of my sisters told her now adult child she came from a “sparkle in your mama’s eye.” I gave that one top marks for the imagery alone. Who wouldn’t want to come from a sparkle in someone’s eye? It’s like magic.

 

Since you are all here, and it’s the first day of the New Year, I’d like to mention the second part of our passage through life.

For many of us, having lived life on too much processed foods, sugar, booze, grains and cigarettes while not getting enough sleep, losing our mind is what awaits us long before death.

This is my father. Three years since his wife of 62 years passed away of cancer after a three day vigil in the family home. He has been sliding since. One of my sisters is dribbling water into his mouth to quench his thirst because he couldn’t at that moment suck on a straw.

Another sister found him in the morning a couple of days ago face down on the floor of a room in his house. She and her husband live downstairs so he can stay at home. He missed the bathroom in the middle of the night and got a little lost.

Soiled, cold, pissed off and in pain, he punched my brother in law–four or five upper cuts to the jaw–when he tried to help him by picking him up. My brother-in-law is a mountain of a man. Not much an eighty-eight year old guy can do to him but hurt his pride a bit. He’s OK.

Four of my father’s five sons were on hand last night to reassure him since he’s now been hit by my father, he’s truly one of us. Welcome brother.

A third sister made the call to hospitalize my dad. We hope he’ll gather his strength and come home for another while. I bring my children there every Saturday and at just four years old, Little Howie is pretty devoted to his Grandpa Howie.

But this is the end which awaits more of us, most of us even.

For me, it’s a good reminder: there is no tomorrow; there is only today. I must live the best way I know how. We know so much about nutrition, exercise, stress and my pet subject, sleep, that there are no more compromises allowed.

And there is no banking time either. Life goes by in a flash.

No. There is nothing like death staring you straight in the face to bring home the message loud and clear.

 

My father has pneumonia and a bladder infection. He’ll probably pull through this time. After all, he has the best medical care and a half dozen adult children standing guard for him in rotation.

Someone told me in the last few days pneumonia is the saviour of many an old person with dementia. It allows them to die rather than to linger. At home, my father gets up from his bed, goes to his bathroom and to his recliner in the living room and back to bed.

Occasionally, in summer he may venture outside to say goodbye, stooped over, shuffling, enamored as my children, his grandchildren scamper about; their vitality tiring him out. He told me recently the kids come over and raise hell for a while, but once they leave, it’s rather lonesome.

Today, at the hospital I conversed with him for an hour, politely answering questions and pausing for his responses. Only, the conversation made no sense at all. He knows who I am, it’s just his mind is scattered, his dreams a part of his living reality. This is common with vascular dementia, the circumstances trigger more confusion.

 

I don’t say all this to depress you. Neither do I need to signal in some way. Nor do I need sympathy. No. I’m alright with my father’s eventual death. I’ve reconciled that while he is still alive. He’s been too big an influence on me to go anywhere; assuredly, he’ll live on in me and my children like an echo down through time.

My dear mother taught me to read when I was five years old. But I wouldn’t be writing this to you unless my father taught me to write when I was around fifty.

One day, living in another city, I responded at length to a letter he’d written me. He never quite trusted email. Anyhow, my letter came back a couple of weeks later. My father had taken his red editing pen and marked up my copy with corrections and suggestions. Intrigued, we did it again, with me incorporating his lessons, and once more he sent it back.

This continued on for a while, and soon I was ordered to send stuff double spaced so he could do his thing. I obliged.

Much later, I had gained enough confidence and enthusiasm to write and send an essay called The Striped Cat. It was a childhood tale involving a time three of his boys had run away from home. It was a true story, situated in the old neighbourhood. This got his attention. It was real writing now, not just about relating the family news. He loved it. Can you imagine?

I have all of his corrections and remarks in a file in my cabinet. A few years ago, I sent an essay and while visiting him in Ottawa for some occasion, he handed it back to me when I arrived uncorrected. He said there wasn’t anything glaring he could tell me about it that would help.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. For me, it was better than graduation.

This is a man who has spent his whole life around words. First as a cub reporter in Halifax and then as an information officer in Her Majesty’s Navy, retiring as Editor In Chief of the forces magazine of the day, The Sentinel.

A couple of months ago I wrote something and showed it to him. I’ve been toying with copywriting try and appeal to a larger audience, and it’s not my usual style of writing.

Here was my father, speed reading those pages like he was gulping water on a hot day, and peering over his glasses he asked me pointedly why I was dumbing down my sentences.  No fooling the old editor. I had some explaining to do.

I wrote a story of how my son was rescued by a soldier who cut a seatbelt from around his neck while the missus was pulled over in distress and he told me “Good writing and a story well told.” He offered no suggestions or criticisms. I relaxed.

Can I say this? He’s my biggest fan. Of course, I can tell you this.

I grew up with books on every wall of the house. There was a bookcase in the kitchen for a while. Not only do I like to read, it’s as if I must. And now, thanks to my father, I have sort of caught the writing bug. My family generously named me their Clan Bard and Poet in Battle, mostly in encouragement. But still… it’s pretty cool.

This is the year I will honour my father and write more.  In all the years that follow, should I be lucky enough to live them, I write for my pops.

Though just recently, he’s unable to read anymore. You can imagine what that might be like if you’re a reader. He’s got more than 80 years of reading under his belt—thousands of books—and he’s hanging up the glasses. He read at a blistering pace of a book per week for most of his life.

And now, surrounded by books; not a word to be read. I suspected he wasn’t reading the Saturday Edition of the National Post I’d bring over. Finally, a few weeks ago he admitted he couldn’t see the words correctly. They were all jumbled he remarked, without a hint of complaint.

I declare this year is dedicated to writing essays I can read to my father.

I’ll write one per month to the best of my ability. These I will recite to him until he can hear me no more. That’s because he’s going deaf too. But I think just knowing I’m there reading to him something I wrote would be more important to him than the words themselves.

I wonder what will spark your imagination in this coming year?

Whatever it may be, here’s wishing you find inspiration and perseverance in 2018. May your lives be joyous and grateful, disciplined and without loneliness.

Most of all: may you waste no days and be filled with love all year long.

Happy New Year

Christopher K Wallace

© 2018 all rights reserved
ckwallace.com

 

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Let’s Talk About Time

Let’s talk about time.

Time is our most precious commodity. It marches forward inexorably into the future; until there is no more sand falling from the great hourglass of life.

As if that reality weren’t enough, what makes it worse is the frustrating perception that time actually speeds up as we age. Let me explain:

A year to a kid is an eternity; the time between one Christmas and the next may as well be forever. At school’s end, summer, when considered at its beginning in June, holds out September as far off and a hardly reckoned eventuality.

However, you’ll notice that things just get a bit faster as each passing year becomes a smaller fraction of a whole life.

As we age, we learn to anticipate the future and that makes it appear to arrive sooner. As time passes, we realize that death nears; indeed, this has everything to do with it. After a while, a year is like a season was; what used to feel like months, now pass like weeks; weeks seem to go by like days.

Until, all of a sudden, you are left asking where did the time go? You may then recognize that question as something you have been hearing from others as you grew up.

Imagine now how much faster your life will fly by in two years? How much faster will it feel like in five year’s time? What about a decade from now?

Imagine what’s it like for the elderly? Time speeds by so fast for them that it’s like the spin of the earth threatens to throw them into space. You’ll be lucky now if you realize that every one of them wishes they had set goals earlier; focusing more on living their lives in the fullest possible way.

Let me put it to you this way: you got the gift of life. Somehow, Mother Nature, in her wisdom, made you the sperm that impregnated the egg. You won the race over tens of millions of other possibilities.

Your prize was a life expectancy.

So your time is sacrosanct; an aspect to life that needs the utmost respect. Nor should we feel bored or without something to do. Live your time. Live it fully in the creation of a life.

CK Wallace                           2014 all rights reserved / ckwallace.com

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