September, 2011

One year ago today, I was an unmarried man. I was twenty-two, unofficial stepdad to two, and in the midst of James Clavell’s Shogun. We had lost Carol only two months earlier, and Aura was still recovering from surgery. Kieran was starting grade two.

I was still in a daze, that September. Winters had always been difficult for me, but that summer put all winters to shame. It was almost as though the universe was shouting at me: You may be getting better, but boy, do I have a lot to throw at you yet!

And yet, what I went through that summer was nothing next to what my sweet girl had to endure.

All was not so hard, though. One thing you learn with kids is that no matter how wild the sea of life becomes, they’ll keep on playing in the bilge water. No storm is bad enough to stir their confidence in Mommy and Daddy, although they may worry about those silly old fools in their own way.

In early June of 2011, Carol – Aura’s mother – had still been faring reasonably well. We had been warned that her time with us was nearing it’s end, but we’d been told that for two and a half years. Carol never lost hope, and continued to live upstairs in her own apartment. By mid June, she had taken a couple of nasty falls, and been checked in to the palliative care unit for around the clock assistance. It was a difficult decision, and we didn’t want it to be permanent – but we just couldn’t see a way for us to provide the care she needed at home. We will never forget the kindness and compassion shown us by the medical staff there.

On July 9, 2011, Carol left this world forever. Aura and I were there sleeping in her room that night; in the morning, she passed away. We held her hands and looked on, helpless to prevent the single greatest loss a child can face: the death of a parent.

Aura had had her hysterectomy only two weeks previously. At the time, we still thought all was going to be well, for the time being. Carol had arranged to stay with my mom for the summer, and they were both looking forward to it. I had encouraged Aura to go through with her much-needed surgery, pinting out that if not now, then when? A busy year was ahead of us. I would have eaten my words, later, if I could have.

In August, we went to my grandparents’ place in Quebec, seeking refuge from swollen emotion. Aura was in a state of ongoing shock. She slept and cried. I did what I could to be there for her, but what could I possibly do?

The boys had a wonderful summer. We had Kieran in camp, and Emery in daycare – he called it “school-park“, a conjunction of two things he understood better. Quebec was then, as it was this summer, a perfect getaway for all of us; and it was the first time Aura and the boys had been there at all. We made sweet memories.

August ended, and September began. Kieran was struggling deeply over the loss of his grandma – they had been so close. I had introduced Kieran to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s more kidfriendly films by that time, and he had introduced them to Carol. They spent many hours wtth my hero, cuddled up on Grandma’s couch. His suffering was deep.

Emery wasn’t phased. Too young to feel the loss, but old enough to care that we were hurting, he tended assiduously to his mom and brother. As much as Aura tried to keep her tears away from her kids, Emery always knew when Mommy needed a bright smile and a silly game.

I always tried to be the strong guy; she wasn’t my mother, after all, I reasoned. I needed to be there for my wife and boys, all of whom had lost more than me. But it was hard for me, too – harder than I realised.

Cancer is a terrible curse. I don’t believe it was cast by anyone, and I don’t believe anyone deserves it; nevertheless, seeing my mother-in-law being consumed with it made me want to lash out. Those last few months were full of anger, for me. Old anger resurfaced at a Creator I did not understand; fresh anger at the loss of a kind and giving soul. She was supposed to have been mine, too – part of the package I signed up for when I committed myself to her daughter.

Cancer took her away, and no one could restore her. September was a month when the theft was still very fresh, and out hearts were in turmoil.

But September was also a month of hope, and gladness.

Kieran was starting grade two. He had made so much progress, socially, the year before; we looked forward to another year of small victories – and we were not disapointed. Kieran continued to grow and mature, as a student, as a brother, as a son. He made us very proud – we will always love him, of course, but it’s thrilling to see a child excel.

Emery went to school-park a while longer, and then the funds began to dry up. This was just before Christmas. But you know, Emery took the change in stride – and we ended up having a lot of quality time with him at home. He was Aura’s ray of light in a dark place.

Last, but certainly not least, Aura and I were talking about marriage. We had discussed it all with Carol, earlier on – she’d been overjoyed. Some of the ladies at her Hospice group asked if we would consider having an earlier wedding right in palliative care, when Carol moved in, but everything was just so hectic. We knew, and Carol knew, that the timing wasn’t right, and the place wasn’t right. She was just so happy to know about our plans.

We debated getting married in the tiny public library down in my mom and dad’s neighborhood, but our guest list quickly became too large. I hold Aura responsible for that.

We ended up settling on the Baker’s Hill Banquet Centre, an unspectacular sight at the corner of Parkhill and Television roads. On the inside, though, it was beautiful – fit for the day we were starting to plan.

The process of organising for this concentration of joy was vital to our sanity over the next two months. Without the knowledge that something wonderful was in the works, I don’t see how Aura and I could have coped. We kept very busy, and it kept our friends and family busy with us. We were not alone – we were surrounded by love and light. And it never left our minds that somehow, Carol was looking on with approval.

That September was a focal point for so many radically conflicting forces. It astonishes me to think that we had the energy to pull through. There are some times that just seem to be overshadowed by things larger than yourself – and you just go along with that, for better or for worse.

Where were you in September, 2011?

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8 responses to “September, 2011

  • Daphne

    I love the line about ‘the greatest loss a child can face.’ I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced it can understand what it feels like to lose a parent. I lost both my parents to cancer in 2010 – Mom in June after a long battle, Daddy in August after only finding out in July that he was even sick. It forces you to re-evaluate your place in the world.

    • Dan

      You sure don’t look at life the same way after losing a loved one. It isn’t all bitter, though – memory is a powerful comfort.

      Sorry for your loss, Daphne. Keep your chin up.

      • Daphne

        My siblings and I try to get together at least once a month to reminisce. I treasure those times – we’ve all managed to move past most of the pain and remember all the fun, funny, and terrific times we had together.

  • Aura

    Dan-This was a difficult one for me to read but you wrote it so beautifully and really expressed how this loss was for our family. Mom, you are forever with us —-and I love you Dan.

  • Aura

    Daphne-I am so sorry for your loss-I know how painful it is to lose a parent. I can’t imagine losing both so fast. May all your wonderful memories of them keep them forever alive for you 🙂

  • Kim Martinez

    Dan – your post mirrors my heart. Our journey is a bit longer. 3 years ago in June, my sister in law killed herself. Two years ago at the end of September, both of my in-laws went into the hospital within 4 days of each other. My mother in law passed away within 6 weeks. She had been relatively healthy up until the day she wasn’t, so that was a bit of a shock. We found an Adult Family Home that was simply wonderful for my father in law. Last Aug 26, he died – quick, with a stroke, much the way he would have liked it.

    Our pain has been tremendous, and I have watched my kids struggle to move on. Some handle it better than others. Then there are odd moments when it all crashes back. My husband lost three of the five original members of his family in just two years. Interestingly, finding the courage and strength to face forward seems to be a process. William Bridges talks about the three stages of transition: knowing what you are letting go of and letting go of it, the in-between – where you feel like you are in a boat at sea, in a fog without any instruments. This second stage is critical but sooo uncomfortable. In the in-between, you define who you are without what you lost. Then comes the third stage, new direction.

    Blessings to you and your family. These deep times are also the ones that shape us to make a real difference in the world. As the fog begins to lift, you will find a new, renewed focus and even new sources of joy.

    With Blessings, Kim

    • Dan

      Kim, having seen what it was losing Carol, I don’t envy the pain you must still deal with today. Family is one of the fundamental blessings this world has to offer us, and to lose a family member is to lose a part of oneself.

      So sorry for your loss. May the empathy and courage that these experiences teach us reach out through us and be a help to others in their own times of need.

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