Month: April 2015

Bye Dad – Part 2

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The nurses pulled the chair at the foot of Dad’s bed around to the bedside. Mom sat in the chair for a while holding Dad’s hand. When she heard Catharine’s voice Mom got up to meet her in the hall. Catharine wailed. I stood aside when she came into the room and sat in the chair as she held Dad’s hand and stroked his hair.

While Catharine was with Dad Mom went to call Corpus Christi rectory to tell them Dad had just died. I went to the TV room to call my friend, Linda, who had worked for Dad in the lab at McKellar.

“Hi Linda . . . Dad . . . Dad . . .”

“died,” Linda finished for me. I just couldn’t say it.

“ . . . Yes, about half an hour ago.”

“Brian, I’m sorry,” she said, “I’ll tell everyone at work.”

When I got back Catharine was getting up. She looked at me with a questioning glance wondering why we couldn’t have called her in time to see Dad before he passed away.

“Kate,” I said, “it was so sudden.”

With her head downcast Catharine joined Mom in the hall to talk to the nurses.

It was my turn to sit with Dad. I held his hand while resting my head on his hip and I cried. Mom said she hadn’t heard me cry like that since I was a young boy. I was a little boy. Images of Dad flooded into my mind. I remembered my walks and talks with Dad and the comradery that we shared. I thought of all the projects Dad and I built together – the hovercraft, the lathe and Tara.

I remembered Dad’s warm smile, the genuine loving concern in his eyes and the reassurance I felt from the sound of his voice. Dad had not only been my father but my close, life-long friend and soul mate. He had always been there to help me in any way he could. I thanked Dad for his love and unconditional acceptance of me and for paving the way for me to succeed in life.

“Would I be where I am now without Dad’s help?”

Despite all my determination I knew that I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to make it in life without Dad supporting me.

As I watched the redness in Dad’s cheeks turn yellow and felt the warmth in his body fade away, I realized that the time for our final good-bye was near.

“Will I ever again have someone who understood me as intuitively as Dad? If Dad had lived longer what would we have talked about? Would we have found another project to do? Where would we have gone?”

In the end if Dad’s life had been longer I doubt any amount of time could have been enough. I would be as heartbroken by his passing as I am now and still wish I had more time with Dad.

Mom and Catharine had come back in the room to see him one last time. After a few minutes Catharine said she would drive Mom home. I stayed.

Finally I knew I had to let go. I stood up still holding Dad’s hand and looked at him for a minute lying there in peaceful stillness. “Bye Dad,” I said looking at his face. Then I looked down at my hand holding his and I slowly and reluctantly let go of his hand – Dad’s hand – the hand that had held me and helped me through life – the hand I knew the shape of intimately that was comfort, acceptance, trust and understanding – the hand I would never hold again. As I slowly walked away I stopped at the doorway to look at Dad one more time. After a minute I sighed a deep breath to collect myself. Then I turned and left.

I was consumed by a feeling of complete and utter defeat as I walked out of the hospital. I had lost the fight – the fight I could never have won. I knew deep within me that I could never have made Dad well again. Even so when defeat came it was hard to take.

When I got home Catharine was just leaving. She had to go back to her home and family. Mom was sitting in the living room. She got up and we hugged each other in silence. Both of us were trying to clarify in our minds what had just happened. We had prepared ourselves for this time. We knew it was coming. When it came we weren’t ready for it. Could we ever have been?

Mom and I talked about Dad until 2:00 AM. I remembered then that I had an appointment at work the next day. I sighed rubbing my forehead. At that moment the last thing I wanted to do was go to work in the morning. But I had a business to run and a responsibility to our customer.

“Brian, I know you don’t what to go but you have to keep that appointment. There is nothing you can do for Dad tomorrow.” Mom was right.

By nine o’clock Wednesday morning I was back at Tara. I stopped at St. Joe’s on the way. I had to see Dad’s room to solidify in my mind the reality of last night. His room was exactly as we had left it except that there was no Dad. The undertakers had removed him during the night. After a few minutes of looking around the room I went to work.

It was a very quiet day at Tara. Nobody came through the door except my appointment that afternoon. I don’t think I accomplished anything that day except to make a sign to tape on the door that said, “Due to a family emergency Tara will be closed until Monday.”

I sat at the office desk – alone. I had to call home every hour to talk to somebody. Mom or Catharine answered. As we spoke I could hear the voices of friends who had come to give their condolences and I wished I was there. After they left Mom and Catharine went to the funeral home to make the final arrangements for Dad’s funeral. I wanted to be one of Dad’s pall bearers. It was the one final duty I needed to perform for him. I had to carry Dad to his final rest just as he had carried me through life.

When the appointment ended I locked the door at 3:00.

The next day was difficult. Mom, Catharine and I went to see Dad lying in his casket. Dad looked as if he was just asleep – as if I could reach over, tap him on the shoulder and say, “Dad, wake up.”

Then Friday came – the day of Dad’s funeral. We gathered for a half hour visitation at the funeral home at 11:00 AM. I sat with Mom and Catharine through the service and then joined the other pall bearers to put Dad into a hearse for the drive to Corpus Christi for his funeral mass. Then I rejoined Mom and Catharine.

When we arrived at the church Mom, Catharine, and I, along with Fr. Carey, a long time friend of the family, met Dad’s hearse and we carried him into the church. As we entered the full senior choir was singing. Many of them had taken time off work. Dad had been a member of the choir for years. Fr. Carey gave a glowing eulogy. I can’t recall what he said but I remember feeling proud of Dad as he spoke. I followed Dad’s mass, listened to Fr. Carey speak, heard how wonderfully the choir sang but it all seemed shrouded by a fog.

When mass was over we brought Dad to St. Andrew’s cemetery for his interment. I and the other pall bearers carried Dad from the hearse and placed him over his grave. Then I stood with Mom and Catharine as Fr. Carey said prayers over Dad. After a moment of silence we left to go to a reception in the church hall.

That evening Mom and I sat across the living room from each other. Her eyes met mine. No words were spoken but her look expressed both our thoughts. Dad’s presence had left our home. Although Dad hadn’t lived in the house for a month we never truly felt his absence until he was buried.

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A warm smile

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Koala

A warm smile is the universal language of kindness.

William Arthur Ward

Bye Dad – Part 1

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However while the Smile-Surgery was a success Tara’s fortunes were fading. The good contracts that made 1996 so successful were winding down and the new testing wasn’t making up for it. Reluctantly in March of 1998 I had to let Jeanne go. It was back to Mom, Dad and me again. The work that came in was just enough for us to handle.

By May of 1998, Tara was running at a good pace when Dad found he had trouble closing his left hand. Then his back started to bother him. He went to see a doctor who found that Dad’s cancer had spread to his brain and lower back. There was little the doctors could do. Chemotherapy wouldn’t work this time and radiation therapy was ineffective. This cancer seemed untreatable. Dad’s condition steadily worsened. Eventualy he lost all movement in his left hand. He had more and more trouble walking. Finally Dad had to use a walker. He clunk-stepped his way around the house just as I had.

One Saturday in July at home he fell. He had put out his right arm to block his fall but broke his arm. An ambulance took him to Port Arthur General Hospital where they set his arm. Dad spent a week in hospital and then came home. The movement in his legs got worse and the arm with his good hand was now in a cast. Dad became bed ridden. Now I pushed Dad around in a wheelchair. Within two weeks of Dad returning from the hospital we realized we couldn’t take care of him at home.

Tuesday August 5, 1998, Dad was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital hospice unit. An ambulance came to take Dad to the hospital late that morning. He never looked back as the paramedics put him into the ambulance. Dad sensed he would never see home again.

The hospice unit was a row of 14 private wards on the fourth floor. They faced the front of the hospital and lined one side of a wide hallway with a large picture window at the end of it. On the other side of the hall were supply rooms and a nurse’s station. Dad had the last room at the end of the hall. I brought Mom to see Dad every evening. Catharine often came to visit with Dad then too. I stopped by to see Dad each morning on my way to work.

The nursing care was exceptional and Dad was glad to be there. Dad’s condition quickly worsened. Being bed ridden he developed pneumonia. Two weeks after Dad was admitted to St. Joe’s he suffered a small stroke during the night. It affected his speech. The morning after his stroke his speech was slurred and I couldn’t understand him. I could tell from the sound of his voice and the way he looked at me that Dad knew what he was saying. Dad repeated himself but I still couldn’t grasp his words.

“Dad I wish I could understand what you’re saying.”

I knew then the heart-rending frustration Dad must have felt in not being able to understand me when I was 13 during my radiation therapy reaction. It was a few days before I understood him again. After his stroke Dad spent a lot of his time sleeping. Now when I stopped by in the mornings I mainly watched him sleep. I stood by helplessly as Dad’s life trickled away day by day. I knew my time with Dad was growing short but my heart wouldn’t accept it. I would have willingly stayed with Dad all day but each morning Tara called me. Tara was doing well but Dad was slipping away.

The afternoon of August 25th, Mom had Fr. Allen, the Corpus Christi parish priest, give Dad the last rights blessing as he lay in his bed at St. Joseph’s hospice. Fr. Allen stood to Dad’s left and Mom stood at his right while I watched from the foot of his bed. Catharine was tied up at work. Dad was silent through the prayers but just after Fr. Allen left Dad broke down. This was final. His tears said what all of us had avoided saying. Dad’s life was coming to an end.

That evening as Mom bent over Dad to settle him for the night Dad looked up at her. With deep sincerity in his eyes and voice he said, “I kept my promise. I stayed with you.”

“Yes Peter. You did,” Mom replied stroking his hair.

It was apparent Mom and Dad’s marriage had been strained for years, but at that moment there was a spark of the love that brought them together. Right then I don’t think either of them was aware that I was present.

As his cancer progressed there were times when I think Dad didn’t quite know who Mom, Catharine and I were. For a man who used his mind all his life it was hard to see it fading. Dad got to know the nurses. They were around him all the time. There was one nurse in particular he liked named Clara. Once he winked at her and another time he told her she was beautiful when she was bent over him tucking him in for the night. Dad’s body was failing him and his mind was fading but there was nothing wrong with his eyesight.

On the evening of Tuesday, September 1st, exactly four weeks after he was admitted to St. Joe’s, Dad knowingly looked at me and called me by name to ask me to adjust his bedside lamp. I hadn’t heard him say my name for a week. At twenty to ten Mom and I were getting ready to leave Dad for the night. The nurse taking care of Dad that evening went to settle another patient down for the night. Then she would come back to settle Dad. After that Mom and I would go home. Mom walked out of the room and stood in the hallway looking out the picture window that we had both looked out of many times. I sat in the chair opposite the foot of Dad’s bed. He was resting quietly on his back when all of a sudden Dad popped his head up looking at me in distress as he waved his arm. He couldn’t call out. Dad seemed to be choking. I rushed out of the room and up the hall to get the nurses. Mom saw me and knew something was wrong. She hurried in. When she saw Dad she cradled his head. “I’m here Peter,” she said. Mom knew it was all she could do.

I found Dad’s nurse. I said, “I think he’s choking.”

”Choking!” she exclaimed. She and I hurried down the hall followed by nine other nurses. When we got back Dad had lost consciousness. I stood with most of the nurses at the foot of Dad’s bed and watched with them.

While still cradling Dad’s head Mom said, “Brian, hold Dad’s hand.”

The nurses made room for me to go beside Dad and I held his hand. Then Mom picked up the phone on the bedside table. “Catharine, come to the hospital … come now.” She cradled Dad’s head again. Catharine lived 20 minutes away and came as fast as she could.

The pauses between Dad’s breaths became longer. He started to snore as he inhaled. Then there was one long pause, a sharp snore, a slow exhale and then silence. The head nurse, who had witnessed all of this, took out her stethoscope and listened to Dad’s chest. Then she put it away.

“What?” I thought. I reached over and felt Dad’s neck. “I can’t get a pulse,” I said.

“I can’t get one either,” she replied.

It was only then that I realized I had held Dad’s hand as I watched him die. I looked at Mom. “Dad’s dead?”

“Yes Brian. You didn’t know what was happening?”

“No,” I said.

“He threw a clot,” the head nurse said to me.

No more than five minutes had passed from the time Dad waved his arm in distress to his final breath.

A warm smile

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A warm smile is the universal language of kindness. - William Arthur Ward

Happiness

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Hydrangeas

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.

Denis Waitley

My Smile!

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During the time of Dad’s struggle with cancer Mom found an article in the newspaper about a new surgery for people with facial paralysis called Smile-Surgery. It was pioneered by two plastic surgeons in Toronto. I saw the surgeons in March, 1977, to find that I was a good candidate for this procedure. After the surgery I would be able to move the corners of my mouth outward and up to smile.

Smile-Surgery: One end of the gracilis muscle is attached to the chin and the other end to the cheek. The blood supply and nerve are connected to the jaw muscle. After 12 weeks the surgery heals enough for the “smile muscle” to start working. It contracts when the jaw muscle is tensed causing the corner of the mouth to move outward and up to smile.

“Is this the answer?” I wondered, “Would I finally have what I had dreamt of for so long?  Would I get my smile back?” I was afraid to hope. I didn’t want to be disappointed again and yet my intuition told me to have the surgery. I thought about it for months.

In October of 1997, I had Smile-Surgery on the right side of my face at the Toronto Western Hospital while Dad and Jeanne ran Tara.

The Smile-Surgery involved taking some gracilis muscle from my inner thigh and transplanting it into my face (right thigh for the right side of the face and left thigh for the left side).

The lack of a smile wasn’t my only problem. Since I didn’t have cheek muscles to support my lower eyelids they sagged. During this Smile-Surgery the surgeons made a sling for each lower eye lid from a tendon out of my left wrist to hold them up.

When I woke up after surgery the incision on my face went from my right temple, down past my ear, around the corner of my jaw and along it to my chin. I had an incision along the inside of my right thigh from my knee to my groin with drains sticking out. I had swollen, bloodshot eyes I couldn’t focus. They had taken a tendon out of my left wrist and there was an IV in my right hand. I was sore all over and all I could do was lie on my back and stare at the ceiling. Man was I ever feeling sorry for myself.

“Brian,” I said, “what on Earth were you thinking? You didn’t have to do this.” Wah wah wah.

Two days later I wasn’t as sore. I could focus my eyes again and I was glad it was over. Four days after surgery the drains came out and I could get up. Three more days in Toronto and I was back in Thunder Bay.

It took two weeks for the swelling in my face to go down. The surgeons gave me step-by-step instructions on how to strengthen my new muscle. I stood in front my bedroom mirror daily to practice twitching it by tensing my jaw muscles. There was no movement at all at first. The right side of my face looked to be more alive but, try as I might, the corner of my mouth wouldn’t budge. I was disheartened but I reminded myself that the surgeons had told me that the muscle needed time to heal before it would work. Of course I wanted the smile muscle to work right away. I kept practicing. Twelve weeks after surgery I was sure I could feel a tug in the corner of my mouth. It was also time for Smile-Surgery on the left side. In early January, 1998, I was back at Toronto Western Hospital.

Now I practiced twitching both corners of my mouth. To the surgeons practicing twitching the smile muscles every day was very serious business. I was like a kid with a new toy. Each day I stood in front of my bedroom mirror to practice twitching my smile muscles. At first I watched the corners of my mouth move slightly. The twitches got broader as the smile muscles became stronger. The joy in my heart grew and grew as I witnessed my motionless, expressionless face come to life. For the first time in 25 years I had movement in my face. I had my smile! It wasn’t the big, wide smile I would have liked but it was bigger than Mona Lisa’s.

“Why not have some fun with this too?” I thought. I discovered that, along with regaining my smile, I could make sounds again that I hadn’t made since I was a kid such as blow raspberries. Awesome!

The surgeons brought each smile muscle around under my lower lip as well. To have working muscles support my lower lip again proved to be a permanent solution to the problem of it curling down.

Let my soul smile

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Tulips

Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile though my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.

Paramahansa Yogananda