I glanced into Mom’s bedroom from the hallway as the afternoon sun streamed through the window. The light beckoned me to go in.
“Mom has been dead three months,” I said to myself. “It’s time. I have to do this.”
I took a deep breath to summon my courage and entered her room. All that remained in Mom’s bedroom was the furniture. I had been through her closets filled with neatly hung dresses. They reminded me of so many celebrations and family occasions. I had emptied her bedside table and dresser drawers. Only one thing remained – Mom’s jewelry box atop her dresser. Mom kept anything personal to herself in her jewelry box. I had avoided looking in it when I sorted through her belongings for that reason. I felt I would have intruded on her privacy.
Mom’s jewelry box was now covered with a sifting of dust. In the back of my mind I was apologizing to her for the intrusion as I lifted the hinged lid to reveal two trays of jewelry. I found her favourite pearls, the diamond earrings Dad gave her for their 25th wedding anniversary and the flower broach Catharine and I gave her for Mother’s Day.
I pulled open the bottom drawer. In it was a bulging envelope which contained a letter Mom had written. It was dated six months before her death. As I unfolded the letter I sat down on the side of her bed to read it.
Dear Fr. Matthew
I was so pleased to read in the November Catholic Register of your healing prayers and those who have benefitted from them. I regret not hearing of you before or I would have attended your healing service.
Father, may I impose on you to pray for me and my son. I have been suffering from anxiety and depression for eighteen years. It is really wearing me down. Like the woman who said to Jesus I feel if I could touch the hem of your garment, I could be cured. Father, will you please pray for me for deliverance from this debilitating disorder.
My son Brian, who is now 39, had a brain tumour when he was a child, but not diagnosed until he had surgery six years later. It left him with bi-facial paralysis and medication prevented him from growing.
He is extremely bright. Because of his eye problems he was unable to go to school. My husband and I taught him at home. He made it part time through university right to his PhD. I read most of his material to him. He has had about 16 surgeries, some as long as 6-8 hours. Unfortunately, nobody will hire him because of his facial paralysis. We started him in business, but the “big guy” undersold him. My husband died on Sept. 1/98. I don’t have the money to keep him. Would you please pray that God will intervene and somebody will hire him.
I feel really sorry about your illness. I know the patience you need to have dialysis on top of your cardiac problems. I pray for you. I hope they are heard. Father, please intervene for me.
May God bless you.
When she was young Mom had a broad smile that lit up her face. She had a hearty laugh and her eyes sparkled. As the years passed her brilliance faded as depression took hold of her. I didn’t fully realize how deep it was until I read this letter.
“Could I have done more for her?”
Mom, as well as Dad, took pride in my achievements and championed all my ambitions. I was fortunate to have such dedicated, loving parents who were always there for me. A deep forlornness welled up within me as I fathomed, all at once, the events over 40 years. My face could not express the grief in my heart, but a voice in my soul cried out for the life that had come to a screeching halt. Mom was gone and Dad had passed away just nine months before. My life as I knew it was about to change in a very big way.
My parents told me the story of my birth many times. I was conceived after five miscarriages and they saw my birth as a miracle. There were so many girls in both families Mom and Dad were sure I’d be a girl.
Dad asked, “How’s Cathy today?” They chose the name Cathy for their baby girl. When the day arrived – surprise!
“We have a beautiful baby boy,” Mom excitedly said to Dad, “He’s perfect. What should we name him?”
My parents couldn’t name me Cathy so they settled on Brian after one of Mom’s uncles. They happily counted my fingers and toes.
I entered the world 9:15 AM June 3, 1959 at the Memorial Hospital in Sudbury, Ontario, weighing in at 7 lbs 1 ounce. When they brought me home from the hospital Dad carried me in from the car very slowly and carefully as if I was a very fragile glass treasure. Dad was a proud father. He sat me on his shoulders to walk places while I grabbed a tuft of his hair in each hand like reigns on a horse. Mom finally had to tell him, 3“Brian has to walk too.” Dad said the first few years after I was born were some of the happiest of his life.
My first childhood memories are of Sudbury in our split level house on Dublin Street. I was a happy, active, healthy boy interested in everything. My natural curiosity led me on a journey of discovery every day. Needless to say my inquiring mind kept me very busy. Each new found treasure brought a rush of adrenaline and excitement that inspired me onward. Once a week Mom put my little wooden chair by the front window. I stood on it to watch the garbage men collect the trash door to door down one side of the street and up the other. I imagined the many treasures I could find in all that lovely garbage. I thought garbage men were the greatest. Mom found ten minutes of rest.
I was honest too. If Mom or Dad asked me, “Brian did you do …?” and I didn’t want to admit to it I wouldn’t lie. I said, “I wish you wouldn’t ask me that question.” That was enough of an admission of guilt for them.
I also took things literally. I was taught to say please and thank you. When I thanked somebody and that person responded, “You’re welcome.” I replied, “No I’m not I’m Brian.” One Sunday as the priest came out to say mass I called out, “Fr. Ted has a new haircut.” My comment prompted laughter from the congregation and Fr. Ted.
Being a pleasant and sociable child I soon attracted the attention of all the young girls in the neighbourhood who would stop to play with me. Two little girls my age, Debbie and Jill, really liked me. Debbie lived two doors away and guarded me jealously from any other girl. Jill, who lived five doors down, was undaunted by Debbie’s protective efforts and continued to seek my friendship. I spent a lot of time playing at both their homes and they at mine.
Debbie had two older brothers and a large extended family with lots of aunts and uncles. Of all Debbie’s relatives her Uncle Cliff was her favourite. He was always around the house horsing around with Debbie, her brothers and with me. I called him Uncle Cliff too. Jill had a baby sister. I wanted an uncle and a brother or sister like Debbie and Jill.
After Sunday mass Mom, Dad and I would go to a Dairy Queen where I ordered a black ice cream. The man who served us each week knew I wanted chocolate. He greeted me with my favourite treat and a big smile. I named him Uncle Joe. It wasn’t his real name but he was tickled and quite proud to be my Uncle Joe. I had two uncles now but I still wanted a sibling.
This is my story of how I overcame adversity and found my new life.
Read my memoir from beginning to end in this blog’s memoir category.
I so enjoy the weekly excerpts Brian. Your writing style is smooth and and easy to read. Thank you for sharing. – Judy Lepinsky McGee
Brian you have a real gift. Your words move me. From the first time we met I knew there was more to you than meets the eye! I wish I could have met your father, he sounds like the Dad I deamt of having. – Shawn Maroney, Boss Entertainment
You write with such honesty Brian, I felt like I was there. – Judy Lepinsky McGee
My friend Brian Spare is an amazing writer! His words always move me and his journey in life has been about love and strength. I am so proud to call him my friend. – Shawn Maroney, Boss Entertainment
Your life and all its challenges are an inspiration to all your friends – Earl Smith
Brian, I wait with anticipation every week to read your latest installments – Alan Wade
You have done an amazing job of life Brian. You are truly an inspiration and thank you for sharing. – Judy Lepinsky McGee
The Boy Who Couldn’t Smile is a journal of how changes shaped my life. I began writing my memoir to simply pen the events of my life that I had told many times for years without much cause for emotion. I quickly found that expressing them on paper was a very different experience. As I wrote about my life, feelings stirred inside me that tugged at my heart and made me search my soul. They made me reflect on my life as never before. I realized that I have a story to tell and I wanted to share it. As much as I wrote this book to recount my past, I wanted to share how I overcame adversity and convey my dreams for the future. If my story inspires even one person to meet the challenges they face my mission in writing this book will have succeeded.
I wrote my memoir by relying mainly on my memory. Where it was sketchy I turned to Catharine, my Aunts and long time friends. There are no composite characters, places or events. I used the actual names of people and I gave names only to persons whose name I didn’t know.