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.
Tara Scientific Laboratories was formed as a registered partnership on August 1, 1990. I owned 60% and Mom and Dad each had 20%. The main focus of Tara was to provide analytical services to business, government and the public. Our project began in July, 1990 when we looked for the best location to run the lab. We chose a suite in the old Medical Arts Building on North Cumberland Street in the Port Arthur side of Thunder Bay. It was a good location for us in that it once had a medical lab in it. The building wasn’t designed to accommodate a lab like ours, but we adapted it to our needs. We made renovations to the suite, built benches and set up the equipment. A bank loan for $50,000 covered our start up costs such as two analytical instruments and supplies. To be honest we could have used twice the money. We also had to decide on a name for our business. One evening as we sat in the living room Mom suggested, “What about Tara?” Tara was the ancient capital of Ireland. Dad and I liked it. Then Dad added Scientific Laboratories. I drew the logo by stylizing a Celtic “T” from the ancient Irish text the Book of Kells.
Just after returning to Thunder Bay from London, and while I was starting Tara, I also began studying for a PhD in Health and Human Services with a professor at Columbia Pacific University, CPU, in California. I followed the curriculum set by CPU, conducted the research in my lab, corresponded with a mentor in Minneapolis that CPU appointed to me and the professor at CPU monitored my progress. My days were spent working in my lab and many evenings and weekends studying for my doctorate during the first five years of running Tara.
Soon after starting Tara I realized that my chemistry skills were only half the job. The other half was the administration of the business. Sometimes it seemed the paper work was more important than the analysis. I should have taken a secretarial course. Like Dad I didn’t have the mindset for the intricacies of accounting, paper shuffling and the like. But Mom loved it. She took care of the office and worked with Sherry, our bookkeeper, who tracked payroll and taxes. I kept abreast of the daily ins and outs of the accounts.
Tara was demanding and never a 9 to 5 job. I got to know what 18 hour work days were like. Weekdays, after putting in a full day, I came home, ate dinner, watch an hour of TV and then Tara called me back until eleven o’clock often with Dad coming with me. I returned home, hit the sack and did it again the next day. If I didn’t have to go back to Tara I worked on my PhD.
Tara was like a temperamental love. I never knew what she was going to throw at me from one day to the next. Some days went smoothly and others did not. I went from being swamped with work to having little to do.
Catharine had a steady full time job and she was able to send a fair bit of business my way from her workplace. Dad was still working at McKellar Hospital for the first two years of Tara. I worked the mornings and went home for lunch. Mom came back with me in the afternoons to take care of the office while I ran errands, carried on with lab work or whatever else needed my attention.
Saturday mornings I spent catching up on things such as invoicing and finishing off a letter or report. For the most part I stayed away from Tara on Sundays. One night a week I tried to get out and see a friend. It was long and hard work but I didn’t mind because Tara was mine. I was building my future with the goal of becoming established enough to employ a staff so I could gear down.
I was my own boss and Tara never told me I wasn’t able do something. Once I became the owner of a business I gained instant credibility. I took part in trade shows, manned display booths, gave talks, offered demonstrations and presented workshops as required to operate my business. When I started in the back of my mind were the voices of the people who told me I wouldn’t be able to teach or speak to groups. The words of a self-assured University Professor echoed in my head. “You won’t ever be able to teach.” Despite my challenges I was successful in business.
Tara Scientific Laboratories became known for doing unique, out-of-the-way analyses for entrepreneurs, government ministries and university researchers. These projects were anything but routine. They tended to be one-time, occasional or as-needed tests that paid for themselves but didn’t generate much income. Therefore many labs weren’t interested in them.
These were the projects that were really interesting and often fun. We had to scratch our heads a bit, use our imagination, research the methodology and think about how to tackle the problem. Dad was in his element. I liked them too but I mainly took care of the routine testing.
We advertised that we analyzed garden soil nutrients. The next day an interesting project came through the door. A man walked up to our front desk carrying a large bucket of soil. We had advertised that we only needed a small jar of soil. However he didn’t want the soil tested but the earthworms in it.
We accepted the challenge. There was no method for analyzing earthworms for nutrient content that we knew of. This required some thought. First off if he wanted his worms back after we were finished he was out of luck. They would meet their demise in a blender. Next we had to decide on the ratio of how many worms to how much water. This took some experimenting. If the worm to water ratio was too small the nutrient concentration would be too weak to measure. We went by weight of worms rather than number. Since the worms were in the soil we had to wash them off in a strainer before we could weigh them. Worms don’t stop wiggling for even a second. They kept crawling up the sides of the strainer. A few managed to avoid their fate by escaping down the sink drain before we could catch them.
With the worms cleaned we proceeded to weigh them. Weighing wiggly worms is an art more than a science. We had to be quick weighing them before they squirmed up the sides of the tall glass beakers. When we had a predetermined weight of worms we added a measured amount of water to the blender, dropped the worms in, put the lid on tight, pressed the button and zzzzzzzzzzzz worm puree. We were fast. It was all over for the worms before they knew what was happening. We filtered the puree and tested for the various nutrients. Once our customer had his results he left and we never saw him again. I don’t know what he did with the information. What I can tell you is that earthworms are high in dietary protein and have virtually no fat.
Another time we were involved in a government research project to analyze the nutrients in moose hair to see what nutrients the moose got in their diet. Hair must first be burned to ash before it can be tested. Burning hair produces a lot of smoke and burning moose hair smells a lot like marijuana. A fume hood vented the smoke outside. During the burning process we stood by the window and watched people’s heads turn toward the cloud of marijuana-smelling smoke as they walked by. All the time we were ashing the moose hair samples we cringed as we looked out the window and kept an eye on the door. “The cops are going to show up any minute.”
Tara and study consumed my life for five years. In April, 1995, I graduated with my PhD in Health and Human Services. I’d had more than enough with schooling by then and I swore that, apart from taking an evening course for interest’s sake, it was no more classes for me. But as they say, famous last words.
Two months after I graduated I hired a woman named Judy for the summer. In July I took my first vacation since I started Tara. Mom and I spent the month visiting as many relatives as we could in England, Ireland and France while Dad and Judy ran the lab. The time away recharged my batteries and I was ready to tackle Tara with renewed vigour when I got back.