Monthly Archives: March 2019

Since You’ve Been Gone

Dear Clarence,

It’s a year today since you moved out of this life and into the next. I remember your calmness when you left the world. The way your eyes twinkled at the end. Your words were full of love, and we surrounded you with everything we had, holding onto you until the last moment. Until we had to let you go. We had talked about what might lie on the other side of death, and what you might find there. Your last words were, ‘I hope I get to go for a swim.’ I sure hope you did, honey.

In case you don’t know, here’s what’s happened since you’ve been gone. I stumbled my way through spring and went into the summer full tilt, handling my emotions by never pausing for a moment. Like a shark that has to keep swimming, I felt as though something terrible would happen if I stood still for even a moment. I got a little bit kooky about it, and you’ll be glad to know that the neighbors intervened in the kindest way. One day, I’d been working in the garden for twelve hours, when they suggested I take a break and head inside. I’m pretty sure that right then, I needed to be told what to do. The yard definitely benefited from my ongoing mania. I’ve been renovating, too, and joined a weight class, which you would love. And the new ER you worked so hard for is finally finished. I hear that it’s lovely.

Every first thing we do without you is hard. The kids coming home in the summer, all the birthdays, including yours. My first time in the canoe without you paddling behind me. First Halloween. First Christmas. And now, a whole new year in which you never lived for even a day. Do you know how strange that is? Things are happening around the planet, and it’s all a little scarier without your calm perspective.

I didn’t understand that I would have to be brave. I believed that the need for it would be over once your suffering had ended. But when you died, it felt like parts of my body had been cut away and the pain was going to kill me. It didn’t, and that was hard, too. Because then I had to learn how to live without you. Which sounds like a line from a cheesy love song, but is actually true.

I didn’t really understand the forever-ness of it. Like, maybe you’d pop your head around the corner and say, ‘Just kidding. I’m still here!’ But that happens only in my dreams. Every day, those of us left behind arm ourselves with pep talks, with friends, and with plans for a future that does not include you. Every now and then, a wave of grief comes out of nowhere and knocks me off my feet. But grief has to win sometimes, because that’s part of this journey that has no map.

We’re celebrating you today in Banff, Clarence. We’re going to illegally scatter a tiny bit of your ashes somewhere near the hotsprings, one of your favourite places, and then read a poem by Leonard Cohen. It’s beautiful, so I’m going to print it out here. It’s called Dimensions of Love.

Sometimes I hear you stop abruptly
and change your direction
and start towards me
I hear it as a kind of rustling
My heart leaps up to greet you
to greet you in the air
to take you back home
to resume our long life together
Then I remember
the uncrossable dimensions of love
and I prepare myself
for the consequence of memory
and longing
but memory with its list of years
turns gracefully aside
and longing kneels down
like a calf
in the straw of amazement
and for the moment that it takes
to keep your death alive
we are refreshed
in each other’s timeless company

It’s from his latest poetry collection, The Flame, which I am in love with. Reading poetry helps.

After that, we’ll go for a swim in the hot springs. I’m going to imagine that somewhere across a thin divide, so very close to us, you’ll be having your own swim. You’ll be right beside me like you used to be, and even though I won’t see you, perhaps I’ll feel you there. And that will be its own kind of joy. Those moments when we celebrate you hold me together. So in future blogs, I still might make fun of your wardrobe like I used to. I might talk about the crazy things you did while you were here. And when I write those things, I’ll be telling you and everyone else another thing that’s true. I’m not ready to let you go.

Dear Lois (A Community Choir Lament)

I have failed you. Today at choir, I tried to do exactly what you do every Saturday. Sing enthusiastically, learn the part, and then record it for altos who like to practice during the week. I didn’t get the job done.

In my defense, which is a poor one, I have a bad cold and I’m not handling it well. I haven’t been sick since the fall of 2017 and frankly, I’m as whiny as a man with a cold. Yet staying home and watching TV is boring, so today, I decided to show up for choir practice. I had promised to do this for you, after all. And now, in my highest  operatic alto voice, here is my litany of THINGS THAT WENT WRONG.

First, a hissy shout out to the composers of the Mamma Mia music book (Don’t worry…it’s not Abba’s fault) who charge a fortune for their score and then leave parts out. That’s right, non musical people. A professional score, missing whole bars and measures of music, is what we’re dealing with here. The musical debuted in 1999, for heaven’s sake. Isn’t twenty years time enough to fix all the mistakes? Then there’s the barely legible font, obviously created by a joker with great eyesight.

I know my fellow choir members don’t like it when I use the word ‘dunderhead.’ But for those who talk when we’re supposed to be singing, or repeatedly find themselves singing the wrong song, it works. Today, I fit the description so well, I should inscribe it on a hat. A warm one, because I live in the north.

Because of the cold, my head is stuffed with cotton and my lungs are making strange wheezing sounds, like a badly tuned organ. My choir binder is neat and organized, because I thought it was complete. But we got handed a bunch of new music for the bowing part at the end (seriously, the bows take that long? It’s like 100 pages.) The altos were practicing in another room, under the tutelage of Courtney, our local librarian. Instead of beating us about the head with her book, she kept apologizing, as if the person who messed up the score for the musical wasn’t to blame for our current struggles.

Fuzzy headed, couldn’t find the right page, and it was way too warm inside the school. I was really feeling the lyrics to that song, ‘It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes.’ (not part of Mamma Mia, sadly.) I’d walked to choir, and had layered my Lulu Lemon tights beneath my jeans. Courtney, who’d taken us page by page through the music, says, “Are We Ready?” At this point, I’m trying to undress, crouching with one foot out of my jeans and one in, and hopping around like an uncoordinated frog. “Wait,” I called out. “I haven’t got my pants off yet.” I swear the whole alto section gave a massive sigh in complete unison which sounded lovely and would have been perfect if it was part of the score.

I kept dropping my pencil, losing my highlighter, needing a Kleenex, trying not to cough, ( I think I left a lung on the floor somewhere) and trying to record with the new app I downloaded, like you asked me to, Lois. Yes, I have a cell phone. I have apps. But I couldn’t figure out how to re-record, or even start afresh, and then I dropped more things and I guess I should apologize to Beth and Susan who sat beside me. I should probably move through life wearing a sign that says, ‘Sorry for being so annoying all the time.’ I could colour coordinate it with my dunderhead hat.

Anyway. I did not record the parts, Lois, and for that, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.

ps. Don’t worry about the missing bars from Mamma Mia. I’m sure they’ll show up by the time you get home.