A week ago…
A friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer at the start of 2015. Since then, she’s been in and out of hospitals, undergoing all sorts of treatments, fighting the long battle to a hopeful recovery, a recovery that became less hopeful as the months went by. She’s now been in hospital for the better part of the year. She has bed sores and blisters on her feet from rubbing against hospital sheets for the past six months. Cancer is winning. She is dying. She is only 41 years old.
Last time I saw her, back in July, she was in excruciating pain and she felt nauseous and I don’t think she was really up for visitors but still, still, she welcomed us in and made jokes. She was as graceful as she’d been her entire life, before she was ever bound to that hospital bed. And I sit here with my own 41 years and I fret and I fret. I fret that I’m not good enough. I fret about what people think of me. I fret about the white hair patch growing at my temples (probably due to all the fretting) and I fret that there isn’t enough time but time doesn’t give a shit. Time keeps going and catches up with everyone in the end, no matter how we try to outrun it or how much we waste it.
If she could, she would ask for more time. If she were given one more week, one pain-free week, she would make every single second of that week count. In true Jackie fashion, she’d be up for it. She’d gather all of her favourite people around her and she’d dance the night away with them. She wouldn’t get caught up in all the noise.
The things we take for granted. That they will be there forever, the ones we love. The crook between my husband’s arm and his chest, right above the arm pit, the place where I rest my head at night, from where he can just reach to kiss my temple, before I go to sleep, after he’s brushed my hair aside. His heart beating in his chest. My daughter’s piglet snore. Warm breath, like a greenhouse. She’s alive and she’s healthy and tomorrow morning she’ll lie between us like she always does in those 15 minutes before one of us stretches and takes the morning shift after she’s either waved her hands to tell us that she’s thirsty or clapped them, demanding food. People everywhere lose children everyday. To illness, to accident, to unfair fate. People every day lose mothers and fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, friends.
I’m trying to stay focused on the here and the now, on wiping small hands and noses clean of orange spaghetti sauce. On doing the same fake sneeze that I’ve done a hundred times before, because it makes her laugh and her laughter is a sunrise that keeps on rising. My world right now seems small: a bag clip, a jam jar lid, a red block, a toothbrush, a yellow highlighter, a finger puppet, a mitten. An apron with deep pockets and her filling it, and emptying it, and filling it back up again. My world seems small but it is so full. Meanwhile, my friend is lying in a hospital bed tonight with a tumour the size of a grapefruit and her husband is holding her hand while she dies. There are a million ways in which this is unfair.
My dad cried when they removed his intubation tube. I was not there to hold his hand while he slowly slipped away, each breath slower than the last, but I imagine that it was a single tear, like the kind you see in the movies. They, the nurses, said that it’s because it hurts the patient’s throat when they remove the tube. I think it’s the dying’s way of saying farewell to this life, to everyone they ever loved. Or maybe they are seeing something of such exquisite beauty, something we’ll only see when we go, maybe it’s the big secret finally revealed, the sweet release from everything that ever bound us to our fears, to our insecurities, to our mistakes, to our regrets… to the things that prevented us from living fully.
She died several hours after I wrote that post. Yesterday was her funeral and it was both the most heartbreaking and beautiful, befitting service that I’ve ever been to. A gospel choir, Amazing Grace, hundreds of people mourning the woman who touched so many lives. I kept thinking about how strong she had been over the past two years. How strong her husband was. How they kept each other going. How their love for each other kept them going. How he slept in a hospital bed, beside her, most nights. How frightening it must have been for both of them when they finally realised that there was nothing else they could do, but wait, for time to take her away. The courage of people in their darkest hours is astonishing.
There are very few people in this world who carry a light within them. An inner light that shines like a beacon and shows the way. A light that keeps shining bright long after they’ve gone. People who inspire you to be a better person. I don’t think I ever saw Jackie in a bad mood. She was unflappable, joyful, hilarious, ever lovely. She was the first person I ever talked to back when I was still living in Montreal. It was Nuit Blanche, I was up late, walking down St-Laurent. Joe was partying with his mates somewhere in west London. He called. It was complete chaos in the background, I couldn’t hear a thing and before I knew it this girl grabbed his phone and started to chat with me, telling me she couldn’t wait to meet me, how happy I made Joe and that I had to move to London NOW. I couldn’t tell from her accent whether or not she was British and she said “Girrrrrrrl, I’m from Chicago.” I liked her instantly. She made me feel welcome before I’d even arrived. That was Jackie. Open arms. Always up for it. Completely alive. On a friend’s shoulders at Hyde Park, rocking out to the Rolling Stones. And I was one of the lucky ones to have met her.
I don’t know what happens or where we go, if anywhere, when we die. But I do know that Jackie knew how to live fully. And I feel like the only way that I can honour her life is to live my own life to its fullest, to not take those little moments for granted — the everyday, the minutes and hours between the big things, those minutes and hours that make a life — to be brave, to let my own light shine. In her honour, in her husband’s honour, in my father’s honour, in life’s honour.
I hope that this Thanksgiving weekend you give thanks for those people who shine a light in your life. They are the ones who make this world a better place, long after they’ve gone. And aren’t we the lucky ones to have known them.
“As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” ~Marianne Williamson
Sometimes, when I have spare time on my hands (hahahahaha), I like to snoop behind the scenes of this blog. It looks a bit like my sock drawer back there — messy, mismatched, full of holes, colourful. I don’t care much for stats. I much prefer to pretend that my mom is the only person who reads this blog (hi mom), which isn’t too far of a stretch. But I do occasionally get a kick out of seeing the random search terms that people use to find my blog. Makes me wonder what kind of a show I’m running over here.
- a nice message to a bride
- bob dylan overlooking alhambra palace
- does something change when you turn 38
- female turning 34 what to expect
- going to miss ma job
- he farts before he sits down french canadian expression
- how delicate is our universe
- i am farting in french
- i am so adore to you
- if someone stuck in traffic what would you say to them
- junk built greenhouses
- kilt piss
- me without my knickers
- mom no more rack
- my bad habits be impatient
- pictures of the dear august
- reasons to adorn someone
- steph’s big nostrils
- bacon gnome
- how unworthy is my scribbling
- saliva meme
- band-aid broken hearts
- the reason i like him
- the secret of life
- tin shed bar on the middle of nowhere
- touque ache
- unicorn room
- what are things you should have accomplished by 39
- what does lache pas la patate mean
- what is it that one thing you’ll miss, if u r about to die
What a week! And it’s only Tuesday. I’m afraid I must choose sleep over writing tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s the Jeopardy theme tune.
He arrives on the scene drunk. His hair disheveled, short, curly, salt, pepper. His lips the size of collagen implants. He wears a jean jacket with his shirt untucked and unbuttoned down to his navel. He grabs a seat in front of a man who is reading a book and smoking a cigarette and wipes the wet table with his hands. The man with the book gives him change to buy a coffee. He takes a puff of his cigarette, looks around then goes back to reading his book. He wears a green ring on his little finger. He has ears the size of an elephant’s. The drunk man stumbles into the café and buys a coffee, then comes back with a cocktail napkin and starts to wipe the table again. He spills water in the ashtray, on the man’s cigarette. The cigarette is soaked. The table is soaked. The napkin, too, is soaked. The drunk man keeps wiping the table with his hand. The other man gives him a crossword puzzle and a pen. They both light a dry cigarette and drink their black coffees. The drunk man answers a crossword clue, osier, and passes it on to the man with the book.
They must be brothers for their features are too similar. One reads The Education of Henry Adams; the other looks like he spent the night in a cardboard box. They take turns filling in the crossword puzzle. Very little words are exchanged except those on the page.
I’d like to say that I remember what happens next but the year was 2010 and the entry ends there. However, I wouldn’t have remembered this scene at all had I not written it down. I love that about writing. That I can travel back to a day in the spring of 2010, to that Second Cup café on Mont Royal, and spy on a couple of strangers at the next table over. Writing is my time machine. A pen and notebook, my constant companions.
I heard the Jamaican man shout before I saw him. From my vantage point, snooping from the living room window like an elderly lady with too many cats, I saw him yank a 3-year-old boy out of a car while shouting at the girl — presumably his girlfriend — with ridiculously long fingernails and breasts pushed up so high that they nearly touched her chin. He opened the door on the driver’s side and lunged at her and she tried to back up with the door wide open. The little boy was stood behind the car and she very nearly hit him, which led to another barrage of insults, the likes of which I couldn’t understand, but which ended with fassyhole and dutty stinking gyal.
He walked off, pissed off, with the poor kid trailing miles behind. And I thought, “What kind of a chance does this kid have?” I’m very much aware of how habits and words and negative behaviours trickle down from one generation to the next. His anger was probably his father’s and his grandfather’s before that. My grandpa’s impatience was my dad’s impatience, is my own. It takes a lot of hard work to break the cycle.
I often think when I shout No! at Wren after she’s tried, for the fourth time, to rip the nose off my face, “Hey, could be worse, my kid could have that Jamaican guy for a dad.” Or I could be the mom who only feeds her sugar and let’s her sit in front of the TV all day. But that’s just me justifying my own behaviours when they don’t feel right, when Wren pokes at that Caron impatience, which I’m working so hard to eradicate from my life. I’ve always said that she’s my little guru and I have a feeling she’ll keep poking until I sort it out.
And yes, Wren could have that dad. And yes, she is far better off than most. She’s privileged compared to so many other kids, even compared to me when I was a child. But no amount of privilege is going to teach her patience, humility, resilience, confidence, compassion, kindness. These things I have to teach her.
And in this world, where (some of) our leaders, let’s be honest here, haven’t evolved much past the Cro-Magnon age, and represent the very opposite values of those that I’m trying to teach my kid, I have my work cut out for me. I must lead by example with a huge, open heart, and hope that the seeds I plant today will grow into something beautiful tomorrow. And it’s not easy to have an open heart. Over the years, things happen, hearts calcify.
I don’t know why I started to write this post and I don’t quite know where it’s going. I just know that I’ve never had to take such hard looks at myself as I have since becoming a mother. The consequences of my own short-comings and inadequacies used to only affect me (and my poor husband). This is no longer the case. I now have a little pixie following me around and imprinting on me every second of the day.
My cousin and I often joke that the Caron impatience gene stops here, with this generation. When Wren sees me react to something in frustration, disdain, fear, anger, impatience, she is learning that’s how one must react in that situation. I have to constantly keep myself in check while also accepting that even though I’m trying to react to situations the “right” way, they may not be the right way for her. Holy fuck, eh?
Compassion, love, acceptance. Repeat.
I never do this. Brew a cup of tea, grab a couple of ginger biscuits from the tin and flip trough a magazine or journal until I’ve stuck the last few cookie crumbs to the tip of my finger and sipped the last drop of tea.
Those couple of hours in the day when Wren is sleeping are usually my Go-Go-Go hours. There’s a drill sergeant up there, calling the shots. Go, NOW! You have two hours, soldier, TWO HOURS (if you’re lucky) to get ALL THE THINGS DONE. Clean the house for the real estate agents, make the phone calls, apply for the jobs, reply to the emails and the text messages, research the nurseries.
But today, I stopped. It is blowing a hoolie out there. Yellow leaves are flying past my window. The sky is grey. The tall tree across the street is almost bare. I didn’t even notice it slowly undressing, so busy I was with the busyness of doing. And so I lit a candle, brewed a cup of tea, grabbed a couple of ginger biscuits from the tin and flipped through A Year Between Friends. I took 20 minutes for myself without an agenda and, most importantly, without thinking about what I should be doing. Those 20 minutes were like a balm for my soul. Sometimes, I simply looked up from my book and watched the steam rolling off my cup or the sun poking out from behind the clouds and traveling up and down my wall. The flowers in the vase, the faded lily, the bunting that has been up (and really must come down) since June, the old clock that doesn’t tick, the hole in my sock where my second toe sticks out above all the others, the family photo, the wool blanket on the couch. A Year Between Friends* makes you stop and pay attention to the beauty in your own ordinary world. And it is such a wonderful stroll through the seasons. From pink blossoms to corn on the cob to piles of leaves at your feet and snow-filled forests. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me miss home. But although it was the catalyst, it was also the antidote to homesickness. I really must take 20 more often.
What small ritual do you do to take time for yourself?
*I wanted to make this book last, I really did. I wanted to taste just a bit of it every day. But I totally devoured it in a couple of sittings and now, I want to bake all the cakes and make all the crafts and live in all the photos.