Small Graces

Taking in the smallest of pleasantries of each day; the one note call of a nearby bird, the monarch that circles the oak tree overhead, my husband contentedly napping in the afternoon sun.

Rebalancing, recalibrating, reigniting.


Two and half months have passed since I was at my moms bedside, along with my sister and our husbands, as she took her final breath. I daily relive that moment and all the moments I had in her company. My routine of spending several days a week with her over the years leaves a vacuum. My siblings and I were prepared; we had many occasions over the last several years to think her passing could happen at any time as she steadily approached her nineties. But she always rallied. And we sighed and smiled and carried on.

On her 93rd birthday in December mom was spunky, chatty; she ate pizza, and cake. She joked and laughed. She was more herself then, and over the month that followed, than she had been in a while.

Then, in February she wasn’t. Dementia quickly tightened its clutch. We did what we could to console, comfort and calm her, never leaving her side during that last fretful week. It was the hardest thing to do. Prepared but not prepared. Yet thankful to have been there with her.

I gave her eulogy at her service and managed to get through without breaking down. As long as I kept my eyes on my page, as long as I didn’t look into the eyes of the family and friends that were there listening. Strange how grief can become cloaked in the diversions and mechanical elements of taking care of the responsibilities of seeing to the details of funeral arrangements. There is business to take care of, facilitated by having a focused, clear head.

But also I tempered my grief with an understanding that she had been graced with a long and good life and that I made lots of time for her, especially the last thirteen years; that we had a lot of fun together. But grief is a wily thing. Some take solace in a religion, believing they will see their loved ones again in the after life just as they were in this life. I won’t argue on something no one can attest as fact. And I’m not here to question. Whatever gives us peace.

But I have heard the “after life” caveat used as a rational for them not being there with a sick, and also an aging relative. That it’s ok, they will see them on the other side. They say it’s easier to confront death when one “believes.” Maybe.  But it’s certainly convenient.

My personal belief has always been that all living things are eternal energy that never expires. We change, we disperse out of our human form, but always exist. We are a body of elements eternally in flux. I can look to nature, the universe, and know I and all are intrinsically woven, and for me that is my comfort. So, I believe to be with someone while we are here in our physical body only happens here, during this time. It matters more to be with them, right here right now, in this life rather than believing you will be with them in an after life.

Over the years I’ve lost my dad and two of my brothers; had been at their side as they passed. I’ve lost two girlfriends and, regrettably, wasn’t there enough. And with each of these passings my convictions have only strengthened. Be here now with the ones you hold dear. And whatever religious belief one follows or doesn’t follow grief will find some way for release. Realization settles down in us that we will never see that person again.

The other day a girlfriend posted that her younger brother suddenly passed away.  Words under the photo of her brother that commented on ‘the happier times we all once spent together, and now, today, all we talk about is how much we loved him’, undid me. Triggered my grief, and I gave way.

I miss my dad and my brothers deeply. I can’t call on them anymore – and I carry a regret for not valuing  the time with them more fully while they were here.

I miss my mom deeply, and I continue to see her face and hear her voice, her laugh. And, like a phantom limb I reach to touch, I feel I should right now be at the senior village visiting her, after all weeks have gone by, I’ve been away too long – but it has slowly, solidly sunk in that that isn’t my life anymore, because she is no longer physically in my life anymore. But she was, and I claimed as much of it as I could while she was here.



Mothering Mother

I have an elderly mother who I am very close to. She has outlived her first husband my father, of 58 married years, and also outlived her second husband of four years; he was eighty when they married. She has outlived two sons and a daughter-in-law. My mom is ninety-three, she suffers from dementia and lives in a full care facility not far from me.

I spend many days a week with her, helping her to eat her lunch because she can no longer manage cutlery on her own, and stroll her in her wheelchair around the hallways because she can no longer work her chair on her own. I listen and nod as she talks, although the words and sentences no longer make sense. But she is looking at me and smiling while she talks, seeming to understand what she is wanting to share. That’s enough.

Care facilities are, by another name, a place of endings. A constant reminder that nothing is going to get better. Any changes my mom experiences are going to be for the worse. Her new milestones are reached but not celebrated, only solemnly acknowledged because they aren’t the milestones of progress as when we would watch, for example, our children reach theirs; first tooth, crawl, steps, school.

The milestones of my mom are milestones of Lasts. I was trying to remember the last time my mom was able to get into my car and go out for a drive to the beach she loved, where we used to go frequently; sometimes picking up some burgers and park the car facing out to the water, eating and talking, watching people walk their dogs. Then, when was the last time she walked, the last time she fed herself, the last time she knew my name.

In the past six months her Last’s have increased exponentially, and each last brings her closer. And I know it’s coming, the day, and it will break my heart in a million pieces when it does. But I know that my heart can remain full in knowing I gave her as much as I could, did what I could. I was there, as I am now, to comfort her from the fear and confusion that stole her peace of mind; like a parent reassuring a small child that all is well there is no monster under the bed, I am here.

I take comfort in that she had a long life. Has. And I do focus on the positives she can experience in her days; when she does engage in conversation, when her never failing humour will slip in when least expected and we can laugh together, and her never ending gratitude extended to everyone with ‘Bless your heart’.

I also ask myself how could I come to mourn someone gifted with living well into their nineties when my two nieces lost a father, and another two nieces and a nephew lost both parents when they all were young? I can’t. But I will. Regardless how long or short a time we have them with us.

Yet living to such an advanced age is what we all desire- we couldn’t do more, and if you have your adult children around to look after your care and quality of life, that is the best of what we could hope for in life. How can we be sad when they pass? Of course we are still sad. Losing a parent at any age will carry its weight of grief.

It is all still hard, because- she’s my mom, and I’m bracing for The Day, as I braced for the day when my father, and then my brothers each passed from cancer. With my mother’s dementia it is a long and lingering goodby as, piece by piece, parts of who she is take leave, what remains is a shadow of who she was.

My part is to be her touchstone, that maybe deep within her memory she knows she’s not alone, that she knows she has her family near to keep the night-light on in her dark room.





Why Would You Leave When It Was So Good?

Just over broke, entrenched for long hours with foul mouthed, sweat soaked bodies slamming sauté pans onto every open fire late into the night you bang out Steak Frites, Confit de Canard, and Gratine des Halles. Chits strung like white prayer flags, or flags of surrender, and carry the threat of pulling the entire line down in a death spiral into the weeds. Plates crowd the pass, you lean into the ear of whoever is expediting tonight but who is so fucking mired and shout out an impatient Pick Up  as you lock incriminating eyes on the new server darting through the mayhem of a Saturday night rush. 

You in the after hours with your comrades join other back of house brigades from surrounding culinary dens and seep out into the late hours, released from your lines, seeking out the cool down places and a cold one gripped in a calloused hand impervious to heat and lean on the sticky bar with tattooed arms filmed over with grease. Your wife already accustomed to not waiting up. 

That life, like a proving ground for showing your grit, prowess and speed, your staunch regard for the industry’s swagger. An outlaw with a ten inch french knife and a microplane, part of a brotherhood in aprons, worn like armour; scars and burns like medals of honour.

 Yet at mid-life you owned no home, put aside no savings, and could barely make rent. Barely enough for drugs, but your long arms had that life in a full body embrace. And when you casually penned that exposé to the New Yorker that pulled the stained sheet off the nation’s restaurant kitchens you once served time in you didn’t expect to shoot like a cork into another dimension. A trajectory that spun you around the world a hundred times over, that windfall that erased all your past hardships and filled your coffers; the prize that took you off the line for good.

And you found true love, and had a baby girl. For her you got clean.

And then us, your prime time entourage, took hold and followed you into those far reaching lands, becoming students of the curriculum you dished out on food that defines these places. 

And because we knew the hardships you overcame we celebrated your good fortune, because you were the real deal. No pretence shadowed your motives. Obvious to everyone that you held the world by the tail. You had once said of your new life, that you felt like you had stolen an expensive car and kept looking in the rear view mirror for the flashing lights. We understood you came through the mire, and you made something real and soulful and honest. So maybe we could do that too. 

And when you have the network finally heeled to your creative vision, you love what life unfolded for you. You said so. You look so happy.  Steadfast to your own terms, never succumbing to the lurid lure of a sell out. Embraced and folded into a hundred million hearts as kin, you are one of us. We never faltered or showed concern you would one day not come. You are riding that wave, shoreline still far off in the distance. Instead you decide to shed your body on a summer day in a lovely room at the Hotel Chambard.  Abrupt as suicides are, that decision reached in a quiet moment, liquified the ground beneath the feet of the ones who took you in, leaving all behind to question, leaving your young daughter to question the unanswerable.



Old Prodigy?

A three year old sits at a Steinway and bangs out a little something by Bach, an eleven year old knocks out huge abstract paintings with as much depth and experience as Picasso at the height of his career, an eight year old belts out an operatic piece with a richness that should have only been achievable after years of training and practice, a six year old rips up some blues riffs on a Stratocaster twice her size that would blast Clapton off the stage.

And then there’s technology. The nine-year old Microsoft certified technology specialist, the fourteen year old college student with sites on graduating at seventeen with a master’s degree. There’s more where they came from.

So where are the proverbial ‘Dues’ that we associate with this kind of skill and talent that were supposed to be paid in a million seedy night clubs, in years of mentoring under a master, and years of investment in universities- straining through calculus and higher maths?

What causes this kind of fully developed expression to be realized by these fresh, unsullied, half-pints? Where is the hard-won grinding life experiences to validate their being allowed to fathom and harness a sense of a confusing, beautiful, complex, tragic, heartbreaking, spectacular world?

But we love them don’t we? We marvel, we parade them across the stage without questioning their ‘credentials.’ The talent they present is accepted at face value, applauded and encouraged. Dues paid are never addressed.

I don’t want to go into in-depth speculations about how and why prodigy behaviour may manifest in some individuals, you know, the musings of incarnation or spirits of old masters vying for a posthumous come back. I’ll save that for another post.

I’m curious that the phenomenon of Prodigy apply only to prepubescent individuals, and found this article.

Dr. Joanne Ruthsatz,

…”Prodigies have a nature component that all the nurturing in the world can’t compensate for. There is a biological difference that kicks in with these kids and they become obsessed with their work and want to engage in their art or play the piano all the time, even though they are ordinary kids in the sandbox.”

That excerpt, and especially the phrase “a biological difference that kicks in” made me think that there might be something to that curiosity I had been mulling over for a few years. Which is if older individuals can be prodigy’s?

I had assumed it doesn’t occur because we never hear stories about an octogenarian who suddenly taps into a full-fledged talent which caused them to flourish in unbridled creative pursuits.

But if being a prodigy means something “kicked in” then why could it not be possible that this something can kick in or awaken at any time in one’s life?

Maybe the only advantage a child prodigy could have over an adult or senior “prodigy” could lie in the fact a child is not sullied and bogged down with woe and heartbreak. And debt. Their mind isn’t cluttered with the ways of the world.

Their mind is more like an open conduit to the creative spark, not yet conditioned and manipulated by societal constricts, leaving room for creative ingenuity to fill in societal conformity has yet a chance to dominate.

So why not us? The middle-aged, the seniors. Are we so calcified and brittle and rutted?

A whisper in the back of my mind is saying –mmmm probably.

I googled “Cases where a senior citizen suddenly exhibits prodigal behaviour.” The list read like a roster of symptoms one would see in a mental institution: Brain damage, Delirium or Sudden Confusion, Unusual or Strange, then ending with Savantism and Autism.

It appears this ‘Biological Difference’ kicking in is a sweet thing if you’re five, just not so much if you’re seventy-five.

If anyone has some stories of “mature” individuals they would like to share I’m all ears!



Whatever, I’m easy.

Do you want to go to such and such place or do you want to go to the other? Do you feel like eating Greek or Thai or at home? Would you like to schedule a time for now or then?

When I’m with someone and I ask any of these questions I really do want some feedback, an opinion, a suggestion, some help in deciding. Because two or more individuals are obviously involved in the scenario, this is diplomatic behaviour, to ask the question, to want to involve the other person in a final decision. It is open for discussion, so discuss! That’s democracy.

So then it’s no surprise it exasperates me when I ask those questions of someone I’m with and instead of some constructive input a volley of ‘I don’t know, whatever, I’m easy, where, what, when do you want to…?’ is trolled out.

C’mon, I offered some choices for crying out loud – help narrow things down!

I’ve come to the conclusion that those responses of ‘I don’t care, whatever, I’m easy’  are tactics in handing over control, sending the message of not wanting to commit. It could even be an act of passive aggression. It means evading any responsibility to the outcome of the decision.

Not wanting to risk making a “bad” decision and take the blame, especially if it doesn’t pan out as hoped. Like if a restaurant I may have suggested turned out to serve horrid tasting dog mash on a plate. Could be countered with, “Why did you pick that restaurant?”

Worse yet is the ‘Whatever, I’m easy’ person who complains and blames if all didn’t go according to your decision ( because remember, they didn’t give any input), proving many times that they aren’t as ‘Whatever, I’m easy’ as they propose to be, truth be told.




My mom just celebrated her ninety-second birthday on December thirteenth. Much of my blog content has included experiences of facing the realities of an aging parent, something I never gave a second thought about when I was in my thirty’s. Taking for granted that my parents had each other and they would always as they grew old. Together, in their own home. But of course, it doesn’t play out like that. After fifty-eight years of marriage they separated with dad passing away from cancer at age seventy-seven.

And although mom remarried at seventy-nine, four years later she was widowed again.

When she was eighty-six we took a road trip to Cardston to visit family; this is when I felt the magnitude of understanding that my mom is now all alone. I witnessed how unsteady she was in the morning, that her memory wasn’t as sharp. That no longer is there anyone to wake up to in the mornings, or say goodnight to at the close of the day. She was living alone in Parksville, an hours drive from me, and it gave me concern. I’ve already written about how I managed with this in other blog posts, so I’ll just say it has been a journey.

The last nine years in spending so much time with her has enriched me more in ways that I couldn’t have expected, leading to an even deeper bond with her. Our mother-daughter relationship became a friendship. We talked about everything, laughed a lot, went on drives; and she shared many thoughts and experiences from her life that now as an adult I can appreciate. I was discovering her as a woman, as an individual.

And all of it comes with heartbreak. Watching someone you love slowly lose ground with advanced aging impacting mobility issues, but coupled with dementia; knowing all the things you know about them that they no longer know about themselves, nothing can prepare you. It is the stage in which the child becomes the parent and the parent becomes the child. But instead of watching your “child” growing vigorous and branching out, you’re watching the regression.

Dementia is a thief. Shrinking an entire life into only immediate confusing moments, each forgotten as quickly as they come. But thankfully, over the last several years it has robbed her slowly. If one can be thankful for such a thing. I am thankful in having had the time to spend closely with her before the disease progresses further. As it always does, as it’s doing now. Thankful again that she is imbued with grace and humour, and optimism. This at least hasn’t waned.

Three months ago my sister and I have finally managed to move our mom down from the care facility in Parksville to one in our city of Nanaimo. A move we attempted over two years before when she moved out of her townhouse, but complications arose that kept her in Parksville. In the years since she’s been widowed we’ve done our best in keeping our mom integrated in our lives, and I think we’ve succeeded, short of having her live with one of us. Which, if one of us could have done, we would have.