Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy, healthy, peaceful 2013 to you all

Quietest New Year's Eve ever. When I got home from snowy Ottawa to slightly less snowy T.O. this evening, Sam was here to greet me, and then left for his soiree. Talked to Anna and listened to Booboo, who had shared the smoked bacon corn chowder I gave his mother for Xmas and was howling for more. He has discovered bacon, she said. Happiness is.

I was invited to dine with friends but said no. Don't want to have to smile tonight. It's New Year's Eve, and my beautiful mother is not there; not anywhere. I can't call her. I can't call her ever again.

I'll just curl up with the crabby cat and have a cry.

keeping stuff

I'm calling Mum's friends - Judy says, "She was the most interesting person I ever met." Antoinette tells me that she gave Mum piano lessons - "She was so musical," - and that when the famous soprano Elly Ameling sang in Edmonton, the reception for her was held in my parents' house. "Elegant, beautiful, gracious," are the words they use to describe my mother.

I use those words too, but also, right now, I use the words "pack rat." I don't think my mother ever threw anything out; nothing, not a piece of junk mail, a ten year old calendar, nothing. I know, she grew up in a family with very little money and then survived the Blitz in London and rationing; there was never enough, after that. She kept things, or else she bought new things just like the old things that she couldn't find in the jumble. I just found a bag filled with all her old lipsticks, and a box of perfumes from sixty years ago; the drawer beside her bed was filled not just with half-empty creams and old bottles of medication, but the instructions from all the medications, going back 10 years. She kept every one. But most of all - I kept finding caches of knee hi stockings. Bags and bags and bags and bags.

There is a lesson for me here, incipient pack rat that I am, with lipsticks I don't use in my bathroom. As soon as I get home, they're out. There are 4 large garbage bags by the door here. And a stack of 29 pairs of pants, that I'll take downstairs to the recycling room and leave for people to go through. They do that here.

In terms of other clothes, we got rid of a hefty lot yesterday - Aunt Do happily took two huge suitcases back to her place, and when Mum's caregiver Nancy came for a cup of tea, I invited her to take a look. I said, "Do you know anyone with big feet?" Yes, she did - a whole family of tall women. Nancy took all the shoes! A miracle. Many pairs still in their boxes. It made me sad - my poor mother with her giant feet, dreaming of and buying pretty shoes not quite big enough, that she could never wear. I hope the new owners enjoy them. Nancy also took a lot of sweaters and medical paraphernalia. Much more to come.

I've realized that we need help with this. I'm going to hire someone to do it with me, following with garbage bags and boxes. Mum's storage room is full to the brim. I can't even bear to look inside.

Nancy was the last close person to see Mum, at dinnertime on Christmas eve. "She was comfortable," she said, "but she told me she was very tired." It was good to hear that. She was tired, and she let go.

Last night, her two friends in the building, Una and May, came for dinner with me and Do. It was strange, entertaining Mum's friends in her apartment without her, but Una and May are my friends now, too. We toasted and talked about her and had a wonderful time. They're both too small for her clothes, but I invited them to look at her exotic collection of scarves, and they left swathed - May in a red pashmina poncho Mum had never worn, a variety of others draped about her neck. My mother will be remembered far and wide when her friends put on her lovely things.

And I found a photo album this morning I'd never seen before - pix of my dad as a boy, of me as a baby, my brother. Mum so young. So long ago. So beautiful, elegant, gracious.

Swirling snow in the bleak grey light. Yesterday was sunny but bitter - minus seventeen with a wind that cut to the bone. Today, winter continues. I hope to get home this afternoon, to celebrate New Year's Eve chez moi. What a year 2012 was - a most important birth, a most important death. I pray 2013 will be less portenteous.

PS Moments of laughter. Just opened one of Mum's desks to find a large margarine pot stuffed to the brim with old keys. On the lid, a label that shows my mother's attempt at organization. "Keys galore!!" it says.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

collecting memories

Sunday morning: woke at 5.30 and got up at 7. Mum's condo is something of a disaster, as all the stuff from her retirement residence, including a new bed, was shoved in here by movers. Piles everywhere. I expected to be overwhelmed, but I've been staying here while she's in hospital, so I'm used to being here alone. Still, now, more alone.

Despite the snowstorm yesterday, the plane was only an hour delayed. Ottawa looks, as it usually does by now, like a moonscape of snow. Do came over right away, and we found a quiche in the freezer and drank wine - she had a whole glass! - and talked about Mum. And then she started to tell me stories of her own life. What a treasure she is - with an extraordinarily sharp mind and memory, this woman who greeted my mother on the day of her birth in 1923, who was there when Mum met my father in 1944, when my father died in 1988, who accompanied her sister thereafter on her many trips to Emerg. How lucky we are that she's here.

There is much work to be done; I've started tentatively to open cupboards and drawers. I'd already dealt with the stacks of magazines - Homemakers and Bon Appetit - and the boxes and boxes of recipes. Mum was a collector, if you define a collection as being anywhere from 10 to 100 plus of the same item. Here is a partial list of her collections: combs, nail files, soup crackers, shower caps, silver spoons, nail scissors, Xmas cards, calendars old and new, notepads, handbags, evening bags, spongebags, kneehighs and stockings (hundreds), stuffed animals, cotton blankets, coins, bathrobes, beige pants, turquoise t-shirts. And very large shoes - Mum took size 13 - many of them unworn, in the original box. Where oh where will we find a woman with size 13 feet who needs a lot of shoes? Anyone?

The view outside Mum's window at dawn this morning - a quiet blue snowscape with dots of light. I'm glad there is so much to do. I do not feel sad yet today.

Friday, December 28, 2012

"War Horse"

Just came back from a visit across town with the little family. It's amazing to see my grandson devour Swiss Chalet chicken; talk about an appetite for life. Then Sam and I went on to see "War Horse." I saw it in London in 2009, and stood up, weeping, at the end - I'd had no idea what to expect and was overwhelmed by its artistry. 3 1/2 years later, here's the Canadian production, and I was overwhelmed again. It's a stunning piece of theatre, just about perfect, I'd say - an important story simply and beautifully told, with a goose. I felt I understood something about tigers after seeing "Life of Pi," and tonight, horses. The power and glory of animals.

More uplifting emails and calls from friends near and far. I emailed some recent photos to one of Mum's artist friends, who wrote back that she'd done a sketch of Sylvia in 1974, and she looked exactly the same in 2012. My mother had beautiful British skin, pink and plump with few wrinkles. I joked that it was because her face hadn't encountered the sun until she moved to New York in 1948. Her sister is the same. They'd sit in their hats on the beach in Florida, two pale lilies surrounded by the dark brown and shrivelled.

There's a low-level ache in my gut that is not budging. Right in there, something heavy and cold. Nothing matters much, except family and friends. Annie came by just to give me a hug. Judy has called a special meditation gathering tomorrow morning, so I'll receive the support of that group too, who are mostly older than I, and much wiser. And then I'm flying to Ottawa tomorrow afternoon, to see dear Aunt Dorothy, now very much alone, and to stay in Mum's condo. To see my mother's life without her in it. To be enveloped by her one last time, her things, her photos and books, her artwork, her taste, her life.

It's a fine word - enveloped.

The next time I go up will be for her memorial in mid-January, and then we'll start to pack up her place, distributing furniture and personal belongings to prepare for its sale. And for sure, that's going to be really, really easy.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where have all the flowers gone?

Advice just emailed by my friend Stella: "Wine, water, wine, water, snacks, vitamins, bath, sleep, laugh, chocolate, cry, coffee, nature, wine.  Keep in touch."


I didn't realize before how great is the disturbance in the universe when someone dies. So many have been affected by the death of an elderly woman in Ottawa - many of my friends, even ones who'd never met her, even ones I hardly ever see, are expressing shock and sympathy. (It's hard for me to write 'an elderly woman.' She never admitted she was old and looked askance at other old people. She would not like me calling her elderly. But Mum, you were 89!)

Today my dear friend Ken took me to the Art Gallery to see the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera show, and then to lunch. He listened while I talked and talked, which was exactly what I needed. "Be kind to yourself," he said, as have many others.

So I went to the Y this afternoon, not to work out but to sit in the steam room and be warm. The city has been inundated with snow; waiting for the streetcar meant being splattered every time a car went by. It's beautiful where there are no cars, like my backyard; slushy and horrible where there are.

Despite the thoughtful kindness of friends - and both kids, who called today just to find out how I am - I do feel kicked in the gut today. I haven't even begun to deal with this. We had a great but also strained relationship, my mother and I. This isn't one of those situations where a daughter howls with grief because the one person who supported and loved her unconditionally has gone. Not the case here; much more complicated than that.

And yet as I watched "A Late Quartet" on Christmas Eve, all I wanted was to tell Mum about it - imagine, a movie about a string quartet! - and to discuss Beethoven and Opus 131. We would alert each other when something good was on the radio or TV; we watched "The Choir" together, sometimes on the phone watching at the same time, talking about what the choirmaster Gareth was doing with his latest group of singers. She adored Gareth. I have spectacular loved ones and friends, but there is no one to fill that particular space - the space of two genetically linked people discussing a British documentary about a man who shows non-singers the joy of music. Who will dance to Randy Bachman with me on Saturday nights, long distance?

Well, I'll just dance and remember.

On the reality front, we are trying to make arrangements for various things that need to be done, most importantly to book a place for a January celebration of her life - but it's the week between Xmas and New Year's, and absolutely nothing is open. No one is in. I also have to book a parathyroid ultrasound for myself - a tiny but worrying blip on the horizon - and those offices are closed too. The world shuts down this week. Except for shopping.

Frida Kahlo was hard to take today. Her life is out there, every bit of it - her abortion, blood dripping down her legs, her accident and miscarriages, her tortured love for Diego. I wanted her to do some meditation and learn to let it go. Let it go, Frida! But her suffering was who she was and how she made a living. She became an icon of suffering. A hard way to live.

People are sending me the most beautiful notes of comfort and condolence. The one that made me cry this evening was from my friend and student Ginette, who wrote about her own mother's death, about honesty and grief. At the end, she wrote, "Thank you Sylvia, Beth’s mum.  Everyone who needs to know has your right room number. Rest in Peace."

Thank you, friends, for sending such comfort. And special thanks to Patsy, whose Xmas gift provided a lot of very good chocolate. That helps too.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

James Joyce says it better

Nearly midnight. It's snowing hard, the world is soft and light and beautiful. I opened the back door to watch it, and thought of James Joyce's "The Dead," its incomparable last line. And I thought about my mother, that she will never see another snowfall, and the thought is unbearable.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

first Christmas

Admiring his new day-glo aquarium from Uncle Wayson
chewing his stocking
 chewing his new Caillou doll
not chewing (yet) his tough new bomber jacket bought in New York by his Glamma, who looks, not surprisingly, a little the worse for wear.

And in case this is all too cute, an excellent, sick-making article comparing France's gun laws to the U.S's.


Wright’s Law - Video - The New York Times

Just watched this and wept. My brother-in-law Don had cerebral palsy and I worked, briefly, at l'Arche, the community for adults with disabilities, so this reality is one I know. But his final message to those kids about love - the most important lesson in the world. 

I always have a hard time recovering from Christmas, the stress and chaos and togetherness - but this year, it may take a little longer. I went to a class at the Y today and my friends kept asking, How was your Christmas? Well, I had an unusual answer. Wickedly, I thought of the joke, So apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?

People are incredibly kind - thoughtful, warm, generous. Email from around the world, as friends tell friends. It's overwhelming. The human family. My dear friend Ken said, "How wonderful that you were enveloped yesterday with love." And then he said, "I like that word - enveloped." So do I, Ken. So do I. 

I'm alone now - Anna and the baby left last night, Sam left this afternoon, even my tenant Carol is out. It is blessedly silent. I've cancelled the flights Anna and I were going to take tomorrow to Ottawa, to visit Mum, and rebooked to go Saturday, to spend time with Do, who has been hit hard today. She has looked after my mother for 89 years and now has no job to do. She said, "When you come, we won't be maudlin, we won't sit reminiscing." But I know we will.

My mother was a beautiful marvellous woman and she was a difficult woman too. But today is just about loss.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

a life

A day of fog and grief - and family and love. Blessed, truly. Two days ago, May, a friend of Mum's, was at the hospital visiting her and called here, and I had my last talk with my mother. She was distressed, going on about being moved and asking May to check the number of her hospital room. I could hear how upset she was; it was heartbreaking. She had had enough.

It is terrible not to be there, to accompany a parent on her last journey. I was there with - for - my father. But the fact is that even if I'd been in Ottawa, I would not have been in her hospital room at 3 a.m. We talked two days ago, and I told her once again how much I loved her and that I'd be there soon. And she said she loved me, and to check her room number before I came.

One of the many blessings of today is that it has been years since both my children slept under this roof at the same time - and today, here they both were, offering their solid, warm comfort. And particularly, of course, my Eli, mesmerizingly cheerful, the pleasure of holding that strong, wriggly body, watching him absorb the world. Another blessing is that for the first time ever, we had decided not to cook a turkey and do the full Xmas thing - so we had little to do this difficult day except open presents and eat. And watch the Bob Marley documentary Anna had brought, which was wonderful. "No woman no cry... Everything's gonna be all right." What a fine musician and man.

The best moment of a very emotional day - after our Chinese take-out supper, during which Eli sat on a blanket on the floor nearby chewing on and waving about his new toys, my kids got down on the floor to play with him. He sat between them, waving his new Fisher Price hammer - yes, he has his own hammer now, and his own multicoloured cell phone - and his mother and his uncle played with him together. This moment of harmony, after all this family has been through over the years, was balm to my heart.

A few interesting things: yesterday, I happened to see the obituaries in the "Star," and noticed the ones for December 25. Then I thought it was a bad idea to leave this life on Christmas Day, but now I don't - because we will always be together to honour my mother on this day.

But also yesterday, I was determined, suddenly, to see the film "A Late Quartet." Though it has been playing for a while and will continue to do so, it was urgent for me to see it yesterday, required juggling my friend Ron's visit and other obligations. But I got there. It's a spare film about a string quartet that's falling apart, centred on their playing of Beethoven's dark and haunting Opus 131. On my parents' first date in Oxford England in 1944, my father took the stunning six foot tall Englishwoman to an apartment he'd managed to borrow where there was a record player, and they listened to records and wept together over the late Beethoven string quartets - my mother the pianist and my father who played the violin and viola. I owe my existence to Beethoven's string quartets. My father played in an amateur quartet all the years of my growing up, though they were humble enough not often to attempt late Beethoven.

So I spent yesterday afternoon sitting in a cinema thinking of my parents, of their musicality and life-long commitment to making music. More than anything else, their love of music united them. A year ago, I would have taken Mum to see the film. I was going to ask her, today, if Dad's quartet ever attempted Opus 131. I will never know.

Thank you, my mother, beautiful Sylvia Mary Leadbeater, for all you gave me - including my own love of music. You could have given no greater gift.

P.S. Friends who've read my blog or received word have been writing such kind notes. A Christmas of gifts and sadness.


My brother just called. Our mother died at 3 o'clock this morning.

Monday, December 24, 2012

a new Christmas Eve tradition

My Christmas present from my son - today he shopped for and cooked a Christmas Eve meal. Menu: roasted cauliflower with bacon, baked beets, sweet potatoes with brown sugar, tomatoes on the vine poached in garlic oil, and striped sea bass, stuffed with rosemary, lemon and butter, in a sauce of sweet apple cider and caramelized onions.
Oh my. 

Step one - the gutting and the stuffing.
 Step two - the cooking.
 Step three - the appreciating.
Sam was passing as the Christmas tree man packed up - so he snagged a Charlie Brown tree for $10. I don't have a base so stuck it in a watering can and propped it against a wall and found some lights. Voila! It's beginning to look - and feel in my stomach - a lot like Christmas.

Joy to the world. And to all of you.

merry merry merry

This is the elephant my friend Lynn rode yesterday in Kathmandu. She writes that it's strange to celebrate Christmas in a country that doesn't. They're eating salmon tomorrow and managed to get some wine. Maud, her four-year old granddaughter, is going to leave out some reindeer food tonight.

Ca y'est, as they say in France - that's it, I'm into it now. Out today, everyone on the streets saying "Merry Christmas" and bustling about, all the lights - I can even bear the music, as long as it's not "The Little Drummer Boy." I went to a yoga class at the Y, marvelling - This is Christmas Eve and here I am, stretching in peace. In the change-room, ran into a Cabbagetown friend, a young woman with little kids, looking frantic. "My mother arrives in an hour," she said, "and from then on till late December 27th, I'm on. I'll be back here on the 28th to recuperate."
"Hang in there," I said. "When you're 62, all will be calm and bright."

Anna and Eli are at his other grandma's and will arrive later to spend the night here, and Sam is still asleep - at 1 p.m.. There's a little snow on the ground. My oldest friend Ron - from the Fifties in Halifax - is coming to visit this afternoon, as he always does. Even though there's no tree and no turkey, it still feels right. All that matters is family. I spoke to my mother yesterday - she's not making complete sense, but she knows who I am and that Anna, Eli and I are coming. "Can't wait to see you," I said.
"Me too," she said.

That's all that matters.

For your entertainment, one of the silly cat videos that circles around the internet. A moment of relaxation, in your own mad dash to the finish line.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Humbug, with "Silver Linings"

Wayson, visiting recently, began at one point to reel off the stories and books he considers essential to his writing practice - ones he turns to regularly. I ran to get a pencil and paper, to write them down and share them with you.

Herewith: Wayson's Essential Stories and/or Books. Some of them, at least.

Katherine Mansfield: Miss Brill, The Doll's House
Shirley Jackson: The Lottery
William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily
Frank O'Connor: Guests of a Nation, First Confession
Truman Capote: A Christmas Memory
Isak Dineson: Out of Africa
Frank Conroy: Stop Time
Ernest Hemingway: The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Jeanette Walls: The Glass Castle
Laurie Lee: Cider with Rosie
Anything by E. B. White

That should keep you busy for a bit.

Last night, Sam and I watched Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" - what a sublime film. The potato dance! Wonderful to see something so rich, so beautiful, at nearly 90 years old. Like my 86-year old student and friend whose birthday we celebrated last week.

Soon all of this hoo-ha will be over. I went to a class at the Y this morning and had to leave early when the teacher put on very loud disco Christmas music - unbearable. Just about every film on TV is about Christmas. Enough! I am feeling more and more Jewish, sick of the excess. Give it a #$@ rest.

But when Eli arrives, so will my good mood.

Five hours later: Just went to see "Silver Linings Playbook" with Sam. For once, a movie that worked for both of us - really enjoyable, with good writing, acting, story. He was critical of the fairytale ending, and I agree - though that's what'll bring in the crowds. But it's a complex, very well-written, funny and moving film with marvellous acting from a great cast, and it was perfect for both mother and son. Rare. And then we had Thai food and a great talk.

And a Merry Christmas to you too.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

be still, my beating heart

calm in the storm

Snow! Not a big fall, but a beautiful cold blanket; it'll stay for awhile. I hope it helps the Christmas tree man living in his trailer on Spruce Street, who always has a worrying number of trees left about now. I'm especially glad to see the bird feeder in full use on days like this - there they are, the little ones, pecking at breakfast against the white.

In my email this morning - a note with pictures from friend Lynn, who's visiting 3 of her grandchildren in Kathmandu, yes, her daughter works for Handicap International and recently moved with her family to Nepal, so Lynn and Denis have gone to visit. It looks cold there, they're wearing sweaters and hats, but with exotic palm trees in the background; today Lynn will be riding an elephant. And a note from friend Chris in Africa, who writes that today he will be sailing down Botswana's biggest river in a dugout canoe.

And here is Little Miss Stuck-in-the-mud, sitting in her kitchen, watching sparrows in the garden. Bliss. Soon I'll go to the market for some Xmas foodstuffs, and again to the loveliest bookstore in Toronto, Nicholas Hoare, for another book - this one, don't tell her, is for Anna: "A country worth ranting about," by Rick Mercer, a family favourite. My big extravagance at this time of year - hard-cover books. And then across town, for a visit with Booboo and many hugs.

We made a big family decision yesterday. It turns out that for the first time, no one is joining us for Xmas dinner. Usually we have a crowd of neighbours and friends, and I'd ordered a 14 pound turkey from Mark the butcher - smaller than usual. But it seemed absurd to cook all day just for us, so I made a proposal: let's spend December 25th like North America's Jews - though my family always celebrated Christmas, I am half-Jewish after all, and my kids a quarter - and eat take-out Chinese. Enthusiastically endorsed by my kids. We'll cook a big turkey in the new year and invite plenty to share it.

I think about a home video we have, taken here in 1987. We'd been living in this old house a year, and all kinds of things didn't work; my ex was working his usual endless hours, the children were 3 and 6, and much of my family came to spend Christmas with us - my widower uncle the world bridge champion from New York, my parents from Edmonton, my aunt from Ottawa. My father and his brother were gourmet eaters and drinkers, so the food had to be excellent, and I had to find presents not only for my own young kids, but for my uncle to give them, and presents for the grown-ups. I was responsible for kids, house, meals, activities, everyone's happiness, or so I felt. In the video, there's a smiling young woman in a hideous 80's sweater with shoulder pads and giant flowers, bustling around keeping things going and talking in a sugary voice. Underneath her smile, she looks frantic, and she was.

Today - no gourmet demands, no train set to assemble, no special Barbies to find - just a calm coating of snow and a quiet day. The presents, such as they are, were wrapped last night while I watched "Law and Order;" my children are getting books and fun things but mostly money, and Eli is too young to know what it's all about, so his teddy bear and books will be for us to play with. I don't have to rush out to buy last minute gifts and piles of sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. This will be the most relaxed Xmas in decades, which could not be more welcome after the stress of this year. My mother in Ottawa is still up and down - one minute worryingly unresponsive or not eating, the next sitting up, chatting, finishing her dinner. She's still in hospital, and on the 27th, Anna, Eli and I will go up for four days, to visit her. I can't wait.

To all of you out there hurtling into your own holiday season, I do hope you have some moments, in the crazy whirl, for peace and reflection. One suggestion: you are not responsible for everyone's happiness. Another suggestion: take out Chinese.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"Without You," coffee and chocolate

Spoiler alert: some friends will be getting bags of coffee this Christmas. Yesterday, on an incredibly mild December Tuesday, I rode my bike to the Merchants of Green Coffee at Dundas near Broadview, and once more fell in love with the place. It's a comfortable bright open space with the most delicious coffee smell ever, and their beans are as politically correct as is possible and scrumptious too.

Check it out one day, if you live in Toronto, and take home some beans. Now in the morning, I leap out of bed with even more joy than before, because ... which brew shall I taste today? The Jane Goodall? "The Stop community food centre" dark roast? The holiday special "Evergreen Holiday blend" from the Merchants? A cornucopia of coffee.

And another cornucopia - nearby, at Queen and Broadview, is Ambiance Chocolate, also a local artisanal place using politically correct beans. My beloved friend Patsy, from Gabriola Island, has sent me for Christmas a large gift certificate to spend at Ambiance Chocolate. What bliss is this? I can cycle over and plunge into my heady choices - and stop at Merchants of Green Coffee on the way home. Too much pleasure for one day. Almost. I can take it.

Less pleasure this afternoon, another extraordinarily mild day - David Mirvish kindly sends out notices of reduced ticket prices, so I bought a $20 ticket to see "Without You," a one-man musical by actor Anthony Rapp, who was in the original production of "Rent." This piece has been well reviewed internationally, and since I'm writing a one (wo)man show myself - yes yes I am, however slowly - I thought I should see it. Rave review in the "Star" and all.

Well - the Grinch, c'est moi. Drama is about a journey. Take me somewhere, show me something I don't know, how it affects you, what changes. In this show, there's a callow young man at the beginning, and, at the end, a callow slightly older man who has lost both the writer of his hit show and his mother. But otherwise, he is unchanged, and we don't know what these things mean to him, as he bellows his songs at us without mercy. I found it banal in the extreme. Some of the audience, of course, stood up, because he remembered his lines. I applauded the excellent band and got out as soon as I could. We deserve more than warmed-up clich├ęs.

I'd like to leave you with a quote from Maeve Binchy, who died last year and whose latest novel has been recently released.
"I don't have ugly duckings turn into swans in my stories," she told an interviewer, who'd accused her of romance writing. "I have ugly ducklings turn into confident ducks."
RIP the warm and generous Maeve Binchy.

Oh, and one more thing, a community service: a reader called Allison Morris from a site called Online Education read my post on plastic bags and asked me to post this link about the use and abuse of plastic. A good reminder of what we use every day, and about the vital importance of recycling. Thanks, Allison.

the Mayan end of the world

Good thing my Thursday student friends are coming over tomorrow evening, the night before the apocalypse, for our annual potluck dinner. We can eat, drink and celebrate this too too brief candle of life.
If the world is still there on Friday, I may actually have to go Christmas shopping.

Chris's Christmas tree essay in the "Globe"

Longtime friend and student Chris Cameron, a wonderful writer who also sings - or a wonderful singer who also writes - a writer/opera singer, shall we say, who is also learning to be an editor at Ryerson, oh, a man of many accomplishments - anyway, he has a great essay in the "Globe" today, beautifully written and full of his rueful good humour. Here's another Christmas treat for you:

Read this on The Globe and Mail

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Fatass bwana

Check out the size of those paws! Here's something to cheer you up during these dark gloomy days: my friend Chris, from Vancouver, is in South Africa, staying at a lion reserve. He spends time each day watching lions, cheetahs and tigers and playing with cubs. He's an amazing photographer, also, of birds and flowers. Check out his blog at, and transport yourself out of sad, tired North America for a few minutes. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Singing in Times Square

The little video below, on the NYT website today, brought me to tears - the rabid anti-Islamist Terry something or other attempted to hurl his invective at the good folks in Times Square - and the response. Hooray for America, for kind, thoughtful Americans, and - of course - for the magic band who made the music that they sing.


‘The Public Square’'

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas is coming!

Stories we tell

Bowed out of a dinner tonight with my Francophone friends - wonderful as it is to be invited, I've been out the last two nights and tonight needed to sit at my desk and think. It feels like a long time since I've been here. And you can see how much work I'm getting done ... writing to you. At some point, I'll have to stop doing this - too time-consuming. But not yet.

About "Saturday Night Live" last night - my God, it was bad. The level of comedy was appalling, but then, the host was Martin Short. I know he's Canadian, and I don't want to be disloyal, but with the neurotic desperation of his patter, he gives comedians a bad name. My poor Paul had to do a skit with him, which he got through with dignity. And then Macca sang a few songs, including the same one with hairy Nirvana as at the Sandy concert.

I wondered - how long can these guys keep going, the Stones, the Who, Paul? I mean, they're 70. Will they still be singing at 80? 85? They're in good physical shape, all of them, even, incredibly, Keith Richards. But how long will the voices last? Well, one thing is pretty sure - the fans will be there, if the bands are.

Today, something completely different - Sarah Polley's film "Stories we tell," a documentary about her vivacious actress mother, Diane Polley, and about Sarah's discovery not long ago that the man she thought was her father was not; her mother had had a passionate love affair in Montreal, and Sarah goes there to meet her biological dad. The film is a video version of what we do in class - exploring the true stories that matter most. I've heard versions of this story before, in many permutations, students discovering their real parents, including several who found out that the girl they thought was their sister was in fact their mother. There are no more important stories than these, that tell of blood ties, blood relations.

For me, the most moving scenes were not Sarah with her fathers, but when her siblings and half-siblings discuss their mother, dead from cancer when Sarah was only 11. And especially the story of how free-spirited Diane walked out of her early first marriage, and her husband sued for custody of their two children and won - in 1967, society still condemned a woman who worked and took a lover. The two grown-up children tell of suddenly losing their mother and can hardly speak for grief. It's very powerful - though I've heard it all, in class, many times before.

The Globe review of the film accuses Sarah Polley of being smug and self-congratulatory, admiring her own story as she tells it. I disagree; I think her film is simply too long. If she'd had an editor to cut some 15 minutes, it would have been a much better film. No, stop here, I kept thinking, and on we went. Maybe that's the smug part - not seeking outside eyes to help cut. Where are the editors?

I know where - at work. One of my dinners out this week was with the Word Sisters, as we call ourselves, a group of women who freelance in the book business, particularly editors. A formidable group, with all their commas, and all their cuts, in the right places.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Terminus, Connecticut

Freezing rain out in the darkness; I can hear it slicing at the skylights. Good to be inside, the only noise the furnace purring, the crabby cat crunching a snack, my fingers patting these keys. Just turned off the radio after two hours of listening pleasure, Randy's Vinyl Tap, dancing around the kitchen to "Satisfaction." And now, just the rhythm of the cold, cold rain.

Have to stay up late tonight - my dear Macca is on "Saturday Night Live" which doesn't start till 11.30. I missed Paul's gig at the Sandy fundraiser, have managed to catch only snippets on-line - my guy looking relaxed and youthful in jeans and white shirt, playing with Nirvana - at 70, rocking with the kids. He looks great. Thank you, Nancy - whatever you're doing, it's working.

Speaking of youthful septaginarians - septuagin ... sept ... people in their 70's, I went to the theatre with Wayson this afternoon - a matinee of Terminus, a brilliant local production of a powerful Irish play. We sat on the stage of the Royal Alex, and the actors worked between us and the empty house. It was a play about the devil, evil, murder, regret, death, music, sex, motherhood - life - oh, many things, all done, believe it or not, in rhyming couplets, a torrent of poetic language that could only come from the Irish. It was exceptional theatre but difficult to take - especially today.

Because seeing a play which featured a serial killer and much talk of murder was especially difficult today, with 20 children and some of their teachers newly dead in Connecticut. Once more, an American slaughter, and Obama saying sensitive things with a tear in his eye - only, as Elizabeth Renzetti points out in the Globe, he said exactly the same things not long ago after the slaughter in the movie theatre, and nothing changed, except that gun laws are looser than ever.

One of the murdered children had only recently moved with her family from Winnipeg to the States; today a CBC reporter interviewed the pastor of their church in Manitoba. The family, the pastor said, would find great comfort, at this time of tragedy, in their Christian faith. How, I wonder? How to find comfort in religion, after the mass murder of children by a crazy kid in a country where powerful guns are at everyone's disposal, at every turn?

Perhaps the only possible good will come of this hideous event - that the death of so many innocents will lead the American people, at last, to re-evaluate what the NRA's kind of "freedom" actually means. What it actually costs.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

'Nuf said.

U of T Awards night

Last night, a most joyful event in my life - the Excellence in Teaching awards night at U of T's School of Continuing Studies. My kids were there, and at the supper beforehand, Eli discovered something he liked very much - a cocktail glass full of mashed potatoes. 

And here's the proud Creative Writing prize-winner with her plaque, on the subway home.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Second-hand Authoress

Forgot to tell you about an interesting experience today - as usual, swinging speedily through my second-hand mecca Doubletake, I was meandering by the books when I noticed a familiar cover, and then a bunch of them - my own book, Yours Truly, dumped into a bin. Four copies! It made me laugh. I showed them to the workers there, who are old friends, and they gathered around, exclaiming about knowing the writer of one of their discarded books. They said they wanted to read it.

I bought all 4 copies - at 50 cents each, realizing that they must have come from the shop at Riverdale Farm, which bought a bunch of books and now is closing down. (I also bought a hand-knitted Cowichan sweater of incomparable warmth - $12.50, and a beautiful blouse -$4- for a friend that I later found had a rip down the back. Win some, lose some.)

Every year, one of my Christmas projects is to take a hamper of goodies to Doubletake on the day of their Christmas party, to thank the workers there for what they give us all. So I asked the store manager when their party was this year. We're not having a party this year, she said. What - is this a budget concern? These women from Bangladesh, so gracious and kind, do not get a bit of a celebration this year? I didn't ask why, but I am going to bring them their Christmas hamper in any case, cheese and crackers, chocolates and cookies. And - lucky them! - four copies of my blessed book.

I just wrote a note to thank Catherine Porter, whose Star series on the death of two-year old Stella from a rare form of cancer was so sensitive and so beautifully written - just read the ending with tears dripping into my glass of wine. It made me think of a fine poem. So here, in the Christmas spirit, it is, by a man who was once America's poet laureate:

The Dead, by Billy Collins

The dead are always looking down on us, they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves slowly through eternity.
They watch the tops of our heads moving below on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a long afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them,
which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait, like parents, for us to close our eyes.

the invention of peanut butter

Just read a NYT article on-line about the history of peanut butter - non-separating peanut butter and Skippy were invented by a man called Joseph Rosefield, who'd changed his name from Rosenfield. Though it says there's no proof he was Jewish, there is no doubt in my mind. Modern peanut butter is, of course, a Jewish invention! How proud I am.

I sat thinking about this most faithful friend, a foodstuff I've adored since my earliest memory, and still do. For a decade it was the only food I liked. Sixty years of this intense relationship - nothing, but nothing, comforts like peanut butter toast, or a scoop or six straight from the jar, on a knife or spoon. These days, I go to a local gourmet deli to get jars of the superb Nuts to You, which is made in Paris, Ontario. Yes, my special, exclusive peanut butter comes from Paris.

Then I thought about the other loves that have been with me nearly as far back as I can remember, as vital as breath, though none as far back as my favourite food: books, paper and pens; cats (tabbies, preferably) and chocolate (chocolate ice cream only, with an occasional daring foray into mint chocolate chip or maple walnut). And a few years after that, be still my beating heart, Paul McCartney.

I am not a flighty person; these loves, as well as family and friends of course, have been and will be with me for life. Peanut butter, books, pens and paper, cats, chocolate and Paul McCartney: my desert island list. Well, if we're talking desert island, better add red wine, cheese and bread - and a MacBook Pro and wifi, because I LOVE the internet - wait, now the list is getting complicated. And my garden. Trees, I love trees, and birds, and the sea ... Wow - both a blue jay and a lady cardinal at the feeder. My lucky day.

It's my former Ryerson student Lynn Pearson's lucky day too - a lovely piece she wrote is in the Globe today. Warm and thoughtful, as is Lynn. Read it here:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

back to backs

A friend has asked if I understand the mind-body connection, particularly with reference to backs, and boy, I certainly do. When my daughter was a year old, my back pain was so bad I couldn't stand up and had to go to bed for six weeks with disc trouble, which I later saw was really marriage and life trouble.

So now, yes, my body has decided to take a little dive, to allow me to lie down and say "Help." I know that in terms of stress and pain, mine is nothing; there's an article in the paper on a couple watching their blithe two-year old daughter die of cancer. I can't read it.

But still, this year - the birth of a grandson, watching my daughter turn into a superb mother, thinking of the young years of my own motherhood, which becomes, sometimes, a catalogue of what I did wrong. My mother, nearly dead several times, me flying or driving to Ottawa to say a last heart-rending goodbye, only to have her recover and sit chatting about the weather. Accepting the presence of death.

And, not inconsequential, the shock, disruption and expense of discovering that termites had devoured the back end of my house. Plus the usual on-going neuroses, worries about kids, friends and other family, and then, hey why not, my own life - writing work, which is sporadic, teaching work, which is fulfilling but draining, and always, the intense focus on my flaws.

So right now, all of that, it's sure, has conspired to turn me into this sloppy bundle of sneezes and groans. It's cold and grey outside, dull light, not a speck of sun. And Christmas is coming, which of course is entirely non-stressful and full only of peace and goodwill.

Despite back pain, I have to get the Christmas box out of a far corner of the basement and decide on a tree and get cards out and make lists. Must get outside today and feed those poor birds who are hovering hopefully around the empty feeder. First, to the Y, to sit in the steam and make myself well.

And at some point, I'll try to sit still and be mindful and really feel what I'm feeling. If I dare.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

boy toyz

 This cheery orange guy, whom we named Urjo, was his mother's first toy. See below.

His mother, July 1981, two months old.


What fresh delight is this? It's 4.50 p.m. and I'm lying in bed, immobile and in pain, watching dusk fall on this dark, drizzly day. My back is in spasm. Maybe I overdid something in Carol's class on Wednesday, it's been tender ever since. I also caught Sam's cold, sniffles and coughs - but was still getting around. Yesterday Wayson took me to No Frills for a huge grocery shop of the heavy or bulky things it's hard to bring home on my bike - $165 worth of potatoes, canned tomatoes, toilet paper and detergent. What a good friend. No problem bringing them in.

Today I went across town to see my baby, who also has a cold. Was it lifting his great hefty person? He is such a big delicious boy. His mother showed me one of her favourite programs - Rastamouse, the adventures of a cool Jamaican mouse and his friends. Made me laugh out loud.

Well, for whatever reason, I was in such pain on the streetcar home that I could hardly move. I nearly got off to get a cab to the nearest Shopper's, but managed to get home, to find that the only painkilling drug here was a bottle of expired Tylenol. I took 3; they did not help. I lay in bed writhing. What made it worse was when I coughed - sharp jabs of pain.

What to do? Daughter on the other side of town, son working all day, friendly tenant at an art class. I called John, my dear friend and handyman; his wife Sylvie is a massage therapist and knew what was needed. Fifteen minutes later, John let himself in bringing two little bags, one a muscle relaxant specifically for back pain, and another ibuprufen. I took a pill, made a cup of honey and lemon, cut myself some large wedges of cheese and dark chocolate, packed computer and books, and went back to bed.

Where I am now feeling more human. My God, back pain makes you feel like a wizened hundred year old. I was hobbling like - well, I was about to say a little old lady, but the little old ladies I know are amazingly speedy. And my mother, though undoubtedly old, is not little. Incidentally, my brother called me from her hospital room today, and I spoke with her. How great to hear her voice. She sounds good, considering, and all there.

My friend and bloggee Lani emailed today that in the Seventies, her friend Martha, an actress, lived in the same building in Montreal as Leonard Cohen. They'd only greeted each other in the hall when one day, she came home to find a poem slipped under her door - a poem from Leonard, to her. This one didn't work; she didn't take the relationship further. But I can tell you that if I'd found a poem to me slipped under my door by a smouldering Jewish Don Juan, I would have let him bring my groceries in.

Too late now. He's a 78 year old rock star, and I'm a 100 year old hobbling grandmother.

I know what's missing, drugs or no drugs - a glass of wine. And if ever there's a time for stupid TV, it's now.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Those of you who read "The Walrus" will find a superb article there this month about fat and body image, written by Katherine Ashenburg about a woman called Terry Poulton, who has wrestled with these issues throughout her life. Terry is the author of a book called "No Fat Chicks;" she has a new website and has re-released her work as an eBook. I'm proud that both of these accomplished women are very old friends of mine, though they just met a few months ago, when Katherine began to research her piece.

PBS is in fundraising mode, which means that, interspersed with the Fifties revival shows - aging doo-woppers staging a comeback - there's a lot of self-help stuff being broadcast. That must be what pulls in the big bucks. I tuned in to some skinny woman talking about "Seven Foods to Cut Out for Optimal Health," found out they include "peanuts, gluten and dairy," and turned her off. She was talking to someone whose idea of heaven is a piece of peanut butter toast with a cup of hot chocolate. My health is pretty damn optimal, thank you very much.

But later came someone really interesting - a neuroscientist called Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, from Harvard, talking about the brain - actually, about mind over brain, how you can use your mind to change not only your thinking but your mental and physical health. He was talking about mindfulness - living in a mindful way - which he defined as paying real attention in a neutral manner, devoid of judgement, to what's going on both inside and outside us.

He suggested we take time to be mindful with our senses, our internal and external body, mentally and socially. Take your time when you eat - taste. Be in touch with your body, listen to your breathing, your heartbeat. Be aware of those closest to you, then those further away. Pay attention; really listen.

Observe your own thoughts and feelings. "The real you," he said - isn't this something a philosopher has said? - "is the one observing your thoughts and feelings." You are the user of your brain. Use your mind to rewire your brain. Persist. Practice. He pointed out, for example, that when we feel down, if we conjure up a happy memory or thought, our brain will actually release feel-good chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins. There's a new field called neuro-immunology - how your brain can help you stay healthy.

What I liked most was that he said he repeats to himself, through his day, "I am okay right now. And there is only right now." I have said this to myself several times since. It's a mantra to allay anxiety about the past or the future. "Use your mind," he concluded, "to take charge of your brain and create the life you want."

Right now. Because that's all there is.

I heart Leonard Cohen

Try to imagine this scene: the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto, normally a hockey arena which seats nearly 20,000 people for concerts, packed with happy fans. Who are they there to see? A skinny old man with a hook nose, wearing a hat so far down over his eyes that his face is nearly invisible, as he sings in a low growl, often sinking to his knees, about lost love, betrayal and redemption, the end of the world, death. Occasionally, he recites complex poetry, a long weaving of words. And the fans go wild.

Is this a fable? Surely, in our crass modern age, it cannot be true. But it is. I was one of the happy audience last night at the Leonard Cohen concert. Leonard is 78; his beautifully cut, impeccable suit hangs on his scrawny body, and yet he skips on and offstage, waving, and, yes, falls to his knees regularly and has no trouble getting back up. And though we rarely saw his face, when we did, his eyes were alight, and he even, occasionally, smiled, a great beaming grin.

He seemed genuinely happy to be there, genuinely wise, generous and humble. He introduced each of his extraordinarily good band members and back up singers three or four times by name, with fulsome praise, standing near them with his hat in his hand, head bowed as if in prayer, when they did their solos. They were as tight an ensemble as we will ever hear, blissfully good, the haunting violinist from Kishinev, the master guitarist from Spain, the organ player from Chicago ... and the back up angels, his long time collaborator Sharon and two sweet-voiced sisters from England, their crooning exquisite.

He sang "Suzanne" alone at the mike with his guitar, and I was 16 again, with my long sheets of hair, bent over my Goya nylon string guitar, singing "Suzanne" and "Kumbaya" and "Blowin' in the Wind" and the complete "Joan Baez Songbook" and Joni's "Circle Game."

It was an evening for grown-ups, an evening about love - love of the world, of the word, and, especially, of women. What joy to listen to a poet who loves us so very much. Leonard Cohen adores women, good ones and bad ones, and it sounds, from his confessional songs, as if he's had his share of both - ones who broke his heart ("There were so many people/you had to meet/without your clothes/Everybody knows...") and the many whose hearts he trampled on. He's open about that, describing himself in unflattering terms, with humour. He must have been a wicked ladies man in his day. Maybe he is still; I know from the intermission talk that many women were salivating. He writes with such aching honesty. I wondered about those old girlfriends - Suzanne, Maryanne, Alexandra - all of them crowding the stage last night. We all sang along with "So Long, Maryanne," rocking from side to side. What would it be like to be her, and have your break-up story become a singalong anthem?

"Halleluhah," "Bird on a Wire," "First we take Manhattan," "Tower of Song," "Dance me to the end of Love" - on and on. Just for us, a last encore - not his own song, but a gorgeous warm version of "Save the last dance for me." We will, Leonard. Promise.

It was a heavenly treat, and I was lucky to be there. Not just there, but in the fourth row - I got a good deal on a great single seat. Thank you, Leonard, for your gravitas and your graciousness, for the beauty of those timeless songs, for going strong - the concert was 3 1/2 hours long! - at 78, and for promising to come back. You sang in "Hallelujah" that you stood once in front of the Lord of Song. But instead, I sat in the fourth row last night and loved everything about him.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

reading the paper

So now, on this record-breaking mild if rainy day, I'm doing what everyone else in Toronto is doing - fighting a cold and feeling the onslaught of Christmas. The Cabbagetown Christmas tree man is back at Parliament and Spruce, in his little trailer, as he has been for sixty some years.

All is stable in Ottawa - Mum getting better, confused sometimes but often all there and eating well. Eli getting better too. My son, on the other hand, is over here feeling miserable and spewing germs into the air. I bought two large bottles of hand sanitizer, one solely for him and one for the house, and have been squirting it every five minutes not just on me but on the phone, the TV remote, the microwave - wherever a hungry young man lingers. Hoping to stave off infection, because I'm teaching twice this week and going to see Leonard Cohen tomorrow. I've cancelled this coming weekend's planned trip to Ottawa. I've travelled there 11 times since July and need a break.

Now, unfortunately, I can take time to read the newspaper - to see my city the laughing stock of the world with this buffoon of a mayor, not to mention his brother and his football team which melts in the rain and needs big busses to protect it. And to read about Canada joining 7 major nations, including  Panama and Pulau - Pulau?? - in voting against limited U.N. participation for Palestine. Another international embarrassment - more than that, a tragedy. My country, hijacked by the cold steely-eyed helmet-haired one and his horrible minions.

Today, reading that CIDA, a government aid NGO which helps reduce poverty in third world countries, is now going to follow a corporate agenda and advance Canada's business interests first. And that every single Tory MP voted against a bill that would speed the delivery of more low-cost generic drugs to African countries.


Maybe better not to read the paper. Except bad news is hard to escape. Ran into a fundraiser for TVO today. No, I hadn't heard that 2 million dollars had been cut from your budget; I'll give what I can. Turned on the TV the other day - a documentary called Why Poverty? explaining how the world financial situation got so bad, starting with American tax cuts, and showing the many billionaires who all live at one address on Park Avenue. A former doorman for the building was interviewed, saying that one of the billionaire Koch brothers lives there - the one who funds right-wing think tanks and anti-Obama campaigns. He never speaks to staff or says thank you and gives out cheques for $50, for Christmas.

Okay, enough of this, it's gloomy enough outside without dwelling on these depressing things. What's good about today? My loved ones are healthy - well, the boy is hacking, but he'll get better. My friend Chris turns 65 today, visiting a cheetah farm in South Africa. Tomorrow, I'll hear the 78 year old Mr. Cohen croon just to me, and I will want, just like Suzanne did, to feed him tea and oranges. Instead, I'll feed them to my son.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

a present for you: David Sedaris in green velvet

And now, for your listening pleasure - the incomparable David Sedaris reading, on "This American Life," his classic Christmas piece about being one of Santa's elves at Macy's. Put another log on the fire, pour a glass of something nice, close your eyes, and enjoy one of the world's master humorists and storytellers. His story starts almost five minutes in.

47: Christmas and Commerce

"Life of Pi"

Just spent an hour dancing around my kitchen to the music on Randy Bachman's show - he was playing original takes of hit songs and then covers, to compare versions - ended with the Beatles' version of "With a little help from my friends" and then Joe Cocker's - heaven. Me dancing. Thank heavens my son, who has a bad cold and dropped in to visit on his way home, has passed out on the sofa. The embarrassing sight of their mother dancing has always been the worst humiliation for my kids.

So so happy to be dancing in my own kitchen. Back to routine - the Y, across town to visit the little family with the happiest boy on earth, home. Last night, I hadn't even unpacked when dear neighbours Jean-Marc and Richard dropped in. We ended up eating defrosted chili here and rushing off to see "The Life of Pi," which is thrilling - so beautifully shot, a strange, mystical story with incredible effects. It stars, as you probably know, a Bengal tiger, so marvellously created. At home, I looked at my own small tiger, the crabby cat, with a new respect.

Friends have been emailing with the kindest messages about taking care of myself and not burning out. One of my oldest friends offered to help with the cost of my airline tickets, can you imagine? So generous. Don't need the help but so appreciate the thought.

I am planning the last classes of the year and will not cancel them unless something truly catastrophic happens in Ottawa. I'm staying PUT.

both recuperating

last visit to Ottawa, a winter's walk

 Mum lives in Britannia, near the Ottawa River.

 2 Canada geese, of the hundreds, on the river
 Two nests - one in a tree and the other on the 11th floor of the highrise - Mum's
Cuteness. Once I would have scoffed. Now I relate.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

wonder woman

Saturday morning, and all's well. She was operated on last night; they used an epidural rather than a general anaesthetic, and she has pulled through. Back in her room and fine. I cannot even begin to describe this woman's life force.

I am packing up here, will go to the hospital, and then on to the airport to get the next flight home. Get me home. I had already booked to be here next Friday, so I'll be back before long, will leave the book I'm reading by the bedside, some clothes, all the food in the fridge. This is my second home now.

My brother and I, celebrating her victory on the phone, and then the question, "Where will she go next?" and a long silence.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Booboo in hospital

still here

At the hospital bedside again - it's nearly 6 p.m. on Friday, and Mum is still here, waiting for the operation. It's the first cold snap in Ottawa, with ice and a bit of snow, so perhaps the O.R. is full of people who've slipped on the ice. Maybe. Otherwise, it's infuriating and cruel, leaving this woman lying here waiting for her operation, which was originally scheduled for yesterday and then for 8 a.m. this morning. Though they did warn us - you never know when.

She can't eat or drink. We did just swab her lips, and the nurse asked her her name, which she knew, and then where she was right now. "Potterspury," she answered, possibly thinking she'd been asked where she was born. In any case, she's compos mentis if blurry with painkiller and often incoherent. But often not. When I walked in, she beamed at me and looked around and said, "Is that Dad?" She's waiting for my brother, who's my father to her. Dad was in earlier, I said. He's at home now.

We are all in limbo, waiting, waiting. I feel it like a physical pain, the impatience, the powerlessness. She's in a machine, which will do with her what it will.

The good news is that Eli and his mother are home. His little throat still barks - when I called, I could hear his harsh rasp in the background. But he's better, and she has steroids to give to him there. Anna has had a shower and a meal, and she and her roommate are having a Harry Potter marathon tonight, vegging out in the best possible way.

Here I sit. The internet at Mum's is down, for some infuriating reason - why NOW, am I not isolated enough? But I can check my email and write to you here, when Mum's asleep. It was extremely cold again today; luckily I can borrow her winter coat, only 4 sizes too big, to keep me warm.

Today I was raging again, about being dragged out of my daily life to wait around like this - I have work responsibilities things to do at home I have my life! And then I realized - this IS my life. This is my life, right here, beside my mother on her final journey. Though if she has anything to do with it, it's not @#$ final yet.

Over the intercom: CODE ONE TRAUMA EMERGENCY. That's probably Mum's slot in O.R. We'll be here for weeks.

An hour later: Here we still are. And I have to say - that this time together, this Friday evening, has made everything worthwhile. Unlike Miss Whinyboots above, I am profoundly grateful for being here. Mum knows I'm here watching over her - keeping vigil, making sure the nurses do too. We've talked. When her tiny East Indian nurse came to check something, Mum whispered, with a big smile, "What an adorable little thing."

I teased her about the night nurse, a very sweet man called Peter, and how she has always been a flirt. A big grin. "I couldn't help it," she said.

Maybe limbo isn't such a bad place to be.

9 p.m. Back at Mum's. She has just been called to the OR. Peter says he thinks she'll make it through, she's in such good shape tonight. And all I can say to that is to quote my beloved Wayson:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

waiting game

Well - where to begin? Briefly, I flew early to Ottawa and walked into my mother's hospital room this morning expecting to say goodbye, and found her with good colour, chatting to my brother - not making sense, mind you, but chatting. I almost reeled backwards in shock. I'd been told this was it. My brother and her caregiver thought this was it. But as always, she had us fooled.

She was supposed to be operated on today, to put a pin in her fractured hip and maybe repair her broken elbow at the same time, surgery she might not come through, which is the main reason I came today. However, the hospital has decided to postpone the surgery until tomorrow. They don't know when.

You can understand, perhaps, how I felt. I cancelled a big gathering at my house tonight. More importantly, my daughter is coping alone with a very sick baby who is staying at least one more night in hospital and won't let her put him down. She had to spend last night trying to sleep in a chair with him on her chest. And by a fluke of bad timing, there's no one to help her right now. Her roommate is working overnight, the baby's father is working out of town, my son is volunteering on the other side of town, and I am in Ottawa sitting in my mother's hospital room.

Talk about torn.

I thought of all the times we have rushed to Mum's side in hospital - countless times, for her many surgeries, each time sure we wouldn't see her again. My brother laughed as he remembered the time he flew back from Holland, where he had a job, to be there at the hospital. Patsy remembers me sobbing in Vancouver because Mum was having open heart surgery and I might not get there in time.

My mother is a force of nature and it ain't over yet.

I know my daughter and her son will be fine; still, I would give anything to be with her now. But now, I am going back to the hospital to sit with Mum, knowing she's going in tomorrow for surgery she may not survive. But then again, knowing her, she very well may. In any case, today I decided that my tears are over. She has had a fantastic run at life - considering her health problems, she could have died many years ago. And here she is, snapping at the nurses, those blue eyes still checking out the world.

At one point - it was garbled, but more or less clear - she said something like, "He wants me to die but I'm going to fight him. Fight him." And she will.

9 p.m. I've just come back from the hospital and all I want to do is drink wine and be warm. And weep. No, the crying is not over, not by a long shot, nice try, girl. I think my mother is terrified of dying, hanging on, fighting literally for dear life, in a body that's defeating her. I tried smoothing her hair, her brow, telling her how loved she is, what a wonderful life she has had, and now, "Let it go, Mum," I said. "You can let it go." But that is not my mother. A lioness, mortally wounded, struggling to get up.

Sorry, folks, I'm beyond it now. This day - will there ever be another like it? I hope not. My grandson in a steam tent in hospital, and when I talked to his mother, I could hear his rasping lungs, my gut aching to hold him, to help her. And here, holding my mother's hand, her face twisting in pain, then she speaks but it's incomprehensible, knowing that tomorrow is a nightmare either way - if she survives the operation, she will be in pain and incoherent for days; if she doesn't - well, we'll face that tomorrow.

Now I'm here in her silent condo. There is wine. I am profoundly sad and spent. But this is life, in all its glory, all of this, the beginning and the end.

PS It's minus 13 with snow in Ottawa - bitter. I just turned on the CBC and had the only laugh of the day - a journalist asking earnestly, "Is this the only kind of salamander you can use in your work?" Thank god for the CBC.