November 23, 2021

The Jimmy Type

When I was eight years old I had a great friend named Jimmy. Jimmy lived around the corner and his grandparents lived across the alley from me. Jimmy's grandparents had a swimming pool in their backyard and I was sometimes invited to swim in it with Jimmy and any of his cousins who happened to be around. One hot summer day, Jimmy and I were playing beside the pool. His four year old cousin was with us, but she was in the pool. Suddenly, she started flailing her arms and couldn't get her head above the water. She must have moved to the deeper part of the pool which was four feet deep. I stood rooted to the ground, like a deer in the headlights. I could see Jimmy's cousin was drowning, but I couldn't seem to act. Jimmy jumped into the water straight away and saved her. I have never forgotten how impressed I was with Jimmy. I also could not understand my own behavior.

The fact is, the world is full of people like Jimmy who jump in with both feet during a crisis, and thank God they do. This week in British Columbia, during historic rainfall and the subsequent flooding of countless farms and homes, landslides, and washouts of important transportation corridors, we have so many examples of people acting immediately in response to the catastrophe around them: first responders, pilots, health care professionals, police officers, truck drivers, and members of the general public who have the 'right stuff' and know innately how to make themselves useful right off the bat. My hat goes off to all of them. They are worth their weight in gold in a crisis.

Of course, when I had children my reactive reflexes developed and I saved my own kids from some near misses and trucked them off to the emergency room when needed. Something primal takes over one's natural tendencies when one is responsible for tiny humans. Still, in the face of large scale disasters I am still somewhat slow to fully respond. My mind seems to employ a slow processor when it comes to this type of crisis. If someone else (like my husband, a Jimmy type) directs me I can act - sometimes I'm even effectual - but left to my own devices, I'm afraid I lack the necessary DNA to take charge. I was once the passenger in a terrifying car accident from which I walked away miraculously unharmed. My response to the shock? I went home and fell asleep on the couch. I'm much better at crises for which concentrated thought processes are involved, like if one of my children is going through a hard time and needs advice, or a friend needs a listening ear and a measured response. That sort of thing.

We all have different gifts, although we can be pretty hard on ourselves when we find our particular gifts not terribly useful at a given time, myself included. I want to be helpful to my flood-damaged neighbours. It just might take me some time to figure out what that help will look like. (I've also been trapped between mudslides for a week and a half, and my role during this stage has been one of keeping myself calm and lending moral support to those around me.) 

In the meantime, my appreciation for all you Jimmy types out there is currently at an all-time high. Keep on jumping in with both feet. You are so needed. 

November 4, 2021

Saying Goodbye to Mom

When I was a young child my biggest fear was that my mother would die. I had an overly active imagination and sometimes thoughts of the possibility that she would leave me forever would make me cry. I remember at least one occasion in which my mom came to my bedside to calm my fears and let me know how silly I was for entertaining such thoughts. In my defense, I didn't invite this particular fear to take up residence, it simply came unbidden. 

On October 20th, my mother did die. I was 52 and she was 83. Her dying had become less of a fear and more of a sad inevitability. She had lived with vascular dementia for four years, and had grown increasingly fragile over the past year. Early in October she had taken a fall and broken her hip. She underwent surgery, which was successful, but after a couple of weeks of being in hospital, a blood clot developed in her lung. A day later her caregiver sent word that Mom was dying. My husband and I rushed to be with my sister at Mom's bedside. My eldest sister came the next day. Mom was never left alone those last three days of her life. We sang to her, her grandsons called and sang to her over the phone, and in Mom's last moments, we sang the hymn of St. Francis, 'Make me a Channel of your Peace' with our brother leading over the phone from Calgary. I sang with tears streaming down my face and snot dripping from my nose as I held her face in my hands. And then she was gone. I cannot describe it aptly. She was just...gone. 

My mother was the sunshine in our family home. She radiated kindness and calm and burned brightly with intelligence. There was nothing saccharine about her. She loved a good story and a groan-worthy pun. She loved her six children to the best of her ability and as equally as she could, even though I tease my brother Steve that he was her favourite. She loved having company and made everyone feel welcome in our home. We often had extra people at the table for Christmas dinner. She loved Clint Eastwood. We even had a poster of The Outlaw Josey Wales hanging on the door of our bathroom. She stayed up very, very late reading. She read War and Peace every year (I haven't read it once). Mom loved to go out for cheesecake, but the rule was we had to hike up and down the steep hills of town for an hour and a half to earn a slice.

Mom was also the sunshine for a lot of people in the community we lived in. At the funeral reception many people said to me: "If it weren't for your mother I never would have..." My hometown newspaper printed a cover story about her contributions as an historian and supporter of artists. She would have been honoured. Her work was incredibly important to her. I felt so proud to be her daughter. 

This morning, a week after we returned home, I was hit with a wave of grief. I recalled how, during an hour on Mom's last day when we were alone together in her palliative care room, I had talked to her about the walks we used to take together. I thanked her for teaching me to love art and literature. I sang her 'You are My Sunshine'. 

Mom, you have left me, but that's okay. Your sunshine will always be with me. I know that now.