cripsy13

Musings, mutterings from the misguided.


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MY FATHER, MY BEST FRIEND.

The anniversary of my father’s passing is coming up and I felt the need to write his story.Image

I remember as a kid, my dad playing silly practical jokes on me all the time.  We were at the seaside; I was about 10 or so.  Dad thought I might like to feed the birds, so he told me to take a piece of bread and hold it up over my head – so I did.  Which, of course, brought a million seagulls to the surrounding area and if what they say is true about it being good luck if you’re pooped on by a seagull, I must be the luckiest person in the world?

My dad and I were visiting my grandparents in  Florida when I was about 19 – they had a lovely grapefruit tree in the backyard, so both my dad and grandfather told me to pick as many as I wanted.  I picked one – it was HUGE!  It took me forever to peel it and when I did and took that first bite – my face turned inside out and tears poured from my eyes.  They failed to inform me that it was the kind of grapefruit they used to make marmalade.  Had I been able to see properly, I’m sure the sight of two grown men rolling on the grass would have been very funny indeed.

There were countless other times when dad was just being dad and I can’t imagine him ever being any different.  He could cheer me up when I was down, piss me off to no end about something stupid – but he was my biggest supporter, always helping when and how he could.

Back in about 2003, he started changing…it was so gradual; I didn’t really notice (nor did my mom or sister).  He lost weight (he’d always been a big, robust kind of guy).  He started slowing down, he got tired more often and he seemed to always not feel well.  That went on for about a year, with numerous trips to the doctor and a few emergency runs.  Doctor’s kept telling him he was fine…just age (he was only 74).

In November of 2004, my sister and I went to see his doctor to see if she could provide any information on what was making him feel so poorly.  Of course, we adhered to the confidentiality clause, understanding she could only give us basic information – so she told us that she thought he was ‘just depressed’.  Okay, well that made sense (living with my batshit crazy mother would make ANYONE depressed).  So, we had a family meeting and we told dad what we’d learned and that we wanted to help him by being more active and if he didn’t want to see a counsellor, we’d be happy to have him talk to us.

Now – I should stop here and provide some information on my mother.  During this entire time, my mother thought my dad was just being a lazy ass and ‘faking’ his symptoms.  She’d constantly complain about how his issues were affecting HER (my mother was a bit of a narcissist).  Both my sister and I would receive phone calls about how his complaining was causing her to fall into another depression (not that I’m belittling depression; I too suffer from it – but my mother made it her life mission to never NOT be depressed) and she ‘couldn’t stand much more’.  It was very hard to feel any sympathy for her.

So dad, being dad, said he’d shape up and I told him in an email that anytime he needed to vent or cry or whatever – to please talk to me, because mom was having a hard time with everything – to which he readily agreed.

January 2005 – I was visiting my parents when all of a sudden – my dad passed out and slumped to the ground.  I immediately called 911 and they came right away.  Before they had even reached my father, my mother had kidnapped two of the paramedics to tell them that he was faking it and it was she that was REALLY suffering.  They bundled dad up, took him to emergency and after hours of tests – they told him he had a bladder infection, and sent him home with some Bactrim.

A couple of weeks later, I was at work and my dad phoned and said that he and my mom had doctor’s appointments, but he didn’t feel well enough to drive.  My dad had been driving since he was 10 years old, so I knew something was very wrong.  I left work and picked them up and took them to the doctor.  Their regular doctor wasn’t in; it was a med student who was filling in.  She saw mom first and when she came out, my dad went in.  My mother started whining about wanting a cigarette, so I told her to go out and sit in the car.  Awhile later, the med student came out and looked very upset.  She asked to speak to me and I said sure and she said ‘your father is a very sick man and he needs to go to the hospital straight away’.  I went in to see dad, and he was lying there with tears running down his cheeks.  ‘I’m scared’ he said to me – ‘Am I going to die?’  Trying to remain brave, I told him not to worry, I would take care of everything.  He needed to have blood tests before he left, so I had to get him down some stairs, when he passed out.  A couple of people got him down the rest of the stairs and situated in the waiting area.  I told the nurse that he needed his tests done NOW, as I was taking him to the hospital, so she brought everything out, got ‘em done, and with the help of the kind strangers, got him up and into the car.

As I got him seated, my mother said with derision ‘so NOW what’s his problem?’ – I looked her straight in the eye and said ‘dad is very sick, I’m taking you home and taking him to the hospital and I don’t want to hear another single word from you’.

With mom dropped off, we headed for emergency where I got him into a wheelchair and up to the triage desk.  ‘Please take a seat’, the nurse said without looking up.  I said ‘no, you will see him NOW and if you don’t, I will chain myself to your desk and won’t move and if you think I’m kidding, you’ve got another think coming’ (I can be a super bitch when I need to).  With a sniff and a huff, she took his blood pressure.  It was so low; he basically should have been dead.  They rushed him into a suite and started a complete workup.  He stayed in emergency for 3 or 4 days, and they did test after test after test and couldn’t find anything wrong with him.  Meanwhile, dad continued to crack jokes and pick on the nurses.

The finally admitted him to a ward and started more tests and finally, and exploratory surgery.  What they found was horrific.  Basically, his intestines had turned into concrete.  Anything he ingested was not passing through and was causing horrible toxicity to take over his body.  He was hooked up to a nasogastric tube suction machine and the shit that came out of his stomach was black.  And there was a lot of it.  From there on in, he wasn’t allowed ANYTHING to eat or drink – not even water.  It was beyond awful and dad, although he was really trying to remain upbeat, was slowly starting to wane.

I’d go to see dad and he’d be crying because all he wanted was some water.  Nothing else.  Just water.  I’d often give him tiny sips to ease his pain and even the nurses started slipping him the occasional orange popsicle.  You’ve never seen anyone so happy to have a popsicle in your life.

They tested him for this and that and everything in between.  ‘He has cancer!’ they’d proclaim, but couldn’t back it up with blood work.  He had 2 or 3 more exploratory surgeries; they brought in some of the top doctors in the region – still, nothing.  They could not for the life of them, figure out what it was.  By this time, dad was tired.  He didn’t want to play any more.  We’d visit him every day, taking shifts.  (I should say that by this point, mom had stopped telling everyone ‘it’s all in his head’).

February 17, 2005:  Dad was scheduled the next day to have yet another exploratory surgery.  My mom, sister and I met up with his surgeon in dad’s hospital room and he explained what they would be doing.  Dad was feeling pretty good that evening, cracking jokes, making us smile.  Towards the end of the meeting he said ‘when you all come in to see me tomorrow, please bring me a coffee!’ – And of course, we all agreed to do so.

February 18, 2005 – 10:00 am:  I was at work and received a phone call from the hospital indicating that they had given my father too much morphine and he hadn’t woken up from his surgery.  They indicated that they had ‘reversed’ the dosage and that it was still within normal limits, just on the high side.  So, I went to the hospital, and there I saw my poor, beautiful father lying there with his eyes wide open – but no sign of life.  The nurse kept trying to get him to close his eyes, but even in his unconscious stupor, he was being a pain in the butt.  I went over and said ‘C’mon Harold, you gotta close your beautiful brown eyes or they’re gonna dry out!’ – And I gently closed them for him, and they stayed that way.  I spent the rest of the day talking to him, telling him stories about work and other things…and he never woke up.  The doctors indicated that they did fully expect him to wake up soon.  Later on in the day, my mom and sister came and as I left, I gave him a big kiss and told him I’d see him again tomorrow with a cup of coffee.

Tomorrow never came.  Later that evening, after my mom and sister left, my wonderful father passed away ½ hour later.

I was very grateful to have had a friend over, because when I received that phone call, I fell completely apart.  My friend and a couple of other friends came with me to the hospital and there I met up with my sister and mom.  I walked into dad’s room and he was just…lying there, like he was sleeping.  I slumped to the ground and started weeping like I’ve never done before.  My brother in law crouched down and just held me until I could muster up the courage to actually go in the room.  My mom, sister and I sat down and the surgeon came and joined us and he actually had tears in his eyes and apologized to all of us for not being able to save him.  He explained that they just could not figure out what had happened and asked our permission to perform an autopsy, which we agreed to.  When the meeting was done, my mom and sister said goodbye to dad and I stayed behind.  I went over to him and kissed his forehead and brushed back his hair and told him how much I loved him.  Looking back over my shoulder, I said goodbye to my dad for the very last time.

It took weeks for the results to come back.  He was finally diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma – a form of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos.  Dad never worked anywhere with asbestos – where had that come from?

I did months of research and through a friend of mine I was able to figure it out.  Dad was in the RCAF in the 50’s, living in the barracks – which contained asbestos in the walls.  These asbestos fibres can live in a body for up to 60 years.  The timing fit, it all fit and I was on a mission.

I called my dad’s doctor and asked for his medical records and was met with ‘do I need to call my lawyer’?  As you can imagine, by this time, I hated her with a burning passion and said ‘I don’t know, I haven’t looked at them yet’.  I received those and then I filed a claim with Veterans’ Affairs and they gave my mother a nice settlement – it wasn’t going to bring my dad back, but it would help her to remain comfortable for the rest of her life.  She passed away in 2010, never having bounced back after dad’s death.

I write this for me – and for anyone who wants to read it.  For anyone who has gone through the agony of losing a loved one to cancer or any other disease.  For anyone who misses someone and wishes they could say ‘I love you’ and ‘goodbye’ – just one more time.


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Finding My Religion (with apologies to REM)

**THIS IS NOT A ‘RELIGIOUS’ BLOG**

I grew up in a non-religious home.  We never went to church and when I asked my parents about it when I was in my 20’s, they told me that it was up to me to decide who, when, how and what I wanted to worship.  Oh, um…okay.  I also remember taking a course on Tibetan Buddhism and my mother warned me ‘not to tell my father’ – which indicated to me, that they considered themselves Christians, but just didn’t admit to it.

As a kid, I would occasionally go to Sunday school with a friend of mine – she belonged to an Anglican church and yeah, I lost interest pretty quickly.  Then, a few years later, another friend came along and her family were devout members of a Pentecostal church and I think I might have gone once and well, that was some scary shit, right there.  Yikes.  All that yelling and weeping and wailing and flailing of arms – uh, no thanks.

So, I was sort of left to my own to decide what I believed in.  Hmm.  Good question.

I never put much thought into it, to be honest.  I just assumed there was God and Jesus and for the most part – what I learned about religion was based on Jesus Christ Superstar (I still freakin’ love that movie).

jcs-logo

About 15 years ago, my family all went to see the Passion Play in the badlands of Alberta.  I wanted to go because it was set outdoors and it was supposed to be quite spectacular – and indeed, it was (if anyone is interested, here is the website:  http://canadianpassionplay.com/).  I laughed, I cried, I was moved – it was I suppose, a religious experience.  I’ve been back once since then, and I’d go see it again in a heartbeat.  It’s an amazing story.  I also remember my sister and I having a heated discussion on the way there – I asked her about her beliefs and she declared herself an Athiest and I couldn’t figure out why the hell she’d want to go see the story of Christ.  Ah, good times.

I plodded along, not paying much particular attention.  I’d go to church for weddings and funerals, but that was about it.  I have very good friends that are Ukrainian Orthodox and the inside of their church is simply beautiful and steeped in tradition.  I was in Paris a few years ago, and two of my favourite places were the insides of Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur.  They were awe inspiring and immensely beautiful in their design and age.

It wasn’t really until after my father died that I started wondering.  I look back now, and I think it was because I of course, was questioning ‘life after death’ and the idea of heaven and all those things that one thinks about upon the death of a loved one.  Was I mad at God?  Well, I was mad, but I realized it wasn’t at God, because I didn’t BELIEVE in God.  Huh…well isn’t THAT interesting.  I realized that I had a spiritual sense – rather – I believed in the spirit of the universe and that we are all energy and connected.  Did I believe in Christ?  Well, I think he was a stand-up guy; he was principled and preached the words of love and kindness.  Did I believe he was the ‘Son of God’?  No.

So, the past several years, I have found a sense of comfort, if you will, in putting my faith into the universe and knowing that everything happens for a reason…if I didn’t have that, I think I’d be in a much different frame of mind (and not in a good way).  When something goes wrong, I get upset, angry (insert emotion here) – but through it, I try to remind myself that it’s the universe’s way of telling me it isn’t the right time, right thing, right person – whatever the case may be.  That helped me through the agonizing grief I had after my father died and a number of other life altering things that have been thrown at me.  Don’t get me wrong – I get good and mad and weepy when something happens – but it’s that little voice telling me to be patient.  Whatever it is that I need, will come to me in its’ own sweet time.

Fast forward to this past week:  I have been invited to join the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.  Wow, really?  Me?  Huh.  So, I did some research and it’s an amazing Order that basically supports those who are sick or poor and can’t help themselves (I paraphrase).  That’s something I could certainly get behind!  It’s an Order that dates back to the Crusades…er…wait a minute…that’s ‘Christian talk’ – and I don’t consider myself a Christian.  Would joining the Order go against my own beliefs, also – would my lack of Christian beliefs offend those already in it?  I had to give this some serious thought.

I spoke with the woman who nominated me and she has assured me that my lack of Christian beliefs were nothing to worry about – the Order requires that one lives ‘by Christian values’ (and by that, I’m assuming they mean the ‘good’ Christian values, not the bad ones – because, there are some of those).  I researched the organization and came across this:  Notwithstanding the order’s devotion to Christian ideals of charity and its official position that the order has a “Christian character”, its Grand Council has since 1999 affirmed that “profession of the Christian Faith should not be a condition of membership of the Order.” The issue of the order’s Christian character and the issue of “inclusive membership” was dealt with in the Grand Council’s Pro Fide Report in 2005, wherein it was said that the order’s life is shaped by Christian faith and values, but that “[r]ather than the emphasis being primarily upon ‘spiritual beliefs or doctrine’ it is on works of mercy rendered through St. John”. Therefore, while the Great Officers are required to profess the Christian faith, the same is “not an essential condition of membership” and “[t]he onus is on the man or woman who is invited to the privilege of membership to decide whether he or she can with a good conscience promise to be faithful to the stated aims and purposes of this Christian lay order of chivalry.” On the subject of inclusive membership, the report stated “Christian hospitality is a criterion which can be applied to the Order’s relationships to persons of other religious faiths,” and “the Order needs to be characterized by a hospitable disposition towards other faith traditions while holding fast to its own origins and foundational identity in Christian faith.”

I have begun the paperwork this morning.  It doesn’t matter WHAT we believe in – as long as we’re all working towards the betterment of humanity.

PS:  For more information on the Order, here is a website:  http://www.sosjinternational.org/


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Here yesterday; Gone today…

The end.  Finito.  That’s all, Folks!

You see – I am the end of the line – family wise.  My dad was the only boy (he had two sisters) and I was supposed to be a boy (oops, sorry about the not having a penis thing).  It’s something that’s bothered me for many years, ever since I realized (and, was informed) that I am indeed, it.

About five years ago, I became very interested in tracing my family tree.  Now, my dad’s side has been traced back to Adam (we’re a bunch of drunken, Scottish heathens) – but my mom’s side – well, that’s a whole different ball of wax.

My mother never told me (or anyone, for that matter) much about her family.  My grandfather died about 5 months before I was born, and based on what my sister and dad have told me about him, he was quite the character and I’m very sad that I never got the chance to meet him.  He came from Russia in 1913 to join the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.  He fought in France, lived through Vimy and was wounded a few days later at (in?) Arleaux Loop.  He was sent to a military hospital in England, where he married his nurse and they returned to Canada.

That’s about all I’ve got.  My mother adored her father and didn’t have much use for her mother (who, according to my mother, was evil and batshit crazy…hmm…the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree on that one).

So, armed with that information, I started digging.  I came across some information in an old family photo album that actually listed all of my grandmother’s brothers and sisters.  Aha!  But the person I was most interested in was my grandfather.

On and off, over the past few years, I’ve done some research, even managed to get copies of his attestation papers from Veterans’ Affairs.  Reading them was just fascinating!  It detailed his military history, his health, what happened when he was wounded – every little detail was meticulously kept.  Except for the town in Russia he was born in.  The name he had listed doesn’t exist, nor did it ever exist.  I tried a million different variations, asked around to some of my eastern European friends – I just couldn’t get anywhere, so I sort of let it lie.

About a month ago, my sister gave me a bag of documents.  It was everything that was in my dad’s safety deposit box – she’d had it for some time, but had only recently come across it.  For me, it was like Christmas.  I found my mother’s birth certificate – and on it – was the REAL name of the town my Grandfather was born in!  Turns out that it’s now considered a part of Belarus (I guess that sort of makes me a Belorussian – I think we’re very good at shot put in the Olympics, if I remember correctly 🙂 ).  I also found out that my mother had Grade 12 piano (never heard her play a note in her life).  I even found copies of her high school report cards – she was a pretty smart cookie; dad on the other hand – erm, not so much.  It had my dad’s military records, a few photos and even a letter written to my grandfather from 1904.

In this bag, was a link to the family I never knew, never got to know and brought to light who my parents were before they were my parents.

My mother was HOT, I mean SMOKIN’ HOT!  And my dad was no slouch himself.  I learned through some reading and from my sister that she was a talented artist (again, I never knew of this). She was a real shit disturber during her Air Force days, and spent most of her time on her hands and knees, scrubbing airplane hangars with a toothbrush.  The pictures I have of her as a young woman shows a free spirit, full of fun and life and mischief.  Dad was the same way – some of his Air Force stories had me rolling with laughter (some of the crap he was allowed to get away with in the 1950’s is considerably different than what they can get away with today!)

mom and daddadmom

I’m sad that I never got to know my parents beyond them being ‘mom and dad’.  I did a little bit with my dad, but my mom remained tight lipped until the day she died.  It’s only now that I’m learning to appreciate who they were as people, as a young man and woman in the 40’s and 50’s.  Why they were the way they were – what happened to my mother to turn her into an old, manipulative and excessively codependent woman?  Why didn’t she share her life with us, her family?  Was my dad truly happy?  Did he live a good life and was he able to achieve some of his dreams?

While I’m writing this post for me – it’s mostly for all of you who might still be lucky enough to have your parents with you.  Learn from them.  Ask questions – not kid to parent questions – adult to adult questions.  Ask about their past, their dreams and what some of the best parts of their lives have been.  Would they have lived life differently?  Do they have any regrets?  Encourage them to tell stories about crazy Aunt Helen, about their first kiss – even their first job.  Get to know them as people; you’ll be pleasantly surprised about the things you learn – after all, they’re human too.