21

On Mourning and Santa Claus

I apologize in advance if this post seems to have no direction. Actually, it is kind of fitting as it feels as though nothing has any direction right now. I can’t seem to pull myself together, and life (or more appropriately, death) is taking its toll on me.

I am mourning the loss of a very special man. This man was a Veteran of the Merchant Navy. He was proud, stoic, gentle, kind, and giving. He was my Grandfather – the last surviving Grandparent I had.
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He and my Grandmother both treated my sister and I like we were more precious than anything in their lives. Having had two sons, we were quite literally the daughters they never had. I have many fond memories of them from my childhood. My Grandfather was the one who taught me to ice skate. He’d clear the snow off of the pond around the corner, hold my hands, and we’d skate and skate for hours while my Grandmother sat and cheered us on. When we got home, Grandpa took my hands in his to warm them up, while my Grandmother got the hot cocoa ready – with just the right number of marshmallows floating on top.
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One winter he piled the snow into a hill that seemed to reach the top of the trees, carved a ladder onto one side with a shovel, and smoothed the other side out into a slide which landed me on the other side of the yard. I spent hours out there that day, climbing the snow slide, and flying down. He stayed by my side the whole time quietly smiling and chuckling at my screams of laughter.

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We used to have sleep overs at their house, and to this day certain foods and smells remind me of them. My parents never drank coffee, so every morning when I woke up at their house and smelled the coffee pot brewing, I knew where I was. I always had the same breakfast there (shared with my Grandfather) – a bowl of Harvest Crunch cereal and half of a grapefruit eaten with a special grapefruit spoon. We didn’t eat those things at home often either, so I always associate those things with mornings spent with him. Quiet mornings at the table, sharing breakfast. He wasn’t one to talk much, but when he did it was always important – always an observation, or something insightful. I don’t think he ever once raised his voice to me in anger. He was always calm, quiet, and warm. His lap was the best place to sit when he did his crossword puzzles, and his hugs wrapped right around you like a warm blanket.
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He passed away suddenly at 1:45 am Friday morning. I had only been asleep about an hour when my Mother called to tell me. Three days earlier, he was getting a military escort down to a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Veteran’s hospital, and he was fine.

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Now, he’s gone. I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. It was quick, sudden, and it’s tearing me apart. Based on what happened, they suspect it was a GI bleed. As much as I want to know what happened, and why it happened, I mostly want to know that he wasn’t in pain. The last thing he deserved was to be in pain, or to be scared. I am crying at the thought of his last moments in the arms of the nurse who found him. I wish more than anything that he didn’t suffer.
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So needless to say, I’ve been a wreck these past few days. My normal sense of humour is lost, and my eyes haven’t stopped being either bloodshot or glassy since the wee hours of Friday morning. I am crying spontaneously without control – it’s like my eyes are faucets that are stuck in the on position.

Today, during another random cry fest, my little L looked at me from across the room and said “Mommy?”. She came over, climbed up onto my lap, placed her little hand on my cheek and said “Mommy…. happy please?”. Well as if my tears weren’t already uncontrollable, that did me in. It got worse…but then it did get better. She doesn’t understand why I’m sad. She doesn’t understand what death is, and she doesn’t understand why Mommy keeps crying. Her little sentence was enough to slap a bit of sense into me – at least temporarily. As much as I want to just lay around in a pile of sadness and self-pity, I have a job to do. I am a Mother to a sweet little girl who needs her Mommy back. I had to pull myself together.

So I got up, put on my big girl pants and took her out to see Santa Claus. He was in town today, on his big red sleigh and had a little train that the kids could ride. Santa was even nice enough to bring along some elves to hand out cake to everyone and they got to make a Christmas craft. I got to stand outdoors, breathe the slightly chilled air and relax. Yes, I realize it is only November 16th and Santa came by really early, but this Mommy didn’t care. She was glad to have a reason to get out of the house and something festive to focus on with my L and my fiance.
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I needed it. I needed to get out of the house and off of my ass. I needed to breathe the cool air, look forward to Christmas with my little family, and focus on all that I still have in life. I needed to be the Mother to my L that my Grandfather was to my Father and Uncle. I needed to continue to make him proud. I needed to pretend to be cheerful, and in turn, feel a bit of cheer.
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It isn’t feeling any easier. I have a viewing at the funeral home tomorrow afternoon (informal), and a formal viewing/service on Thursday. The weekend of the 30th, we will travel to Prince Edward Island to place him with my Grandmother so they can be reunited once more. My Grandfather was never quite as boisterous as he used to be when she was alive. I think secretly, though he’d never voice it out loud, he was longing to be reunited with her. I was in Korea when she passed and was unable to return for her funeral. The weekend of the 30th will be the first time I will see her grave, since she is buried in a different province. I have a feeling that I will fall apart that weekend. I will in a way be saying goodbye to two people that day – my Grandfather, and my Grandmother.
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I hope that the person I have become today is a person they would be proud of. I hope that my little L can develop as many fond memories with her Grandparents as I have of mine. I hope that I can get through this stronger, and a better Mother at the other end. As much as I am skeptical of the idea of an “afterlife”, I can’t help but secretly hope that they are both up there, sitting in their armchairs side by side, drinking a cup of coffee and watching their Great-Granddaughter grow up.

I promise my next post will be more joyful, but I needed to get this off of my chest. It’s almost therapeutic in a way.

To moving forward. To grieving, but never forgetting. To living as our loved ones would have wanted us to live. To life, death, and the joy that happens in the middle. I’ll miss them always.

52

To my cat, before you die.

Dear Max,

You might not know this, but you weren’t the cat I was supposed to receive for my 16th birthday. My Mom had put a deposit on the orange tabby I had my heart set on, but the store sold it to someone else anyway. My Mom was really upset, and desperately had to find me a replacement cat for my birthday .

That replacement, was you.

She got you at a veterinary clinic. Your litter had been found abandoned on the side of the road in a cardboard box, and the vet was determined to find you all homes. You were the deepest smokey grey, with white belly and paws – but we couldn’t see your beauty up front. You were wild and mangy looking at first, with a nasty flea infestation and a slightly feral attitude. I had to give you a flea bath on your first day home, and you bit down hard on my nose. You weren’t cuddly. You were feisty and determined to do things your way. Us humans were your own personal climbing gyms, and you would claw and climb your way up to our shoulders, ignoring the wincing shrieks of pain your claws caused us. We were your means for food, and not much more.

But I loved you anyway. You weren’t the orange tabby I dreamed of, but you were mine – attitude problem and all.

But it was your attitude problem that almost killed you about 7 years ago. You see, when most cats fall sick, they become nasty and get a “don’t touch me” type of demeanor about them. This was normal for you though, so we didn’t notice you were sick until it was almost too late. We called you for dinner one night, and you didn’t come. That was our warning sign – you loved your dinner, and since you weren’t there in 2.5 seconds flat we knew something was wrong.

We found you in the basement, nearly unresponsive. The crystals that had formed in your bladder had taken over, and it was starting to affect your heart. You weren’t wanting to move and were in an incredible amount of pain. We rushed you to the emergency clinic and they had to catheterize you without anaesthesia – your heart was too weak to handle it. I could hear you scream in pain. You were in an incubator for oxygen, and you looked like you lost your fight. The vet told us that there was a high chance you would not make it through the night. I went outside, sat on the curb and cried.

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But I underestimated you. You ripped out your catheter 2-3 different times and had to have it put back in. You were in the veterinary hospital for nearly a week and were on what seemed to be a million different medications. And you fought.

That’s when we noticed a change in you…

Every day we came to visit you in the cat hospital, you perked up. Somehow you knew at that point we weren’t just your mealtime tickets. We were your people. You actually seemed happy to see us – you purred at our touch. You cuddled. You gave kisses. You were a changed cat.

It was as if your near death experience helped you realize that we wouldn’t abandon you in a cardboard box on the side of the road as had happened to you once before. You knew that you were loved, and we would do anything to look after you.

You made it through your illness, and when you came home it was as if we had a new start with you. You now loved to crawl onto my Dad’s lap for naps, slept in my Mom’s bed with her, and craved attention from whoever would provide it. Instead of secluding yourself, you were social and would lounge in the living room with the rest of the family. You made friends with the dogs, and loved to play “cat soccer” with my Dad.

It took you nearly dying for you to realize we loved you.

You don’t know it yet Max, but Wednesday will be your last day on this earth. You’re almost 15 years old now. You have lost a drastic amount of weight, and when we pet you we feel your bones now instead of the manly tubby tummy you once had. You are lethargic all the time, and you’ve lost control of your bladder. The vet thinks it is your kidneys, and that at your age it isn’t fair to have you suffering. We love you enough to ease that pain for you. We love you enough to say goodbye, even though we will likely cry.

You weren’t the cat I was supposed to receive on my 16th birthday, but you were the one who needed us. You needed us to teach you that trusting people was ok. That the right people would love you and do anything to ease your pain.

And it turns out that you were the cat we needed, too. We needed you to teach us patience. To teach us to look past initial mangy feral appearances to see the gorgeous boy that you are. To teach us that even the fiercest of creatures are deserving of love, and can change if they receive it unconditionally. To show us that a rescue found on the side of the road in a cardboard box could end up being the sweet natured boy who nestles in our laps for a cuddle.

You weren’t the cat I was supposed to receive on my 16th birthday, and now at nearly 31 years old, I don’t want to say goodbye.

Wednesday is coming too quickly, my fiesty friend.