Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Missed Conversations.

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As I was driving into work last week a Jim Croce tune came on the radio. I’ll Have To Say I Love You in a Song. I was reminded of what a lovely and gifted songwriter he was and that he died too young and far too soon.

As often happens with me, a fleeting thought like this can lead to endless musings on various and sundry topics. I have an eternally wandering mind and I’m always getting lost in thought. On this particular day, I was thinking about all the people, famous and not, who also died before their time. The list is long so I won’t even go there. But we all have people we loved and admired, either close to us or amongst the celebrated and famous, who checked out of Hotel Planet Earth when we weren’t ready for them to go. The remarkable ones we wish had been around even a little bit longer so that we could enjoy their particular brilliance and perspective on the world.

I often wonder what kinds of songs these dearly missed ones would have sung, stories told, canvases covered, poetry rhymed, jokes cracked, goals scored, pirouettes twirled, music written. I also wonder what they’d think of this present-day world they left behind. What would they have to say about it?

But the really big thing I pondered last week, as I drove across the country road in my Ford Ranger was, “what about all the missed conversations?” All those marvelous words that were left unspoken. The winsome thoughts yet to be expressed. The pillow talk. And dinnertime discussions. The tete-a-tetes over tea. The long distance telephone calls. The gossip, the gabfests, chitchats and chinwags.

Ma died fourteen years ago today. And I have to say these are what I miss the most. Our beautiful little conversations. What I wouldn’t give for a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart across the kitchen table at 204.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6Vn17S37_Y&list=RDE6Vn17S37_Y#t=30

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Will Always Remember You There.

560852_10150626889916644_990312550_nShe called me Agaluk. I called her MF. Beautiful One. Sweet Butterfly.

I also called her my friend. We were Soul Sisters.

One of my most strongest, steadfast, courageous, creative, bold, brilliant, intelligent, inspiring, wise and wonderful, in every conceivable way, a true Girl Warrior to the core and beyond, died last week.

Receiving the news so abruptly. Incomprehensible. The loss for those who loved her. Immeasurable. The gaping hole in our hearts. Irreparable.

Little Back Story. We met in the most unlikely of places. Old Fort William. Decades ago. Free spirits. Wild hearts. Fierce warriors. Intelligent and introspective young girls on the cusp of becoming the women we are today.

530446_10150626890261644_650726391_nMF and I were from different worlds. She was from Southern Ontario, the part of the province with the big cities and prestigious universities. She was an intellectual. Well-read and world-wise, even then. Sophisticated beyond her years. She was eloquent and articulate.

I often wondered what she saw in me. I was smart enough but by no means an intellectual. I loved reading but in a million years I couldn’t tackle the books MF read. I was far from sophisticated, more of a small-town bumpkin. My speech was typical of the region, with its Scandinavian-Canadian twang, every sentence peppered with the non-word utterance, “eh”. And I was born and raised just across town from where we worked. I was all too familiar with the summer stench and acrid bitterness of the Abitibi Mill.

We managed to stave off adulthood that glorious summer by the shores of the Kaministikquia River.

544764_10150626890401644_450351427_nMF and I were part a ragtag troop of young vagabonds and hippies, who dressed up every day like it was 1815. We worked, and played, in the Tradesman’s Square at Old Fort William.

The young men in The Square worked as blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, coopers, and of course, the birch bark canoe builders. Many came to The Fort with these skills in tow, but by summer’s end they all knew how to handle the tools of their historic trade.

MF and I were among the “Native” wives of these rough and ready Tradesmen. Dressed in traditional garb, with our long hair braided in side pigtails or down our backs, we spent our time hand stitching garments and beading necklaces. We were called Historical Interpreters, which basically meant we told the story of the Fur Trading Post belonging to the North West Company, and the men who worked in The Square. We regaled the flocks of tourists, who streamed in and out of our log buildings, with tales of life in 1815 Northwestern Ontario.

OFW-Tradesman 5MF and I often worked together in the Tradesman’s sleeping quarters. Between tourist visits, we gabbed endlessly about all the grand things of life, all the while our hands were ever-busy making the wool felt leggings and strands of colorful beads that we wore so ubiquitously.

In this backdrop of historic Old Fort William, our friendship grew. Born out of conversations that were deep and engrossing. Sometimes silly. Often extraordinary. Yet so divinely unforgettable.

MF and I lost track of each other after that summer. There were the occasional blips on the radar. But for the most part we moved on with our lives. It didn’t help that geographically we would end up thousands of miles apart, with MF in Southern Ontario and me on the West Coast.

Then, a few years ago through the wonders of social media, MF reached out to me. First on LinkedIn and then through Facebook.

It was like no time had passed. We picked up where we left off. It was as natural as the flow of the Kaministikquia River. Although many years had passed, and on the surface our personal and professional lives appeared so very different; but in our hearts, and all the places that mattered, we were kin.

It was no surprise to discover we had both spent our lives embracing all things spiritual and creative. We were both wisdom seekers, with love our abiding compass, the beacon in the dark, the light, and the way.

DSCN1131For the past twenty-four hours, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around MF not being here. In this very physical place we call earth. Then this gentle thought came to me this morning, upon the first delicate rays of early morning sunshine. Like a heart-gift filled with grace.

Since I’ve known her, right back to the days of Old Fort William, MF shone from within. Her face literally glowed with the lightness of being. She was adroit at traversing both worlds. MF possessed a huge life force and energy field. She was always growing and ever-expanding, crossing boundaries and skipping borders with ease. There was this earth place that she loved so dearly, and embraced with wide-open arms, and then this other place where she is right now, which she understood with a breathtaking profundity. She did not fear it. Not this place. Nor that. For it is all the same. One.

And she encouraged us all to do the same. This was her mantra. Fear not. For we create our own lives. Weave our own destinies. Manifest our own worlds. Hug life and squeeze every ounce of joy out. Then push it back out. Pay it forward.

MF was/is one of the rare beings, who possessed the key to the door to wonder. She saw it all. This and that. Here and there. Now and forever. Eternity in the palm of her hand. Her hand in the hand of the everlasting.

See you later Sweet Soul Sister Beautiful Butterfly.

Love you always, Agaluk.

Footnote:

The night before she died, MF made this last post on Facebook, including a link to Hallelujah – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge live performance of Handel’s Messiah.  Extraordinary.

Posted, September 24 at 12:42am: Taking an exultant drive to my place on the water for sunrise, NOW!. Been stuck in the city waaay too long.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3TUWU_yg4s&list=PLlsiuiVOpp3pMgv0vDVk3g2fChthCLbYY

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Walking the Tightrope.

While Ma was lingering in her last weeks, and then days on Earth, I was walking a tightrope. It was surreal. Dreamlike most of the time. It was a delicate balance. How do you keep precious hope alive while you’re slipping headfirst into the long dark tunnel of despair?

The heart wants what the heart wants. But the head knows the hard cold truth. This cruel candor resided in the belly of the thin black line I traversed every minute of every one of those final evanescent days.

It was as though I was walking high above this fragile life that was unraveling. Thread by thread. Bit by bit. One piece at a time. Tiny fragments dissolving into dust.

There I was, out of my body. Looking down. A witness to my own personal heartbreak.

The line was taut. The emotions tauter. I was neither light on my feet. Nor was I nimble. There was no grace in my step. I was just there. Trying to breathe. Trying to keep it together. Whatever “it” was.

The multi-layers of tyrannizing fear permeated ever fibre and pore of my body. Suffocating my soul. Strangling my spirit. I was bound and gagged by the evil twins, anguish and anxiety.

Fear of losing Ma. Fear of life afterwards. Fear of going on without her. Fear of falling apart. Fear of my emotions and what they could do if unleashed. Fear for my family, especially my children. Fear that my heart would never be the same. Fear that I could not go on. Fear that I would.

Fear. Fear. Fear.

With each teetering step, I wondered if this was the defining one. The tripper. The one where all equilibrium was lost. The pivotal point where standing meets stumbling. The place where I falter. Then free fall.

Down. Down. Down.

Eventually, and inevitably, I did fall. It was inescapable. I couldn’t stay up there forever. I had to come back down to earth. Face the other inevitable. Ma was dying. And there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Except be there.

In the end, falling was an epic relief. I would have let go sooner had I known that I had a safety net. It was there all along.

Yes, for I fell sweetly and safely into the arms of everyone who loved me.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: How I Learned to Meditate.

boo on the rocking chairI learned to meditate while Ma was dying. If she had died suddenly. Or in another place. At a different time. I’d probably have a different story to tell.

As an enduring student of yoga, I made countless attempts over the years to learn the nebulous art of meditation. But I just didn’t get it.  Stilling my mind was impossible. Sitting cross-legged for anything longer than a minute or two just about killed me. Om aside, staying focused on ‘nothing’ was a ridiculous premise at best. Stopping the endless chatter inside my mind was frustrating.  All of it made me uncomfortable. Pain, pain, pain. That was my mantra.

I also tried meditating while in the corpse pose. This just put me to sleep.  Within minutes I was dead to the world. A gaping mouthed drooling transcendental disaster.

Ma used to say that God works in mysterious ways.  I didn’t get that either.  I’ve always expected God to be more direct.  Obvious. Straightforward.  Shoot from the hip. Strike with a bolt of lightening. Flood the earth. And part the seas. Regardless of their color.

Who knows. Maybe Ma and I were talking about different Gods.  Despite all those Sunday mornings sitting side-by-side in the ass-numbing wooden pews of Christ Lutheran Church. Hers was an enigmatic deity filled with paradoxes, parables and puzzles. And with an inexplicable and absolutely unfathomable approach to running things. Mine was simple. He/She spoke my language. Read my letters. Understood the complexities and subtle nuances of the word fuck. And why it was part of my daily vernacular.

Then Ma had a heart attack.

I thanked God for not striking her dead instantly.  Which He/She most certainly could have, especially if He/She was in a particularly angry mood on the morning of Ma’s heart attack. Remember all that scary shit from the Old Testament?

Instead we got another 18 months to enjoy Ma’s presence on Earth. And what a gift that time was.

Most of the last six months of her life was spent in a hospital, on the West Coast.  She came for a visit a few months after the heart attack and never left.  By this time The Old Man was living, and I use this term loosely, in a dreary Senior’s home back in Northwestern Ontario.  They died 5 weeks apart, and 3 thousand miles away from each other.  They hooked up in heaven though. At least that’s what I believe. That notion brought me comfort then. It brings me comfort now. Then, I’ve always liked stories with happy endings.

We held vigil by Ma’s bedside. 

ma + aimee + abbyAt times there were enough of us to form a small crowd. We clustered around Ma’s frail sheet-draped declining body. Her little flock of fragile birds. Still hungry to be fed. We took turns holding her hand. We laughed. Cried. Prayed. Told stories. I’m guessing there was nothing unusual about our good-bye time with Ma. We weren’t the first family to experience this.  But this was our first time. Our first rodeo.

My heart was fractured. Armor chinked. Equilibrium faltered as the earth beneath my feet shook. I was standing on a fault line with nowhere to go. With my lifelong safety net lying in a bed dying.

This was also a time of transformation.

My favorite time with Ma was when it was just the two of us.  Not just because it was precious mother-daughter time, which was slipping rapidly and elusively away. But because it brought me peace.  In the midst of family chaos and emotional gut-wrenching wringer days, this quiet alone time with Ma became a place to escape. A safe haven. A sanctuary. It was the sheltered harbor where I moored my heart and allowed my spirit to rest. Next to hers.

It was in this quiet place that I learned about God and his mysterious ways. It was during these soft murmuring twilight hours that I learned to meditate. Ma taught me everything I needed to know about the stuff that mattered in life. This was no different.

Hours would pass. Time had no meaning. I sat next to her bed in the clinically designed hospital chair, with the hard vinyl seat and wooden arms.  The type fashioned for short visits and good posture. Neither of which applied in this situation.  But it didn’t matter.

Very little was said during these visits.  Words were no longer necessary.

I watched Ma sleep. The gentle rise and fall of her breath against her flannel nightgown. The stillness of her body.  Her peaceful repose. It soothed me. Ma had always been able to comfort me when I was hurt.  Nothing had changed in that regard.

I slipped effortlessly into rhythm with Ma’s breathing. Inhaled. Exhaled. I closed my eyes. I let the world drift away. There was no dying. There was no living. There was just being. Ma. Me. God.

And with the ease of a soaring eagle, I was meditating.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Unfinished Business.

IMG_0676It was inevitable. Bound to happen. I’d reach a certain age and life stage.  Then bam. Smack. Thump. I’d start thinking about unfinished business.

Well here I am. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Right on track.

On the one hand I think, ‘Yay for me. Look at all I’ve done. Little Miss Smarty Pants.’  Then the grim reality sets in. The ugly truth. The road ahead is shorter than the road behind.  Then I think, ‘I’m just getting started. I haven’t done anything yet.  Shit.’

Age and stage notwithstanding, two things over the past year triggered this obsessive unfinished thinking.  E’s cancer diagnosis.  And a painting of Ma’s that I pulled out of storage.

Dealing with E’s cancer has brought me to my knees on more than one occasion.  I’ve felt a rainbow of emotions.  From fear to anger to sadness to joy.  And now gratitude.  This experience has reminded me of the fragile and fleeting nature of life.  How quick it all passes.  The cliche is true. Time flies.  Especially the older you get.  I can barely catch my breath on some days. I just want to scream, ‘slow down!’  I want to freeze frame the good stuff.  Fortunately, the older I get the more I realize it’s all good stuff.  Regardless of how it may appear on the surface.  I want to hold on tight.  Squeeze the life out of every last thing.

I’m overwhelmed at times by the immensity of this thing called life.  The fact that we’re here at all is utterly astonishing when you think about it.  Big bangs and creation debates aside, it’s mind blowing.

Then there’s the insignificance of my little life in the grand scheme of things. My humble place in this mysterious cosmic eternal universe.  We are all less than a blip on the radar of time.  Practically nothing.  Or perhaps not?  Why are we here anyway?  I don’t know.  But I want to know.  This, and the answers to about a million other philosophical and spiritual questions.  I’m a seeker.

I’m pretty sure that this pursuit will be the biggest business I’ll leave unfinished.

Then there’s Ma’s painting.  The unfinished one.  I found it in the attic at 204 after she died.  Vibrant yellow and orange color streaks across the canvas with etherial wisps and airy brushstrokes.  From a distance it looks finished.  A bit abstract for Ma’s typical style, but done. It’s only when you get up close that you see that it isn’t finished at all.  Not by a long stretch.  You can see that the yellow and orange were just the beginning.  The first few layers.  The background for the real painting.  Up close you can see the pencil marks where she had sketched in the foreground images.  The Sleeping Giant on the horizon.  Sail boats reflected in the water.  I don’t know for sure.  I only know that this painting was intended to be so much more than what was left behind.

Over the past year, I have spent time contemplating this painting.  I have struggled with the desire to finish it.  Complete this one little piece of her work here on earth.  But I won’t.  This is her unfinished business.  Not mine.  And quite frankly, none of my business.

But this painting is a gentle reminder of all the things that are my business to finish.  Truth is, I know I will go to my grave with tons of things left undone.  Not sure I’m okay with that.

Ironically, I love lists but I’m not a bucket list person.  At least not in the formal sense, with an actual physical list.  Like the one I make at work every day. I think I’m too lazy to sit down and compile such a thing.  Or maybe mine would be too long.  Endless.  From here to eternity.  It would take me forever.  When people talk about checking something off their bucket list, I’m perplexed.  Where do they find the time to both make the list and do all that shit on it?

Having said all that, I do have things I still want to do.  I also have things I wish I had done when I was younger.  These are the things that require a much more youthful body and brain.  C’est la vie.

So I focus on what I can still do.

Instead of attempting to accomplish, achieve, attain or actualize, I focus on what really matters.

When do I start?  Here.  This place.  This present moment.  As much as possible, I try to stay in the now.

What can I do right this minute to have a more meaningful life?  It doesn’t matter.  Meaning can be found in anything. And everything.  Doing the laundry.  Mowing the lawn.  Climbing a rock.  Soaring from the top of a mountain.  Lying on my back gazing at the sky. Kissing my love goodnight.  Holding the hand of the broken hearted.  Eating spaghetti. Writing a song. Running barefoot through the grass. Standing still.  The list is endless.  And very personal.  That’s the supreme beauty of it.

Who can I surround myself with?  Who are my people?  My tribe?  My dear ones?  They’re already here. Every last one of them.  And more will come.  Some will leave when our business together is done.

Where do I need to be to make a difference in the world?  Make it a better place than when I arrived?  Improve someone’s life, even in the smallest way?  Everywhere. Anywhere. People need help all over the place.  In my own home.  At work.  Down the road.  Across the street.  The country.  The ocean.  The earth.

How do I get it done? One baby step at a time. Occasional giant leaps.   Little tiptoes.  One foot in front of the other.  Maybe I’ll strap on a cape or sprout a pair of wings.  I don’t know.  I just know I’m going to die trying.

Why bother with all of this hullabaloo? Why not?  Just because.  That’s all I got.

I’ll take a crack at some dreams.  Hatch a few more schemes.  Make a new plan or two.  Write another story.  Wish upon a star.  Cause a ruckus.  Blow out a few more candles on the cake.  And keep going down the road.  For as long as I’ve got.

Will I die with some business left unfinished?  Most undoubtably so.  I am a work in progress, after all.

Just like Ma’s painting.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 23 Days

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On Friday, April 26 E had surgery to remove cancer from his mouth just below the tongue. It was radical. It was a miracle. It was the longest 23 days of our life.

We held vigil. We prayed. We held hands. We circled the wagons. We kept the fear at bay. For this is what love does. There were evening cross-town drives. Desolate cement parking garages. Elevator rides. And endless corridor walks. The TV amused and kept him company. There was a lot of hockey. He discovered Duck Dynasty. A clipboard filled with lined paper was his only means of communication the first week. He said a lot with his eyes and hands.

Family, friends, and colleagues visited daily. There were puppy dog visits in the sunny tranquil courtyard. Our daughters danced and entertained. Our grand daughter brought sweet little girl kisses. There was a quiet Sunday morning visit with our son.
Strawberry plants grew on the windowsill. Happy-face daisies sprouted from the end of his bed. Photos blossomed on the cork board. Magazines and books grew in little stacks. Coffee from the outside was brought in. There was a glorious view from his seventh floor room. It was heavenly.

And this is what those 23 days looked like.

IMG_1064 IMG_1076 IMG_1135 IMG_1257 IMG_1099 IMG_1150 IMG_0693 IMG_1117 IMG_1263 IMG_1113 IMG_1066 IMG_0695 IMG_1177 IMG_0689 2IMG_0691

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I’m Down on my Knees Again.

Our daughter A training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Our daughter A training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer.

I’ve been brought to my knees.  Countless times over the past year.  In fear. Humility. Frustration. Weakness. In sorrow. To pray. Beg. Plead. Implore.  Ask for mercy and forgiveness.  A bit of kindness.  A dose of compassion.

When I can’t stand this any more, I don’t.  I go down.

I’ve arrived at this place through brokenness and love.  Not just for E.  But for our family and friends.  All that I hold dear and want to preserve.  Ultimately it has been this love that has inspired me to fold. Cave. Crumple. Collapse. Yes, you read that correctly.  Inspired.  For I will do anything for love.  Even that.

Ironically, it is on my knees that I find the relief that I seek so desperately.  Here I am free to surrender all. Rest. Find peace. An illusive whisper these days.

It’s a peculiar thing this Cancer journey.  My heart breaks for E. For us. And all the other Big C pilgrims who know this road all too well.

I am down on my knees today. Not for E and me this time. I’m here because of a recent story in the news. A tragedy beyond words.

Last Sunday, while participating in The Ride To Conquer Cancer a young boy, barely sixteen, and by all accounts the sweetest, died.  A family’s worst nightmare.  A mother’s heart shattered.  A sunny day gone dark.

A young boy and his family doing something so good for a noble and worthwhile cause. I can relate. Three years ago our oldest daughter embarked on this extraordinary ride, for the same reason.  Just like this boy, she was on a sacred mission to do her part, to help the cause. To do something charitable for others she did not know. Altruism at its best.  I admired her courage and strength.  Her loving and caring heart.  Her passionate desire to help.  At the time, cancer had not yet crept into our lives.  It was something that happened to others.  Not us.  Not this close.  Nor this personal.

Just like this tragedy last Sunday morning, bad things happen.  Often to good people. It doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s not meant to. I can understand this mother’s pain. Profoundly. My heart aches for her, and with her.  This is the inconsolable loss. It’s unimaginable. Inconceivable. Incomprehensible.

Yet not.

The very moment I knew I was pregnant, my imagination flooded with all the possibilities.  I not only pictured all the good and wonderful things that this child would do and enjoy. A life of dreams fulfilled. Adventures embarked.  Accomplishments achieved. But my heart, so loving and tender for this newborn child, also saw the fragility, the tenuous and gossamer nature of humanity.  The randomness with which things happened.  Both good and bad.  This heedless Russian Roulette vulnerability to our earth walk frightened me.  We’re all susceptible.  No matter what.

Ultimately, all we want as parents is for our children to be safe and to joyously experience the cycle of life as it should be.  Say farewell to us.  Not the other way around.

http://donate.bccancerfoundation.com/site/TR?pg=fund&fr_id=1340&pxfid=14708

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Waiting Rooms.

Some days I feel dark.I have become intimate with waiting rooms over the past few months.  But none have gotten under my skin so deeply as the one at the Cancer Agency where E had the PET scan.

It was a small crowded room packed with patients waiting to be tested and their respective support groups.  And me, the consummate Groupie.  We got there early so there was ample time for E to fill out the intake form and for me to get restless and bored.  The chairs were stiff and awkwardly close.  The lights were unbearably bright.  Mocking and cruel. The air was weary. This was not a place to linger nor languish.  Here, you waited, got it over with and then got the hell out.

We waited.  And waited.  Waited some more.  At one point, I fell asleep and may have snored, ever so slightly.  E gave me a little love nudge.  I bolted upright and looked around, momentarily confused by my surroundings.  Oh yes, we’re still here I thought.

E’s name was called precisely at the appointed hour.  I gave him a quick peck on the lips, squeezed his hand and watched as he followed the nurse through the heavy metal double doors.  What lay beyond was all a big mystery to me.  I wanted to keep it that way.  Others had gone before him and they all came back okay.  So would he.

I settled in for the 2-hour wait.

I managed to read a few pages from The Color of Water before succumbing to the call of slumber.  My eyelids fluttered and slowly closed.  My head sagged heavily onto my chest like a two hundred pound pumpkin.  Not a pretty sight.  In the end, it was the drool trickling from the corner of my mouth that brought me back to wakefulness.  I wiped my chin with the back of my gloved hand, closed the book and slipped it into the side pocket of my purse.

Then I did what I do best.  Observe.  Witness.  Listen.

There was a painfully thin older woman in her seventies surrounded by her family, who were helping her fill out the daunting intake form.  Her son patiently went through the form question by question. Sometimes answering for her.  And like E and I, sometimes guessing at questions with possible multiple answers or ones that simply didn’t make sense. Close enough was good enough.

There was the young man waiting for his beautiful wife.  She was one who had gone through the double doors before E. When she emerged, he jumped up and was immediately at her side.  “Ah, my beautiful wife,” he declared as he kissed her cheek and took her hand. They sat in the hallway together for a moment, holding hands.  Then he returned to the admitting desk with questions about the “reports to the doctor.”  “Would they get copies as well?” he asked.  Once assured that all was in order, they left. He, with his arm around her waist, and she, with her head snuggled into the sweet spot in his neck.  It took my breath away.

There was the athletic looking woman with the grey hair and backpack slung over here shoulder.  She stood next to the wall with her equally fit friend and made arrangements to meet up afterwards.  There was the heavyset woman who sat quietly knitting.  The middle-aged man in the leather bomber jacket and faded jeans reading the paper.  The teenage boy with the headphones and rapper-style hip-hop jeans, who paced the hallway in step to the music he was listening to.  The young happy bubbly girl barely into her teens, who greeted her anxious parents with a big smile and a reassuring, “It wasn’t that bad.”

And there were others too who came and went during my wait that dreary afternoon in the middle of February.  All there for the same reason.

As I write this, my eyes well with tears at the memory.

The Big C is an equal opportunity invader.  It strikes randomly and carelessly.  Unapologetic and audaciously so.  Old women confused by the questions on forms.  Girlfriends with backpacks and sensible walking shoes.  Beautiful young wives with handsome thoughtful husbands.  People killing time by reading newspapers and books.  Knitters of scarves and baby blankets.  Middle-aged men in denim and leather.  Young teenagers, whose walk on this earth too new to leave footprints.  And yes, even bluegrass musicians who play the upright bass with passion and heart.

The rich.  The poor.  And everything in between.  The happy and optimistic.  The pessimist and naysayer.  The sad and lonely.  The newborn and the ancient one.  There are no precise demographics. No one can pinpoint the target audience.  By touching us all in some way, the whole thing seems so common. Perhaps that’s the divine irony.  There are no favorites here.

The thing that struck me the most while I was waiting.  Hit me in the gut so deeply and profoundly. It was what all these people had in common that I did not possess.

Bravery.

Take that Big C and shove it where the sun don’t shine.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: You Could Die Waiting.

Boo looking up at E at the top of the garden.

Boo looking up at E at the top of the garden.

I have a big patience muscle.  I haven’t always.  But the older I get the bigger it grows.  It was tested fully those tedious grey hours that we sat waiting for a doctor in the ER. Each minute that passed felt like an hour.  I became the irritating kid on a road trip asking, “Are we there yet?”  Only my question that night was, “Is he here yet?”

M pulled out her Anthropology textbook and passed the time reading, listening to music and texting her best friend A.  Teenagers bring their cellphones to bed with them so they are there for each other 24 / 7. This wasn’t unusual. It’s a fascinating cultural phenomenon that is completely foreign to me, being that I’m as old as dirt after all.  I don’t judge.  It works for them.  I on the other hand, frustrate my daughter by my reckless lack of interest in my iPhone.  I use it primarily to take photographs, videos and record sounds.  I am also an Instagram addict.  But mostly the thing is either tethered to my iMac or lost in the bottom of my purse under wads of used Kleenex and other female essentials and paraphernalia.

During those wee hours of December 6, I amused myself by watching the monitor behind E.  It was hypnotic.  And almost as compelling as watching C-SPAN.  The endless minutes ticked by.  I spotted a miniature box of Kleenex on a shelf beneath the monitor and handed it to E to wipe his mouth.  He had the small bowl the nurse had given him resting on his chest to collect the steady flow of drool.  It’s funny the things that capture your imagination at times like these.  The bowl appeared to be made of the same material as take-out holders for drinks at fast food joints.  I wondered if it was sturdy enough to hold all that liquid pouring from E’s mouth. Would it turn to mush and melt all over him?  That’s all we needed on a night such as this.

Fatigue and weariness became intimate bedfellows, wreaking havoc with my emotions, which were fragile at best.  My body felt burdensome and heavy.  At one point I laid my head on the edge of E’s cot and closed my eyes.  I prayed for just five minutes of sleep. Just five lousy minutes.  Oh God, let me escape.  Get away from this insidious nightmare that held us captive.

With sleep turning it’s back on me like a jilted lover, I got up and tiptoed over to the nurse’s station.

“Do you think the doctor will be here soon?” I asked politely.

“Give it fifteen more minutes,” Nurse One replied patiently.

“My daughter has an exam in the morning and I have to work,” I said.  Not that it really mattered.  I just felt compelled to say this out loud.

“It shouldn’t be too much longer,” she assured.

“Okay,” I said, as I slunk quietly back to my chair next to E.

I was overcome by the 3Ds.  Defeated. Deflated. Depressed.

Then just like Nurse One promised, fifteen minutes later a lanky older man appeared suddenly out of no where.  The doctor had arrived. Hallelujah.

One of the other nurses emerged from behind their station to consult with him.  We were less than ten feet away so we could hear everything.  She gave him a quick rundown on the patients waiting for his attention.  There was the old lady in the wheel chair, the drunk guy sleeping on the gurney, and there was mouth guy.  Everyone was identified by their condition.  It was fast and efficient.

The doctor attended to E first.  Perhaps because he was one of the few who were conscious at that moment, or maybe my earlier query on when the doctor would arrive made me a squeaky wheel, or perhaps it was just our proximity to the nurse’s station.  It didn’t matter to me why E was the first to be treated.  I was simply grateful.

I filled the doctor in on the events that had transpired in the previous twelve hours — from the secret biopsy in the afternoon to the episode in the bathroom earlier that night.  A blow by blow account of E’s symptoms.  E interjected with the odd garbled comment.  No one really knew what he was saying.  The doctor scolded him for keeping secrets this big.

Then he asked E to open his mouth.

I peered over the doctor’s shoulder and got my first glimpse of what was causing all the grief.  E’s tongue was the size of a two-year old’s fist.

“Whoa,” I blurted. “Holy crap.”

The doctor sat down in my chair and crossed his long legs in a relaxed easy manner.  I stood across from him with M by my side.  We hung on his every word like he was our lifeline to hope and salvation.  He’d prescribe pain killers and call the surgeon who conducted the biopsy.  He teasingly proposed that M and I go home and get some rest.  E was in good hands and would be able to sleep once the medication kicked in.

Truthfully, M and I were relieved to be sent home.  The doctor was right.  E was in good hands.  There was nothing more for us to do that night.

M drove the truck home while I sunk into the passenger seat, thankful to be driven.  The rain had stopped but the streets were slick and wet.  We discussed the events of the evening. We were both a little shell-shocked.  M had been quiet and said very little during our vigil in the ER.  But in the shelter of our Ford Ranger she was able to share some of her feelings with me.

“I didn’t appreciate the nurse referring to Dad as mouth guy,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

“They shouldn’t talk like that in front of people’s families,” she said.

I understood my daughter’s hurt feelings.  But I also understood that this was just the everyday language of the ER. The nurse’s comments were not intended to cause harm. In fact, just the opposite was true.  They were merely the parlance of dispatching critical information with as much speed and economy as possible.

But I was too tired for explanations.  And she was too tired to care.

Silence filled the truck.  M and I were consumed with our own private thoughts.  As we were floating across town in a semi-dream state, I remember this horrible feeling of dread pass through my body.  Like thick black tar.  I flashed back to a year earlier.  To the week in September when our sweet little Jack Russell, Andy suffered a heart attack and died with me by his side.  E was in Nova Scotia burying his father, while M and I were thousands of miles away on the West coast.

It was just the two of us that week. Taking care of Andy. Watching him slip away. Overwhelmed by sadness. Paralyzed by grief.

This felt just like that.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Wait This is an Emergency.

Boo and The Bass Man share a moment.

Boo and The Bass Man share a moment.

The ER is a dreary place.  Even more so at 2:00am.  It was quiet. Eerily so. I don’t know what I was expecting. A scene from the television show perhaps.  Blood, guts and gore spilling from victims of violent Chicago crimes. A young George Clooney flashing that seductive smile my way as he shouted a litany of incomprehensible medical terms at the actors pretending to be medical professionals.  There wasn’t any of that.

We spoke in hushed voices and politely waited our turn at the admittance window. Victims of our own personal trauma unfolding. No blood, just drowning in fear.  There was a surreality to the scene.  A bit like a lucid dream. We could have been waiting to buy a ticket at a Greyhound station.  Abysmal.  Everyone looked forlorn.  Like we were all buying tickets to the worst place in the country.  Fill in the blank.  We all know the place.

I remember feeling tired.  Deep into my bones.  I wasn’t up for this.  Whatever this was.

Our fellow sojourners that night were all equally fatigued and battle-worn.  There was the middle-aged woman holding her side.  She couldn’t conceal her pain.  It was written all over her face. Her son sat next to us on the bank of stiff chairs attached to the wall, secured to prevent theft I suppose. You never know in a joint like this at 2:00am.  She gave her details to the nurse behind the wicket.  I listened attentively to the conversation, as though this were my mother.  Hung onto every word like it was my business.  I’m a hopeless eavesdropper.  I can’t help myself.  It’s all fodder for stories.  You never know when or where this little scene, this bit of dialogue, these crestfallen characters will show up in my next story.  I’m always on the job.

On the other side of us was a drunk in a wheel chair.  He had “attendants” who were some sort of hybrid of a cop/EMT/ambulance driver.  It was hard to tell.  There were two of them.  Burly but soft-spoken.  They were taking a kid gloves approach with this guy but at the same time you could tell they weren’t to be messed with.  The drunk guy was paranoid.  The nurse needed to take his temperature but he refused to let anyone touch him.  He told everyone to ‘fuck off.’ I wanted to oblige but we needed to get E admitted.

At one point the drunk pulled a disappearing act while the attendants were discussing his situation with the nurse.  He vanished like Houdini through the hospital green doors right behind their backs.  There was a tattle tale, or two, in our paltry group.  When the attendants realized their charge was MIA, sly index fingers were pointed in the direction of the door.  Not a word uttered.  Just poker faces and sleight of hand as we easily gave up one of our own. I learned that waiting room bonds are easily forged and just as easily broken.  The attendants swiftly retrieved their drunk guy.  He managed to spit a few more ‘fuck offs’ before they wheeled him away.  I don’t know where he ended up. There’s always one rowdy in the crowd. He was a good distraction though so in a kooky way I’m grateful he was there.

It was finally our turn at the wicket.  I did all the talking because by this time E was incapable of doing anything but drool. Questions were answered, temperature taken, plastic identity bracelet attached to his left wrist, and then our weary little band of three followed the footprints to “room” 15, the vast repository for the suddenly stricken.  E stretched out on the narrow bed while M and I grabbed chairs and positioned them on either side.  Enclosed in white curtains on three sides, we were directly in front of the nurses’ station and had a panoramic view of the entire room.

The place was full but it too was uncannily quiet.  Occasionally someone moaned or coughed.  At one point the person next to us started to snore.  I found this comforting.  There was a scruffy bedraggled guy, who looked like he had spent one too many nights on the street, sleeping peacefully on a gurney in the open space next to the nurses.  An elderly woman was slumped in a wheelchair.  There were two little kids playing with another wheelchair nearby.  It was as if they had been scooped from a playground and transported to this place for my amusement.  It made me smile.

There wasn’t a doctor in sight.

E was hooked up to a machine that monitored his vitals.  I watched it carefully for clues.  If the top number goes up, is that good or bad?  Why is the smaller number changing constantly? What’s going on inside of E’s body?

A lovely, kind nurse came and took E’s temperature and checked his blood pressure.  She made the usual cheerful chitchat that people in the profession of caring for others do so well.  Calming.  Reassuring. Soothing.

Everything was going to be okay.