Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Wayne Dyer, You Changed My Life.

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Facebook really knows how to deliver the news. Whatever is going on in the world, it ends up there in some way, shape or form. Guaranteed. So much of it is bullshit baffling brains. It’s a crazy-ass stew of hilarious, hysterical, heavenly, helpful, hurtful and harmful.

And every now and again, it’s gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking.

This emotional gutting happened to me a year ago when I opened my Facebook newsfeed, only to learn that my dear one and soul sister, Mary Frances had died. Then it happened again on Sunday, August 30. Wayne Dyer has left his body, passing away through the night. My first reaction to both death announcements was, “how’s that even possible?”

Initially, my entire being was thrust into abrupt and swift shock. Then, my soul struggled to fathom such an impossible notion, such a far-fetched and preposterous declaration. Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe what I was experiencing in that moment. Then panic set in. If Wayne Dyer isn’t in this physical dimension, then where do I go in times of fear, sorrow, anxiety, trouble and confusion? Who will comfort me? Where will I find solace and courage, strength and grounding? Who else can provide such powerful profundity and candid commonsense? For this is what his words and wisdom had provided me for the past three decades.

Then I just felt sad. Deeply. Profoundly. Fervently. Utterly. Completely. Every fiber, every cell, every piece of me went into mourning.

I was sad for everyone who loved him, his family and friends, his followers and devotees, those who were lucky enough to know him personally, and those like me, who knew him through his books, audio recordings, PBS appearances, his website and social media.

Like many, I “met” Wayne through his first book, Your Erroneous Zones. I say I met him because that’s exactly how it felt. And as I read more and more of his books, I felt like I was not only learning and growing increasingly aware of my interior and exterior worlds, acquiring a deeper understanding of this life and the one beyond the mist, but that I was also getting to know the man. And this man was extraordinary in every way.

Marvelous and wonderful. Magical and mystical. Intelligent and wise. Witty and entertaining. Mentor and teacher. Inspired and an inspiration.

And I am going to miss him. I’m going to miss reading his words. I’m going to miss listening to his voice in the truck on my way to work. I’m going to miss watching him pace the PBS stage, rolling his hands rhythmically in tune to the cadence of his lyrical voice, as he explained the power of intention and how to make our wishes come true. You’ll see it when you believe it, one of his many mantras. I’m going to miss all those too. I’m going to miss his inspiring quotes in my Facebook newsfeed. I’m going to miss meditating with him. I’m going to miss the “ah”.

So what does the student do when the teacher moves to a different realm?

Take the lessons learned and do something good. Something meaningful. Something kind. Something loving. Something compassionate. Something generous. Something optimistic. Something courageous. Something big. Something small. Something simple. Something profound. Something gentle. Something fierce. Something funny. Something intelligent. Something memorable. Something ordinary. Something peaceful. Something wise. Something imaginative. Something beautiful. Something human. Something divine. Something infinite. Something everlasting.

Thank you Wayne Dyer. You changed my life. I am eternally grateful.

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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: The Dream.

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I’m not much of a dreamer. At least not at night when I’m asleep. I do a lot of daydreaming. But the other thing, not so much. I guess technically, I do dream. We all do. I just have poor recall.

When I do remember a dream though, it’s usually a doozy. Nightmares. Being chased and can’t run away or scream for help. Embarrassing. Forgot to dress and find myself on a crowded bus stark freaking naked. X-rated. Stark freaking naked. Enough said. For the sake of my three adult children I will spare all the sordid details. Some make me sad and I wake up crying. Usually involving the death of a beloved human or pet. Sometimes myself. From others I wake up laughing. Like I was in bed with Louis C.K. Enough said.

But every now and again, there’s one that flat-out leaves me believing. In wonder and amazement at just how stupendously miraculous this thing called life and afterlife really is. It’s the stuff of good science fiction. Time travel. Parallel universes. Eternal connectivity. The never-ending story. The stuff that bears truth to statements like, “She/he is still with me” or “I feel her/his presence.”

On Thursday night I had a two-part dream like this. The first part was kind of a silent nightmare. I was in a subway car with my daughter M and her best friend A and we were headed to some unknown destination. The strange thing was that neither girl was talking, which I suppose is proof that I was indeed dreaming. The even stranger thing was that the subway car was actually a rollercoaster car, which I am terrified of. I was sitting between the two girls. We went around a hairpin curve at lightening speed and somehow I flipped out of the car and was hanging on to the side of the car like my life depended on it, because it did. I called out to one of the girls (who shall remain nameless) to hold onto my arm so I wouldn’t fall off and be crushed by a million tons of fast-moving steel. But it was as if she was deaf. Much like our waking relationship. Then I grew very calm. I knew I would be fine, that everything would end up okay. I hung onto the side of the car, cool as a cucumber. Fearless even. I just love how you can manipulate dreams to make them work in your favor. We arrived safely at the next subway stop and all was well. End of part one.

In part two I’m still at the subway stop. My young female travelling companions are gone. They left without a word, which made perfect sense since this was a silent movie. In the next scene, a door opens and it’s The Old Man. Finally someone speaks. He says, “Look who I brought.” He steps aside. And there’s Ma. It was a younger Ma. The one from when I was about eight or ten. She looked beautiful. I ran into her arms. We embraced. I hung onto her for dear life. Just like the rollercoaster car in part one. I could feel her. And smell her. I cried into the collar of her faux fur winter coat. I told her how happy I was to see her. And that I missed her dearly.

And that was it. I woke up crying. But I wasn’t sad. I was happy to have had this moment with Ma. To be hugged by her again. No one, and I mean no one, hugs you like your mother.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve dreamt of Ma since she died 14 years ago. We’ve had “visits” before. Most of the time they are sweet and simple and far too brief. Much like our time together on earth. Sometimes we’re shopping or having lunch. But mostly we’re sitting together at the kitchen table at 204 enjoying a cup of tea and a good chat. Nothing has changed. We talk about the “daily things” that fill our days with meaning, hope and love. She still refuses to tell me why we’re here, what it’s all about, and where we go after this is all said and done.

One of the wonderful gifts of these visits, or close encounters from the other side, is that I get to have “the one mores” with her. One more kiss. One more hug. One more cup of tea. One more conversation. One more chance to say, “I love you Ma.”

Is it real? Is it just a dream? Are we living parallel lives now? Am I able to traverse from here to wherever she is? Cross borders and meet-up with her in my sleep? Slip from this reality to hers? Is this possible?

I don’t know. And I don’t care. I only know that seeing Ma on Thursday night comforted me. Brought me peace. And made me happy. I look forward to one more.

Ma Girl Warrior - Feature Alt

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: His Mother’s Name was Bessie.

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Beautiful Bessie, the Bass Man’s Mama.

I’m taking a break from the all consuming Big C conversation for just a moment to share this bit about a sweet lady, E’s Mama Bessie.  He misses her dearly, especially now when confronted by the fragility of life.

On the day before 94-year old Bessie died, she announced to her younger son Larry that she was breaking out.

Clear out of the blue.  A declaration of independence so foreign to her nature that it was unfathomable.  Disarming.

Feeble and frail. Yet in the end, so fierce in her final conviction.

“Where are you going Mom?” he asked

“To New York City!” she proclaimed.

Bessie, who had never been more than one hundred miles from her small county home.

Bessie, who as a young girl spent a week up on the mountain, just a few miles away, was homesick and fearful.  She pined for her mother.  And missed the familiar valley farmland and apple orchards.  To young Bessie, this overgrown hill was much too high and close to the sky. Too far away from her roots and the bosom of the valley bed. It threw off her equilibrium.  Left her shaken and traumatized for life.

Bessie, whose wanderlust didn’t extend beyond a Sunday drive down to Waterville for lunch with Harlan.

Bessie, who had lost most of her sight and hearing, but none of her unpredictable wit and natural intelligence. To the end, razor sharp and fully loaded with an arsenal of quick retorts.

Bessie, who lived a simple life surrounded by “her people.”  Married Harlan and raised her boys just a stone’s throw from her childhood home.

Bessie, who never strayed far.  Always walked the straight and narrow.  Found dignity in the familiar and commonplace.

Yes, this same Bessie, on the Eve of the trip of her lifetime, revealed that she was now ready to travel.

Godspeed Bessie.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I am a Couch Potato.

In front of my blue couch in my writing room.

I must confess.  I am a Couch Potato.  In my defense, I come by my CP status honestly.  Ma and The Old Man were also big CPs.  That was back in the day when this activity, or lack thereof, was considered an acceptable pastime.  Before there was an actual term for it.  Pre-guilt era.  Before I thought I should be making better use of my time.  By accomplishing stuff.  Getting things done.  Being a doer.  Not a layabout.  Back when it wasn’t synonymous with sloth.  Laziness.  Wasting time.  Or worse yet, my life.

There was a time when a potato was just a potato.  Mashed, baked or fried.  Served hot with vegetables and meat.  And a couch was just a couch.  A place to sit and put your feet up. Take it easy.  Stretch out.  Lie down.  Languish. Unwind and relax. Rest your weary bones.  Catch forty winks.  A little catnap.  Doze or fall into a deep sleep.

For the record, I like my potatoes mashed, baked or fried.  And I love couches for all the reasons I’ve just described.

Ma’s four kids on the maroon couch.

Little back story.  Ma loved couches long before I ever came into the picture.  We had more than a few during my life at 204.  But the first one had to have been my all-time favorite.  This seems to be the case with many “firsts” in life.  The benchmark for all that follows.  This particular first was a luxurious deep maroon embossed velvet, worthy of being called a “sofa.”  Comfy plush cushions with kid-sturdy wide arms and a head-resting back.  Designed for comfort and built to last.  It could accommodate a family of six easily.  Photographically perfect for portraits of children.  They just don’t make couches like that any more.

Ma asleep on the turquoise sectional.

After Ma’s mania for all things maroon passed, we moved into her turquoise phase of the sixties.  With that came the modern turquoise sectional, which Ma kept covered in plastic for the first year we had it.  This served not only to preserve the pristine newness of the couch but it also appeared to have been a peculiar part of the decorating trend of that era.  There was a spate of plastic covered furniture across the cities and towns of North America.  According to black and white photographic evidence, it seemed to be all the rage.  Why else would so much plastic have appeared in so many family photos?  What else could have accounted for this phenomenon? It was as much a part of the domestic decorating landscape as pole lamps and shag rugs.

Cuddle time on the brown couch with the floral coverlet.

After the plastic covered couch, there was the brown nylon ditty of the seventies.  Equally modern in style, and although not split in two, it did have a matching chair.  The plastic was replaced with fitted slip covers and loose coverlets.  First there was the brown and orange floral patterned coverlet with the fringed edge.  This was draped over the couch like an oversized table cloth.  It was awkward and never stayed properly tucked.  Ma replaced this with a snug fitting gold slip cover that almost looked like it was tailor-made for the couch.  Except when it shrank and no longer covered the cushions fully.

One year, my sister gave Ma a cozy harvest gold mohair throw that was perfect for snuggling under in the evenings, especially during the long cold winter months.  It also looked marvelous draped over the back of the gold slip-covered couch, adding a tone on tone decorative embellishment.  Practicality aside, the slipcovers and coverlets provided a fresh look without having to splurge on an entirely new couch.  Ma loved to experiment and change things up but we were not a family who could afford such whimsy.  So in typical Ma fashion she used her creativity to fill the gaps where her pocketbook was lacking.

Sleepy time on the brown couch with the gold slip cover.

At some point in the eighties Ma went “colonial” with her decorating scheme.  This meant everything had a casual country feel.  Veneer coffee and end tables were replaced with ones made of maple or pine.  The couch to match was large and tweedy.  Warm and earthy in orange, rust and brown. By this time Ma had fully embraced her “orange” period.  The floors were covered in wall to wall orange carpets and the front picture window was ablaze with orange flowered drapes.  Until then she had been dabbling with hints of orange in the coverlets.  But the eighties brought a full-on immersion into this joyous and ebullient color.  It was in this palette that she would remain until her dying day.  She was after all, a fiery and passionate Italian woman.

My niece cuddles with the cat on the tweed couch.

Regardless of the style, color or era, the purpose of these couches was always the same.  We were a family of loungers and languishers. Loafers and lollers. Sprawlers and slouchers.  And there was no better place for such a pleasurable pastime than Ma’s couch.  Nothing more welcoming and enjoyable than stretching out under a warm homey blanket, with the television six feet away broadcasting your favorite comedy or tear jerker.  And in our family the odds were, you’d be dozing off within minutes of the opening theme song. It was just the way we were. There we would remain. Sometimes we’d snooze for a few minutes.  Other times it was a few hours.  There was just something about Ma’s couches that induced sleep.  Something so deliciously reassuring and safe that sent us all off to La La Land. It didn’t matter if they were maroon or plastic covered turquoise.  Gold slip covered or orange tweed.  They all had the same affect.
No matter how long we’d been away. No matter how far we had ventured from 204.  Regardless of our age.  Child and grand child alike.  We all gravitated towards the couch.  Called dibs when it came time for bed during visits and holidays.  Everyone wanted to camp out on Ma’s couch.

The Old Man resting on the tweed colonial.

Years ago when I set up my first writing room in our home, one of the “must-haves” was a couch.  I wanted a private place to curl up and dream, sip tea, read novels, play my guitar, chat with a friend or take a snooze.  A comfy spot that was away from the rest of the household.  I not only wanted a room of my own, but a couch as well.  A big chair just wouldn’t do.  It had to be a couch.  It wasn’t just a piece of furniture after all.

My sanctuary.  My safe haven.  My hideout.  My shelter in the storm.  Ma’s cradling arms.

On the night after Ma died I sought refuge there.  The house had been full of people all day.  Our family had gathered to grieve and share memories.  We made frozen pizzas.  By seven o’clock that evening my head was pounding and my heart was aching.  I was raw.  Empty.  My soul was naked.  So I retreated.  Stole away from the chatter and tears to my safe place.  The couch in the little room of my own.  I crawled under the wool blanket and lay in the dark.  Everything was perfectly still.  My eyes were squeezed shut in pain. I listened to my heartbeat.  It was out of sync.

I wondered where Ma was.  I prayed that she was on an orange tweed couch sleeping peacefully under a mohair blanket.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Dog Sugar was a Good Judge of Boyfriends.

My dog Sugar.

I love dogs.  I love cats and other animals too.  But dogs in particular hold a noteworthy place in my heart. Long before there was Andy and Coco and Rusty there was Sugar and Tootsie and a few others I only know by old black and white photographs.  It’s true dogs are our best friends. And sometimes a lonely girl’s little sister.

Little back story.  When I was around five years old The Old Man brought a new puppy home to 204. There had been a few dogs before her but none like Sugar.  When I look back on my childhood I have no memory that doesn’t include Sugar.  It’s as if my life began with a sweet little ball of white fur and heart-melting chocolate eyes.

Ma and The Old Man posing with Sugar.

Sugar was completely white except for a tinge of black in her ears when The Old Man first brought her home. He was a huge animal lover but like me, dogs were his favorites. And Sugar was like another child to him.  Ma’s heart was large and compassionate for all living creatures.  She wasn’t one for rough and tumble play like me and The Old Man.  But she loved Sugar dearly and considered her part of our family.  Sugar was never discouraged from languishing on the couch or snuggling on the bed.  Ma would often sit in quiet meditation, petting Sugar while she rested her head on her lap.  They had a kinship.  A rare affinity and understanding that seemed to surpass the human-animal connection.

Me and Sugar standing tall together.

Back then, a spade was called a spade. Naming a dog was simple. Rex, Lassie, Buddy, Sparky or Skip were all common no-nonsense monikers of the era. Color also influenced the name given to a dog.  If it was black, then Blacky was an obvious choice. White dogs, on the other hand, were often named after white things. Like sugar.  Our dog Sugar was full of surprises right from the start though. They say a leopard never changes his spots but sometimes a white dog grows some. By the time she was six months, Sugar was covered in them and her ears were jet black.  But by then, it was too late to call her Spotty.

I’m not sure what breed Sugar was.  We didn’t go much for pedigree back then.  We just had pets.  She was a mutt from a long line of mutts.  But canine rumor has it that somewhere along her ancestral lineage a Cocker Spaniel and a Dalmatian got involved.  That was good enough for us.  Regardless, she was gorgeous, smart, funny, loving, affectionate, sweet tempered and an extremely good judge of boyfriends. Ma always said, if Sugar doesn’t like him, there’s something wrong with him.  I should have listened to Ma.  And Sugar.

A welcome visit from Sugar at bath time.

Sugar terrorized the Mailman.  She wasn’t fond of anyone in a uniform but the Mailman in particular was a favorite target.  Five days a week.  The irony of this is that The Old Man wore a uniform to work every day, a fact that Sugar appeared to overlook.  But the Mailman didn’t get off the hook so easily.  Even Uncle Bud, Ma’s brother-in-law, wasn’t immune to her snarling, snapping and gnashing of teeth. Needless-to-say, his tenure as our Mailman was short-lived. We all knew why.

My lovely sister-in-law hanging out with Sugar.

Back then dogs ran free and roamed the streets like four-legged hoodlums with nothing but mischief and shenanigans on their minds.  They were harmless and everyone knew their names.  Ma would let Sugar out in the morning for her daily doggy-do, which also included scouting the neighborhood for feline riffraff and other nefarious varmints.  She never went far and mostly stayed in our yard, which she protected like a Palace guard.  Every passerby, whether friend or foe, was subject to her relentless barking. She held her ground.  Literally.  The entire length of our front yard.  Doggedly determined to defend her turf no matter what.  The truth was, the girl was all bark and no bite.  The entire neighborhood knew this.  This didn’t make it any less irksome.  Not everyone appreciated her doggone single-minded attitude like I did.  Sugar found herself in the dog house on more than one occasion.  Relegated to the back yard where her inner beast was contained by a twenty foot tether.

Sugar photo bombs my son on the front steps.

Sugar was also a good sport and a very accommodating creature.  She was a willing participant in my fun and games, including “dress-up.”  I decked her out in old baby clothes, propped her up in my doll carriage and proudly strolled the neighborhood with my dog-baby.  It was both comical and sad.  Sugar became the little sister I never had but desperately longed for.  I wanted to be like the C kids who lived across the street.  Three kids all two years apart plus a fourth surprise bonus one to boot, a few years later.  They were the lucky ones.  I was envious of their sibling rivalry and fights over the toilet.  Even my older siblings had each other.  So Sugar became my surrogate sibling.  My baby sister.  She seemed to accept this role with patience, tolerance and an abundance of equanimity.  Or perhaps it was mere self-preservation and acquiescence.  Regardless of her motivation, she never struggled to free herself from the fancy frocks.  Floppy sun bonnets.  Nor the little pink socks.  I like to think she understood my loneliness and aching need.

Sugar goes for a ride in my son’s wagon.

We shared a bed for almost twenty years.  Unlike many dogs, who preferred the foot of the bed, Sugar spent her nights all nestled and tucked under the covers right next to me.  We even shared a pillow.  I loved to snuggle her little body next to mine.  She was a living teddy bear.  My Linus blanket.  My comforter.  My sweet furry lullaby.

In summer, Sugar had a house of her own.  The Old Man built it for her and kept it in the backyard.  Nothing fancy.  A simple one room abode.  But it did the trick when Sugar needed a place to rest and take shelter from the summer heat.  In the winter she hunkered down indoors with the rest of us.  Northwestern Ontario winters were brutal.  A dog’s pee could freeze before it hit the snow.  Sugar didn’t linger long outdoors between December and the end of March. She was a wise girl.

When Sugar was about a year old she had a litter of pups.  We gave them away to the neighborhood families.  It was a win-win situation.  Everyone was happy.  After experiencing motherhood she was spayed.  She gained some weight so we had more of her to love.  She was still gorgeous in my eyes.

The summer I turned 25 I was living in a small northern town in British Columbia with my first husband and young son. It was during that time that I got a call from Ma.  It was the call I dreaded.  It had been six months since I last saw Sugar.  Christmas vacation.  She was ancient and dog-tired by then.  Arthritic and slow walking. Her velvety muzzle as white as her name.  But her eyes were the same.  She was still my Sugar girl.  Sweet as that first day she became my little sister.

Sugar enjoys a pet on the head from my son.

I am grateful that I wasn’t there when Sugar died.  I’m not sure I had the courage and inner strength to witness her last breath.  But I do know intimately how painful it was for Ma and The Old Man to have her put down.  What an odd expression.  It was impossible for them to let her go.  But let her go they did.  She was twenty.  Her hind end was paralyzed.  She was no longer a threat to the Mailman. Her bark was gone.

I have never fully let Sugar go.

I searched in vain for years.  I stared into the eyes of every white dog I came across seeking some spark of recognition.  It was never there.  Until I met Andy.  Sweet.  Gentle.  With Sugar girl eyes.  It was love at first sight.  I knew him.  It was a double blessing too.  For in those eyes I also saw Ma’s.  And when he barked I heard The Old Man’s voice.

Now there’s my Sugar girl.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: I Never Can Say Goodbye.

Ma enjoying her morning tea the summer before she died.

Goodbyes can be hard for me.  Especially when I’m saying them to someone I love.  Then they don’t feel very good at all.  But within every goodbye is the welcoming possibility of the next hello.  Saving grace.

Some goodbyes are more difficult than others.  Some are temporary.  Short lived.  But others are permanent.  Never another opportunity to bid someone a fond adieu.  These are the most difficult.  The heartbreakers.  The sorrowful ones.  And sadly unavoidable.  Sooner or later, it happens to all of us.

If we’re lucky there may only be a few really big goodbyes in our lifetime.  But along the journey there are many little ones.  These are the fine hairline fractures of the heart.  The tiny losses that are barely detected by our minds but somewhere deep inside our spirt, there is a knowing.  And with each one, life changes.  Maybe not in a gigantic shrieking way.  But there is a shift.  It’s the winds of changes, Dylan sang about.   And things are never quite the same as they were.  I think we record these moments in our soul.  Some we bury deep. Others we record for posterity.  Capture in black and white.  Or  record in living color.  And play back.  Again and again.   But no matter how many times we practice we are never ever truly prepared for the last time.

We probably say goodbye to someone everyday.  I know I do.  In the morning my husband shouts up the stairs on his way out the door for work.  “See ya later,” he calls.  I’m in the bathroom readying myself for work, toothbrush in hand and I holler back, “have a good day!”  He responds in kind, “you too!”  I can hear the back door slam on his way out.  Hello, where’s my kiss.

My youngest daughter does a similar thing as she leaves for school, or to meet with friends.  “Bye Mom.  Love you!” she sings.  Her sweet voice, music to my ears.  “Love you too dear!” I trill.  I could be anywhere at this point.  Applying mascara in front of the bathroom mirror.  Throwing on a pair of skinny red jeans for work.  Rummaging through my closet for a clean top to go with them.  Gathering up the bag of goodies I need for work.  I hear the door slam.  I hear her say “hello” to her best friend.  They giggle.  They talk loud.  They’re young.

At work there are numerous goodbyes.  Business associates and colleagues come and go.  I wish them well.  “Have a good day!”  “Enjoy your week!”  “Your weekend!”   Cheers and tootle-dos. And with each “so long, farewell, it’s been good to know you” there is always the promise of tomorrow.  Another day to say hello.

Some goodbyes are rites of passage.  Like when my son moved out of the house and in with his buddies.  He was a young man by then.  But that’s not what I saw as he moved his things out of his bedroom.  I saw my little raisin-eyed boy who loved to rub his hands together with glee whenever his favorite team scored a goal.  I saw the little boy who held my hand on the way to school his first day.  I saw our entire life together flash before me as he closed the door.  Just like they say happens when you die. I saw it all in an instant.  Hello, can we press rewind.

A similar thing happened when my oldest daughter left to go to college.  My son just moved across town.  But my daughter moved across the Georgia Strait.  In theory still close.  But there was this inconvenient body of water between us, which meant we couldn’t just hop in the car and be there in ten minutes.  This geographic situation introduced all the “special occasion” goodbyes.  Her birthday and Thanksgiving weekend combo.  Christmas vacation.  The quick trip over for a winter weekend.  Easter and maybe spring break if luck is on our side.  The long weekend in May or Mother’s Day.  Choose one.  Canada Day and little sister’s birthday BBQ if time permits.  Time.  Never enough.  But we’ve got memories by the truckload.  And lots of hugs and kisses at the ferry terminal or the back door.  “Love you dear.”  “Love you too Mom.”  Hello, can we have more special occasions.

By the time I had these rites of passage and special occasion goodbyes with my children, I was already well practiced with Ma and The Old Man.  I remember the first one like it was yesterday.  It was the hardest.  Painful doesn’t even come close to describing it.  When my son was three we moved to the Westcoast for the first time.  My sister was (and still is) living in Victoria.  The plan was to move in with her and start a new life.  It was time to cut the apron strings.  And stand on my own two feet.  Embrace adulthood by moving three thousand miles from home.  It was all very exciting.

The departure scene at the airport is imbedded in my memory.  Forever.  Leaving Ma was hard enough.  But leaving with her grandson in tow was agonizing.  She had helped raise him and he meant the world to her.  We hugged.  We cried.  We waved goodbye.  My son and I got on the plane.  I wanted to jump on the next one back.  I didn’t.  But I did return a year later with a new husband.  Hello, we’re home.

There would be more moves over the years and many goodbye hugs and kisses.  All in preparation for the big one.

Ma died a year and a half after she had a massive heart attack.  Until that fateful day she always seemed so young and energetic.  She was one of those people whose age was indefinable.  We all thought she’d live to one hundred, including Ma.  Her heart attack was a shock to everyone, including Ma.  In fact, once Ma was out of the hospital and recovering nicely, she immediately went into denial.  “Oh I didn’t have a heart attack,” she’d say.  “Oh but you did Ma,” we’d say.  She never listened.  And either way, she seemed in pretty good shape for someone who may, or may not, have lost over 70% of her heart muscle.  Hello, who knows best.

The year and a half that Ma lived after her heart attack was a gift from God.  Not just for her.  But for me as well.  Had she died instantly that day in early August, I’m not sure I would have fared as well as I did.  This long goodbye.  This period of grace from God was the time I needed to come to grips with my mother’s mortality.  Despite her youthful appearance and vigorous disposition, she was in her eighties.  She was elderly. And no one, not even Ma, get’s out of here alive.  That year and a half was a sweet gentle loving time.  I grew to appreciate the quiet moments.  I learned to sit and be still.  I learned to watch and witness.  I grew a grateful heart.  I learned to let go.

A few months after her heart attack my sister brought Ma out to the Westcoast for a visit.  Because she had been doing so well, we thought this would be a good thing for her.  She never did return home.  Never saw The Old Man again.  She pined for both.  One minute she was doing really well and the next she was severely ill.  Quite quickly we ran out of time to get her back home.  She was stuck in Oz.  Her last Christmas was spent in the hospital.  We spent the best part of it there with her.  It was a sad time.  But it was wonderful too.  Miraculous.  Not because Ma’s heart was repaired.  But because mine was transformed.  Permanently.  I would never take life for granted again.

Ma enjoying an intimate moment with her great granddaughter just days before she died.

In the days before her death my oldest daughter brought my granddaughter to visit Ma in the hospital.  They couldn’t get their eyes off each other.  There they were.  The one leaving earth and the one who had just arrived in a profound intimate exchange.  No words necessary.  Just a meeting of the souls.  Kindred spirits.  Evermore linked.

Hello.  I love you.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Dog Poop and the Fine Art of Raking.

The Old Man with his rake and white cowboy hat.

I like my garden.  And I like to hang out in it.  I like all the flowers and trees. The blueberry bushes, mauve lilacs and sundry shrubs with no names.  The bird houses clinging to the Garry Oak trees are cute and folksy.  But most importantly, they attract delightful birds into our little piece of the world and that fills me with glee.  It’s spring and I’m itching to get out there and watch my husband do all the grunt work.  I admire his talent for breathing new life into the places where unpleasant dead vegetation has amassed over the winter months.  He seems to enjoy doing that.  I see no reason to discourage him.  I prefer to putter.  Plant pretty things.  Pansies.  Petunias.  Poppies.  And flowers that start with other letters too.  Like Geraniums and Marigolds.

There was a time when I was a great gardener.  Or at least I worked hard at it.  Did all the grunt work like my husband does now. When I was living in Toronto with my two older kids, my summer weekends were spent mowing lawns, trimming hedges, dead-heading flowers, staking tomato plants, plucking peppers, weeding and watering.  I got my hands dirty and my knees bruised.  It was back-busting, nail-breaking work.  It involved blood, sweat and tears.  But it was also glorious.  And gratifying. Especially at the end of the day, when I sat in the tranquil shade of our grapevine canopy and admired my day’s travail.

We lived in a predominantly Italian neighborhood with a smattering of Greek, Portuguese and Jamaican folks.  I rarely knew what anyone was talking about because I didn’t speak any of those languages.  Ma was a second generation Italian and only knew how to count to ten, so consequently that was the extent of my Italian conversational skills. Not very engaging.  We were the foreigners in Toronto’s Little Italy.  The Mangacakes.  But nonetheless, we felt at home there. Possibly because in their warm olive-complected faces, I saw Ma.  But despite the language differences we were able to communicate, especially in the back gardens where our Italian neighbors and I spent much of our spare time during those steaming summer months.  And I definitely understood good advice on growing tomatoes and peppers – the vegetables that grew in abundance and seemingly effortlessly in that climate.  With their advice, even I grew them with ease.

I look back and marvel at the gardening language we employed.  It consisted of hand gesturing, facial expression, demonstration and example. There weren’t a lot of words because there were so few we had in common.  Yet we learned this universal language that crossed all cultures and parlance.  It was as beautiful as the luscious red tomatoes and delectable green peppers we grew.  Communication at it’s simplest.  You point.  You dig.  You hoe.  You stake.  You pluck, pinch and prune. You scratch your head.  You smile.  You laugh.  You say thank you.

Little back story.  I come by my love of gardening honestly.  The Old Man taught me all the basics.  Back then we didn’t call it “gardening” though.  Far too gentile and refined sounding for that time and place.  It was yard work.  Raking grass or leaves in the front yard.  Digging up earth, planting rows of seeds, watering, weeding and harvesting in the backyard.

Over the years, The Old Man tinkered with the backyard, adding a row of Poplar trees along the fence line and a Weeping Willow, that eventually became a nuisance despite it’s beautiful forlorn hangdog branches. It’s labyrinth root system overtook the yard and sucked the life out of everything.  There were a couple of evergreens here and there.  But the piece de resistance, the shining glory of the backyard were the Manitoba Maples.  Two beauties strategically planted about ten feet apart.  Just wide enough to hang a red white and blue striped hammock.   The swinging bed of afternoon daydreams and early evening siestas.  The double swing for giggling grandkids.  The humorous pratfall for anyone who dared to keep their guard down.  The place to rest your weary soul after a hard day’s work.

In the front yard there were flowers under the front windows.  Marigolds and Geraniums mostly.  These were the Old Man’s favorites. I suspect because they were both hardy and happy plants.  Bright and cheerful all summer long and well into an Indian Summer. Feisty enough to make it to Thanksgiving (Canadian) and some years tenacious enough to hold out until Halloween.  There was a wild rose growing between our yard and our neighbors.  The scent of which I will yearn for until the day I die.  But the centerpiece of the front yard was a beautiful lilac bush that bloomed in June.  Ma would pick a bouquet for the kitchen table, the sweet romantic fragrance enveloping the entire room.  On the boulevard grew another magnificent Manitoba Maple.  Every house along Kenogami Avenue had one.  They were a gift from the city to a weary wartime street.  Green lush shadow casters in summer.  A riot of autumn colors in September and October.  Naked, flexible and courageous all winter long.

I’ve heard it said that it is our sense of smell that has the power to conjure up past memories and emotions.  That appears to be true for me.  The first hint of Spring in the air and I’m ten years old in the front yard with The Old Man.  We’re raking.  (It’s probably more accurate to say, he rakes and I watch and pick up things with mine.  Just the same, I learned the fine art of collecting and disposing of winter debris.  A lesson that would serve me well years later in my old Toronto neighborhood.)  All the snow has finally melted.  The grass is still soggy and mushy in spots.  At first blush it looks dead and gone forever.  Hopeless.  The smell is a paradoxical brew of pure clear 100% Northwestern Ontario Spring air and fusty rancid months-old dog poop.  Then after all the raking and observing is done, something supernatural occurs.  God lifts the winter carpet to reveal the wondrous new green sprouts concealed beneath. And The Old Man and I stand there leaning on our rakes surveying the scene, and we’re hopeful. Optimistic. Expectant.  Summer is coming.  Soon the lilacs will bloom.

Eleven years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, The Old Man, my father, the Breadman had dinner as usual at the old folks home, where he had spent his last year.  Afterwards, he went for an early evening siesta.  He closed his eyes and then held hands with Ma.  He left quietly without any fanfare.  No trumpet calls.  No slapping spoons.  No good-byes or family gathered by his bedside.  When I got the news, my first  thought was “just like The Old Man to leave town on St. Patrick’s Day.”  And my second thought was “I love you and say hi to Ma. I’ll miss you both forever.”

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Regrets, Do-overs and the Night My Dog Died.

Andy hated having to wear the dreaded “cone.”

I have regrets.  Probably more than I care to admit, or face.  I’m not one of those people who boldly declare, “I regret nothing.”  I don’t necessarily wallow in them like a drunk on the bar stool, but they do exist and suffice to say, are now part of my DNA.  I don’t judge but I do acknowledge.

One of my biggest regrets, and the author of my sadness, is that I wasn’t with my mother when she died.  I was there a few hours beforehand but not at the moment she left.  That was over a decade ago and I pined for a do-over, an opportunity to hold her hand, say one last good-bye and bear witness to her presence and her passing.  And until last September I thought this was just the wishful thinking of a heartbroken daughter.  But in a peculiar and unexpected way I got my do-over.

Little back story:  On those rare occasions when Ma went to her Dark Place she would refer to herself as a dog.  “I feel like a dog,” she’d say.  Ma wasn’t one to feel sorry for herself, but we all go there at times and she was no exception.  Although I heard her sorrowful dog Mantra and even took it to heart at times, I also dismissed it as crazy-talk, and never really gave it much energy nor validation.

Then I fell in love.  At first sight.  With Andy.  He was a dog.  Really.  Literally.  A long haired Jack Russell. Not since the dog of my childhood, Sugar Miettinen, had I loved a creature so.  He was heavenly.  Divine.  A wonder.  And I loved him. We got him the year after Ma died.  We responded to an ad in our little neighborhood weekly that said something like “male Jack Russell, 12 weeks old, last one of the litter.”  By the time my husband, daughter and I arrived at the farm where he had spent his first weeks of life, we had him named and our hearts were spilling over with dreams.  On the way home, I happily joked that it wouldn’t have mattered how much he cost, because I knew the minute I laid eyes on him, he was coming home with me.

Our daughter was nine at the time.  Years before, we had promised her that when we bought a house we would get her a puppy.  We were diehard renters and had cats because for some reason they were more “landlord-friendly,” which is, among other things, a testimony to the intelligence and cunning of the feline persuasion.  When Ma and The Old Man died, I inherited a small amount of money, enough for a down payment on our home.  A month after we moved in, so did Andy.

He took over the house and our hearts.  He was brilliant that way.  I expected him to be around for at least twenty years like Sugar Miettinen and Dee Dee, the country and western cat.  Both lived extraordinary wonderful lives.  I used to brag that my pets lived long. I had this naive notion that my love was the secret sauce, the reason for their inexplicable longevity. I was wrong.

At the beginning of September, while my husband was on the East Cost, thousands of miles away burying his father, Andy got sick.  At first I thought he had “the bloat.”  This was something I discovered on the internet after hours of research the night I noticed his stomach was swollen and he was having trouble breathing.  It was serious but not necessarily life threatening.  It was, however, enough to scare the bejesus out of my daughter and myself.  We wrapped a blanket around him and piled into my sister’s car.  I called her because I couldn’t think straight, much less drive.  My brain was consumed by “the bloat.”  By now it was well after ten o’clock so our only recourse was to take him to an emergency Vet clinic across town.  The Vet examined him, then took X-rays.  And then he delivered the news that Andy did not have “the bloat” but in fact, he had congestive heart failure.  His little heart was surrounded by water.  Mine was surrounded by pain.  The Vet, who was very nice, but due to all the surrounding circumstances, and him being the bearer of bad news, I took an instant dislike for him.  Basically he gave us two options: he could euthanize him right then or we could take him home and Andy would continue to have “episodes” and eventually he would have one final heart attack and die.  Needless to say, the floodgates opened and neither my daughter nor I could control the tears.  Not that we wanted to anyway.

I learned a couple of things about myself and my daughter in those moments after hearing Andy’s death sentence.  We don’t take bad news well, perhaps we don’t take it at all.  We’re full of hope, even when it’s clearly hopeless.  And we’re either incredibly optimistic people or we live in chasm of denial.  Regardless, just like that day nine years earlier when I knew I wasn’t leaving the farm without him, I scooped Andy up in my arms and brought him home.  I had no game plan.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I only knew that he had been sick a total of 24 hours and I couldn’t let this be the end.

Andy lasted a week.  My daughter and I tried everything we could to save him starting with a second opinion.  Two days later we took him to our own Vet and she offered us the hope we so desperately sought.  She gave us medication and prescribed a heart healthy dog food.  But by this point, Andy wasn’t interested in food and getting the pills down his throat was next to impossible.  It was tantamount to wrestling an alligator.

Thursday, September 8 was Ma’s birthday.  It was also the day Andy died.

All that day, at the back of my mind I thought “this is the day.” Ma died from congestive heart failure.  So did Andy.  Not all that unusual I suppose, perhaps a little coincidental at best, except for this.  One of the reasons I knew I would never leave the farm without Andy was because of his eyes.  They were dark and sweet like the finest rich chocolate.  When I looked into those dark sweet eyes I saw my mother’s eyes looking back at me. There was an ancient connection.  I knew him.  I shared this “knowing” with my husband and daughter.  I’m not sure they really understood but they never ever, not even once in nine years, denied my conviction that in some cosmic kooky way my mother was with me through Andy.  I always called him my “healing dog,” the one who helped ease the pain of relentless grief, and recover from the rawness of loss.

On the night Andy died I got my do-over.  I was sitting in my office waiting for my bedtime cup of milk to heat in the microwave.  It takes 220 seconds to do so.  I heard the sound of a dog’s toes tapping along the wooden floors of the hallway leading to my office.  I assumed it was our other dog Coco, who we had rescued a few years earlier from a life not worth living, coming to visit me.  Andy hadn’t been able to make the climb up the stairs for a few days so I was surprised to see him walk through the door to where I was sitting in the dark.  I greeted him, gave him a gentle pat behind the ear, told him how lovely it was to see him.  He laid down on the floor facing me.  I thought this was some sign from God that he was having a miraculous recovery and that he was healed. Hallelujah. Before the microwave could beep, Andy got up and headed towards our bedroom.  Instinctively I followed him.  He got next to the bed and started to heave and gag.  I knelt down with him, massaged his throat to help him breathe – we had been doing this all week during his episodes – and told him it would be okay.  Everything would be all right little buddy.  He let out two deep grunts, stiffened and collapsed.

That was it.  I got my do-over.  What a privilege to have been with him in his final moments, to have been the last one to touch him.  What a gift that he chose me.

I didn’t really have a game plan for how I was going to care for Andy after we left the Vet’s but I did start to think about what I would do should he die at home with just my daughter and I alone to manage on our own. I was terrified. I also knew I wanted him buried in our garden, the place where he chased sticks, laid under the Garry Oak trees, drank from the pond, sat with my husband and watched the fish, the place where he barked incessantly at every passer-by, where he stood on the rocks keeping guard over his family, the place where he pooped.  That’s where I wanted him to be.  Close.  Forever near. I knew I couldn’t dig a hole, at least not one that Andy would be placed in.  But I knew someone who could.  While my daughter held vigil, I threw on my jacket and went next door to our neighbor, who is young enough to be my son, strong from years of working as a garden designer, and who on that night, brought truth to the meaning of “good neighbor.”

In the quiet darkness, on September 8th, Christian dug a hole, and while doing so we talked in hushed tones about our mother’s deaths, about our connection to the earth, the trees and plants we both salvaged from their gardens, and most importantly, how connected we were to them. Something beyond words happened that night.  Something far greater than the death of my beloved pet.  I learned about the unwavering kindness of human beings, and their generosity and willingness to help with things that are often incomprehensibly difficult.

I am forever grateful to Christian.  He knows this.  The following evening he contacted me to see how I was.  He shared something with me, something so profound it took my breath away.  As grateful as I was to have had him participate – however unintentional on his part – in this sacred ritual, he too was grateful.  It touched him deeply.  All that day he told me he “felt so alive.”  Is this what true, unselfish acts of kindness do for us?  Even in the face of death, in the middle of the night, in the shroud of darkness, if we reach out, feel our connectedness, we get a glimpse of the Divine.

And then, we know for sure that we are alive.

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