He Grows Up

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain.

Advertisements
pregnant in N Carolina
Leo-In-Belly at the Outer Banks, NC. A fun weekend with Nancy and Family.

My baby, the one who arrived in a maelstrom back in 1999 and I wrote about here

Locked Up in D.C. 🔐 

… Well, he is now a tall young man.  Intelligent, kind, fun-loving, adventurous, athletic and handsome. But, this is his mother writing.  What else would I say?  He is finished high-school and getting set to go off on a huge adventure and then to University.  I have five weeks left with him before he departs.  My heart is breaking and I am tearful, scared and joyful all at the same time.  I never thought I would be this way, but, then again, I never thought I would be in a straitjacket in D.C. either.  That’s life, right?!  It sneaks up on you and BAM!

Your son, your only, is leaving for University.

But, what about that big adventure you ask?  Leo applied and was picked to be one of forty-five youth to assist as crew on a tall ship from Halifax to France.  Yes, that’s right. Across the Atlantic. Thankfully, there is a professional crew as well and they will be teaching the youth the ropes, literally.  They will do duties:  watch, galley, cleaning and maintenance duties.  I am sure there will be lots of time for fun too.  They will dock in Le Havre in Normandy France and spend five days in France before flying home to Canada at the end of August.

About ten days later, Leo will leave our house for University.

WHAT??  

Already?

What happened to the days of Buzz Lightyear? …

TO INFINITY…AND BEYOND! 💥

…or the days of hiking, just me and small him and the dogs in the parks, on the beaches, up the hills?  The days where every playground became a wealth of potential fun and that he would point at and cry hopefully, “Can I play in the playground, Mom?” and inevitably exclaim: “Mom, I’m having SO fun!!

The holding of my hand. His, so small and soft and warm.  The moments of insecurity when he was a toddler and would wrap himself around one or both of my legs as I stood in conversation with someone. The morning greeting, “It’s morning time, Mom!” The sleepy, cuddly story-times, sweaty fevers, rosy-cheeked kisses and all the stuff we learned together.  The tears are streaming as I ask, “Where did the time go? and WHY does this hurt so bad??!”

hiking on Wolfville trails, from our door

Oh dear, did I spend enough time with him?  Did I do enough for him?  Did I help to shape a good young man?  Will he find his way?  Will he find a love?  Will he miss me?

He wrote his last exam of high-school today and had arranged with two good buddies to go camping in New Brunswick at Fundy National Park.  Both my husband Dean and I were home for lunch (we come home every day for lunch due to our 10 minute walk to work at I wrote about in A Simple East-Coast Life) and so we witnessed the flurry of activity in getting ready for the big out-trip.  Leo was walking back and forth to his room grabbing all that he could imagine needing for the trip.  Meanwhile, I set up a sandwich-building smorgasbord on the kitchen island with large slices of buttered Italian bread, sliced cheese and tomato, ham, bologna, bacon, mustard, mayo, and lettuce fresh and green from the garden.  While Leo ran around, I invited the two buds to build their sandwiches and dig in.  I wouldn’t want to see them on their way without a good lunch.

The curious thing happened.  While Leo ran around, his two friends and I had a nice little visit in the kitchen.  Mainly talking about some hiking memories that Dean and I made at Fundy National Park while going Across Canada in Betsy (age 26) 🇨🇦 and then about their plans for the fall. Leo came out to the kitchen and grabbed the last two slices of bacon for his sandwich, which I then volunteered to build for him, as I could see he wasn’t even close to being packed and ready yet. Just then, we realized that Leo’s phone was vibrating on the corner cupboard. Leo looked at it, then reached for it.  From where I stood, I noticed that his hand was slightly shaking as he reached for his phone.  My heart caught in my chest to see that hand, the very one I knew so well and had held time and again…shaking. Looking at the display, he said, “Dad, this is the call about the summer job.”  When he looked up, there was a nervous strain on his face that instantly caused an anxious reaction within me.  You see, Leo is a very laid-back kinda guy as is evidenced here.

Cape Split nap
Napping at Cape Split, NS

Almost nothing phases him.  But, I had to remind myself to take stalk:  he just wrote an exam, the last of his high-school career;  a couple of nights ago, he found out he was selected for the Tall Ship experience to cross the Atlantic; there was a summer job being negotiated; friends were waiting for him for a couple day out-trip; Prom in a few days; he would be leaving for University in late August and he hadn’t even eaten lunch yet.  So, perhaps a slight tremor of the hand and bit of a strain on the face is understandable. Regardless, the reaction within me was hard to deny.  All I wanted to do was make it better.  Take away his strain and nerves.  Jeepers.  I’m gonna need to chill.

Prom was fantastic and the prom parade went off without a ‘hitch’ and is featured in this little video:

 

When we first moved to Halifax, I lost a second-trimester pregnancy, Leo’s little brother, and it was heartbreaking: The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔 …

…I am really hoping that the ‘loss’ of Leo to the great wide world (although surely tough on me) will be wonderful.  That we shall see him spread his wings and soar through life, having adventures, doing good and following his dreams….TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!

The Loss of Dane (age 35) 💔

Like a baby, stillborn,
like a beast with his horn
I have torn everyone who reached out for me.
But I swear by this song
and by all that I have done wrong
I will make it all up to thee.

Leonard Cohen
Bird on a Wire

When my son, Leo was two, I became pregnant for the third time.  We had had an early miscarriage before Leo came along in 1999.  It was during the early weeks of this pregnancy that we decided to move to the East coast.  My husband, Dean found us a furnished two bedroom sublet with a garden and a patio and which accepted pets — we had two big dogs, at the time.  Our new digs had a gas fireplace, two floors, two sunflower-upholstered love-seats, laundry just down the hall and an underground parking space. The apartment was just around the corner from the Public Gardens in Halifax and we thought we had died and gone to heaven.  While Dean would be at work down at Purdy’s Wharf (the two tallest, newest buildings on the Halifax harbour), Leo and I would be hanging out in the Public Gardens which are truly a beautiful place: green lawns; winding pebbly pathways; ducks, geese and swans in the ponds; a band-stand; a canteen with ice-cream stand — paradise!

Public GardensIf we weren’t in Public Gardens though, we might be out with our Realtor who was trying to find us a house.  It was a hell of a market.  A sellers market where everything was selling out from under us, even as we were walking through a house.

Dad and my step-mom, Wendy, came to visit for a week.  They took the train from Ontario, getting into Union Station where we easily picked them up.  The best memory of that trip was our day in Peggy’s Cove.  The five of us, with jackets, water-bottles, sunhats and wallets piled into our wagon, along with Delta and Grizzly, and away we went to the second best known landmark in Nova Scotia (the first being the Fortress at Louisburg Historical Site).   When we rolled into Peggy’s Cove, after the twisty-turny roads, we all felt a wee bit squeamish.  We all wanted to just exit the car and get some fresh air and stretch the legs.  I look over to the left, see a brightly painted old school house with a sign that reads: ‘FREE JAZZ CONCERT TODAY’.  I say the words allowed to Dad and Wendy, it was like, well, music to their ears.  Golden, simply golden.  We clambered out of the wagon and made our way over the beaten-earth pathway to the Old School House. Walking in, Dad began to smile and to take Wendy’s hand.  It was the music of their age. From their day.  They began to dance.  When the song ended, Dad said, ‘If I just had a black coffee now, I would be all set’.

‘I’ll be back in a flash,’  I said and out I flew, down the path and over to the cafe, which wasn’t far away.  Peggy’s Cove is a tiny village and harbour with colourful wooden houses, flapping clotheslines, hat-wearing locals, tour buses and fishing shacks, and let’s not forget that lighthouse.  Upon my return, the musicians were conversing with Dad and Wendy who both had large, wide smiles and the glassy eyes of reminiscence.  They took a coffee each, thanking me, and sat back, the picture of relaxation and contentment. We hadn’t even seen the lighthouse yet.  Imagine.

Peggy's cove village

The next day we hung out around the apartment and Public Gardens and the next day was full-on SUN so off we went to one of the best beaches on the south shore: Bayswater Beach.  For once we were not fogged in but enjoyed the perfect weather.  The added pleasure of this part of the visit was that my step-sister, Paulie and her family were staying in a cabin on a large beautiful lake and we arranged to meet them at the Bayswater Beach, it being the hometown area of her husband, Seth.  Seth set up lawn chairs for everyone and then Dad said, ‘If I only had an ice-cream now, I would be all set’.

‘Back in a flash’.  I carried back a couple of trays of soft-serve ice-cream for all of us bought from the lady in the truck selling all manner of take-out food.  Dad and Leo enjoyed the cones the most.  We had a very sweet time on the beach, Leo playing with his two big cousins in the warm stream of water that runs to the sea.  The ocean, being the North Atlantic, was beyond freezing cold.  Of course.

Bayswater Beach

For the next couple of nights we stayed in a cabin, close to the one that Paulie and family were staying in and enjoyed hours of swimming, canoeing, story-telling and eating. It was ideal.  I’ll never forget the interactions between Leo and Paulie. Especially when it came to saying I love you and goodbye. At that time Leo wasn’t speaking very much, but he was signing. And he would sign ‘I love you’ — dimpled hand held up with chubby ring finger and middle finger bent to his palm. This one day,  while saying our goodbyes, he signed ‘I love you’ and then with his index finger pointing at Paulie, he signed ‘I shoot you’.  When I saw this I was horrified. But Paulie, in her sweet gentle way, saw the fun in it and chuckled loudly making Leo want to do it again and again.

Then it was back to just the three of us, with a peanut in my belly, slowly, slowly getting bigger and stronger.  Hearing the heartbeat and being told we were to have another boy, we were over the moon.  His name would be Dane, after the great soccer player, Zidane.

Then one day, out of the blue, on the Friday morning of a long weekend,  I was having tea and toast at Tina’s house, watching Leo and Jude playing and I began to get a strange sensation in my lower belly.  It was the same type of feeling that would come at the beginning of a menstrual period.  ‘Ah oh’, I thought.  ‘Can’t be.”  The hours of the day ticked by and the pains grew worse and worse.  I called my doctor who was to go away on holidays but she luckily was able to arrange for an ultrasound for me, immediately.  It looked normal.  I was told that this might just be Braxton Hicks — the kind of contractions that are indications that the womb is getting ready to deliver in the future.

I soaked in the tub and tried to find comfort laying on my side. It was a hard night, with little sleep, the pain coming in waves.  At one point, my sister Amy called and her sweet voice took my mind off my troubles.  The next day, I found blood on my underwear. “DEAN,’ I screamed. “WE NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL”.  The pains became worse and worse.  We had Leo taken care of by Everet and Tina, friends who we knew for years. Everet, Dean and I had been in the army together, and had done a lot of our army field training in the same section of a Platoon.  Therefore, we knew each other very well.  I did not want Leo to see me in this kind of pain.

Then the nurses said that the Radiologist would give me an ultrasound, himself. Unusual. I lay down on the bed and he put the goop on my belly.  When the picture came up, it looked different.  Dane was alive and there was a heart beat but there was no water in my uterus.  There was no amniotic fluid.  How could Dane be alive?  I had been in so much pain, my brain was messed up and it would not conclude that which it should be concluding.  The Radiologist did not then tell me that which he should have told me. (He later apologized to me for that).

I was wheeled back to another room off the emergency room.  On my way past the waiting room, I saw Wally, Everet and Dean with heads together, whispering.  Wally’s arrival made four of us that had been in the army together the better part of a decade earlier.  Through the haze of pain, I was touched that they were here for this.  I would get through this and we would all be fine and well.  Dane would be okay.  All these people were here to support us.  Dane would be fine. Right?

The pain continued.  The nurses were good to me.  One nurse kept getting warm towels and swabbing down my back.  It felt like heaven.  At some point, in a tortured voice I told them I felt like I had to poop.  They helped me to squat up on the bed and they put a metal pan under my bottom.  I pushed.  I pushed again.  One more time.

Then….

I …. looked ….. down.

Dear God there were tubes or something hanging out of my vagina.  “What’s that?” I asked, perplexed.

A nurse rushed over and gently tugged on the tubes as she attempted to soothe me with, ‘It’s going to be okay dear.  It’s going to be okay.”

Something came out.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was Dane.

It wasn’t tubes.

It was my perfectly formed tiny dead baby, Dane.

I held him in my hand.  He fit the length of my hand perfectly.  Little eyes never to open. Tiny hands never to hold.  I stroked his little bluish body and wished him well in heaven while tears blurred my vision and streamed down my face.

I cried, “My heart is breaking.  Ohhhh No No No.  My heart is breaking.”

I laid back on the bed and hands on my heart, wept bitterly, for the loss of my little Angel Dane.  And having lost him, I knew for sure that I couldn’t try to do this again.  Upon telling Dean this, we both readily decided that Leo would be our only and we would count ourselves lucky and blessed to have him.

What I felt later was this overwhelming sense of failure.  I had failed to give his little body a fertile place to grow.  I had failed to be a good mom.  I was a failure at making a baby.

But, thankfully, time heals and now, over a decade later, I have a different view of this.  I feel that my body was doing what it needed to do.  There must have been a good reason that my body did not allow Dane to thrive, or that Dane’s body didn’t allow him to thrive. Especially in these last few months, I have learned and concluded that my body is an amazing organism that should be trusted, revered and respected.  It is doing it’s best to keep me alive, comfortable and well.

I think of Dane often and wonder what our lives would have looked like with him in it, growing up as Leo’s little brother, as our youngest son.  I wonder about the lesson in this loss.  Why did it happen?  What is it meant to teach us?  The value of life?  Gratitude for our blessings?  I’m not sure, really.  But, I am sure of this: I love that little soul that was in that little body that I held in my womb and then in my hand.  I wish for him to be forever at peace.

Theory of Loss 🖤

Now the sun’s gone to hell and
The moon’s riding high
Let me bid you farewell
Every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight
And every line in your palm
We are fools to make war
On our brothers in arms

….Dire Straits

We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us?  It just is not fair.

Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister Lanna.  They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland.  They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention.  There are now a couple of grand-children and more on the way who will never be held, played with or read to by Poppy Ted.

When I met Ted, I knew instantly that he was one of those truly good people.  With his clear, gentle eyes and sweet smile. Always helpful.  Always offering quiet advice.  Always chuckling at my lame jokes.  Always taking Leo and going off for a good play, running around outside playing shoot ’em up games or reading books or squished up into Leo’s play cubby building Lego.  I would sometimes forget how much time had gone by.  Leo would be so well amused, there was no need for mommy.  One time, on a day we were expecting Ted and Lanna to arrive anytime, I over heard a conversation between two six-year olds: Leo and his buddy, Kevin from next door.  Kevin was asking would Leo be able to play after lunch.

Leo’s response: Can’t. Uncle Ted is coming.  

Kevin: ‘So? Do you want to play?’

‘Oh no, I’ll be playing with Uncle Ted.’

‘He PLAYS with you?  asked an incredulous Kevin. 

‘Yep.’

‘Like, anything you want?’

‘Yeah. Anything I want, answered a dreamy Leo.’

‘Wow!’ said Kevin. 

Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of all the elderly neighbours in his neighbourhood.  He may be out there for hours after a snow fall – come in for a bite to eat and a cup of decaf tea and then right back at it.  There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness.  We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?

What would TED do?

***

In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed.  Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna.  One of them already having his pilot’s licence.  We never saw them again.  It was a very small school.  We all knew each other.  We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other.  We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates.  We lived in this big old four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm.  Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while one cadet blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.  Everyone was wailing. It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates.  I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry.  Again, the question of why?  Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.

***

When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind.  Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame.  She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was.  Birthdays of relatives and friends.  The location of each pin in our house.  Phone numbers and important details of her seven children’s lives.  I remember calling home from BC when I was posted out there and the dawning realization that Mom was losing her memory.  She just could not answer my questions the way she would normally.  She was almost stuttering and saying things like: I must be nertz!  Mom did lose her memory.  It didn’t go overnight though.  It went slowly over the next fifteen or so years, until she was just a shell of herself.  Sarah McLahlan sings a song called Mary.  One time it was playing on the radio around the time that mom was getting more and more ill. Hearing it and the lyrics:

Mary walks
Down to the water’s edge
And there she hangs her head
To find herself faded
A shadow of what she once was

had me weeping and moaning at the early loss of such a great person.  Another time, Dean and I were watching a movie in our basement apartment on a rainy day the months before we moved to the Arctic.  There was a scene of an older woman in a nursing home who resembled mom in her looks, as well as in her dementia.  I began to cry.  I laid back on our bed and pulled my knees up toward my chest and rolled on my spine side to side. The sobbing came from deep in my centre with loud heaving moans that I could not stop. It was primordial. The feeling of loss was profound.  I would have been embarrassed by this raw show of emotion but then I realized that I was grieving for the loss of my mom before she was even dead. That awful fucking disease had taken her long before her time. I missed her very badly.  Mom was a good person.  Everyone who knew her knew it.  At her funeral, Mark sang his song that had grown men weeping with tears streaming down their faces.

Our special mother through all those years.  Who gave us hugs and dried our tears.  To help us out in every way.  Always knowing just what to say.

A harder worker you could not find.  Heart of gold and open mind.  Thinking of others before herself.  Even when she was ill of health.

But when Mom had the time to spare.  Her special talents she would share.  She swam the lake with graceful strokes.  And sang us all the songs she wrote.

She would go on a painting spree.  Paint the rocks white at number three.  Paint the porch at number one.  While singing her song, Please Mister Sun.

A gourmet meal was made from scratch.  Pickerel, pike or small-mouth bass. Homemade soup and sugar pie.  Crumbled fruit of any kind.

Even with the crosses she had to bear.  Her strength and hope were always there.  To get us through another day.  In our hearts she’ll always stay.

So thank you Mom from all of us.  For the care and love you gave so much.  You truly are our guiding light.  That will shine forever day and night.

We know you’ve finally been released.  And now you’ll always rest in peace.  AS you look down at us from heaven.  Farewell for now, your loving seven.                                                                                                                                                              Copyright Dec 2001

Theory of loss?  I don’t have one.  Do you?