“I’m always trying to get you to the place of laughter, but also the place where laughter meets tears.” ~ Stuart Mclean
Sadly, another incredible storyteller is lost to us although the stories remain through books, audio, and video. Radio is changing again with the loss of Stuart Mclean and the Vinyl Cafe, and last year, for me was the painful retirement of Garrison Keillor from his beloved show, A Prairie Home Companion. Storytelling, especially on the radio, is a unique art and a storyteller is irreplaceable. What remains are the archives of their vast collection which make us laugh or brings us to tears and gently back to laughter again. A genuine storyteller moves us deep inside and allows us to be aware of a new thought or evoke nostalgic emotions that transport us to a different time and space. Storytelling is a magical realm, that for me, cheats death and remains eternal.
When Grandma gave James a toboggan for his 3rd birthday this past December, he sat in it and said, “Thanks for the boat, Grandma!” We had a lot of fresh snow then but not much since and if the rain comes any harder that boat might be exactly that.
Winter is a season I have cherished since I was a kid. Kids naturally love the winter and snow. As we grow older, we learn to dislike it because it doesn’t fit with our urban lives. However, when we embrace the magic of a snow day we are brought together with a quiet calm and a newfound sense of creativity. We make snowmen, forts and use the toboggan for a rush and a laugh. As a family, I find our best days are our ski days. It is a sport we can all participate in together with extended family or friends. Nobody is left on the sidelines unless they prefer the warmth of the chalet. Our conversations are relaxed on the chair lifts and I learn more about my seven year old than I ever do after school or at dinner.
It is beginning to really frighten me that my kids might not have the same experience with the snow, as I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. So today, I am passing on my positive winter vibes in hopes that I will be the old-timer skiing with my grandchildren. I am promising to do more in my own life to ensure that I am reducing my carbon footprint and have added my voice to the growing number of people who are fighting the expansion of fossil fuel emissions. I’m doing this so we can continue to ski, skate outside, toboggan at the park, and have snowball fights; all of which bring smiles to your faces.
Instead of sitting around watching the news and feeling sad for the future, I decided to be pro-active and spend some added quality time with my son. Over the next 4-8 years he may hear a lot that I don’t want him to. He may think it is reasonable to behave in certain ways that are repugnant and crude. It is the responsibility of all parents to ensure our sons do not think misogyny, bigotry and vile “locker room” conversations are not only unacceptable now but that they were not acceptable before Trump became president.
James is capable of great achievements and he can reach his goals with kindness, respect, hard work and bright dreams. This is what I hope he hears today and in the future.
Air Canada Centre, Toronto ~ August 10, 2016
“Mom, why do you like the Tragically Hip?”
Well, most of those memories I will keep to myself as they span my late teen and 20 something years and those were the days that you will not likely hear much about from me. I can, however; tell you about how when I heard the Hip in those first years it was usually because I was hanging around in a basement, at a cottage, in the car, in a dorm room or at a bar. You see, the Hip were from a small University town which is the same University your uncle went to in Kingston, Ont. A lot of people from Toronto choose to go to Queens University because it is one of the best in the country and you’ll hear more about it when you’re older.
When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s rock was much more common and popular than it is today. Sometimes I tell you real instruments vs bubblegum pop are quite different because with real instruments you see someone playing right in front of you and singing right in front of you. It’s organic and anything is possible such as Gord Downie’s ever-changing lyrics to songs my generation have all come to know extremely well.
As we know from Daddy’s brain tumour it is very difficult to remember many things after surgery. A brain injury occurs and unlike other cancer treatments the brain is permanently affected and needs much sleep, rehabilitation and slow stimulation. It is beyond incredible that Gord Downie and the band can pull together mere months from diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Although, the pull-together seems true to the band’s organic roots, its timing is something that proves there is greatness, goodness and kindness collected en masse when needed and Canadians should be most proud of this show of support.
In the early days, the Tragically Hip was the first bar band I knew to get the wallflower boys onto the dance floor to jump, fist pump and sing loudly only to apologize if they bumped into you and slopped beer on your shirt. Even in its early roots, The Hip and their small town appeal brought out the best in the fans and the fans have been one of the most wonderful aspects about the band. In a time when Canadians had difficulty supporting homegrown talent we seemed to want to make the Hip larger than ourselves and keep them close to our hearts as we freely exhibited a newfound national pride. For me, this was apparent when I traveled to Australia or camped out at Another Roadside Attraction. You always felt safe at a Hip concert and likely made a new friend who would tell you you were awesome and that you’d be friends forever.
I guess that’s how we all feel about Gord’s diagnosis. We feel that connection in a “friends forever” way and we don’t want our era to be a bygone time. Many of us fondly remember being with friends, family or alone on an open road listening to their music and celebrating a reason to live. When Daddy and I learned about Gord’s seizure which led to the discovery of his tumour we were very sad to know that he, his family, friends and bandmates would have to go through all the physical and emotional turmoil that affected our family. When the news of his illness broke publicly, I felt a much more overwhelming sense of loss as the country came together in its shock, grief and unyielding love.
It is very painful to so many of us that our quirky, thoughtful, poetic frontman is suffering this cruel nightmare after he opened a door into our collective hearts all the while teaching us about our country. The Tragically Hip connected us to our landscape, history and potential future within their lyrics and pulsing beats which always incited smiles on our faces and put our hands in the air.
It is with a very heavy heart and great sadness that I have to tell you that we lost dear, Uncle Bob on Friday, July 29th, 2016. He lived one of the most remarkable lives I could imagine; travelling the world researching Death and Dying, ceremonial ritual and custom. He founded the Centre of Death Education and taught the very first course in Death and Dying bringing it out of the shadows and into mainstream conversation in the 60s. He was the most loving and generous man I have known and he worked tirelessly to help me complete my English Language degree with a strong emphasis on Religious study. I am beyond grateful for the years we spent together and the regular phone calls that left my cheeks hurting from laughing. No subject was off topic or too risqué for Bob because everything led back to custom and academics. He was my mentor, my friend and my Uncle Dad. I am without one of my most stable anchors and my life will forever reflect and remember his teachings, love and insight. You lived a long fulfilling life, Bob and 89 is a mighty age. I will always write for you. Xo
This is a poem that Uncle Bob and I studied together in 2000 and I received one of my best grades on the essay he helped me through. While there were a list of classical British poems to choose from Bob and I settled on this one and I learned much of his thoughts on Death and Dying through it.
Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
We’re with him and we’re laughing. We’re with him and we’re crying. We’re with him and we’re pained because no matter what you prepare yourself for you are never old enough or ready enough to say, “good bye.” We carry our memories and we carry our hearts on our sleeves. We cherish our final words. We cling to each other like sea anchors dragging in the water from the bow of a boat to keep that bow pointing into the waves to lessen the leeway because this is what we learned to do from the original professor and scholar of Death and Dying.
I remember the light on the wall. The way it sparkled across the room in late September as it set in the west. The windows were tall, almost reaching the ceiling and there was a door that led to the small back deck and the driveway. It was the easiest way to move in and out of the Riley House which is why Tullio insisted upon living there.
Tullio Persio de Albuquerque Maranhao lived in the Riley house when I moved to St Paul, Minnesota in 1999. He was a professor of Anthropology having earned both his Masters and Ph.D. at Harvard. Originally from of Rio de Janeiro, Tullio lived in the Riley House along with my uncle Bob, cousin Evan, and our mutual neighbours, Beth, Tom and the newly arrived Jacobsons. It was a massive home divided into 6 condos and when I moved there Tullio lived in the second floor unit across from Beth. I was impressed at how the six separate neighbours lived as a mis-matched family who often gathered on the large front porch laden with large wicker chairs and a porch swing. They all took me in so quickly and seamlessly as though we were all meant to gather for that profound period leading into the fall of 2001.
Tullio spent much of his time teaching whether he was in a lecture hall or sitting with us on the porch. He was always deep in thought and curious to know and argue the opinions of others. As a young delinquent student, Tullio did not hesitate to adopt me and become my Proctor. The plan was to get me to finish my BA. I had struggled in Montreal with academics because I was lazy and had poor attendance. The academic team of my Uncle Bob (a sociologist), my cousin Evan (an anthropologist) and Tullio intended to make me succeed at a new form of learning: Distance Education. So, with great strain and study on my part I was admitted by the University of Waterloo in the winter of 2000 to complete my English Language and Literature degree. It felt like a jail sentence. There was no escaping or slacking off. I was up at 7 am every morning and studied through each and every day. I listened to my lectures through a tape cassette on a Walkman taking notes on my laptop. When I finished my first essay my Uncle Bob and Tullio asked to read it. I was so proud of myself having written a piece on Aristotle and felt I was about to impress… until the red pen came out and the first sentence until the last was shredded and crossed out.
Uncle Bob said plainly, “It’s ok, Chrissy. You’re brain is a muscle and as we get you working more on writing you will improve just like you can improve any muscle in your body through exercise.” He then handed me two books to read along with the fresh stack already waiting from the University.
“The essay and thought needs work,” said Tullio later on the front porch, “I’ve got a wonderful book about Aristotle for you to read. It will help your essay and thought process.”
There was no escape and I continued with them backing me up for the first few years until I found I was stronger in my thoughts and writing and noticed that red pen came out less and less although their books never ceased. Tullio always had something for me to read or listen to for music was also greatly important to him. He had such a different approach to academics and I excelled under his tutelage.
One day, as I was coming out of our storage room in the basement, I found Tullio struggling with a suitcase on the stairs. He had just returned from Germany where he had been teaching for a semester and I was happy to see him again.
“Chris, my back hurts I think I pulled a muscle. Will you please help me take this suitcase up the stairs?”
As I did, I noticed his pain in making the simple steps. He was such a strong and robust man. It always humoured me to see him doing his deep lunges on the pool deck of the Y in nothing but that tight little Speedo.
“You ok, Tullio?”
“No, not really. I’m going to see the Doctor and get a muscle relaxer.”
By the next morning we learned that Tullio had a tumour growing through his hip. Within two days the signs of chemotherapy were already showing their devastation and his hair began to thin, he lost weight and his skin turned grey. I found it hard to wrap my head around. I wasn’t even 30 and had never seen illness set in so fast.
“What are we going to do?” I asked my uncle and cousin at dinner.
“Tullio wants me to ask the Jacobsons to move,” Evan confessed.
“What?! We don’t even know them. They just moved in!” I was amazed.
“Well, he doesn’t want hospice or hospitals. We’re his family. He wants to stay here.”
“So, are you going to ask them?”
The silence felt heavy to three people who never shied from discussing Death and Dying over dinner.
It made sense. Tullio needed that first floor for a walker and wheelchair. He was still able to get out to the front porch and even taught his students from home as the bone cancer spread through his body. While he had a refuge of privacy, Tullio was able to make decisions based on what was best for his health. He was his strongest advocate and we did our best to meet his needs as they were unpredictable and challenging. He maintained dignity, strength in character and left a legacy in his dying that I found more insightful than any of the books he had passed to me. I sat with Tullio for many days during his palliative care when he was reduced to speaking only one language, his first, Portuguese. I was one of several who held his hand in those final hours when we knew death was close and as the western light began to fade on that pale yellow wall I lost one of the greatest Professors I had the pleasure to know.
Even if you survive 12 years with a brain tumour it is most certainly not long enough especially when there are small children to raise. I’ve grieved the past week with a new and dear friend of mine, Sue who lost her husband and best friend of 20 years to the same brain tumour as Matt. She, like her husband, Kris, are young (under 40) and have two small children who are friends with Ellie through an incredible facility called Gilda’s Club. It is a hub for families and children who either have cancer or, who like Ellie, is a small victim when cancer strikes the family. We take Ellie to Gilda’s weekly and she has gained much more of an understanding about tumours, radiation, chemotherapy, surgeries and now death than any small child should ever have to know. Gilda’s has provided us a place of solace and has allowed us to know that we are most definitely not alone with such a frightening diagnosis.
Yesterday, Kris passed at home with Sue and his family around him. We mourn with them. We feel their loss significantly because he, like Matt, was a wonderful guy who faced incredible and devastating challenges over the past several years while his wife and children were helplessly caught up in the familial struggles which is cancer. We wish them peace, much love and a hope to find laughter again when the days seem too dark to go on.
Some properties are like members of the family. A cherished property encompasses the development of a family. It is a place to gather, exchange ideas, provide comfort, laugh and find peace. We cook, eat and invite friends to share our divine space. They help us build memories and deepen bonds. Certain properties can become such a part of our lives that we walk through them as though they reside within our subconscious. They only jolt us to our deepest senses when they are threatened to depart our lives. Then each room, each tree, every angle pulls at our heart and wrenches our gut. It is never easy to say, “goodbye” because to do so is a threat to our memories, our building blocks of who we believe we are because for without that space we become separated and distanced from the life we knew and our house of cards will need to be built again.