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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Birth Day

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Squished like some kind of road kill between Mother’s Day and the long May weekend is the day she would have turned 32 – today – the 19th of May. Birth days, after the death of a child, become a countdown to death day. The now-closed loop between life and death is finite and each new day for me is one she didn’t have. It’s a useless exercise and yet it propels me through every day. One month, six months, nine months, ten. It’s not the way she lived but it’s become the way I live with it.

When she was young, the bulk of her birthday weekends were spent at the ballpark in Abbotsford – the first in a long season of tournaments her brother would play in and her Dad would coach. We’d throw her a party either before or after the weekend and her ball park buddies would use it as either a prequel of or sequel to continued birthday surprises.

As a young adult, her earlier birthdays set the table for future sports-related celebrations. She’d organize the teams, choose the sport and we’d follow it up with a barbecue. She kicked ass in football, failed miserably in basketball and surprised us all in golf. To her brother’s lifelong mortification, she’d hit a hole-in-one at the Stanley Park pitch and putt at the tender age of seven. Never a girl to miss an opportunity, she tormented him for years with that tiny, innocuous phrase – “hole-in-one”. Fast forward to 19. Having graduated to the big little golf course – Murdo Fraser Par 3 – she went at him with a vengeance on that birthday’s birthday competition. I don’t remember who won that day but I do remember it was a 1-point spread accompanied by catcalls and trash talk. Such simple pleasures. This is how we lived. This is who we were. How, then, to reconcile the vast gap between then and now?

This morning, the day she would have turned 32, my husband and I returned to the scene of the crime. We walked the course, a memory card of sorts, and each step brought a new tear, each swing of the club another laugh. I see us there still; our past imprinted against the incongruent backdrop of tall cedars and pink golf shirts.

She was born on the holiday Monday the day after the Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic blast shook our house to its foundations. We didn’t know then that this little girl would have the same effect on us. She blew the three of us open to make room for herself and she brought with her some old, soulful magic. Finding ways to live without that wisdom now seems impossible as we wend our way through this year of first firsts. We do our best.

The barbecue is lit, the appetizers prepared and her favourite cake awaits. Balloons festoon the balcony rail until their dusky release. We’ll sing Happy Birthday as we always did and trust that she knows we have. We go through these motions today, our love fierce and our memories intact. And we marvel at the signs.

Today of all days, the pink magnolia we planted in her name last fall, a gift from a group of well-wishers, blooms. There was never a doubt. It will bloom on her birthday, my husband stated, as sure as ever, months ago. It has. It does. She does – wherever she is. Happy birthday, Sadie-bumps. Happy birthday.

 © Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Pyjama People

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Pyjamas are underrated, particularly by those who live in drizzle-free zones. Those of us who dwell north of 49 know the value of a good pair of pjs. The warmth they generate is not solely related to body temperature.

Psychologically, a prized pair of pyjamas can make for many a therapeutic substitution. Put on the flannels; pass on the Prozac. Feeling sad? Slip on the silk. Fancy some chocolate? Slide into chenille. For me and mine, rainy day feelings provide optimal pyjama-purchasing opportunities.

One of our oldest family traditions involved the Christmas Eve gift. Though the contents of the package were no secret, the style, texture and comfort level of the surprise sleepwear were left to the imagination. Let’s face it; this was mostly a girl thing. Though my husband and son participated, they were pretty much in it for the food that accompanied the Christmas Eve gift. At dusk on December 24th, the door to the outside world was closed and from that hour until bedtime, only the four of us existed.

Gathered around the living room coffee table, dinner started with appetizer after appetizer and grew with each course until the four of us lay bloated on the living room floor begging for mercy once the Swedish meatballs were done. It took hours – enough time to work our way from Frosty the Snowman to a National Lampoon Christmas. Stuffed, weary and ready-for-bed, out came the new pyjamas, the harbinger of good things ahead.

Throughout the years of my daughter’s illness, I took the pyjama game to new levels. Her discomfort and pain called for softer and smoother and I combed lingerie departments with my fingertips. The lighter its touch, the higher the priority assigned to a given garment. In the end, in the weeks and months before her death, even I gave up hoping I would find something that could alleviate the agony half an ounce of fabric weight produced.

I knew I would not survive her death without a good pair of pyjamas. I didn’t even try. On a warm September day last year, after her death but before her funeral, I ventured out. My husband and son were sad when I came home and showed them my purchase. They understood its significance. They held me tight on the driveway while I clutched this pair with purpose. I knew they would stay with me through thick and thin. I wasn’t so sure the two who held me now were as able.

Now, months later, and with another summer around the corner, it is another pair of pyjamas I hold close. A hat-wearing cat graces the shirt and it reads I love Mommy and Daddy. These were her first pyjamas, the beginning of our mutual admiration for all things cozy. It’s true I am still comforted by pyjamas, however, it is not the pair I purchased for myself that soothes me. Each night as I seek sleep, I wedge her precious pjs into the crook of my arm and hope they’ll lure her into my dreams and back to a time when life was sweet. Such times can be hard to find upon waking.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Ave Maria

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She and I were connected to Schubert’s Ave Maria just as we are tied to each other now. I must have heard it a thousand times without it registering but when we heard it together that day, it moved us. We were in a White Rock music studio, perched over the water, the sun finding us from every direction and we were selecting the orchestra’s music for her wedding. With the final strains fading, we looked over at each other and we were both bawling snotty, messy tears; not the tidy kind you see on television wedding shows. The woman, whose home we were in, laughed large. I guess we’ve found the marriage song, then. I guess so.

I was reminded of that day when I read the message a young woman I’ve never met left on my daughter’s obituary page. It reads:

I will never stop thinking of Sadie. I look at the sunshine and I see her, because she was pure sunshine to me. I love her so much and I know I am blessed to have had her in my life. Sadie means more to me than she could ever have known. I love you, Sadie.

I simply couldn’t have said it any better. This young woman’s words reflect my memory of our Ave Maria day exactly. Pure sunshine. Since my daughter died, I mourn as much for days like that as I do for her.

We found ourselves in London, the city offering a soothing salve to our broken hearts. We feel close to her there. After a morning spent at the National Gallery, I stepped into Trafalgar Square and balmy, warm December sun. There was a violinist in the square and he turned to me and as he did he raised his violin and began to play. I knew what was coming next. Ave Maria.

Two days later, we were mooching about in Covent Garden. There’s a centre space downstairs where the students from the National Opera School gather daily to sing for spare change and adoration. We leaned over the railing with the other tourists just waiting for one of them to step forward. A young woman finally did. I felt the first note more than I heard it. Ave Maria.

Fast forward, Leeds Castle. We had the place to ourselves and went in opposite directions to fully explore this magnificent building. I found myself on a wide, high, stone staircase. It was silent. I was focused on the artwork around me and it took me unaware. There had been no music. A piano, from somewhere deep inside those walls, sounded the first note and there it was again. Alone, inside this ancient place with this music in my heart, I spoke to her, and we communed there a little while. When I went to light a candle for her at St. Paul’s Cathedral, I was momentarily turned around in traffic and lost my bearings. I looked up at the street sign and could do nothing but smile. Ave Maria Lane.

When I ponder the meaning of this music to she and me, I land not on the lyrics assigned to the piece. Instead I am drawn to the words of her friend and the light that emanates from them. How many people would remember me like that? I think I know the answer. Perhaps only her, in pure sunshine.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Messier is Coming to Town

Touchstones come in all shapes and sizes and from a young age, one of my daughter’s most meaningful icons came in the form of one Mark Messier, number eleven, Edmonton Oilers. This did not always keep an easy peace in our Canucks household, especially with her older brother, but we learned to live with it. Every newspaper article was cut and pasted with every goal statistic and trade rumor attached and her Messier scrapbook (that sits in my lap as I write this) grew fat with the minutiae of his hockey career. And then the impossible happened.

I was driving to the tune of sports talk radio and I heard it with my own ears. Seriously? Messier in Vancouver? I pulled over at a pre-cell-phone-days telephone booth and called my husband at the office. I know, I know, he yelled. I can’t wait to tell her.

Dinner was on the table; the four of us seated, the usual banter of the day done. So, did you hear the news? I don’t remember which one of us said it. Messier. Vancouver. Next season. To say that bedlam prevailed would be an understatement. And then my husband went to work. He called every business associate that he knew had season’s tickets. They knew about her medical challenges. They were game. They handed over every pair of tickets they could spare.

It was a remarkable time for her and it culminated in one night. Her hair was finally growing back and her Dad had scored some good seats. They got to the rink early to take in the pre-game skate and as she pressed her face against the glass, Mess skated by. In an instant he took in the new hair growth, the swollen face, the earrings she wore in an attempt to feminize herself and he skated another loop in front of her, slowed up just a bit and gave her the nod.

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Years passed, and her faith in Messier never abated. She was working as a disability rehab therapist for brain injured people after university graduation. She encountered one young client, a talented junior hockey player who wrapped himself around a tree while driving drunk one night. He was struggling with anger issues and was particularly impatient when it came to relearning previously simple tasks. How would she reach him? What could she do to get through to this troubled man/boy? She knew. She dug through all her old Messier memorabilia and found a film about his life in hockey and, more importantly, about how life wasn’t all about hockey. She sat the young man down and watched it with him. And then again. And again.

He got it.

Messier touched my daughter at an inexplicable level at a time when she needed it most. She touched another in the same way. Now, those of us who loved her are left to find ways to tell her stories and, thus, touch still more. We never really know when we’ve had a significant impact on other people. All I know is that I’ll always be grateful to one man for the impact he had on her.

She’s gone from this world now and it will never be the same without her. She never met Messier. Her husband was never able to secure the life-sized cardboard cutout of him flogging Lay’s potato chips that the Sobey’s store manager promised him once the promotion was over. It no longer matters, of course. What matters is that we mean something significant to someone. What matters is that we do something significant with it. What matters is that we remember those that have.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Top Hat

The official dictionary definition of a hat is a cover for the head. In my experience, it is so much more. And, according to my late daughter, a good hat has practical, illusory and magical powers – sometimes simultaneously. She said you just know a good hat when you put it on.

ImageWhen she moved east to colder climes, a hat became a necessity. Her first Calgary winter offered -54 with a wind chill and she called home often, her West Coast-centric self suspiciously pondering where they put the Asian people and the gays in “this” backwater. It freaks me out, she said. Later, once the place warmed and she warmed to the place, she welcomed a slightly more redneck version of herself but still she wondered where exactly the children disappeared to in those long, cold stretches. The perfect head apparel for cold weather occasions, she discovered, was a soft pink, soft mohair cloche; fashionable attire and a far cry from the toque she wore at home in Vancouver her entire fifteenth year to obscure her first go at total autoimmune-caused alopecia.

The cloche was used most often for business meetings or for those times when a person needs to display competence. This is especially effective, in her opinion, when said person is in over her head and requires added confidence. She referred to this hat as her “I know everything I need to know to pull it off” hat.

ImageHer next favorite hat was the Tibetan wool hat complete with faux braids, just the right touch when a girl needs to brace herself for unpleasant medical news or for that moment when some know-it-all 3rd year medical resident decides to be the one that will save her. The first time this happens, she explained, you feel grateful, hopeful even. After several years and several dozen newbies, however, it gets old and a good Tibetan wool hat can give you the comfort of home along with the ability to sternly request removal of a certain 3rd year medical resident for the duration of the hospital visit, thus completing the illusion of some semblance of control in an out-of-control life.

The hat she favored most was the one she wore the least, as it was reserved for more tropical times. Her head fit a fedora like no other and she wore it with a confidence that could carry her through anything. Need to figure out how to book tickets in a foreign country with no credit card? Wear the fedora. You’ll figure it out.Image

When I held her head in my hands that last day, I rubbed my fingers across the scar she got in a bike accident as an eight year-old, along the now-silvered gash she sustained when her chair tipped over as a two year-old and her crown hit the corner behind her, over the lupus lesions that marked her scalp over a dozen years. Never forget this, I told myself. Remember the source of every mark and the story that goes with it. Remember its perfect shape and every part of the person that lived within it.

A few days later, as I prepared to return home without her for the last time, I was drawn to her favorite cowboy outfitter store. I tried on the various versions of cowboy hats she owned – the pink felt, the white straw, the brown traditional – clearly she didn’t inherit her hat-wearing skills from me. I was about to give up when I spotted it. I slid it onto my head. Perfect, just like she said. Now, on those days when I can’t put one foot in front of the other because I miss her so much, I make sure no one’s watching, reach into the closet and grab the hat. I sit and wait. Eventually it happens. Wear the hat, mum. You’ll figure it out.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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