Saturday, March 15, 2008


My wife got a phone call as she was putting the finishing touches on her keynote address for a conference in Tokyo: Her brother told her that her Dad had taken ill and was not expected to live through the day. Mary booked the next flight up, but her father passed before she could reach his side.

Fortunately, we had been up to see him only a couple of weeks before. Although at that point he had been expected to live for a couple of years, he had declined considerably since our previous visit. When Mary had first seen him on that trip, she had doubled over as if punched in the stomach, he had become so skeletal. And, it being one of his 'bad days', he was essentially unable to speak, simply mumbling incomprehensibly. The next day he was a little better, and could speak clearly, but his mind was still confused. I asked him what he had done that day, and he told me that he had spent the whole day here in jail, but that no charges had been laid yet, and they wouldn't tell him what he was being held for. He explained his plans for going over the wall to me. Then, with a generosity of spirit that was typical of him, he offered to take me (apparently a complete stranger to him) over the wall with him when he escaped. The next day, Mary went into see him while I worked on the car, and he was apparently worse again. So Mary had recognized that the dad she had known was already gone in one sense, and said her goodbyes.
August 10, 2007)

(Mary later told me that she had realized that she had accepted that her Dad was no more when something went wrong with the car and it hadn't even occurred to her to phone him for advice, even though it was late at night on a Sunday, and Mary had figured out to call long distance to a mechanic in another time zone to get the information we needed. I knew that the man I had known was largely gone when he told he that he had not only stopped working on his various projects, but stopped reading. Indeed, he no longer watched the news. I had been pleased that when he no longer could be physically active (e.g., fixing the roof) he had switched to genealogy and writing his autobiography and composing essays on disputed passages in the bible. These projects had kept him mentally active for a number of years, haracteristic of the man always interested in everything. He had even taught himself bookbinding to finish his books. So to see his mind slowly grinding to a halt was hard to take.)

The call came in on a Monday (March 3rd) and Mary stayed in Edmonton until the following Sunday to organize the funeral etc. The kids and I went up on the Thursday for the Friday graveside ceremony, and a memorial service at his church on the Sunday.

At home with the kids, I tried to prepare them for what was coming. In anticipation of either her Dad or my Mom (who is 99 next month) passing, we had assembled a selection of storybooks that assist kids with grieving. But to my great distress, we could not find the cache of books anywhere. (I must have put them somewhere so kids would not read them prematurely, but did a better job of hiding them from myself than from the kids.) So I zipped out to Chapters and was quite shocked at how poor their selection of books was for this purpose. They only had two books on the topic, neither of which I felt were suitable. There are in fact dozens if not hundreds of books available, but I guess they do not pay to keep on the shelf since they only sell when the family needs them: but when you need them, you REALLY need them. I have to say I feel that Chapters (especially given that it is the ONLY new bookstore in town) has a social responsibility to stock at least a few copies of a few titles on this very important topic.

Mary therefore looked for copies in Edmonton as she went around making arrangements for the funerals, moving her dad's possessions out of the veteran's home, etc. but could only find one or two titles in Chapter/Indigo etc. Finally, she went to Greenwood's, an independent Edmonton bookstore, and they had an entire shelf of excellent books.

Of course, one of the best, and one that most Chapters/ carry (though my local store had been out) is Robert Munsch's The Lighthouse: A Story of Remembrance. I love his funny books, as does every kid 3-10, but people often forget his serious side. Lighthouse and I'll Love You Forever are fabulous sentimental books that I highly recommend. I also really liked Bear's Last Journey by Udo Weigelt (Author), Cristina Kadmon (Illustrator); it seemed to help my kids with their grieving. Another one, loaned to us by Kasia's Montessori teacher, Zahra, was Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie. I think this one was the most help to Kasia.

It's hard to know how the kids took the passing of their grandfather. Tigana, of course, greeted the news with hysterical sobbing, but then she has always been dramatic; and she talked a lot about feeling "confused" and "scared", so I suspect it had as much to do with coming to grips with the general concept of mortality as with her feelings for her grandfather. Which were probably mixed, since visiting in the veteran's home could not have been a lot of fun, especially near the end when Grandfather couldn't recognize her. But I think she does truly miss her grandfather.

Grandpa, Tigana and Kasia
August 10, 2007

Kasia hadn't really known her grandfather while he was still active, so was probably less connected then Tigana, though she still loved him, and he certainly doted on Kasia for as long as he retained his faculties. Kasia seemed less affected than Tigana, but you never really know what's going on inside that brain of hers. After an initial sob or two, she had seemed to go about her life normally, but every once in a while we'd get a glimpse of her interior processing. E.g., I'm sitting in the car, still in Lethbridge, when I hear this voice from the back seat say, "Knock Knock" "Whose there?" I respond Kasia says, "It doesn't matter because he's dead." Okay, what do you say to that?

Both kids had a hard time at the funeral(s) but both spoke at the graveside and at the memorial service. It was touching.

The weirdest thing, though, was that after the graveside service we picked up a local paper in Devon and discovered that the local ski lodge (which had been a huge part of my father-in-law's life -- he'd run the ski club for years) had burned down at the same moment as he had passed on.

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