Tag Archives: death

A rabbit’s tale

This is a sad story, but it also captures the mind of a particular seven-year-old, so I want to share it.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were walking to church, and there was a DEAD RABBIT in the middle of the road. Curiously, from a distance, it didn’t look like it suffered any physical trauma at all. It was dead, though, surely. Right? I mean it was lying in the middle of the road.

“Look, Daddy! A sleeping bunny! It’s sleeping, right? Or is it DEAD?”

Who’s to say? I didn’t know for sure, and there have been many cases of birds hitting our windows, and a small little frail mass is found in the garden, and only minutes later a second check will reveal an absence. Recovery! A miracle!

Now, this was no bird, and this was no garden, and we were running late for church so I didn’t really want to get into it with her so I just said, “I don’t know! It sure doesn’t LOOK dead, does it?”

And I thought that would be the end of it. By the time we got out of church a couple of cars will have run over it and there will be no doubt. Or some animal will have carried it off and it will be gone from our minds and from this story.

But it didn’t go that way.

Instead, my wife turned up at the end of church to collect our daughter and she was a little out of breath and she said, “something really eerie just happened to me.”

This is her story:

She left for church, saw the same rabbit my daughter and I saw, but instead of ignoring it she went back to the house and got a shovel with the intent of moving it AND MAYBE EVEN BURYING IT. She is much more thoughtful and kind than me, and when she got that bunny on the end of her shovel, there was no doubt in her mind it was dead. There WAS some blood around its neck, and it probably was killed instantly but not dragged which probably explained its faux peaceful repose in the middle of the road. My wife found a quiet corner of a neighbouring yard which had a huge pile of fallen leaves, and decided that she would just bury it in the leaves and let nature take its course.

The eerie thing for her was that she just put the shovel back and returned to the burial site BUT THE RABBIT WASN’T THERE. There was a little disturbed spot where the leaves were moved around, but no rabbit. And so, like Mary to the remaining disciplines, my wife bee-lined it to the church to share the “GOOD NEWS”.

Our daughter was overjoyed with the story, but I was skeptical. A animal must have grabbed it, I suggested, but my wife was steadfast in her belief that there simply wasn’t enough time for anything to grab it in the minute or so it took for her to return the shovel.

A friend of ours, (AND INDEED A FRIEND OF THIS BLOG) was going to head home for lunch BUT INSTEAD BECAME SO INTRIGUED BY THIS REVELATION that she joined us on the walk home and came for lunch. On the way, we all examined the area where my wife “buried” the rabbit, and we all saw the disturbed patch of leaves, and it all seemed very mysterious until one of us noticed that in fact the rabbit was STILL THERE, but just slightly over from where we were looking. When you have hundreds of leaves in a corner lot, they all start looking the same, and it was quite easy to mistake a disturbed spot as “THE” spot. There was a certain little twang of sadness in my gut when I saw that furry body partially hidden under leaves. I am a grown man, of mostly rational thought, and yet a part of me wanted to believe.

You’d think this would be the end of the story, but it’s not.

This lot was right on the way to school, and so every morning my daughter and her friend and I would walk by, and we would always stop and look for the rabbit. The cooler weather was doing a good job of slowing the decay process, but this couldn’t really end any other way. I’m not sure I really wanted my daughter to see this lovely little rabbit go from fur to bones over a few weeks, but what was I to do? Take a different route to school? Get the shovel and dispose of it properly? I don’t know. And this also gives you a little insight into the mind of this 7 year old, because even though the rabbit hadn’t moved in weeks, she was always checking to see if it “got better”. What does a 7 year old really understand about death? We’ve talked about it. She knows one of her grampas died before she was born. She knows that one of her cousin’s dogs died. She knows death means loss, and death is sad, but I was starting to wonder if she really understood how any of this works if she thought this rabbit was going to rally.

And then: something weird happened. This past Sunday we were walking to church, she and I, and we stopped to look where the rabbit had been. We were pretty good at locating it by now, but THIS TIME the rabbit really wasn’t there. I guess something finally came and took it away, but all my daughter said, matter of factly, was “I guess it recovered”, and I could have actually cried at her quiet faith and belief in the miraculous.

It’s been a tough week for a number of reasons, and a part of me really wanted to believe in this weird little resurrection miracle. My brain said “No”, but where was the body? People will believe what they want to believe, and maybe what they NEED to believe to get them through the night. I’m no different. Hope is addictive, and maybe the only fuel we have at the moment. What is going on here? Was this some kind of “Velveteen Rabbit” level of magic? Wait, that’s not right. The Velveteen Rabbit was a toy rabbit who became real because of the power of a child’s belief, right? What’s THIS situation? A “reverse velveteen”? *nervously checks Urban Dictionary* I’m not saying my daughter has magic powers, but I’m ALSO not saying that she doesn’t.

I thought I’d end this story on this ambiguously hopeful note, but as I said at the beginning: this was a sad story, so we have to go a little further.

I left it for a couple of days, until a recent morning when I went out for my morning walk. It was before our most recent snow, so the ground was frosty but not covered. I took my usual route, and not far from our house, on the sidewalk, I stumbled over the rotted, flattened corpse of a rabbit. It was startling to see such a sight in the pre-dawn gloom, and I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure it was the same bunny, but what were the odds? Whatever magic had been preserving it in the leaves had long worn off, and the thing looked very dead, and dead for a long time. Weeks. It looked how a rabbit who was hit by a car a few weeks ago should have looked. Somewhere, a painting of a rabbit has been slashed in an attic, and this is what was left. The sight of that little bunny’s remains really hit me hard, and in spite of myself, I started crying over its broken body. I was crying for how I feel about the world and this American election and our future and Leonard Cohen and how I feel about myself and my many petty worries and inadequacies that seem to loom large as soon as my head hits the pillow these days, and somehow the quiet faith of a 7 year old in the restorative healing properties of a glorified rodent wasn’t enough at this moment. I wish I hadn’t seen what became of that rabbit. I wish it just went away.

You often feel better after a good cry, and maybe I did for a moment. Life moves forward, and we do the best we can with what we’re given. Let’s try to be kind and good to one another, at every chance. Why live any other way?

You’d think this would be the end of the story.

But it won’t be.

I’m not mentioning the rabbit to my daughter. There will be plenty of other opportunities for life to get her down. She’s only 7. And this isn’t a faerie-tale, this is 2016.

 

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We all go back to where we belong

I was driving home the other night and heard a haunting, beautiful song on CBC Radio 2. Rich Terfry told us it was the final single from R.E.M., who broke up earlier this fall. When I got home, I listened through their final album, “Collapse into Now” to try to find it again, but I couldn’t. It turns out that the song wasn’t recorded until “Collapse into Now” was completed. The band went back into the studio this past summer and recorded it separately. Part of them was thinking that this could be the first song on a new album, but I think Michael Stipe knew that this was going to be it, and this final song would be a break-up letter to the fans.

When I heard R.E.M. broke up a couple of months ago, I wasn’t upset. In fact, I felt a little bit of relief. Their past couple of albums had one or two good songs each, but it really seemed like they had just run out of steam. But when I heard this final single the other night, I thought about how great it was that a band that stuck it out for 30 years could finally look each other in the eyes, shake hands, and say, “We did it. We set out what we wanted to do”. I’m imagining this, of course. I wasn’t there. I like to think that they went out on their own terms, and that this final song was part of the plan.

Knowing this about this song, hearing it a second time actually brought me to tears. It really is one of the better R.E.M. ballads, like Nightswimming or even Everybody Hurts, although I never really liked Everybody Hurts the same as everyone else seemed to. I guess I have been in denial about R.E.M.’s break up and  now this single has forced me into a sort of musical mourning. The music video is just a simple one-take shot of Kirsten Dunst listening to the song as Michael Stipe sings it to her off-screen. Simple and beautiful. We could be remembered for far worse.

Thinking about a band purposely leaving behind a legacy brought to mind a conversation I had with a friend at a funeral almost a year ago. We were kinda joking how at weddings there’s an expectation to send guests home with little treats, like cookies, or wee bags of jelly beans or whatnot, but you don’t ever see that at funerals. We came up with the idea of distributing a CD loaded with the deceased person’s favourite songs, or at least a representative mix of what that person was all about, so that down the road if you were feeling sad and missing that person, you could pop in that disc and spend some time in that person’s head space and world. I wish I had a disc like that of my Dad’s. For sure there would be “Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity, “Yellow Bird” (trad.) and “The City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie on there.

“Best of” lists are silly things. You’ll always leave something off, you’re often comparing apples and oranges, they are prone to change and you’ll let certain biases creep in. For example, are you thinking of just what you’re listening to now, or are you trying to impress somebody, or are you trying to not look like an ass, are trying to fit in? But they also provide a context and a focus. The soundtrack of your life. Who can argue with that? And you wouldn’t look like an ass, you’re already dead, after all.

Now I’m not planning on leaving this rich pageant we call life anytime soon, and I hope to live long enough to revise this list many times before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Having said that, one never does know when one’s number is called. Here’s a list of 13 songs that will approximate what I’m all about, if that even is possible. Without explanation or apology. If you’re superstitious, stick R.E.M.’s last one on the end. I think it belongs.

1. Where the Streets Have no Name-U2

2. Keep the Car Running-Arcade Fire

3. Take Five-The Dave Brubeck Quartet

4. Andante Festivo-Jean Sibelius

5. Solsbury Hill-Peter Gabriel

6. My baby loves a bunch of authors-Moxy Fruvous

7. King for a Day-Thompson Twins

8. Bizarre Love Triangle-New Order

9. Alone again, Or-Love

10. Granite Years-Oyster Band

11. Mary’s Place-Bruce Springsteen

12. Adagietto-Gustav Mahler

13. The Raider’s March-John Williams

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Jack and John

Last Monday we got word of two deaths. Both men died of cancer. We first got to know both men in 2003. One was a person I never met but felt like I knew, the other one was someone I talked to on a daily basis but never really felt like I knew at all. The first was Federal NDP leader Jack Layton, and the second was our next door neighbour, John.

There’s not much I can say about Jack Layton that hasn’t already been said better by others elsewhere. Jack Layton was a fighter, and he fought for the very people who had the least power: the homeless, battered women, HIV/AIDS patients, the aboriginal community, the elderly, the poor. The list goes on. I’ll never forget his spirit of optimism.  Back in April, I wrote a post about the Vote Compass software and I called Jack Layton “trustworthy but delusional“.  It just goes to show that it’s a good thing that I don’t make my living as a political pundit. I was the delusional one. Not only did I not foresee the Conservative majority (or maybe I was just wishfully hoping it wouldn’t happen), the Orange Crush of the NDP and the destruction of the Bloc and Liberal Party weren’t even in my realm of contemplation. I’ll never forget watching Jack Layton’s victory speech, and the sense of optimism and hope I felt that night. To learn in late July that Jack needed to take a leave to fight another form of cancer, I wasn’t immediately worried. He’d been down this road before, and I knew he’d get the best care possible and that he wouldn’t, couldn’t leave us now, not at the very pinnacle of his career, at the cusp of making a real difference as the Leader of the Opposition. So it was all that much more hard news to receive when we heard on the 8 a.m. CBC news that Jack had passed away. The outpouring of grief across the country, the chalk memorials, the tributes,  matched my own personal grief and sense of loss. Through my tears, I said to Marla, “Isn’t this silly? I didn’t even know him.” “Sure you did”, she said. “We all felt like we did”.

"So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic, and we'll change the world." Jack Layton

Contrast this with our neighbour John. Our neighbour across the back called me over that night to tell me that our next door neighbour John had died while we were away on our vacation. Like Jack, John had battled prostate cancer the year before, and like Jack, it was generally thought the cancer had been beat. I knew something wasn’t right when John and his wife Marie had returned a month early from their winter holiday in Texas, but John wasn’t one to talk about his health directly to me, and I didn’t feel like I should pry. Our last conversation was in May when Marla’s Dad was parked outside of our house. His van and trailer were laden with things from my Mom’s old neighbour, and John was concerned that Marla and I were getting divorced or something. “I saw all that stuff, the mattress and everything, and I got worried you were moving out”. We had a little chuckle over it, and that was it. After that, his health took a turn and we never saw him out for walks or puttering in his yard. Soon, we only saw Marie out walking the dog, and then we didn’t even see her that much.

John and Marla rarely saw eye to eye. John would constantly spray his yard with harsh pesticides and herbicides, and Marla would rush inside and close all our windows. When Marla hung a bird-feeder in our yard, John hung over the fence and told her she’d never get any birds. The next day when I pulled into our parking pad, I thought I was coming onto the set of a Hitchcock movie, there was so much avian action. He was a gas lawnmower man, and I was electric. That pretty much sums up our relationship. There was a lot of “fence hanging” with John. He wasn’t a tall man, so he had a little step-stool he’d use when he wanted to talk. He was like a sitcom neighbour, really. When John asked me if he could store his trailer in our yard, I didn’t immediately give him an answer, so it took Marla to be the “heavy” and tell him no. When Marla had me dig a little garden the first summer we were in our house, John told her nothing would grow. I think Marla took some pleasure in bringing over some fresh cucumbers to him that fall.

Still, I feel like I’m not painting a balanced picture. When we first moved into our house, we didn’t have a lawn-mower, so he offered to lend us his spare one until we got sorted out. A year later, he wanted to replace the fence between our yards. I understand that it is neighbourly etiquette to pay 50/50 for a fence. John said, “No worries, I remember what it was like to be young and not have a lot of extra money. I’m the one that wants the fence, I’ll pay for it.” He even respected Marla’s wish that a tree that straddled our property be saved and built the fence around it. I saw a different side to him when his beloved dog, Sasha, passed away. It’s always unsettling to see grown men cry, and I was surprised a few weeks later when barking resumed next door. “Meet Sasha!” John shouted over the fence. “But, but, didn’t Sasha die?” I asked myself. From that day forward, Marla and I have referred to that dog as “Sasha 2”. It could bloody well be “Sasha 13” for all we know. Over the years, he would come over and warn Marla when he’d be spraying, so that she’d have time to close the windows or leave altogether. In the last year of his life, he built his own garage in the back, and offered to build us one too, if we paid for the materials. I was really thinking of taking him up on that when the cancer returned. Aside from our conversations over the fence, I never really knew him at all. In the eight years we’ve been neighbours, I’ve never been over to his house, and he never was in ours. When we first moved in, I had him pegged as the type of neighbour with whom I would have a beer on our deck. I guess I missed my chance. I’ll miss our chats as we both tried to have the nicer lawn, and struggle I had in finding common ground with him. There was no obituary in the paper and there was no service. I still imagine him puttering when I’m out BBQing.

Two deaths. One disease. Two very different men.

"Good fences make good neighbors". Robert Frost

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Death and all his Friends

“Those who are dead, are not dead. They’re just living in my head”. Coldplay

Death's Head Tombstone from Plymouth cemetery, Massachusetts

I was the first in to work a couple of  Wednesdays ago. I crossed the library parking lot and let myself in. A few minutes later my circulation supervisor was in and asked if I saw the car parked in the lot. I told her I didn’t notice anything and was there something wrong. She said there was someone sleeping in the front seat. I asked if she was sure he was sleeping. Maybe he was DEAD. “Oh God, I never thought of that!” she said. “So now sleeping doesn’t seem so bad” I said. As I made that flippant comment, I couldn’t know that I would be visited by death two more times before the day would be done.

Mid-morning I had a call from my children’s programmer who told me that her father died.

In Amritsar, India.

Golden Temple in Amritsar, India

I told her how sorry I was. I didn’t ask any details, although I don’t think he was in poor health or anything. Understandably she wanted to go back for the funeral. Sounded to me like she wanted to go for about 3 weeks. I guess you wouldn’t want to go for less than that if you were going so far. Where I work, you’re granted 4 days bereavement leave for immediate family. She also has five vacation days that she can borrow from next year. The rest of the time would have to be covered by a Leave of Absence, pending approval. As I was trying to figure out the paperwork for her, and realizing that I would need to cover her four weekly children’s programs that were starting the following week, I received an email.

More sad news.

Alanna, who had worked with my wife at another library in the city, and who had been battling cancer on three separate occasions over the last 8 years, finally lost her brave fight Sunday night. I called my wife immediately when I heard this. She had no idea. She hadn’t worked with her since before our daughter was born, two years ago, but my wife had always talked about how great she was, and even though she only knew her for a short time, she instantly liked her. After getting this upsetting news, my wife phoned a few of her former co-workers to see about the funeral, etc. One of her co-workers told my wife “Just put on 92 Citi FM”. She was too upset to say any more.

For the first time in about 3 years, my wife turned the dial away from CBC FM to 92 and she discovered a wonderful thing. Alanna’s husband is a local DJ in town. He has been on the airwaves for probably close to 20 years, and his station was dedicating 24 hours to “Songs for Alanna”. This is how it worked: You make a minimum $50 donation to  CancerCare Manitoba, and you get to request a song. Any song. 92, normally a classic/hard rock format, for 24 hours would play anything you want in honour of Alanna’s memory. In the course of an hour, I heard U2, CCR, Louis Armstrong, John Lennon, AC/DC. Most of the people knew Alanna in some way and each song held a special meaning for either Alanna or to the person requesting. Some people didn’t know Alanna at all, but were making donations in memory of other loved ones. You could also buy a t-shirt in memory of Alanna at the radio-station or at any Mark’s Work Wearhouse in the city. “Eff you, Cancer” was the slogan on the front. My wife made a donation and requested “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. She chose this one, because it was the first concert that we went to after our daughter was born. We actually had tickets to the show before we knew we had been selected for adoption. While most couples have about 9 months to get their heads around decorating the baby room and figuring out finances, not to mention all the emotional issues and stress, we had about 3 and a half weeks!

It was a special concert for other reasons too. Coldplay had originally planned to come through Western Canada the year before, but scheduling conflicts meant they had to drop about 4 cities, including ours. At the time they promised they would be back, but how often can you believe something like that? Well, Coldplay was good to their word, and there they were for the first time in Winnipeg, with the excellent support of Snow Patrol. The full name of  Coldplay’s most recent album was “Viva la Vida, or Death and all his friends”. Alanna was also at this concert. Her cancer was in remission at this time, and was a big fan of the band.

Chris Martin of Coldplay with Butterflies during "Lovers in Japan"

For us, we were celebrating the wonderfully improbable fact that we were new parents. Alanna was celebrating the fact that she was well enough to really enjoy a night out with her husband and friends. The next day, my Mom called to say that Alanna had something for us. (My Mom also works in the library. Don’t get me started.) She came by with a cute little bib for our daughter. It was in the Coldplay colours and simply said “Viva”. “I couldn’t pass it up when I saw it,” she said. “I was thinking of your sweet daughter”. Although Alanna never did have any children of her own, I know she was a wonderful and fun aunt and brought joy to many people. The fact that she thought of my wife and daughter too just shows what kind of person she was.

Viva la Vida. Long live life.

http://www.cancercare.mb.ca/

New life.

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