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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It Wasn't My Buggy!

I came out of the grocery store with my one bag of groceries and headed towards my car.  I gently tossed the bag in the passenger side and got in. Just as I started the car up, a driver in an SUV came up behind me with the obvious intention of taking the empty parking spot beside me.

I waited as he drove in, but then he stopped before he had fully pulled into the spot, effectively blocking me from pulling out. I thought there was some reason that he had to stop, so I waited a little longer.

Eventually, I looked over at him and realized he was also looking at me and just sitting there. Then it occurred to me that he was unable to fully pull into his spot because there was an empty shopping buggy, the front of which was just sticking into the spot he was trying to drive into.

What also dawned on me slowly was that he thought I had left the buggy there.

I tried to signal that I was not the one who left it there, but then he began to slowly shake his head at me as if trying to shame me. For something I didn't do.  There were plenty of parking spots around, but he chose to stay exactly where he was and stare at me in condemnation, keeping me pretty much trapped. I couldn't move, so there was nothing to do but get out of my car. I thought of the futility of again trying to tell him it wasn't my buggy and by this time I was completely frustrated, so I went over to the buggy and moved it. Of course, how lame would it be to only move it so he could get in the spot? So I took it all the way over to the cart drop off. I was fuming as I started walking back towards my car. I was going to tell him! But by this time he had exited his car and was in the grocery store.

So I jumped in my car, fumbled around in my purse and found a notepad and a pen and with shaking hands, I wrote a note. I put the note on his windshield. It said "IT WASN'T MY BUGGY! HAVE A NICE DAY." All upper case. Just like that.

It wasn't the first thing I thought of writing. And I've thought of at least a million wittier things to say since then. But you know, in the heat of the moment, the smartest, funniest, wittiest things don't always come to mind. Just the rude ones.

I'm glad I didn't write down any of those.

Feeling better now that's off my chest....

Saturday, November 14, 2015

It's A Shame

If you are on Facebook, you've seen the posts. Sometimes they are "suggested posts", sometimes the posts come from your Facebook friends.

They want to shame you.

A recent one is the Starbucks red cup controversy. I'm not going to go into too many details, you can check the link yourself if you haven't already heard about it. Essentially, some people don't like what the red cup means, or doesn't mean. What's really fascinating, though, is the shaming that came out because of that controversy.

There are people starving, kids without water, people dying...you know the drill. You had that happen to you when you were a kid and you didn't eat everything on your plate. That kind of shaming. It's not that I think the red cup squabble is important. It isn't. But the fact that we want to shame each other every time some silly controversy pops up on Twitter or Facebook makes me wonder where this desire to shame comes from and how necessary it really is.

Of COURSE there are bad things going on all over the world all the time. That goes without saying. The people who want to put you in your place have a problem with you not paying attention to things they think are more important. Social media has given them a virtual megaphone to do it even more loudly than before. And they love it when their shaming goes viral!

Here is the most recent one that has my knickers in a knot.

The slaughter of 126+ people in Paris, not to mention the hundreds who were injured, brought out a huge wave of outrage, sympathy and compassion all over the world. There have been vigils, monuments have been lit with the colours of the French flag, world leaders have condemned the actions of these disgusting extremists, it has left us all in shock.

But someone out there has found a way to shame us because we didn't react in the same way to the 45 people who were recently killed in Beirut.

Let's put it in perspective here: it isn't because some people's lives are more important than others. It's because we can relate more to some than others. That sounds cruel, but think about it for a moment. If your old neighbour gets killed and somebody that you don't know who lives a few streets away also gets killed, are you going to cry for them equally? It's not even just a matter of proximity or geography. But the chances are that those of us in the west have more likely visited Paris or have met someone from France. In fact several of my Facebook friends posted earlier pictures of themselves by the Eiffel Tower after the shootings. Should these people not post their pictures unless they have one to post of themselves in Beirut?

We react to what we relate to. No matter how compassionate and loving a person you are, you are not going to cry for everything and everyone equally. Certain events and people mean more to you than others.

And an outpouring of sorrow, love and support for anyone should never be shamed.

In fact, a comment someone made when I posted my support for Paris, had a really good point. Take this opportunity to smile at someone or hug someone or just to be positive. Do that instead of raging. Or shaming. Get off your high horse and BE the person you desire everyone else to be.

IJ

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

40 Years Flew By

They wandered in one by one, glancing around, some of them nervously looking to find someone they recognized. And inevitably they would break into a big grin when a familiar face finally came towards them. But this wasn't a high school dance.

My husband and I were a little early, thinking we'd grab something to eat before the rest of the Steveston Grads of '75 began to arrive at our 40th grad reunion. There were only a handful of them there when we arrived at the pub, so we said hello and wrote our names on little paper name tags, and updated our email addresses on the big list of fellow graduates. The first order of business for me was a big glass of wine...who knew what the evening would bring? I planted myself at one of the tables, eager to find out.

Thirty years ago at our 10th reunion, most people were talking about their new jobs and careers, handing out business cards, still sticking to their little high school cliques. And I swear some people were wearing the same clothes as they did when we graduated. A few of us were married by then, and I was expecting my first child.

At our 20th, I was there by myself so several of the guys kept bringing me glasses of wine. That's about as much as I can remember.

Ten years ago at our 30th reunion, I remember thinking the women were gorgeous and the men...well, I actually mistook one of them for a teacher! Yes, the wear and tear of middle age was certainly upon us by then. But it was delightful to see everyone and we had a great time.

And now here we were at our 40th, a more casual event than the other reunions had been. Two of our wonderful fellow graduates started to put things in motion a couple of months ago when it looked like nothing was going to happen this year. They reserved an area of a Richmond pub, and we all used word of mouth and social media this time to try and spread the word. In 1975, who would even have known that the phrase "social media" would someday exist and bring us all together like this?

With each new person that entered the pub, I waited for a flicker of familiarity. Some looked almost exactly as they had in high school. Many I had to stare at for awhile because I wasn't sure. Others I would never have recognized if it weren't for their name tags.

I was thrilled when my old friend Judy walked in. I recognized her immediately, even though we hadn't seen each other since we graduated. She had never received any notifications for previous reunions, so this was her first. I jumped up from my table and we gave each other a big hug. In fact, there were many hugs and handshakes and how-the-hell-are-you's all evening. Some counted around 50 or 60 people, not bad for 40 years later.

Along with the many chats I had, I caught snippets of other conversations and got caught up on a lot of people's stories. Some of us are now grandparents or recently retired. There are no cliques any more. As Judy said, you couldn't tell a football hero from a drama geek. We are all now somehow on a level playing field. We've all been worn and somewhat humbled by life, some of us more than others. We have many stories to tell, losses we've suffered through, triumphs we've enjoyed. And, sadly, there are the stories of those of us who are no longer around.

It's sobering to look at the faces of a group of people nearing 60, and realize that they must see you the same way, even if you don't feel that way inside. I used to think that death was the great leveller, but now I actually think time is a greater one. When we were 18, we thought we knew it all. We thought we could change everything. We had no notion of anything ending. Going out into the world was exciting, scary, and full of possibilities. I wondered as I watched my fellow grads the other night, were they happy with their lives? Disappointed? Did the world live up to their expectations?

I'm sure the answers would be mixed.

My old friend Craig had managed to hang on to his graduation dance card, so that made the rounds. A copy of our high school annual was also there making the rounds. That annual came in real handy when you couldn't recognize a face! People were taking lots of pictures of the crowd and selfies with each other. I didn't see one business card exchanged. What we did for a living seemed just a very small part of our stories now.  It was more about reconnecting, reminiscing and enjoying each other's company. And that, we certainly did.

We vowed that we weren't going to wait another ten years to get together again. Ten years, in many respects, is a lot longer for us these days. So our next reunion will be five years from now.  Yikes. That's 2020.

Needless to say, unlike times past, my husband and I were in bed by 11.

We were the Steveston Grads of '75. And then 40 years flew by.

**********************************************


Steveston High School, Class of '75




Craig's dance card







And just for fun, here are some of the things a few people wrote in my annual:

Irene,
I hope one day I'll hear you on the radio.
J. D.

To the girl with the voice of a "meadow lark" and a great friend.
S. B.

Irene
Thanks for picking me up off the floor on grad night.
W. M. 
(I sincerely don't remember that incident)

Irene,
If you're not getting it regularly, phone me.
T. L. 
(yes, he wrote that)

Irene,
Good luck and best wishes.
M.W. 
(my future husband...romantic, eh?)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Was I Seeing Things?

Ringo, pointing at himself...
I sat at my computer, my hand poised on the mouse, ready to pounce once 10 a.m. came around. It was an early spring morning, and I was going to get the best seats I could possibly find for Ringo, coming to Victoria for the first time on October 8, 2015.

My husband and I had seen Ringo and His All Starr Band in Vancouver a couple of years earlier and had really enjoyed the current incarnation of artists, so we decided that we had to bring our grown daughters this time around.

The clock struck 10 (okay, digital clocks don't actually "strike" any more but who can resist the drama?) and my fingers started clicking away. Wow! I managed to snag four 2nd row seats! I couldn't believe I was going to be that close to a real Beatle!

When we saw Paul McCartney a few years back in Vancouver, we were so far back from the stage that when we could actually see him, he looked about as big as an ant. If it hadn't been for the giant video screens, we'd have barely known it was him. It was a great concert, though, and we wouldn't have missed it for anything.

October 8 rolled around and the four of us lined up to get into the arena. I couldn't help but notice all of the grey heads in line and I'm sure my daughters were wondering what kind of a night this was going to be. We all opened our purses to be inspected by security, had our tickets scanned, and wandered inside. And while my husband and one daughter lined up to by t-shirts, my other daughter and I decided to find our seats.

We were sitting pretty close, yep.

One lady, probably a few years older than me, sauntered along the first row and found her seat right in front of me. "I can't believe I'm in the first row!" she turned around to exclaim. We laughed and chatted a bit as the arena began to fill. I turned around to see all of the grey hairs behind us. There was the odd younger person here and there, but the place was mostly filled with boomers. Some of them still had long hair like me, stuck in the 70's, others had succumbed somewhat to the 21st century.

And then the band wandered out on stage and the lights went down and the crowd screamed and applauded in delight. It really was an all star band, with Steve Lukather from Toto, Gregg Rolie from Santana and Journey, Richard Page from Mr. Mister, and the wackiest of them all Todd Rundgren. One guy behind us yelled at Todd every time he took centre stage, but that was about as rowdy as things got. And then out came Ringo.

I knew I was going to regret not wearing ear plugs, being so close to the band, but at that point I didn't care. I was sitting there only a few yards away from a guy who was once a member of arguably the biggest, most famous band in the world. Nothing beats that!

And then the songs rolled out, one after the other, all very familiar to me and to my husband, not so to my daughters, but they enjoyed it anyway. "Roseanna", "Evil Ways", "Broken Wings" "Bang The Drum All Day", "It Don't Come Easy", "Photograph", so many wonderful old songs.  My daughter marvelled at how well-behaved the audience was :-)

I just sat there and smiled, sometimes standing and dancing in place, sometimes flashing peace signs back at Ringo. He does that. A lot.

And then it happened. Maybe three quarters through the show when Ringo was in front singing one of his songs, he turned to face our direction and he pointed his finger right at me. I just sat there and smiled back. Did that really happen? I felt like a stupid teenager...was he really looking at me? Was I seeing things? I sat there for the longest time trying to digest it. Wow. Okay, let's put it in perspective. I mean, the guy is 75. And I'm...well. I'm a few years younger.

It was a great concert and we're happy to say that our daughters were able to at least see half of the Beatles, including the Paul McCartney concert.

On the way home I told my husband about Ringo pointing right at me. "Yeah, sure he did!" "No, I swear he really pointed at me!" I was a little miffed that my husband didn't believe me. The next day when my daughter and I were reminiscing about the show, she brought up the pointing incident. "Did he really point at me?" I asked. "Yes, I saw him pointing straight at you. Well, you were wearing pink, Mom, the rest of us in the row had dark clothes. Pink top, long, blonde hair...no wonder he saw you!" I laughed happily. Okay, I wasn't just imagining things.

Good thing we were just far enough away that he couldn't see the wrinkles.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Learning To Teach

I had a strange experience recently. I won't go into detail, but suffice it to say that a new student, whom I had already had a consultation with the week before, came for one lesson and decided that I made her feel really uncomfortable. It's a strange experience for me because in twenty-six years of teaching, I've never had anyone say that. It ate away at me for days as I tried to go over the lesson we had in my head and figure out what I had done wrong.

There is a real joy for me in teaching guitar, but I admit it took me awhile to be any good at it. That's probably true for most teachers, and I suppose some never really get any good at it! I mean, all of us remember the good teachers we had in school, and the not so good ones. Teaching goes beyond "knowing" something, and that's the real secret.

My first experience with teaching was nothing to do with music at all. I was a computer operator (that's what they called us in the 80s!) at the Vancouver Public Library, and over the period that we became automated, I had to teach a lot of the staff how to use a computer. Many of these people were librarians who were older and who had barely even heard the word computer, let alone used one! I had a knack for teaching, and out of our little group of computer operators, my boss gave me most of the teaching duties. I really enjoyed it. I created a bit of a patter, complete with jokes and quips, and I slowly and carefully, and joyously, brought those librarians into the digital age. It was very satisfying.

Teaching guitar was simply an idea that came to me in a daydream. I realized that I could take what I had learned through teaching at the library and teach guitar instead.  And that if it went well enough, I could quit my part-time job in radio and teach at home so I didn't have to keep my girls in daycare. I first taught through the city in one of those community centre programmes. I wrote up a proposal for teaching an adult guitar class and they accepted it. A lot of students signed up, which was great, but then I realized the disadvantage. There were really too many of them, and I had never taught guitar before, so I didn't know how to make sure they were all getting something out of it. I'm sure some of them had fun, but knowing what I know now, I'm convinced that some did not benefit much from the class.

A year or two after that, I began teaching out of my own home through a smaller non-profit organization, and eventually I simply became self-employed. I tell my students now that I didn't really learn to play guitar until I'd been teaching it for awhile! But mostly, I learned how to teach.

These days, a lot of students come to me after having either tried to teach themselves, or having a friend or a family member try to teach them, and they blame themselves for not being able to learn in those situations. The truth is that we all learn differently, and just because your brother can pick up a guitar and teach himself, doesn't mean he can teach you!

Teaching, for me, is about making a connection with a person and then learning how to communicate with them what they need to do. Some people learn more visually, others learn more by ear, and for many it's a combination of things that lead to understanding how to do it. Not only that, but playing an instrument is a physical experience, and for many, holding it for the first few times feels completely foreign. Then there are the sore fingers and strange hand cramps that come with creating those strange little chord shapes at first.

My job, besides the instruction part, is to give a lot of positive encouragement. Some people are very nervous, most are self-deprecating, but there are those who are particularly hard on themselves or impatient at not being able to learn more quickly. Interestingly enough, most kids are not that way. Kids are used to the idea of learning, and they generally don't care as much about making mistakes, so most of them just plow through and do their best. But as adults, we have different, and higher, expectations of ourselves. We just want to be able to pick it up and play, and although there are those who can do exactly that, it's the exception rather than the rule.  And how we squirm at the idea of making a "bad noise"!

A lot of people talk about how nervous they feel, and I completely understand that. A few years ago, I took an adult piano class for the first time, and it was really good for me to be the student for awhile, and to experience that nervousness and "feeling stupid"! I try to remember that feeling every time a student expresses his or her anxiety. The most extreme case happened many years ago, when I had a student who would not play in front of me. She simply asked me to show her how to play something, and then she'd go home and apparently play it herself. I say "apparently" because I never once heard her play! She only took lessons for a short while because even our arrangement made her too anxious. So when a students tells me about their anxiety, I can relate that story as a way of hopefully make them feel like it's not so bad!

I've been told that one of my strengths is my easy going nature, and my emphasis has always been on having fun with playing. There is nothing more satisfying than when I see a student have an "aha!" moment...when they see their playing improve or when their fingers suddenly "know" what they're doing.  But if you're not having fun with it at least some of the time, then learning the guitar isn't worth it as far as I'm concerned!  I always try to meet people first to see if we're a good fit, and I encourage people to do that with anyone they are looking at as a prospective teacher. I don't teach classical or jazz or theory, so there's no point in taking on a student who is interested in that. But it's also about the personality and teaching style. I've heard a few stories over the years about other teachers to know that some of them don't really know what they're doing.  If you want to teach, then learn how to!

I'm lucky that what I teach is something that makes people feel good. And I never stop learning. Even my recent experience will still be a lesson to me, something that will make me even more conscious and sensitive to the people who give me the great pleasure of teaching them.

IJ
http://www.irenejackson.com/guitar/



Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wallace Mountain

It was a sunny, late spring afternoon in 1972 when I arrived home from school to find a mysterious box sitting on the kitchen table. My Dad was outside working in the garden, as he typically was every spring and summer.

When I walked up to the table and read the label on the top of box, I was startled. "Herein lie the remains of Fanny H. Jackson".

I stared at it for a long time. My curiosity compelled me to want to open the box, to see what human ashes actually look like. But I was scared. I was not quite 15 years old and still grieving the death of my mother only a month or so earlier, and to think that all that was left of her was in that cardboard box was almost too much to bear.

But my curiosity eventually won and I removed the tape and slowly lifted the lid.

Just a couple of weeks ago, forty-three years after discovering my mothers ashes, I found myself sitting in the back yard under the gazebo with my two daughters, holding an urn, this time with my father's ashes. We had each decided to write a letter to him which we planned to burn and mix in with his ashes before we took him to the place where he wanted them scattered. Neither of my daughters had ever seen ashes before, and they were a little leery about them just as I had been all those years ago. We started our little burning ceremony and then spoke about what we had written. I mentioned how I written to my Dad that he was a good father, and one of my daughters said she wrote that as well, among other things.

It took awhile to get all of the bits of paper to burn up, and my other daughter took a picture as they were burning. When we were sure every last scrap was burned, I started to open the urn. It took a little doing, but I finally got it open and asked the girls if they wanted a look. They were a little surprised at what the ashes looked like, just as I was many years earlier. I expected them to look black or grey, like paper or wood ashes in a fireplace, but of course, they don't look anything like that.

Eventually we mixed all of the paper ashes from our letters in with my Dad. My youngest daughter looked at the picture she had taken while the notes were burning.  Here is the original picture:

In the upper part of the picture you can see a couple of little bits that hadn't burned yet.

When she looked more closely at the picture, she was surprised to see the words on one little scrap.

Had we not been talking about it just a minute earlier, it might not have stood out. The fact is that my Dad would often express his concern, especially when I was younger, about whether or not he was a good enough father. Of course he was;  he did everything for me, especially when he became a single parent after my mother died, making my lunches, making sure I got to school, keeping everything around us just as it was when my mother was alive. I could never have imagined a better father.

So as an adult, I took the time to tell him that as many times as I could. And  these two words were the only ones left intact on that little scrap of paper:


Good father

Now most of you who have read my blogs know that I'm not a believer in "signs" or messages from above, or anything like that.  But I did take great comfort in seeing those words, which were the most important ones I wanted to tell him.

Our little burning ceremony was the first step in a journey to take my good father home.

All through my early life, my Dad used to talk about Wallace Mountain and Beaverdell. When he was only three or four years old, along with his younger sister, my grandparents moved from Calgary to Beaverdell, B.C. where my grandfather got a job as a silver miner. Their living quarters was a log cabin, one of a number of cabins built by the miners themselves to house their families. It was like a little community up on top of the mountain not far from the mine, and to my Dad it was heaven. They only lived there a few years, but those years stuck with him as he would often tell stories about his time there to anyone who would listen. He would recount how he and his little sister got into all kinds of mischief, playing near the mine when they weren't supposed to, Dad making a mess of cutting his sister's hair, and whatever other trouble they could find. There was only an outhouse, of course, and no running water. And in the winter there was plenty of snow, snow that stuck around sometimes until May. He told the story of his little sister once seeing a very small patch of ground through the snow and calling it "summer".

The families would often visit each other's log cabins when the miners weren't working, and sometimes they would hold dances. Someone had an old gramophone, and my Dad recalled how they would moved whatever furniture they had all to one side of the one-room cabin so that the grown ups could dance. Meanwhile, the kids would play like monkeys on the pile of furniture on the other side of the room.

I guess it was tough on the wives of the miners, who would be stuck home with their children in this very remote place for months on end. Dad explained how the wives would sometimes purchase this mysterious bottle of "medicine" that was supposed to help cure them of cabin fever. It was called "Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound", bound to cure you of all of your ills. Its main ingredient, of course, was alcohol!  In the picture below, you can see my grandparents posing in front of the cabin, and if you look closely to the left, you can see my blonde-haired Dad:
The Jackson Family log cabin.

A closer shot of my grandparents in front of their cabin.
They left Wallace Mountain when my Dad was about 7 years old, when my grandfather decided to try his hand at fruit farming in Peachland, B.C.. It wasn't until he was in his late 50's that my Dad and my stepmother made the treck back to Wallace Mountain to search for the old cabin again. They really didn't think they would find it, but amazingly, they did. It was falling over and pretty much done with but my Dad was thrilled to bits.  He went back a couple of times over the years to see it, but at one point the company closed down the mine, and eventually they blocked off access to the property so it was no longer legal to go up to the mine site.

Dad with a beer in front of the old cabin, late 1970's.

The entrance to the Bell Silver Mine where his father worked.
In the summer of 2006, I took my Dad, who was now beginning to show early signs of Alzheimer's, for his last trip up to Beaverdell and Wallace Mountain. On the drive between Osoyoos and Beaverdell, we talked about how he wanted his ashes spread there some day. He had a great deal of trouble remembering a lot of things on that trip, but he was quite happy to see the town again and the old Beaverdell Hotel. I was just happy to be able to bring him back to this place he loved so much, if a little sad to realize it would be his last time.

Dad in Beaverdell, August 2006
He was aware that his ashes might end up at the base of the mountain, given the fact that it was considered trespassing to go up the mountain itself. But it didn't matter to him.

And so, the day after our little burning ceremony, my daughters and I set off on the trip, stopping first in Osoyoos, B.C. with the idea of making that our base for our mission. And on June 12th, exactly 18 months after my father passed away, we packed up his ashes and got in the car for the drive to Wallace Mountain.

The drive took about two hours. There were some delays because of the highway being upgraded, but we eventually found ourselves in the small spit of the town called Beaverdell. The first time I went to Beaverdell I couldn't believe how tiny the town was; one of those blink-and-you-will-miss-it places. It has a general store, a little community "hall", a scattering of houses, and of course the old Beaverdell Hotel, which, I was sad to hear, had burned down in 2011. Wallace Mountain and the Bell Silver Mine is located just up behind the town.

Since we had to use the facilities before our little hike, we decided to purchase a few things at the general store. Then, with my little backpack carrying my Dad's urn, we started to walk towards the mountain.

Wallace Mountain ahead.


At the base, we were met with plenty of signs, old and new, warning us not to trespass. We had also heard from a couple of sources that there might be cougars and wolves up there somewhere too, so I have to admit I was a little nervous about our trek.

But we peeked over our shoulders to see that no one was looking and crawled through the big yellow gate at the start of the gravel road, which was pretty much overgrown and hadn't seen any traffic in quite awhile.


I wasn't planning on going too far up, but we trudged on for awhile and I kept looking for the right spot. Every now and then we heard a sound in the woods to the right of us and we looked at each other a little nervously.

At one point I saw a bit of a gully with some wild flowers that I thought might be nice. But my youngest daughter wasn't as impressed, so we trudged on. Finally she said she was going to run up ahead around a bend, and see what was there. Off she went, while my other daughter and I stopped to rest.

Finally, she came back claiming she had found the perfect spot, which, she said, was a little pine tree just to the side of the gravel road. We followed her up around the bend and she pointed out the tree. When I pulled out Dad's urn, I realized it looked a lot like the surrounding area.

The pine tree and the urn.

We all agreed it was the perfect spot. I fussed with the urn, which, as you can see, was a cylinder shape, made of really heavy cardboard, a lot more interesting than the simple box my mother's ashes arrived in.

I finally got it open and that's when it hit me. He was home.

Somewhere on this mountain my Dad had spent the happiest days of his life, and now everything had come full circle.

I spread the ashes all around the base of the pine tree and cried.

My daughter pulled out her iPhone. I thought she was going to take another picture, but instead she played an old song that my Dad used to sing and laugh about all the time called "I Wish I Was Single Again". He was even known to sing it to the nurses at his care facility! The three of us laughed and sang along with it, all the way through. It was just the right thing to do.

After a time, my daughter took a little snip of the pine tree and we turned around and made our way back down.

As we were walking along the road leading away from Wallace Mounain, I turned around to look at it one last time and said "Bye, Pop." And just as we started walking again, a huge gust of wind came up, surprising us with its velocity, as if Dad was sending us all on our way.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Get Busy Living


The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. ~C.S. Lewis

Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them. ~ Dion Boucicault 

Time gallops on. ~ John Jackson

When I worked at the Vancouver Public Library years (eons!) ago, I remember a librarian once laughing at me when I expressed my shock at how quickly time was passing. She said "Wait'll you get to my age!" Well, I'm actually probably past her age now, and I get what she meant. Everyone around my age expresses the same sentiment. Where did the time go? 

I get up in the morning and have my shower and say to myself "Wasn't I just doing this a little while ago? Has it really been a whole 24 hours?" I'm shockingly aware of the fact that there is now more time behind me than will be in front of me. How did that happen? I thrill at the return of spring and summer, only to find it's fall turning into winter again.

When we are small, a day is a lifetime. An hour is unbearable. A minute can't come soon enough. Does time really speed up as we grow older? Or is it only a trick of the senses?

Well, it turns out that it's all to do with perspective. At least that's what the theorists tell us. When we are five, a year is 20% of our entire life.  When we are 50, a year is only 2%. No wonder it seems to go more slowly when we're young. Our experience of time at that point in our lives is entirely different.

Other theories state that we have many more "firsts" when we are young, and therefore we remember those times with more intensity as if they stretched on and on. For instance, in high school we probably all had a lot of firsts. First girlfriend/boyfriend. First acne. First trophy at a basketball game, first bra (okay some of you girls probably got your first one when you were 10). 

Later in life, well, we've been there and done that. Our regular days are filled with repetitive events and tasks that are unmemorable, and certainly not as emotionally intense as in high school. The boring repetition in our lives leads to a kind of blurring of minutes and hours and days.

Yet another theory is that our "biological clock" actually slows as we age, so that external time goes more quickly.  I'm still trying to get my head around that one. There are other theories too, including the fact that we pay less attention to time as we get older, and daily stress both contribute to the feeling of time speeding by.

Whatever it is, real or not, I've become increasingly aware of the quick passage of time as my parents have grown older and passed away. It's the "I'm next" syndrome, which is rather daunting if not depressing! There are things I want to do yet, places I want to see. But most of all, I want to live more in the moment, to really BE where I am and fully experience everything, no matter how boring and repetitive. And so that is exactly what I have been working on in the last few weeks and months.

Here is an example: every week morning I go for a half-hour walk. My husband once cajoled me for always taking the same route, but I like it and I've stuck with it for years. Some of you might think, why not take a different route and see something new? Well, I could do that.  But the fact is that I've discovered something very valuable during my walk and in my quest for being in the moment. It actually IS a new route every day. I see different people, the birds sing different notes in a different order, the weather is different, plants and trees change, flowers bloom and then they're gone. Every single walk is different, all I have to do is pay attention! When I pay attention, I see all sorts of things rather than just getting lost in my thoughts and forgetting where I am. I've posted pictures here in this blog of things I see, sometimes funny, always surprising and definitely something I would have missed if I was not paying attention.

I've also started sketching again, something I did when I was younger. When I put pencil to paper, I get lost in the flow. On the one hand, time flies. On the other, I am intensely involved in it.

When I am IN the moment, I truly experience it in a way that almost makes time slow down, just as when I was a kid.

As a young girl looking at old people, I would feel so removed from their age. Now, not so much. One thing I did notice at a young age was that there were old people who were miserable, grumpy and to be avoided, and there were others who were always smiling. I'm sure there's more than one reason why, but I know that my parents were the kind to always make the best of things, to engage with others and stay interested in what was going on around them. I think that's an attitude that I can foster in myself over the next while in order to make the best of whatever time there is left.

It's up to me, as the line in Shawshank Redemption says, to: "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

IJ


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fanny

Fanny Jackson, New Years 1957
Today is Mother's Day. I can't remember the first Mother's Day I lived through without my Mom, but I'm sure I felt pretty badly. I would only have been 15, and that age can be weird and overwhelming anyway, so being without a mother on Mother's Day would have only added to that strangeness.

But this isn't about me. This is about Fanny.

I have always loved her name. I think she may very well have been named after Fanny Brice who was a popular American model, singer and theatre actress in the 1920s. My mother's parents had actually lived in New York for a period of time, and her first two siblings, Roy and May, were born there. They were a part of the throngs of Europeans coming to America to find their fortune in the early 1900s. Except that my grandparents were a little strange in that they actually went BACK to Denmark after a few years of living in Brooklyn. I guess the American Dream didn't live up to the hype for them.

So my mother, Fanny Helga Corfixsen, was born in Karrebeksminde in Denmark on May 6, 1920. She would, in fact, have turned 95 this past May 6th.

My grandfather was a fisherman and the family, which eventually grew to five kids, was dirt poor. While my Dad didn't have any qualms about having grown up during the depression, my mother actually seemed a little ashamed of her poor childhood, from what I remember her telling me. She talked about the white beaches of Karrebaeksminde and how the "rich" people had summer houses there. She talked about being dirty and feeling ashamed of her lack of cleanliness. Other than a few scant memories, I know very little else of her young life.  I do know that when she got older, she started cleaning houses to make money, and one of her clients was a doctor who convinced her to go to nursing school. And so my mother eventually became a practical nurse, leading into the war years. Denmark was occupied by Germany during World War II and at that time my mother started working as a nurse in a mental hospital.

I knew about her time working in the mental hospital in Copenhagen, but I what I didn't know at first was that my mother was also a part of the Danish Resistance. I found that out from someone else. Among some of my mother's possessions which I still have, was an envelope with a man's name and a return address somewhere in Ontario. The letter was old and I didn't think much of it until one day, out of curiosity, I did some research and found a more recent address for him, and I wrote him a letter (this was long before email and Facebook!). To my surprise, he wrote back, telling me that they met in Denmark while they both worked for the Danish Resistance.

During the German occupation of Denmark, the Danes searched for any and all Jewish people by their names and helped them escape to unoccupied Sweden. One of the ways in which they accomplished this was by committing them to a mental institution and keeping them there until they could sneak them out of Denmark by boat to Sweden, helping them escape their Nazi hunters. Now I don’t know if my mother was actually involved in this for certain, but the facts suggest that there is a good possibility. This is an excerpt from a website called “Rescue of the Danish Jews”:

Dr. Koster, who was in charge of Bispebjerg Hospital, was instrumental in arranging for hundreds of Jews to be hidden at the hospital before they made their escape to Sweden. The psychiatric building and the nurses' quarters were filled with refugees, who were all fed from the hospital kitchen. Virtually the entire medical staff at the hospital cooperated to save Jewish lives. Once it became known among Danes what the hospital was doing, money was donated from all over the country.” 

To put it in perspective, because of this and other forms of rescue, 99% of Danish Jews actually survived the holocaust!  This is an amazing statistic, whether or not my mother had any involvement.  Not only that, but when they returned after the war, the Jews found their homes and possessions intact, as compared to other countries where Jewish homes and possessions where damaged or stolen in the interim. The Danes made sure that nothing belonging to their Jewish neighbours was touched.

Only a few years after the end of the Second World War, my mother again became involved in another conflict;  the Korean War.  She volunteered with the Red Cross and became a nurse on the Danish hospital ship Jutlandia.

The Jutlandia, pictured to the left, was a fully equipped hospital ship, complete with operating rooms and facilities to treat injured UN and South Korean troops and, along with the captain and crew, a full staff of doctors, surgeons and nurses. My mother spent a year on that ship, but the Jutlandia was actually in service during the entire Korean War. It was really like a MASH unit, if you remember the old TV series of the same name. My mother told stories of how they would go from having to treat an overwhelming number of patients over many hours, sometimes days on end, to having absolutely nothing to do, which, she claimed, almost turned them all into alcoholics because they were bored out of their minds. There were many stories, especially in the Danish newspapers, about the adventures of the Jutlandia and my mother kept many clippings in a scrapbook that I still have.  This picture was taken of my mother and one of the surgeons when he was recovering from an illness:

(I guess cigarettes and alcohol were considered medicinal at the time!)

The Jutlandia was the only hospital ship at the time that also treated Korean civilians at the insistence of the doctors on board.  There were a number of South Korean children who were either injured or who had lost their parents, who were taken on board and fed, clothed and given blankets.  It was a miserable time for so many.

However, my mother seemed to have a lot of happy memories from the ship too, among them the port cities they stopped at on their journey to Pusan, South Korea and back to Denmark again. I still have tiny, paper thin tea cups and chop sticks and silver that she brought from Japan, but there were many other ports of call along the way.

Only a year or two after she arrived back in Denmark, my mother boarded another ship and immigrated to Canada, landing in Montreal and taking the train across the country to Vancouver. She worked as a nurse in several places, having to learn English by the seat of her pants.  One story she told was when she was working near a logging camp near Pender Harbour.  She had a small Danish/English dictionary to help her translate, but when a logger came in one day claiming he had a "bellyache", she was flummoxed.  And what exactly is a "pain in the nice word for ass"?  Could there be more Canadian cultural shock for a young Danish immigrant?

But she loved Canada and told me that one of her proudest moments was becoming a Canadian citizen.

My mother was 35 when she met my Dad on his bus.  After a short courtship, they married in January 1956 and I was born the following year, July 1957.  They decided not to have any other children, so it was always just the three of us. I had a wonderful childhood with two terrific parents who made me the centre of their universe. It doesn't get better than that. But my happy little world began to fall apart when my mother found out she had Hodgkin's Disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes, in 1968. She died on May 25th, 1972.

I often wonder what my mother would think of me now. I still regret that I'm not as great a cook or house cleaner as she was, which sounds silly, I know. When I dust the furniture I inherited from her, I think of how she used to throw up her hands in despair at my laziness, my disaster of a bedroom and my refusal to eat everything on my plate. I know now where all of that comes from, of course, but I was just a stupid kid with no sense of the real world back then. My world was so Leave It To Beaver. There are so many conversations I would have loved to have with her, so many moments I would have been thrilled to share with her. So many questions I would have asked about her life.

But I count myself very fortunate that I had a wonderful mother who, along with my father, taught me so much and gave me such a happy life.  I am proud of who my mother was and what she did in her short time on earth, and I'm especially thrilled when I see some of her qualities blossom in my own children.  As someone pointed out to me recently, they live on in us.  

Yes, I can see they certainly do.

I haven't had the chance to say it in awhile, but Happy Mother's Day Mama,
All My Love,
Irene


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Freddy Hacks Again

I'm nearly as afraid of him as I am the character Freddy in the movie Friday the 13th.  He doesn't have the hockey mask, but he does have the chainsaw.

Let me explain that my "fear" is not horror-movie-like. I fear more for my plants.

Every spring, and occasionally in the fall, my husband and I will inevitably come to blows over his so-called hedge "trimming". The trimming has to be done, no question. But it is the manner in which he approaches his task that I find frightening. There is no preparation, there is no forethought. He plugs the offending instrument in, grinning as he fires it up, and then starts hacking wherever it suits him, flailing the thing around mercilessly. No bush is spared.

Most of the time I know well enough to stay away and work somewhere else, like moving to the back yard when he's in the front. He will often do his deed when I'm not even at home, likely to avoid my dirty stares and bitter comments. But a couple of weeks ago, he decided to start his hacking right in the area I was working in. Right after I had cleaned things up.

It started out amicably enough. He began on one side of the yard, I was working on the other. There were two very new astilbe plants that had been doing quite well in their new plots just on the other side of the hedge that he was working on. So I decided I would just ask him to be careful and avoid them when he got to that part. He agreed, gleeful sweat already pouring down his face.

I didn't trust him, so I hung around. And it was a good thing I did. He'd kept to his word and hadn't trampled on the astilbe. Instead, he let all of the branches he'd cut away fall right on top of them. I was seething as I carefully pulled away the piles of refuse to allow the fledgling plants to breathe. Which brings me to the second most annoying aspect of his hackery. The clean up.

His idea of cleaning up the mess left behind is to take a very large rake and scrape the ground (mostly) clear of dead branches. I say mostly, because the rake doesn't pick up the little bits. No it doesn't. I do. Again and again. And again.

I realize that I clearly have a problem. I must remember that it is a very physical task and I appreciate that he does it instead of me. And although he doesn't plan it out, the hacking usually turns out well once the hedges have recovered from the shock. And I'm just fussier about clean up than he is.

Two weeks have passed and you wouldn't know the violence and mayhem that had occurred around those bushes. My seething has stopped and life has moved on. Until Freddy hacks again.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

No Sign

I had to laugh when I saw this sign on the drive along Steveston Highway in Richmond a couple of months ago (no, I wasn't driving!).

You could interpret it a couple of different ways.  Perhaps the sign is having some sort of existentialist crisis.  Or could it be that whoever posted it was looking for something, but found, as it says, "no sign"?

If you add an "s" to the end of "sign", though, you get what the poster was really trying to say. He didn't want any signs on the fence along his property.  Except his own, of course.  Which broke his rule, when you think about it.

When I'm on my daily walk I like to take pictures of things that I find funny or unusual.  Signs or posters make me laugh the hardest sometimes.  People are clever.  Or sometimes just plain silly.

And sometimes, they're simply pissed off.  Like the poster below.  I wrote about this one in another blog post awhile back.

I found this sign on a chain link fence outside of a house on a corner lot.  I'm guessing that people were throwing things by the fence, or maybe even in the yard.  I don't blame the home owners for being mad.  We also live on a corner lot, and I find garbage in the bushes, sometimes even dog poop in baggies tossed along the boulevard, and it cheeses me off pretty seriously.

But this sign just made me laugh.  Especially the curt "Thank-You" at the end.  I guess it worked because the sign is no longer there, and I don't see any "crap" anywhere.

The sign on the left was sitting outside a home that is situated on the bottom of a pretty steep road.  I'm guessing that gravity alone causes a lot of cars to come down that road pretty quickly sometimes.

But what's funniest about the sign is the misspelled word "crosing".  Whoever wrote it was definitely having a senior moment :-). I literally laughed out loud when I came across it!
Here is another photo I posted a couple of years back.  If you have trouble reading the small print, this is what it says: "Please do not walk your dog too close to the hedge as our cat is very territorial and protective of the lawn you're walking on! She hides in the hedge! So walk on this lawn at your own risk! She does not discriminate by dog breed or size either!  Have a great day!  Woof? Meow! :-)"

There's a picture of a cat chasing a dog at the bottom to illustrate the possible consequences. Also note the number of colourful pins.  This sign has since disappeared, so I imagine dog walkers did take note. I hope.

One of my favourites was this one :-)  I wrote a whole post just imagining where the chicken had scuttled off to and what fate might await her.

Quite often when I'm walking past this house, there are a bunch of little pre-schoolers with their minders watching the chickens in their coop.  And the sound of chickens clucking is, for some reason, very comforting to me.  The city changed its by-laws in the last while to allow back yard chicken coops and, just in my little neighbourhood, there are at least four of them.

I don't think chickens are dumb.  I think this one was plotting right from her first day in the hen house.

I loved the "Brown feathers, says "cluck" note.  Just in case you have any trouble identifying her.  And if you see her, be quick.  She is apparently VERY sneaky!


I've had this last one for quite some time now.  I'm not sure who posted it or why, but it certainly gave me a chuckle.

Somebody went to a lot of bother to create it in the first place.  They must have taken a picture of a picture of a picture...something like that.  You figure it out!

It was only up for a day or two and then it disappeared. Possibly a victim of the very wormhole it was looking for?

Of course, I often see the "lost cat" or "have you seen my bicycle?" signs out there. Garage sale signs abound, of course, especially in the spring and summer.

But the signs I take pictures of remind me that there are some very funny, clever people all around me.  They make me laugh, they put a smile on my face some days when I really need one. I once found a note on the ground that had obviously been left with a meal, left by one friend or neighbour for another.  The note said "Seeing as you can't cook or have groceries, I thought I'd make lunch for you.  Hope you like it!"

It was on the street so I don't know which house it belonged to and it was one of those moments that restored my faith in humanity, in our goodness, in spite of all the crappy things that always seem to be going on everywhere else.

Going out on my daily walks, aside from providing me with fresh air and healthy exercise, just makes me feel a whole lot better about our world.

IJ

Sunday, March 22, 2015

It's 2pm On A Saturday...

I have to say that I can't possibly remember the last time I was in a bar at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon, because maybe I never have been.  But that's where I found myself yesterday, waiting to watch an old student of mine get up with his band to play a set at an open mic.   It wasn't the kind of "open mic" I'm used to, with a single stool and maybe one mic, if even that.  No this was a huge stage with tons of amps and mics and stands and even lights.

What was interesting to me wasn't that I was in a bar at 2pm on a Saturday, but that the place was filled with long-haired hippy freaks, dressed as if they never left the 70's.  You know the type; hollow-cheeked, glassy-eyed, peace sign tattoos, a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Well, admittedly, they were much older, just like me, and some of the long hair was thinning and grey and the tattoos were getting wrinkled. But other than the obvious signs of age, it was like being in a time capsule.  The bands were playing Lynard Skynard, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton and the girls (well, "girls" no longer) were up dancing by themselves or with each other as if they were tripping out on Janis Joplin.

If you think I'm just going to reminisce about the 70's, though, you're wrong. Actually, I wanted to talk about doctors. Yeah, kind of a leap, I know. But bare with me.

When I was sitting there looking at my contemporaries, I was wondering how on earth this generation, my generation, is going to handle REAL old age.  Maybe it's because I've lost my father and stepmother recently that I've begun to think that way.  I'm next.  We're next.  We aren't kids any more.  When we were younger, unless we had health issues, we never thought much about doctors.

I didn't really go to my doctor much even in my 30's or 40's, unless it was for one of my kids.  I remember once bumping into my doctor down town and she pestered me about coming in for a check up. But I didn't really feel like I needed to;  I was healthy and happy and what's the point?  When I turned 50, however, I thought I should at least make one visit with her and check things out.  Of course, the high blood pressure that had been lurking for years had now reached (literally) a fever pitch, 174 over 93.  Not good.  After a battery of tests to figure out if there was an underlying cause, I was immediately put on blood pressure medication.

I was in shock.  Me?  Pills?  At first I sort of resented the whole notion, but as time went by I got used to the morning ritual of popping a pill at breakfast and making sure I had them with me whenever I went away.  Then late last year, I discovered that I have something called atrial flutter, where one of my heart's chambers occasionally spazzes out and causes my entire heart to beat too quickly for long periods.  Its likely cause, the cardiologist said, was too many years with unchecked high blood pressure.  Duh.  High stress and things like caffeine can trigger it.  I'm happy to say I haven't had any bouts for months, but it has to be monitored.

But now my doctor has reached her retirement age...passed it, really.  And although she hasn't announced her retirement, she has been looking for a replacement.  The problem is, there aren't any.  Young doctors these days prefer to specialize or to work in clinics with other doctors where they don't have to deal with overhead and the responsibility of an office and staff all alone.  So GPs are becoming a thing of the past.  And that scares me just a little.  When my sister-in-law had a stroke a few years back, she didn't have a doctor to oversee her recovery.  The list of potential GPs that was given to her was full of doctors who had either retired or weren't taking new patients because they were already overwhelmed.  It's awful to think that you could have a serious illness or injury and no one to keep an eye on you.

When I make an appointment with my doctor these days, it now takes up to a month to get in. She has pared down her hours because she just doesn't want to work as much these days, and who can blame her? She should be basking in the sun, playing with her grandchildren or spending her days in the garden. If I have an emergency I have to go to a clinic or to the emergency ward, and deal with people who don't know me. That's the beauty of having a long term GP, they KNOW you. There is great comfort in talking over health issues with someone who is aware of your history.

I had an appointment with my doctor just the other day, mostly to fill prescriptions. But I asked her a couple of questions too, and we went over my history and the things that had happened. I felt very much at peace after that appointment, knowing that I had a course of action to take and that I could trust the person who was giving me that course. We all need that. Trust and comfort.

As I age, along with all of those hippies in the bar at 2pm on a Saturday, who is going to look after us? For the moment, we can still play, we can still dance, we can act like kids when we hear the music we remember from our youth. Most of us are in relatively good health and, fingers crossed, we will remain so for some time yet. I'm just hoping there will be enough young doctors out there willing to help us out when we will truly be needing it.

As my husband and I walked out of the bar, there was the inevitable sweet smell of pot wafting around us. Someone was giggling. I couldn't help but giggle myself.

If I closed my eyes, it was like we were just leaving a high school dance. Except it was, by this time, only 4pm.  Still time to get home, eat dinner, watch the hockey game and get to bed early.  The 70's are, clearly, long gone.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Whose Body Is This?

I drove to the church on a chilly February afternoon 21 years ago, just a little nervous about my impending performance at the service. I knew this wasn't going to be an ordinary occasion by any means, but I wasn't quite prepared for what I saw when I got out of my car in the church parking lot.

Along with the expected media, there were plain-clothed RCMP everywhere.  One of them was videotaping as we all walked in the front doors of the church. Someone said they were looking for the doctor, but I was convinced that he or she would never have dared to show up for this.  There had also been a bomb scare, so as I walked inside I noticed more officers walking the halls and standing near all of the entrances, scrutinizing everyone.

A few months earlier I had been asked by singer/songwriter Dennis Lakusta to sing back up on his latest album.  We had recorded it in Surrey BC and afterwards, Dennis had sent a copy of it to Sue Rodriguez, who was at this point pretty much bed-ridden with ALS.  There was a particular song that he had written for her and it turned out she liked it very much and had her caretakers play over and over.  It was called Wounded Eagle.

For those of you who don't know, it was 22 years ago that Sue Rodriguez had gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada advocating for medically assisted dying.  They dismissed her appeal by a vote of 5-4.  A year later she ended her own life with the help of a physician and the support of her family and friends.  As it turned out, after she passed away her caregivers contacted Dennis and told him how much she had loved that song.  They asked him if he would perform it at her service, and because I had recorded it with him, he asked me to accompany him.

I don't remember much about the service itself.  I do remember that it was very emotionally charged, and in spite of the strangeness of so many officers surrounding the congregation, it was all about Sue. When Dennis and I stood up to sing, I remember looking into tear-stained faces in the first few rows and trying to sing right to them.  The right song at the right moment can go a long way in giving great comfort.

After the service we were invited to Sue's home, where we met her son and other members of her family.  It was an ordinary home in an ordinary suburb, but the extraordinary person who once lived there still filled it completely.  I remember driving home, feeling the significance of that day, the sorrow, but also the satisfaction that she ended her life the way she wanted to.  They never did figure out who the doctor was who assisted her.

Yesterday, Sue's quest for a person's right to die was finally granted by the Supreme Court.  There are many out there who disagree with this ruling, and I understand their doubt and fear.  All I can think about is the question she brought to the Supreme Court when she faced them: "If I cannot consent to my own death, whose body is this?  Who owns my life?"

As it turns out, you do, Sue.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Life Worth Celebrating

I've been to five celebrations of life this year, beginning with my father's last January 25th.  That, for me, was the toughest one of course, but I hope I gave him the kind of send off he would have enjoyed.

The last one I attended was yesterday.  The wife of my husband's friend disappeared last January when she went for a hike.  I remember driving out to the park with my husband just after she had disappeared, watching the helicopter above scanning the wooded areas, and the rescue vessel combing the waters below. It was a strange and helpless feeling. There were dozens of hikers and rescue workers on foot, scouring the park hoping to find her. They never did.  Her husband took a long time to decide to hold a memorial for her, the finality of it likely his reason for resisting up to now.  When there is no body, it is undoubtedly difficult to completely let go.

When you read the obituaries these days, most tend to invite people to a celebration of life or a "gathering" rather than a more formal church funeral which was more common when I was growing up.  The very first one I attended was my mother's memorial when I was 14.  I didn't really pay much attention to what was said or done, the whole experience was mostly a blur at the time.  But my mother was not religious, so the event reflected that which was unusual at the time.  It was done through a memorial society which she and my father had joined before she passed away.  She was cremated, which was also less popular than burials back in 1972.

But forty-three years later, the way we say good-bye to our loved ones, for the most part, has become a more positive expression.  And I like that.

When you think about it, how someone died is such a tiny event compared to how they lived, even in the case of the woman who disappeared on that hike.  Our minds wandered to all kinds of possibilities as to how it happened, but even in her case, the life she lived before that was far more important.  People stood up and told stories, we laughed, we cried, but mostly we remembered with a smile.  I know that when it's my turn to go, I will want people to do the same.

Two of the people who passed away were elderly;  my father and one other man.  Three were taken too soon, two by cancer and the woman who disappeared on the hike...all in their 50's or 60's.  But each of them had a celebration, a gathering where the real focus was their life, their achievements, their loves.  Their stories.

At my Dad's celebration, I played an old song that he always loved called "Hallelujah I'm a Bum".  I don't know if you would have gotten away with singing such a song forty years ago, even at a non-religious service.  But it was a song he and his sister would sing when they went trick-or-treating as kids on Halloween, and he never got tired of hearing or singing it.  It's a funny song, but it's also about poverty during the Great Depression which my father experienced along with so many others so it was a reflection of his life, his era, if you will, and the sense of humour that never left him.  I think he would have enjoyed watching everyone sing along on the chorus that day :-)

Even though each gathering I have attended in the last year has been mostly a positive experience, I would prefer not to have to attend any more for awhile.  Not that I have any choice.  But what I have resolved to myself is to make sure that from now on I live the kind of life that people will smile and tell good stories about when it's my turn to go.

To live a life worth celebrating.