Saturday, 24 March 2018

Farewell to the Big Woof

For lazy dog owners in Canada, spring signals the backyard cleanup season, that time when people everywhere spend a few hours scooping up the leftovers from their pets.

When you have a big dog, this job is particularly nasty. Our Finnigan was a championship pooper. Oh well, at least he pooped in the same spot.

I looked out at his territory this morning and felt a little sad. This is all we have left of the Big Woof -- a yard full of leavings -- they remind us that he's been gone nearly a month now.

Finnigan left this world kicking and screaming -- literally. In December, he began to have grand mal seizures, not a lot of them, only once in a while. But it was a sight to behold, terrifying to watch a beloved pet grinding on the floor, foaming at the mouth, only to be awakened snarling, with an otherworldly look on his face.

The vet told us that there really wasn't a lot we could do for him, aside from putting him on meds which might or might not work. She did warn us to be careful and steer clear of this massive mound of evil, and she gently suggested that we might have to put him down to keep my granddaughter Squishy and Sophie the Pug safe.

We didn't put him down of course because we loved him, and we knew what to do when he fell to the floor thrashing -- just run out of the room and lock the door behind us. In the meantime, it was business as usual. We even bought Finnie a new Kong, and installed a dog gate in the Subaru.

Alas, the first Sunday in early March, Finnigan had three seizures within 24 hours. With each, we watched the life drain from him. His eyes became shiny, and he was confused. Scott slept with him in the basement, and I will never forget Scott wailing as another seizure began as he slept with Finnie on the bed. An hour later, we made the decision, or let us say, the decision was made for us that we couldn't keep him.

He was already on his path.

Scott put him in the back of the Subaru, behind the dog barrier. In a final act of defiance, the eel-like Finnigan was able to squeeze through and put his head on Scott's shoulder. He followed his master into the vet, and lay his head on Scott's lap. And a few minutes later, he left this world just as waggy and happy as usual.

Finnigan was only six when he died but like most black Labs, he lived the hell out of his life. He played Kong for hours in the backyard, terrorized Sophie, knocked down toddlers with his tail and spent his summers at the cottage swimming and playing. He was a happy asshole who liked to trim the trees just for fun, maul the kids when they came over, and bark as if his life depended on it.

My feelings for him were mixed. He was sweet one minute, and a total tool the next. He made it impossible to get the mail, and terrified the neighbors.

Like I said, he was an asshole, but he was our asshole.

I was sad for about a week, but I couldn't get over how lucky he was. He wasn't sick at all in his life, and only had a few seizures. It wasn't a bad way to go.

Heck, as a final exit, I'd take it.

I feel worse for Scott who's really having a hard time. Finnigan was his buddy, his wingman, his number one fan. I used to laugh at Finnigan draping himself over Scott while he sat on the recliner. A dog never loved a man more than Finnie loved Scott.

He only had eyes for Scott. Me, he put up with.

Still, it's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved hound. The house is so still and clean. The backyard echoes with the sounds of other people's dogs as they pass by.

Thankfully, Sophie has adjusted beautifully. She's busy sleeping beside me, and bouncing from pillow to pillow. Little does she know that her life is about to change.

You see we've always been a two -- or three -- dog family. And so next week we will welcome Pearl, an Australian Shepherd. We can't wait.

The love has to go somewhere, and we're sending it out to another dog. Finnigan wouldn't mind. He would probably just wish he was here to knock the stuffing out of another puppy.


I have a photo of Finnie, the one at the top of this blog. He's watching the ducks up at Geri's with a Kong in his mouth. It's how I'll remember him. Wet, stinky, and full of shit.

Just like our backyard.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Happy birthday Vera!

I will be celebrating my mother's 93rd birthday today, outside in the back garden, watching the weirdos walk down St. Laurent Boulevard. We're having a barbeque in her honour, steak with all the fixins, washed down by a couple glasses of French wine.

If she were alive today, she'd be out there with us in the freezing cold, smoking Rothmans, and drinking some sort of Labatt product. She loved to smoke. She loved to drink. She loved to laugh.

I miss her, and always will.

She left this Earth in September of 1992, and she was only 68 -- six years older than I am now. Man, she seemed like a dinosaur back then, and now that I look at myself, I wonder: is that what the young ones see when they look at me?

Really, I don't care anymore.

I am who I am. If you don't like me, or my wrinkles, or my cheap dye job, get stuffed. That's what she would say. She lived a tough life, raising three kids on her own, as I did, living on fumes, as I did for many years. In the end, she couldn't walk anymore, couldn't eat anymore and spent nearly a year in the hospital before she succumbed to an infection.

It was a sad day in September, and my life has never been the same. Being only 34 at the time, I found it hard to cope with being motherless, then ultimately, husbandless, but I had her spirit to guide me through.

What would Vera do?

I often asked myself that.

Today, in her honour, I went out and bought two pairs of shoes, and a baseball cap. I didn't need them, but God Damn It, I wanted them, and they were on sale.

I haven't bought two pairs of shoes at one time since I was in my twenties. 

I have some money, so why not? Can't take it with you.

As Vera taught me, you never know when your time is up, so eat, drink and get a little bit silly.

I also decided today that I'm finally going to give up on serious work. I'm tired of chasing contracts with soulless organizations that view me as a fossil without a French certificate. There is no work out there for people my age that doesn't involve running a cash register or slinging bananas at Walmart. I'm sick of it.

So I'm just going to relax, put my feet up, and enjoy the rest of the ride.

Smell the dirty diaper, as they say in the grandchild minding business. 

That's what Vera would have done if she'd had the chance.

Except the diaper part. She didn't like child minding.

She'd done her time. 

Not me. 

I'm so happy that I can still toss around my granddaughters. Vera couldn't do that. The back breaking factory work she endured for so many years took a toll on her spine and she could barely get around at my age. She couldn't even walk the length of the Pen Centre. 

I will try to live a healthy and active lifestyle as long as I can. I'm seeing my doctor, getting tests, and smearing my own poo on a stick. I'm also going to the dentist to make sure my teeth aren't falling out, so I don't have to join the Polident crowd. .

I realize that I've spent too many years on the lam, and now it's time to turn myself in, peacefully, rather than going out in a blaze of glory like many of my friends have done. There's no medal for dead, not even a bronze, just a spray of flowers, and a spread of stale sandwiches with too many pickles. 

I want to be around to see how it all turns out.

Though if my number does come up, I'll be thinking of Vera, a smoke in one hand, a Labatt Blue in the other, smiling that million dollar smile.

So please, raise a glass to Vera Crown Simpson, a legend and a true star.

And here's to Scott, who'll help me through it all.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Ashley Simpson: Love and Loss on Family Day

Cindy and John Simpson celebrated their wedding anniversary this weekend, even though they were both down with the flu. They played some cards, ate some cake, and remembered the good times, and the very bad times.

Like most couples who've been married nearly three decades, they count the raising of their children into adulthood as their greatest success. Cindy and John have lots of them in their blended family, including a gaggle of grandkids. Most recently they welcomed their first grandchildren, the imp Cyris, who is killing everybody daily with his cuteness.

The kids keep John and Cindy going through the tough times. And their times have been tougher than most.

For the second Family Day in a row, the Simpsons will be missing a bit piece of their hearts. Their daughter Ashley still has not been found and John is hoping to take one more trip out to Salmon Arm to find her with the help of people in the local community who refuse to give up looking for Ashley and a number of other women and girls who have mysteriously gone missing.

"We miss her dearly," John wrote to me yesterday. "We strive to go on and do right by her. Having the community coming together to try and find these missing women makes my heart leap for joy."

Thanks to John's efforts, and the determination of local women, including the incomparable Jody Leon, there is now a MMIW Drone Service which is helping search and rescue, and law enforcement, comb the woods, streams and vast wooded acres around the area, providing eyes where humans cannot see.

John is hoping for a miracle, hoping the floods don't come this year, as they did last year, and stop the searchers in their tracks.

"Things are looking up," John told me. "I'm proud to have started the ball rolling."

In the meantime, John and Cindy try to keep heart and soul together. In a twist that wounded John's already mangled heart last year, his beloved Long House was felled by twisters. It was the one piece of work he could count on, in a place both he and Ashley loved.

How many things can be taken away from a family?

I've asked myself this question, and I've failed to hear a little voice saying "it's going to be okay." Like John, I know nothing will ever be the same. We just have to keep on keepin' on.

For the family.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Thank You for Being a Friend

Every story has an ending, and we've come to it.
The beautiful and bountiful sprays of flowers are now wilted, and will be going into the recycle today.
The letters have all been written, and the cheques have all be cashed.
Her carbon footprint, once larger than the woman herself, is now reduced to a small, cream coloured box filled with receipts, just in time for tax season.
On Thursday, Jennette Katherine Lovie was interred in a brief ceremony involving putty and blowtorches, the plot salesman, Squishy, Scott and me. 
Now it's time to say goodbye.
She and Roger can now rest together under the watchful eyes of John and Sadie Smuck, featured in the photo above. It always seemed great that they would have a couple of Smucks with whom they could spend eternity.
For me, it's time to move on. 
This morning, I died my hair red because I could.
This afternoon, we'll spend time with my eldest granddaughter, Skylar, eating bad food at Mickey D's. I will lecture my son, Nick, on his cadaver-like appearance, and will get the hand, as usual.
I won't make a big point about it.
People make their own choices.
I've learned that.

I just wanted to say goodbye to you, loyal readers and supporters.
I'm closing out the Cancer Diaries, hoping never to have to reopen them for someone else.
I have appreciated your prayers, and thoughts, and cards and letters.
But now I must go back to the land of the living.
It's been hard in this place, so close to death, in some ways.
But it's gratifying in other ways. I have never felt so alive.
I won't take things for granted, again.
Like my health, like the hours I spend with Scott, the kids, and the grandkids.
I will hug them all a little closer, and I will love my dogs all the more.
Thank you all for being friends to me, and Jennette.
We'll be fine, both of us.
No pain for her, a perch beside the crazy moustache.
More living for me.

Oh, before I go, one thing.
Stop. Smoking.
It's not just about you.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: The Love Monster

Over the years when I looked after Jennette, there were times I wanted to walk out of her life.

It was hard watching her self-destruct, difficult to walk into an apartment that was full of paper and ashes and soot. Her friend Lu couldn't believe it when I told her about the hoarding years, the decades Jennette made neat pathways to the bathroom and the bedroom in-between the untouched moving boxes, and the couches overflowing with her dead mother's clothes.

"The Jan I knew had an apartment that was neat as a pin," Lu told me. "I just can't believe she lived that way."

I knew Jennette for 25 years, and every place she rented looked the same. They were always full of clutter, neat in places, especially the bathroom. The rest of her apartment looked like a bombed out place in Aleppo.

The first time it was a problem was when the paramedics came to get Roger who had collapsed on the bed. It took them nearly an hour to get him out of the apartment because the pathways simply were not wide enough for a stretcher. Finally, they helped him shuffle out of the apartment on his own steam. He quickly took a deep dive into a coma, where he existed for nearly two months. His constant smoking bore a hole in his lung, and he had begun to aspirate food into the hole. His liver was badly cirrhotic, and undiagnosed diabetes had rendered his feet nearly useless.

Still, he survived.

While Roger lay in the hospital, Scott and I saw an opening. While Roger was in a coma, we would go into the apartment, clean up his bedroom, and get him a new bed so he could recover at home watching the Jays, and continue to kill himself, and his wife, with his second hand smoke.

Scott bravely entered the room like a firefighter, leaving nothing behind. When he came home, he had developed a horrible cough, and bled out of his nostrils. The soot was two inches thick on the unopened windows, television and computer. It still makes me cringe, when I think about it.

There was only so much we could do, so the rest of the apartment stayed the same, with its pathways, and mounds of newspapers, until the day Roger died. It was only then, after the police actually refused to enter the apartment, that we made a pact that we would start a process to save Jennette's life.

And so began our complicated dance, one step forward, one step back, as we pleaded with social workers and doctors to help her, only to discover that because she was not yet a senior, there was nothing they could do for her.

It was only after she received a large cheque from the government to settle a 30-year employment equity suit, that she had the money to hire professionals to move her. We did that, and our hope was that she would right her ship.

That's when she got cancer the first time.

In between, there were the falls, and the broken bones. Roger's death had taken its toll, and she also faced the ultimate demise of her beloved father. During this time, her mental state began to deteriorate. She was depending more and more on her nightly dose of vodka to ease her pain.

Then, ultimately, she began a relationship with the scammer Richard Birdsong, who took $25,000 out of her pocket.

I was so mad when I found out. I felt so betrayed that she thought so little of her own life while I was desperately trying to save her. The anger simmered in my stomach, and made my face blistering hot.
It was the same feeling I had yesterday when I found out the extent of her folly.

But I stood by a promise I made on my mother's death bed. I wasn't able to be around when she was dying. I had been too busy with my own life, and my perfect little family, that I could not be there when she needed me.

I swore on that day that I would do for one other person what I couldn't do for my mother.

And Jennette was that person. Lucky her, and lucky me.

She was grateful for the help in ways, but mostly she was secretive. Her mental illness hid in the shadows, while she presented a brave front to doctors. They shrugged off my pleas, and she shunned me when I tried to get her the real help she needed.

She finally fell off the precipice after her father died and after the cancer took hold in her right cheek. Instead of getting radiation, she sought out expensive dentists to build her a new smile on top of an absent gum line. She was hoping to find a man, that was her aim, that would solve everything, and the new choppers were key to fulfilling that goal, even though they didn't sit well, even when they pained her when she ate.

In her own fragile mental state, she was getting help she needed.

It was magical thinking of the first order.

Instead of seeking the radiation that could save her life, she sought treatment for loneliness and despair. Those of us who have sought that comfort know there's no pill for that.

The Love Monster consumed her, and left an opening for the cancer which ultimately won out.

Sitting here with my tea, surrounded by her things, I don't lay blame on this poor, sweet soul.

I have lived my entire life among people, my mother, my husbands, my children and now my grandchildren. I have a small life, but an important one. I'm loved, I'm wanted, I'm needed.

I can only imagine what it was like for her to be the good soldier left behind on the battle field, wandering around, in the land of the dead. After the men went away, she hoped for another, but the cancer took her hope and crushed it. Who would want a woman with half her face eaten by cancer, while her newly minted teeth sat beside her in a fancy case? Teeth she couldn't wear?

Every night, Jennette would sit around and talk to her ghosts. Ultimately, just months before she got sick the final time, she asked God to take her.

And in his own twisted way, God granted her that final wish.

I'm proud to say that I didn't walk away.

But it's cold comfort on days like this when I sit around talking to my own ghosts.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Facebook Folly

I was going through my late friend Jennette's paperwork today for her taxes, and I found a small folder which contained mail receipts.
They were all addressed to a man in Africa named George Prince Gaskin who apparently was a lawyer for a man with whom Jennette became involved over Facebook. It had all been a scam, of course, played upon a vulnerable and lonely widow.
She had fallen for an American soldier named Richard Birdsong whom she met on Messenger.
This Birdsong fellow had told her that he was stationed in Afganistan, and he had a teenage son. Unbeknownst to everyone but Jennette, they had fallen in love, and Jennette was waiting for him to move to Canada so the three of them could be together.
In another folder, I saw a passport application with a photo of Jennette. I suppose there had been plans for her to travel to the U.S. at some point, plans that were never fulfilled.
I knew she had been scammed before I found these receipts.
She called me one day to ask if I had a printer because she needed to send something to the U.K. to another lawyer who would confirm to a bank that she would be the recipient of a few million dollars on a life insurance policy for Richard Birdsong. I immediately confronted her, and she admitted that she had been sending money to him, through this lawyer.
Apparently, the young son had fallen into misadventure in Africa and he needed money asap.
She explained that she was just trying to help. And so she sent him money
She told me she sent $5,000 before I got involved.
After learning of her folly, I took over her Facebook account where I read months of disgusting correspondence between Birdsong and my little friend.
I learned so much about her. She was not the person whom I called a friend. And I am deeply sorry I got her onto Facebook, which fails to protect the vulnerable. This person Birdsong still has a profile on Facebook even after I contacted the company many times.
I blocked him on her Messenger, and I had hoped that was that.
Apparently not.
When we got J's computer, after her death, up popped Richard Birdsong.
He had been talking to her the whole time over her other devices.

Today, I totalled up the receipts sent to these scammers.
My heart was already breaking, when I tallied the receipts.
Jennette sent these douchebags a total of $24,136.96!
No wonder there was no money in her accounts.
I am beyond sick at this point.
Sure she was secretive. I knew that.
But I was not prepared for this.
I'm going to have to lay down. 

Sunday, 4 February 2018

The Cancer Diaries: Soul Survivor

We held a memorial for Jennette yesterday, and by all accounts, it was a complete success.
Well, not quite.
Scott was in charge of the music, and he couldn't get it going. His tech skills appear to be rusty now that he's a retired CBC cameraman. Leonard Cohen was with us, sitting on the iPad, but the voices of his lovely singers couldn't seem to reach the speaker my husband held in his hand.
Like the good emcee I was, I tapped danced for a few minutes.
"Well, I guess we know why the CBC is in trouble," I quipped, giving my husband the stinkeye.
Fortunately, we didn't have to endure a Don Mclean nightmare, another day the music died.
Scott finally got it going, and we were saved.

Today, I'm suffering from a funeral hangover. The feeling is familiar.
I remember it from the myriad funerals I attended as a child who was blessed with lots of genetically compromised elderly relations whose arteries were altered by booze and cigarettes.
The Bloody Day After.
It's the day I sit around in the middle of a living room filled with over-sized flower arrangements in vases I will never use because no one could possibly afford to buy that amount of flowers.
Not even Oprah!

The fridge is full of too many pickles and day old sandwiches, bland cupcakes, and unrecognizable pieces of cheese. Wilted grapes. In a disturbing version of art imitating life, the colour is draining from the cantaloupe pieces that no one ever eats.
Beside the over-the-top flower arrangement sits what Scott refers to as the death case, that expensive looking funeral binder you get after you've spent half a year's salary on launching the dead one on her final journey. It's full of forms, and booklets, and advice for the newly bereaved about the technicalities of death.
It is true what they say.
The only two things a person can count on are death and taxes.
In addition to being Jennette's death assistant, I am also lucky enough to be her Executrix, which means I will be spending the next few months closing out her bank accounts, credit cards, tax account, etc., etc. Being the little overachiever I am, I have already done most of it. For the last three weeks, I've been schlepping J around in my backpack, which is full of death certificates, hers and Rogers, as well as form letters for all the thieves who come calling, literally on death's door.
She didn't have much, and the stuff she did have has already been dispersed to various friends in thanks for their efforts at keeping up her spirits whilst the cancer ripped through her throat.
I have what's left of her life now, in my office and living room. There are lots of pictures of people I don't know, and a box of receipts I will now comb through to see if I can get her an income tax refund for all the money she paid out over the last few months. Dying, I have learned, is a pretty expensive endeavour.

What's left of her estate comes to me as I am her sole survivor. I am somewhat elated to know that I will see little cheques come in, every now and again, for the rest of the year. I will give thanks for everyone of them.
I'm not rich and I haven't been able to work much over these last few months, so selling off Jennette's shit has become a necessity. Today, I scored a hundred bucks for her phone. The other day, another good friend took one of her tables. That paid for groceries.
Scott got the biggest gift, J's Chevy Cruze, which we traded in with our old car for a late model Subaru. He's over the moon, of course, because he used to sell Foresters and now he can finally afford one. The thing has Eyesight, apparently. And good snow tires, and a sunroof which he assures me offers UV protection. In my own defence, as a former sun worshipper and skin cancer-survivor, I will now wear a hat in the car. And there's a dog cage in the car to keep Finnigan from eating the seats and Sophie from soiling the off-white upholstery, so that's something, I guess.
I hope we get good use out of the dog barrier. But I'm wary, I think getting a dog barrier might be a bad idea, like all those times I got new business cards, only to discover I'd been sacked a few days later by one soulless boss or another.
We took Finnigan to the vet on Friday because he's started having seizures. We were told that he can no longer be around the grandkids because of his condition, which sometimes leaves him snarling in pools of foam. So Finnie will be in the basement everyday when Squishy comes to call. Otherwise, he'll be accompanying Jennette over the Rainbow Bridge.
He doesn't know the difference. He just wakes up from his trance and licks my hand.
As for me, I will be sleeping with my tennis racquet.

I'm feeling numb, to tell you the truth.
I feel like the last person left on a desert island who doesn't win a million dollars, but instead will eventually be eaten by pygmies.
Given my current state of pudginess, the whole tribe will be able to eat for a week.
I looked at some photos taken by a friend and realized that for every pound J lost, I gained two.
As I write this, there is a brand new rowing machine in the basement waiting for my lard ass to get aboard. Yet here I sit, spreading cheek all over the now incredibly uncomfortable faux letter chair.
I'll get to it, I will.
But for now, I'm content to play video games and drink weird concoctions from David's Teas. Sometimes, the tea is so bad I think it might come from funeral home leavings.

If I'm to be perfectly honest, I still feel Jennette with me. She's over there in the liquor cabinet, there, in that vodka bottle which literally has her name on it. It came home from the hospice undrunk along with the ones she kept hidden in her closet. I take a sip once in a while, but even then, that bottle will probably be with me til the summer.
I still have her mom's extensive collection of costume jewelry. I wore some yesterday. So did Marissa. And I gave the earrings I wore to Gessie. Eventually, most of it will be given away by me to deserving people. The rest, Squishy can wear during her dressup time.

The good news is that the rituals of death are finally coming to an end.
Yesterday, I proudly wrestled some money out of her brother's pocket to pay her final expenses.
On Thursday, we will be tossing her lovely humming bird urn in beside Roger, where they can once again solve the problems of the world late into the night.
Except without the smokes, or the cocktails.
Question: Are there cocktails in heaven?
I hope so.
Otherwise, when I die I'll be forced to become a Republican.

After the internment, I'm going to the doctor to get my blood pressure issues resolved. Then, I hope fall into my first good night's sleep in months and months.
Realistically, that is never going to happen.
Not now that I've got Cujo sleeping beside me.

And I continue to be haunted by that backpack.
It sits here, getting ready to grow teeth, like a Chucky doll waiting to eat me up and spit me out.
Maybe if I mutter some sort of mantra three times, the bloody thing will disappear.