Saturday, 16 June 2018


At four in the morning, the alarm goes off and I hear the announcer on CBC Radio drone on as usual,  something about the orange clown south of the border. 

I slap the radio like it's some sort of pesky mosquito, in hopes of getting a few more seconds of peace. 

My little Aussie Shepherd jumps to attention. 

Pearl is four months old, and she's good at it.

She reminds me of Anna waking up her sister in the opening scene of Frozen

The sun is awake.
And I'm awake.
It's time to play!

It's Saturday, and I have to drive my husband to work in downtown Ottawa. Later, I have a date with my son and my granddaughter to celebrate Father's Day one day early. Time is a wastin'. 

I jump out of bed before Pearl pees on my shoes, then sit outside with my tea while Scott gets showered. Four in the morning is a fascinating time on my street which is almost always busy. It's a major artery during the day, brimming with buses, firetrucks, and bustling worker bees. 

But it's quiet this time of day as I sit out here in the side garden, sucking back some hot liquid behind a protective screen of hedge while watching grumpy but purposeful stragglers trundle down the boulevard, while the crackheads in the building across the way bid farewell to their prom dates on the doorstep.

Occasionally, there is an older person walking a dog, or a cyclist headed for downtown where the streets will be blocked all day, impeding traffic, for some charity event or other. It's the nature of Ottawa, a city that is both beautiful and frustrating on the weekends. Damn, this town is too healthy.

The lake beckons.

Only two weeks to go before I head off to stick my toes in the sand at Lac O'Neill, which is about an hour and a half from the pavement where I rest them now -- an hour too far in my view. Here, life is full of soot and grime. There, the air is clear and the only sirens I hear are the mating kind. 

Here I am grandma, changing nappies and singing songs from long ago to my granddaughter Squish whom I look after during the week while my daughter builds her corporate career. Here, I am the sitter of Belle the Basset Hound, the consoler-in-chief for the heartbroken, the fixer, the mender, the smile on a terrible day. Mom, I guess you'd call me.

There, I'm just Rose, a flawed creature of failed career and marriage, who sits on a rented porch drinking homemade hooch, unjudged by the loons, puppies, and the anonymous paddlers.

It's been a terrible year, full of sleepless nights and crabby days. There are too many "what ifs" this year, and I need to put them behind me. I told my doctor the other day that aside from the people on Facebook, I don't have any friends anymore. 

They're all dead.

I lost my best friend Jennette to cancer just after the New Year. Then, days later, I lost my beloved Black Lab, Finnigan, the dog who graces the photo above. Both loved the lake, and left their scents there over the years. This year, there will be an empty chair for Jennette, and a lake left quiet by the absence of a dog who revelled in the toing and froing of the daily Kong toss. 

Oh well, I tell myself. 

At least we had that time together.

This year, for the first time, I will be spending my birthday at the lake. 

I'll be 62 this year. Too old to find work, too young to retire. 

So I guess that means I'll be talking to you.

Come to the lake with me, let's share some stories, a few laughs, and hopefully fewer tears than I've spilled over the past year. You see, I want to remember, but I also want to forget the hurt, and wash my soul clean in the shallow lake. I want to go out and shout at the mountain, and sleep with the crickets and my ghosts. 

It's a good place.

Come with. 

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Ashley Simpson: April is the cruelist month

The coming of the cold winds of April is a bittersweet time for me.
Two years ago in April, we welcomed our second granddaughter, a little nugget who has changed my life for the better.
But it is also the month, two years ago, when my cousin Ashley Simpson went missing from her home in Salmon Arm, B.C. I didn't know Ashley before she disappeared, most people didn't. But now she is famous with her image on t-shirts and posters, as the subject of many stories on television and in print.
We all want our 15 minutes of fame.
Being murdered and missing will get you that.
It would be terrible enough if Ashley's disappearance was just a solo event. Unfortunately, she has become the member of a club no one ever wanted to join. She is among several women who have disappeared from her area. Only one has been located, and she wound up dead, found in a field near Silver Creek, B.C.
What happened to Ashley, Caitlin Potts, Deanna Wertz, and Nicole Bell? Maybe we'll never know.
Maybe the killer(s) will never be caught, having mastered the tilling of a killing field where girls and women go to die in British Columbia.
But there is always hope. Maybe not for Ashley, et al. But for other women and girls yet to fall victim to terrible tragedy.
Maybe finding ways to prevent their capture may be all we can ask for in this cruel world.
And that, at least, is something we can hang our hope on.

Last year, my cousin John Simpson and his family spearheaded a drive to raise money to buy drones that will enable searchers to scour the wooded areas, rivers and streams that have made searching treacherous if not impossible. And this year, local organizers are looking for volunteers to join their team called the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Drone Search Team.
They will continue to fundraise to buy more sophisticated drones to cover more area and perhaps enhance the detail from their searches.
There are many ways you can help. Donate. Hold an event. Sponsor a drone.
You can start by joining this Facebook group Please Bring Ashley Simpson Home.
Here, you will find more information on what you can do.

Meantime, I join with all of you in praying for these women and their families, and hoping that they finally get closure.
Two years is a long time with no answers.
And April is the cruelest month of all.

These women, and their families, are not alone. See below.

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.