“I’m always trying to get you to the place of laughter, but also the place where laughter meets tears.” ~ Stuart Mclean
Sadly, another incredible storyteller is lost to us although the stories remain through books, audio, and video. Radio is changing again with the loss of Stuart Mclean and the Vinyl Cafe, and last year, for me was the painful retirement of Garrison Keillor from his beloved show, A Prairie Home Companion. Storytelling, especially on the radio, is a unique art and a storyteller is irreplaceable. What remains are the archives of their vast collection which make us laugh or brings us to tears and gently back to laughter again. A genuine storyteller moves us deep inside and allows us to be aware of a new thought or evoke nostalgic emotions that transport us to a different time and space. Storytelling is a magical realm, that for me, cheats death and remains eternal.
When Grandma gave James a toboggan for his 3rd birthday this past December, he sat in it and said, “Thanks for the boat, Grandma!” We had a lot of fresh snow then but not much since and if the rain comes any harder that boat might be exactly that.
Winter is a season I have cherished since I was a kid. Kids naturally love the winter and snow. As we grow older, we learn to dislike it because it doesn’t fit with our urban lives. However, when we embrace the magic of a snow day we are brought together with a quiet calm and a newfound sense of creativity. We make snowmen, forts and use the toboggan for a rush and a laugh. As a family, I find our best days are our ski days. It is a sport we can all participate in together with extended family or friends. Nobody is left on the sidelines unless they prefer the warmth of the chalet. Our conversations are relaxed on the chair lifts and I learn more about my seven year old than I ever do after school or at dinner.
It is beginning to really frighten me that my kids might not have the same experience with the snow, as I have been fortunate enough to enjoy. So today, I am passing on my positive winter vibes in hopes that I will be the old-timer skiing with my grandchildren. I am promising to do more in my own life to ensure that I am reducing my carbon footprint and have added my voice to the growing number of people who are fighting the expansion of fossil fuel emissions. I’m doing this so we can continue to ski, skate outside, toboggan at the park, and have snowball fights; all of which bring smiles to your faces.
Instead of sitting around watching the news and feeling sad for the future, I decided to be pro-active and spend some added quality time with my son. Over the next 4-8 years he may hear a lot that I don’t want him to. He may think it is reasonable to behave in certain ways that are repugnant and crude. It is the responsibility of all parents to ensure our sons do not think misogyny, bigotry and vile “locker room” conversations are not only unacceptable now but that they were not acceptable before Trump became president.
James is capable of great achievements and he can reach his goals with kindness, respect, hard work and bright dreams. This is what I hope he hears today and in the future.
Air Canada Centre, Toronto ~ August 10, 2016
“Mom, why do you like the Tragically Hip?”
Well, most of those memories I will keep to myself as they span my late teen and 20 something years and those were the days that you will not likely hear much about from me. I can, however; tell you about how when I heard the Hip in those first years it was usually because I was hanging around in a basement, at a cottage, in the car, in a dorm room or at a bar. You see, the Hip were from a small University town which is the same University your uncle went to in Kingston, Ont. A lot of people from Toronto choose to go to Queens University because it is one of the best in the country and you’ll hear more about it when you’re older.
When I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s rock was much more common and popular than it is today. Sometimes I tell you real instruments vs bubblegum pop are quite different because with real instruments you see someone playing right in front of you and singing right in front of you. It’s organic and anything is possible such as Gord Downie’s ever-changing lyrics to songs my generation have all come to know extremely well.
As we know from Daddy’s brain tumour it is very difficult to remember many things after surgery. A brain injury occurs and unlike other cancer treatments the brain is permanently affected and needs much sleep, rehabilitation and slow stimulation. It is beyond incredible that Gord Downie and the band can pull together mere months from diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Although, the pull-together seems true to the band’s organic roots, its timing is something that proves there is greatness, goodness and kindness collected en masse when needed and Canadians should be most proud of this show of support.
In the early days, the Tragically Hip was the first bar band I knew to get the wallflower boys onto the dance floor to jump, fist pump and sing loudly only to apologize if they bumped into you and slopped beer on your shirt. Even in its early roots, The Hip and their small town appeal brought out the best in the fans and the fans have been one of the most wonderful aspects about the band. In a time when Canadians had difficulty supporting homegrown talent we seemed to want to make the Hip larger than ourselves and keep them close to our hearts as we freely exhibited a newfound national pride. For me, this was apparent when I traveled to Australia or camped out at Another Roadside Attraction. You always felt safe at a Hip concert and likely made a new friend who would tell you you were awesome and that you’d be friends forever.
I guess that’s how we all feel about Gord’s diagnosis. We feel that connection in a “friends forever” way and we don’t want our era to be a bygone time. Many of us fondly remember being with friends, family or alone on an open road listening to their music and celebrating a reason to live. When Daddy and I learned about Gord’s seizure which led to the discovery of his tumour we were very sad to know that he, his family, friends and bandmates would have to go through all the physical and emotional turmoil that affected our family. When the news of his illness broke publicly, I felt a much more overwhelming sense of loss as the country came together in its shock, grief and unyielding love.
It is very painful to so many of us that our quirky, thoughtful, poetic frontman is suffering this cruel nightmare after he opened a door into our collective hearts all the while teaching us about our country. The Tragically Hip connected us to our landscape, history and potential future within their lyrics and pulsing beats which always incited smiles on our faces and put our hands in the air.
It is with a very heavy heart and great sadness that I have to tell you that we lost dear, Uncle Bob on Friday, July 29th, 2016. He lived one of the most remarkable lives I could imagine; travelling the world researching Death and Dying, ceremonial ritual and custom. He founded the Centre of Death Education and taught the very first course in Death and Dying bringing it out of the shadows and into mainstream conversation in the 60s. He was the most loving and generous man I have known and he worked tirelessly to help me complete my English Language degree with a strong emphasis on Religious study. I am beyond grateful for the years we spent together and the regular phone calls that left my cheeks hurting from laughing. No subject was off topic or too risqué for Bob because everything led back to custom and academics. He was my mentor, my friend and my Uncle Dad. I am without one of my most stable anchors and my life will forever reflect and remember his teachings, love and insight. You lived a long fulfilling life, Bob and 89 is a mighty age. I will always write for you. Xo
This is a poem that Uncle Bob and I studied together in 2000 and I received one of my best grades on the essay he helped me through. While there were a list of classical British poems to choose from Bob and I settled on this one and I learned much of his thoughts on Death and Dying through it.
Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
We’re with him and we’re laughing. We’re with him and we’re crying. We’re with him and we’re pained because no matter what you prepare yourself for you are never old enough or ready enough to say, “good bye.” We carry our memories and we carry our hearts on our sleeves. We cherish our final words. We cling to each other like sea anchors dragging in the water from the bow of a boat to keep that bow pointing into the waves to lessen the leeway because this is what we learned to do from the original professor and scholar of Death and Dying.