Blessings for Judith

You can’t measure love in time. You can spend a lifetime with someone and not develop the kind of feelings you might expect to have, not really. And then, you can spend just a few weeks with another and know you’ll never find anyone like them again.

Your unique combination of togetherness creates the magic of a loving friendship or of a love relationship and don’t ever think that friendship is less important than romantic love.

These are the thoughts I’m having as I think about my friend Judith.  In spite of the short amount of time we spent together, her calm, quiet, loving and accepting nature surrounded me and calmed me down whenever I was in her presence. It’s a way of being I admire, desperately need in my life, wish I was more like, hope to be around again, and will miss so very much. I always knew that she was farther along the path than me, in consciousness, and we all need that in our lives, to do and be better. She also had the same dry humour that turned shared amusements into delicious moments, the kind you think of afterwards and that still bring a smile.

Judith passed away yesterday after an incredibly difficult five months. She died of lung cancer; Mesothelioma to be exact. She could only guess that the cancer may have been growing in her lung from the time, as a young girl, she would go with her father, a plumber, to some of his work sites and where they were both unknowingly exposed to asbestos.

The picture above was taken on June 24th, 2018, one day before she had any indication that she was ill. Although, the very next day she told me that she was having some trouble breathing that day. It hadn’t been apparent to me and she hadn’t said. I took this photo across the table at a beautiful end-of-day meal on Salt Spring at the Treehouse in Ganges. The wine glass looks ginormous. It wasn’t! We spent a wonderful day on the island because I knew she would love it there and I wanted her to see a place that has been such an important part of my life over the years.  

She was from the prairies and lived much of her life back east, and then for a few years after her and her husband amicably separated, she lived in Nelson, B.C. She was a life-long meditator and yoga practitioner and a yoga teacher.

I knew very little about her life actually except that she’d been married for about 28 years, maybe more, and had three children now grown in their late twenties/mid-thirties, all living back east. I met both of her daughters and they are the beautiful people I would expect she would have raised. Her youngest son made it to B.C. twice, but we never met. I also met her ex-husband who was incredibly helpful to her when she needed him. It was unfortunate that she was on the other side of the country from almost all her family members when she became ill. They managed to re-arrange their lives to be with her as she needed them in these last months.

I met Judith in February 2018 at the Victoria Film Festival. We were in the line-up and started chatting and she sat beside me in the film.  I think the film was The Gospel according to Andre. Afterwards we went for tea at Wild, that very New Age coffee place on Yates Street in Victoria. From that first meeting, our friendship was formed. I was relieved and excited to make a connection with someone in Victoria who, from the instant I met her, I just knew I wanted to have in my life. You can meet so many people who are perfectly fine individuals but just don’t come close to fitting into that category.

I believe she’d just moved to Victoria from Nelson the month before. I’d arrived a few months before her. That type of connection doesn’t happen very often and yet every time I’ve acted on those feelings, the end result has proven my initial gut instinct to be correct. Judith was my closest friend in a city where I have yet to meet those she referred to as “my tribe.” “You will find your tribe here,” she said. “Just keep trying.”

On the day of this photo, we went to Salt Spring to the gatehouse on Stowel Lake Farm and I recall her saying that she could “feel the love” that had gone into creating that wonderful place. She hoped to go back there for a meditation retreat one day.

We went to the Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm and the Saturday Market and visited the cottage in the north end on Marjorie’s property where I’d lived before moving off island. I wanted to give Judith a sweet first-time introduction to a place I knew she would love. I believed then that this would be the first of many more visits with her. We didn’t even have time to visit Ruckle Park that day.  “You have to see the place that is my touchstone,” I said. I was looking forward to future visits with her.

The day after that fantastic day, June 24, 2018, I got a call from her telling me that she was having trouble breathing and her chest hurt. I immediately thought she was having a heart attack. I wanted to call an ambulance. She refused.  I convinced her to go to a walk-in clinic across the street from where she lived. It wasn’t long, maybe a day or two, before she was in Emergency having her lung drained of fluid. And then it happened again. Finally, after a few weeks, the diagnosis was made. She even endured an operation to remove fluid from around her heart. In her usual private and quiet manner, she carried on and when she was well enough, we’d meet for lunch, for a drive and then in her apartment where I’d bring a special treat from a nearby bakery or her daughters would make brunch, her husband ordered in Thai take-out. I didn’t get to see her before I went to Hawaii. She wasn’t up for a visit. She was struggling with pain.

I’m convinced her life-long meditation practice and personal spiritual beliefs enabled her the dignity to accept what she could not change. But I’m also shocked to know that in this day of modern medicine, it did not seem possible to manage her pain to the degree one would expect and desire for any human being. I’m confused by that and so sorry she had to endure it.

Now that she has left us, I will hold her spirit close to mine and remember her as the beautiful being of loving kindness that she was, knowing that I was lucky to have her in my life for the short time that I did.

I like to imagine her now dressed in a flowing, colourful gown, the kind she would not have typically worn on earth because it would have been too bold. She is leading a yoga class in a beautiful tropical environment, mingling with other spirits and a light is beaming off her because she is free, of pain, of all worldly concerns, journeying in peace. I will miss her so much.

The Good Mothers

Image in the public domain and therefore no attribution required

Thanks and gratitude to my biological mother, Irene, who singlehandedly, when it came to all the work of raising children, (two sets of twins and one single), and the work around the house, did it all because she was of that generation. It’s exhausting just trying to imagine how she fed us, clothed us, socialized us and put up with her five children of such varying ages on a daily basis.

To my eldest sister, Heather, who died in 1991, and whose warmth to a younger sister, 13 years younger, was communicated to me in the way she’d stroke the top of my head sometimes when I entered a room. She did quite a few mom things that my mother didn’t such as choosing the most dainty, pearl stud earrings when she took me to get my ears pierced at 13 and taking me “downtown” on a special shopping/lunch outing when I was seven and she was 20.

To my best friend’s mother, Toni (Tomoko),  when I was growing up who felt in some ways like a second mother and who exposed me to Japanese-Canadian culture and made me aware of, interested in, and respectful  of the experience of  “the other” and to help me recognize that quiet strength in adversity builds even greater strength.

To women who have felt to me like my emotional mothers. My friend Anne who has always treated me like a queen, even bringing me tea in bed while staying at one of her many beautiful abodes over the years (and to her husband, Bob, who  is our sommelier and cook during my visits).

To Pauline on Salt Spring, who has the mothering qualities of providing a listening ear, culinary prowess, and humour that can always lighten me when I’m feeling bereft.

To Marjorie, also on Salt Spring, who for 18 months let me occupy the cabin that her grandfather built more than 40 years ago helping me fulfill a dream of living in a cabin near the ocean, and who was always a comfort on sunny afternoons during conversations in her back solarium, her cat Duchess never far away.  

To my former psychiatrist, Leila, who tried through example to help me to mother myself and how showing acceptance can come through something as simple as a beautiful smile from one human being to another.

To all the women I have met in my life, become friends with, and those who I am still friends with because women have been the foremost characters in my life, each sharing their unique qualities of caring, then and now.

And to even a few men, who were loving examples of how familial titles aren’t really relevant when it comes to being able to show loving kindness towards another and letting them know that they’re very special.

The craft beer chics and a Thanksgiving outing

pumpkinsorange One of life’s great pleasures is to go somewhere new, somewhere I’ve never been before. For me, if that place is small and country-like, so much the better. I’ve lived in a city most of my life, except for a few forays into small towns but I love rural environments; or at least the romantic notion of them.

My dream is to escape. All my dreams revolve around escape, especially when I am most unable to do so, or so I tell myself.  Inevitably the escape is to somewhere isolated, an island all mine, a cabin all mine, me against the elements. How Canadian of me.  The escape is always about me in nature, me getting closer to the heart of who I am. It’s never about getting closer to another person and that disturbs me. I wonder about that. I wonder where those dreams that we all hold, that define us, where do those come from? Especially, when they are different from the lives we are living.

And of course, having lived in just two small places, I know that romanticizing the rural experience is both completely appropriate and a ridiculous delusion.

I believe that the older one gets, if we are actually growing and changing and pushing ourselves, improving with age, the more comfortable we become in our own skins, and the easier it is to sequester away, to just take off to somewhere small and be perfectly okay, to turn inward and go deeper, to be content. But I digress.

Yesterday, I was invited by Karen and Gwen  to join them on an afternoon outing in search of a brewery they’d heard about earlier in the month. Being the passionate beer connoisseurs that they are, they’d heard about this brewery after downing a few pints at Bitter Tasting Room on E. Hastings.

But first we had to lunch. We headed out to a pub called Big River which had really good food and a good craft beer selection. If they’d just get rid of the TVs, it would be perfect. After lunch, we were in search of Four Winds Brewing.  It’s just a tiny place in one of those nondescript malls off a highway in Delta. We parked the car. It didn’t look like much from the outside. As soon as we opened the door, it was shocking. There was practically a party going on in there at 2 pm.  The place was packed. The young guys that were running the taps couldn’t keep up between the bottling and the taking of money. Karen They had these 2 litre jugs called Growlers. The names of the beer were Dunkelweizen, Saison, Oatmeal Pumpkin and a bunch of others that I’d recall if I too was as enthusiastic about beer as my friends. After that, we headed off to Ladner (or were we still in Delta?) It all looks the same to me. Karen introduced Gwen and I  to a Winery called Wellbrook Winery which makes fruit wines.

Now, fruit wines aren’t high on my list of the kind of wine I like to drink. In the past I’ve found them sickeningly sweet and I pretty much swore off them about 20 years ago after visiting a winery that will remain nameless but exists out in the Fraser Valley, or used to. WellbrookWineryDelta

winebottles

insidestore

Gwendrinkingfruitwine The  fun thing about the Wellbrook Winery is that there’s a renovated heritage barn that they’ve turned into their tasting room and store which is full of gourmet oils and chocolate and other specialty foods from around BC. This beautiful heritage structure has the original floor and doors and has been given a lot of attention.   Just  being in the space makes it feel like Thanksgiving. pumpkinsyellow Who’s cooking a big turkey asked the woman behind the bar?  I replied. “None of us.” It’s always fun to have a little fun with other people’s expectations and see the puzzled look on their faces. clock This fabulous clock was in the Wellbrook Winery store. The woman behind the tasting bar didn’t know its origins. She said that the owner just picks up these things and drops them off and they have to find a place for them. I really love this clock. Look at it!

Maybe you’ll  be eating turkey or Tofurkey, enjoying a meal with friends or family, or the love of your life. Maybe you’ll just be sitting by yourself chewing on a piece of salami but in a beautiful natural place with golden leaves and sun rays all around. Regardless of what you’re doing, you have to know that as a North American, it’s impossible not to be thankful.

Be thankful. Be thankful. I say it to myself. I say it to you.

Oh, and got any good tips on craft breweries in BC or, for that matter, in the whole wide world?

Float-home Memories

floathome memories

I have only three distinct memories of the women whose float-home I am house-sitting on the Fraser River this summer while they have gone to their other home on the other coast, the east coast, and Newfoundland.

Not a river there right at their backdoor nor two red Adirondack chairs to sit and watch the tugboats from, but a white two-storey house, I imagine, or perhaps I saw a photo they showed me before they left. It has long grass in front  and a square porch that they look past on cloudy days; grass sloping down toward a white-capped cove they have now claimed as their own, not legally, but in attachment,  and little white rowboats all topsy turvy hopscotching around buoys.

Thinking back to another summer so long ago. 1993. Pat, hunched over her desk, always there, busy, scanning information like a reading machine.  Editor. I worked for her, on-call,  right out of journalism school. Occasionally, her humour would lift off through a comment in response to some letter to the editor, a ridiculous request from the faceless all-knowing, know nothing public. Her sarcasm and amazement sprinkling out over the cubicles that sectioned the dingy room like the marks of a surgeon on a stomach before surgery.

It seems as if the next time I saw them, in person, was after he’d killed himself. We were there, inside his float-home, further south along this same river. That abode, run down and wretched and the silence after a death filled the room, and me not able to contain the emotion I’d been pushing down. “No wonder he killed himself. Look at this place.”  The only words that came. And, Pat, bless her heart, responding, “It’s not so bad,” as if that would help. As if anything could make better what could never be made better.  It seems strange now that they were there, except they’d dropped by the neighbours’ place, his friends, and I’m not sure why we were all inside that tiny living room at all.

And, then, fast-forward to happier times. Salt Spring. They’d come for a weekend get-away and thanks to the connections of Facebook, Pat messaged me to ask if I’d like to have breakfast at the Treehouse on a sunny Sunday morning in spring. It had been years since I’d seen them in person. It was a taffy-coloured morning  and  their surprise visit that went so well made everything that much better.

So, you see, I barely know them at all really and yet here I am, in one of their homes. They are getting married today, or was it yesterday? I’m not even sure and it might seem like just another wedding until you read what Pat  wrote on her Facebook page, after she left the West Coast, to marry Janna, the woman she’s shared her life with for 31 years.

Here’s part of what she shared…

“…For those who know me, I’m a pretty private person, and the thought of exchanging vows – or anything in public – is not my idea of fun. But, I marched in protests in the late ’70s just to get job protection for gay and lesbians – and yes, I was fired from a job for being gay (although, granted, I was also crappy at that job!… not in journalism), and while not a fan of the whole marriage institution (don’t get me going) it seems like the right thing to do at this time for a whole lot of reasons.

I must confess, while marching with my protest sign in my stylish suede blazer and Gloria Steinem glasses, I would never have envisioned a time when we would have the right to marry. Basic equal rights at that time seemed an impossible quest. Even trying to get equal pay as a woman required legal threats and action.

So, lastly, I want to thank all of my (our) friends and allies (and there have been many!) who have stood with us (and I mean that in a personal and much wider sense) as we have fought the hard battles. We couldn’t have done it without you!
And, in a very real way, you’ll all be standing with us on the shores of Blackhead Bay, when we say our vows and do whatever it is we’re supposed to do with those darn rings … rings, oh yah, better remember to bring those!!!…”

Congratulations to you both.  I trust your wedding was completed in a style that only you two could pull off. Tears and cake. And, more cake.

And for me, in your floathome, another distinct and very happy memory.