Tag Archives: parents

Summer 2007

Two years ago, I was wading through a difficult summer of parental illness. This summer, I am doing the same. September will mark the second anniversary of my Dad’s passing. Two years is not a great temporal distance from such an event and I’m still keenly aware of the loss of his presence. Yesterday, someone mentioned a date and I burst into tears. It was the date of my father’s birthday. Such are the irrational reactions of the heart in grief.

Since May, my Mum has been in steady decline. A voice in my head keeps whispering, too soon, not ready for this. But these are things for which there are no options. Events unfurl. All we can do is react, be with, advocate for, be ready to let go. There are no predictions. No fixed date.

Anxiety is in my body. I have started waking at three a.m. in case the phone rings. In the morning, my neck is stiff with tension. I tend to eat badly or not at all. I tend not to want to do much of anything, to just wait for the news. But this serves no purpose. I try to rally my energies to useful activities, like housework and writing, but my heart isn’t in it. I force myself to do yoga and walk to release the tension. And I have promised myself that once a week I will do something relaxing, a massage, or a spa.

I visit regularly, but now she sleeps most hours, eats little, is mentally distracted. Conversation is sparse, me asking questions to which often no answers are forthcoming, or talking about my day, but she nods off after a few sentences. The phone is next to useless, causing confusion, often off the hook. My mother is unwinding, both mentally and physically. I am uncertain who she is becoming. There is little time to find out.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

Summer 2006

It’s been a year since my last journal update. Where to start? As was apparent from my last entry, my Dad was failing. And yes, he did die, just after midnight on September 7th, 2005, after a lengthy, but painless, period of decline. There was nothing more that could be done medically and he communicated in many ways that he was ready to go, in fact, almost impatient the last few days.

I moved into the retirement home the last two weeks and am grateful for the support and many kindnesses of the owners, staff and residents. I was with him leading up to and during his passing, the most difficult and important moments of my life to date. And as exhausting and emotional as that was, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I felt I was where I needed to be. I am also grateful to my many friends, acquaintances and clients for their patient understanding, love and support, which in many cases came from unexpected quarters. If my faith in humanity ever needed any bolstering, it certainly got it. And losing my Dad wasn’t as catastrophic as I’d feared it might be (for that I’m grateful too); it made sense and felt somehow correct.

I took two weeks off to recover both from the loss and the physical strain. I don’t remember much about that period, except I spent most of it at home, doing what I needed to do for myself, whatever that happened to be. Nerves rubbed raw by circumstance, there were some harsh moments with siblings and my Mum, which was unfortunate, but not surprising. We were all at very different stages of grief, all handling it our own way, all sure our way of handling it was the correct way. And it was correct for each us, but not for each other. I found myself biting my tongue with family and needing to be alone even more than usual.

And then I went into workaholic mode, one of my methods of coping with extreme emotional stress. Even as I was doing it, I knew it was reactive, a socially acceptable method of avoidance. So I worked sixty to eighty hours a week for several months and by the spring, I knew enough time had passed that I could stop doing that.

In my Dad’s last weeks he was mentally in England a lot, the place he went to university and first worked and first married. It was obviously a quickening for him, a time of profound growth and change. One day last summer he said he “wanted out of this snake pit” a reference, I think, more to the situation than the actual accommodation. When I asked him where he’d rather be, he closed his eyes and said rather dreamily, “On the Thames on a Tuesday afternoon.” He wanted to be in England. So I made that happen as best I could.

I started planning the trip shortly after his death last fall and finally went in June. I travelled lightly, spending a week in London, staying in one of the residences of his old university, wandering around the Bloomsbury district he had wandered. I devoted Tuesday to the Thames, doing the London Eye, a riverboat tour and walking the embankment. On Wednesday, I took the tube to Ealing, found his old residence (no longer part of the university) and the church in which his friend had introduced him to Bach. I then continued to Kew Gardens and walked along the Thames path to Richmond. And there, on a quiet part of the river, surrounded by lush trees and grasses and birds, I scattered the small film canister of his ashes I’d been carrying with me throughout the trip.

And yes, I felt he was so close, even after the tangible remains had been combined with the waters and mud of that old river. I kept asking him for guidance, what I was to do with these ashes. I knew that the busy downtown London Thames on a windy, chilly afternoon wasn’t right. And I let him guide me to the right place, the place he’d intended. And when I reached it, I knew I wasn’t to go into Kew Gardens, but around it on the path. And when I reached the right place, I could feel him telling me that, pushing me to get on with it. And once I had, there was such a profound sense completion, of having done what I’d been asked to do, such a lifting of weight and grief and of things left undone. That’s stayed with me and now I feel I truly am moving forward again.

The trip to England continued with a driving tour through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. I’m proud to say I drove 734.4 miles on English “highways” without serious incident. I have to admit it was a challenging learning curve though. Driving on the left was the easiest part of it; getting used to such narrow roads with stone walls on either side and minimal road signage was much more challenging. But I saw everything I set out to see: Bath, Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Corfe Castle, Looe, Polpero, St. Michael’s Mount, Boswell, Tintagel, Clovelly, Glastonbury and Wells. I did lots of writing and took lots of photos. And although I never stopped for very long, I came home feeling relaxed, refreshed and regenerated.

Since coming home, I’ve also taken my annual trip to the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. I saw two plays by G.B., Too True to be Good and Arms and the Man, both very timely vehicles with characters enmeshed in war; both typical Shaw plays, witty and intelligent, funny and pointed. Plays that make you think. I also saw Noel Coward’s Design For Living, a brilliant and honest consideration of a three-way relationship. It’s the sign of great writing when seventy years after the fact, it’s still relevant and all three of these plays are. I also saw High Society, which, after my afternoon wine tour, delivered an appropriate level of fun fluff. And I finally had an opportunity to sample some fruit wines (plum and blackberry), something I’ve wanted to try for years; I was not disappointed. So, another lovely trip.

Now that I’m back home for the rest of the summer (with the exception of short trips to the family cottage), I’m writing in earnest again. Well, not in earnest, because it’s a romantic comedy. I’m back working on the novelization of my screenplay Pairs & Artichoke Hearts and enjoying it immensely. An excerpt is posted on the Works in Progress page.

Wishing you a fun, relaxed summer to enjoy the company of those you love.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2006

Oct – Nov 2002

Thanksgiving. The unmerciful lineup at the bus terminal to go home. The line for tickets snakes back and forth between red ribbons seven times before heading straight through the terminal toward the far windows. Of the ten wickets, only five are open. For twenty minutes I wait, shifting forward at irregular intervals, finally purchasing my ticket with two minutes to spare before departure. The lineup for the bus extends past the lineup area, across the bus lane, along the far wall and almost out of the terminal altogether.

It’s the first major holiday of the fall season, a long weekend, the first visit home for students away from home for the first time and the traffic is insane. The driver of this bus (the second put on the route) tries to make up for lost time by steering in and out and around slower traffic. I’ve chosen a seat next to a reader because I don’t feel like talking to a stranger today, pull out my own book and continue from where I left off, occasionally looking up to notice the leaves outside have begun to turn orange.

Before the bus pulls in, I see my Dad waiting for me, looking slightly confused that I haven’t been on any of the buses which have arrived so far, spewing passengers and diesel fumes. We return to Mum and Dad’s to find my sister and family have arrived now too. Not everyone could make it this year, but a good showing nevertheless.

Several of us continue out to the cottage to close it up for the season – a very southern Ontario thing to do. And as I’m looking across to the island, its trees in full autumn colours, my sister informs me that it’s been sold to developers. Other developers have tried to encroach on this quiet place before and none of their projects have actually come to fruition, but one of these days they will. Already this place is not the place it was when I was a child; the lake, the cottage, the trees, are not the same. People have died, cottages have changed hands and, inevitably, they will continue to do so.

Back in town, we watch a movie, a comedy we all enjoy (a pretty amazing feat considering a range in ages from eight to eighty-seven) – If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. My sister tries to get the kids to settle down for the night. She turns on the stern mother act to get their attention; funny how her words sound so familiar. Then she turns away, smiling at me, at the joke we both tacitly understand.

In the morning, we begin preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a communal affair, several of us pitching in to make the meal. I was the one who suggested 2 p.m. for dinnertime. Why? Because that’s when Mum has always served holiday dinners. And now that the kids are passed hungry, I remember being passed hungry too and never understanding why 2 p.m. was imposed for these big family meals. The kids get a snack and dinner keeps roasting.

Mum, my sister and I go through tablecloths and china, the suggestion being that the history of each item should be documented on paper while there’s still someone to recall it. Dad suggests that Mum could give some of the items to the children now, my Mother reticent to part with them, my sister and I agreeing. Things happen in their own time.

With a final flurry of activity, the meal is served. The kids clean their plates before we’ve said grace (something I wouldn’t have been allowed to get away with). I’ve always considered us to be a pretty non-religious family (in the formal sense); consider myself strictly non-denominational. But it seems appropriate to say grace when we’re together, especially at Thanksgiving. It’s a “May the Circle Be Unbroken” moment.

Thanksgiving is one of the few (if not the only) holiday that I find myself drawn to, that I feel disappointed if I don’t acknowledge. Maybe it’s the pagan in me, but it seems so appropriate to acknowledge and celebrate the bounty of the growing season. I try to explain this to my niece, but she doesn’t get it; I didn’t at her age either.

Mum used to tell me to count my blessings and I always thought it was a daft thing to do. Despite a pretty privileged upbringing, I always had a knack for seeing the negatives (although for some reason many people seem to think I’m a very optimistic person