about Don   21 comments

Posted at 1:40 pm in being alone,Don,friends,sabrina

Don pausing to stroke Maggie, a fellow adventurer on many a canoe trip.

This evening marks the second anniversary of Don’s death. Over the past two years, I’ve written about the attempt I’ve made to carry on alone with my dogs Sabrina and Sage. Today, I’d like to write about Don, to give those of you who never met him in person, a better idea of who he was and why he still means so much to me.

Don and I met through our work and married very young. He was 21 and I was 18. Here’s an old photo of us working on our first vegetable garden. My childhood dog, Frisky, is in that photo – a theme that is repeated in just about every photo that I have of Don – there’s always a dog, a horse, a cat, a goat, or even a chicken in the picture. Don loved all creatures great and small. During our time together, we had 6 dogs, 2 horses, a rather large herd of dairy goats, several cats, geese, ducks, and chickens.

When I first met him, he did not really know how to ride a horse, but before long, he was loping around on my horse and enjoyed that so much that we soon bought him his own horse. As in almost everything he attempted, he learned quickly and had a natural athletic ability. One of my favourite anecdotes concerns a work-related convention in Arizona which he attended a couple of years before he died. One of the social events was some kind of barbecue at a ranch. Part of the event involved a hay wagon ride, or the option of driving some cattle with the ranch wranglers. All of the managers with the exception of Don and another one or two fellows, rode the hay wagon. Don rode with the wranglers and had a great time, reporting to me on how they gave him a wonderfully trained cutting horse and that the wranglers were wowed at his riding abilities. I guess they weren’t too accustomed to convention goers who were so at home in the saddle.

with Chik-Chik, the tiny, outcast chicken who regarded him as her hero

I had hoped to find the photo album with our dairy goat photos, but it’s stashed in a box somewhere upstairs. I’d wanted to post a photo of Don showing one of our dairy goats. A couple of you who are reading this post will probably be able to remember the days when we showed goats throughout eastern Ontario. Don was an excellent showman, able to show any goat to look its very best. He frequently pitched in and showed for friends who needed an extra showman and would do his level best to win, even when he was competing against me showing one of our own animals! He enjoyed participating in and quite frequently won the showmanship class whenever there was one offered for adult competitors. We had a lot of fun and made many friends during the 20 or so years that we exhibited our herd.

All of our animals loved Don. He was an exceedingly kind person and I think that most creatures knew this. At one point, we had a little hen that we named Chik-Chik and made a pet of as she was so tiny and something of an outcast from the flock. She took to wandering up to the house and perching on the front porch railings and would sit on Don’s shoulder or arm whenever he sat outside on his lawn chair in the shade to read a book. In the above photo, Chik-Chik is rubbing her head on Don’s arm (click on all photos for larger views).

with Tara and Sheena, the two wonderful Collies who were both sadly lost to a mysterious and very aggressive form of cancer that took both of them away from us in the spring of 1994.

Don and I were both dog lovers and kept mainly Rough Collies for the 34 years we were together. Over those years, we did a great deal of hiking, snowshoeing and canoeing and our dogs were an important part of our very active lives. The dogs in the above photo were about 3 and 5 when we lost both of them within the space of 8 weeks to a very mysterious and aggressive form of lymphosarcoma. It was a very heartbreaking experience for both of us. I make mention of this as the loss of these dogs, and another to bone cancer, and another to a non-specific form of cancer, then my father’s death, and then Don’s death to cancer, has left me with strong feelings of the ephemeral nature of our lives and how seemingly healthy humans and animals can be gone in just a few weeks or months. This feeling has changed absolutely everything about my views on life, living, and death. I now find it impossible to take much of anything seriously, or to hope or care too much for the future.

attempting to stare down a young Sabrina and an aging Maggie

Anyhow, back to Don, the topic of this post. I worked with Don occasionally over the years. We both started out in the automotive parts business and for a number of years, we even worked on the same parts counter in a busy car and truck garage. He went on to become the parts manager at a car dealership out near our farm. I worked elsewhere, managing the office at an auto parts recycler. Later, I went back to university to earn an M.A. and used to do freelance writing under contract to organizations and government. However, occasionally Don would ask me to come and work with him when he had employees on long-term leave of absence for illness. That industry is fast paced and often difficult – a lot of stress and everyone wanting their stuff yesterday. Don had a great attitude and regardless of how unreasonable and annoying other people behaved, he rarely treated anyone badly, although I did see that change in later years when he felt he’d had enough of that business. After deciding that the time had come, we made plans to retire in 2008. We intended to sell our farm and move to Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, a few months before all of this was to take place, Don was diagnosed with cancer and our plans were immediately destroyed. The rest is history – Don fought the cancer for several months, but died in September 2008. And, as you know from reading this blog, I have struggled to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives. I did sell the farm and did end up buying a place in Nova Scotia. Everything else about my life is still just a strange and murky shadow, but I carry on as that’s about all you can do when these kinds of things happen.

with our canoe at the start of one of our countless canoe trips

Anyhow, one thing I’ve learned over the past two years is that it’s best not to think too much about how things turned out. Instead, it’s probably better to focus on what was good and try to ignore the bad. What I now remember most about Don is that he had his priorities straight. People he worked with probably never realized that, when he shut the door behind him, he tuned out all of the crap and did whatever he felt like doing. To him, his job was just a job and nothing more. Once he was home, that was it — he would do what he liked. He loved nothing better than tossing the canoe on the roof of the truck, or packing a lunch and taking off to go canoeing or hiking somewhere. Even the coldest days of winter would not deter us from snowshoeing for many miles at favourite haunts. Mill Pond Conservation Area, Murphy’s Point, and Charleston Lake, were just a few of the places that became our second homes. Over the years, we paddled everything from the narrowest creeks to the largest lakes in eastern Ontario. We were both strong hikers and flat water paddlers and could cover many miles during a day. I’m very glad that we had all of those years spent on the trails and waters as those were very special times for both of us. We often talked about just that thing when Don became ill and could no longer get out and about. I don’t think two people could have squeezed much more out of our lives than we did, so at least we were not left with the kind of regrets that haunt so many people whose priorities are badly misplaced.

with Maggie at our farm in winter

I should mention that a side of Don that few people knew about, was that he loved theater and enjoyed taking in everything from local fringe festival performances, to Shakespeare at Stratford. He had a wonderful knowledge of art, and more particularly of Inuit art. He could often recognize the sculptures of one or another Inuit artist at a glance. He also became an excellent naturalist, knowing the names of many of the plants and animals that I photographed. In time, he became incredibly adept at finding even the smallest creature when we were hiking the trails.

On a personal level, what I valued most about Don was that, for the most part, he was a very easy-going person. Although he was quiet and serious, he also knew how to have fun. He was always ready to drop everything and go somewhere – anywhere – in a minute. Some years we would decide it was too expensive to go to Nova Scotia for our vacation, and then on the day that he was to start holidays, one or the other of us would call and say, “Hey, let’s just take off and go to Nova Scotia. What the hell.” I’d spend the afternoon packing the van and making salads, and within hours, we could be on our way out east. Vacations were always great fun – camped in our tent with our dog, walking the beaches, hiking favourite trails, and stopping at roadside stands so that he could buy a big order of fried clams (I was a vegetarian, so skipped the clams and went for the fries). We were not only husband and wife, but best of friends and had so many terrific adventures together over the years.

Of course, all of that has ended now. Anything I do from this point onwards, I do alone with the dogs. Our canoe is loaned out to friends who, I hope, have been putting it to good use this summer. Next year, I’ll probably see about picking it up, but things won’t be the same without my most excellent canoe partner. In truth, nothing is, or will ever be the same again, but I attempt to carry on as that’s what Don would have wanted.

To Don. I miss you. I will always love you.

NOTE: A few more photos of Don may be found in this gallery.

ALSO NOTE: Comments seem to be taking awhile to actually show up on my blog at the moment. I think it’s some WordPress glitch. Just go ahead and leave them. I ‘m seeing them in the Admin screen, but just not below the post. I expect they’ll all show up later. Sorry about that.

Don and Sabrina leading the way on a trail at Charleston Lake Provincial Park

Written by bev on September 6th, 2010

21 Responses to 'about Don'

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  1. ah, sh*t.

    Wish I had something better or more something to say than that.

    megan

    6 Sep 10 at 3:17 pm

  2. I appreciated reading about your Don. He sounds like one great guy. Thanks for writing about him. Kind of reminds me of my own D. Animals liked D too. He could sit out on the back deck and the little birds would land on him. Alas, we only had 5 3/4 years together. Too short. But I too, have no regrets for the time we did have together was well and happily spent. The future looms long to me, I’m only 56 with longevity in my genes (my Mom is 96), and I’m not sure what to do with myself. Because D lived in the moment, I too practice living in the moment and finding and taking what enjoyment comes my way. I’m very grateful for my Mingus who is a loving little presence that follows me about.

    cicerosings

    6 Sep 10 at 4:46 pm

  3. This is such a loving and vivid portrait of your life’s partner, bev. I could hardly read it for the tears in my eyes. Each photo shows a man very much in the moment, in his body, in the utter enjoyment of life. Don looks to have lived life well and fully. It is a heartbreak that he is gone. But you’ve drawn him so well, it is true that those we love live in our hearts.

    That photo of the two of you when you were young in your new garden… absolutely beautiful.

    robin andrea

    6 Sep 10 at 5:41 pm

  4. Thank you for introducing us further to Don. He sounds like a free loving soul, and one that you really felt in sync with. What a wonderful life the two of you had together. You seem to have so many wondeful memories, many of which you have captured in these great photos.

    This was the perfect way to honor him, and to give yourself the gift of remembrance on this significant day. The way you have continued to pursue the dream that you and Don had, is also a great way to honor not only him, but who the two of you were as a couple.

    Each day that you move forward with you travels, you certainly carry his spirit with you. I always have a sense of such calmness in your writing, and in how you describe your life. This way of yours, and the way you view and experience the world is having such a significant effect on others like me. It’s almost like you have an inner joy, in spite of the sorrow, that Don must have helped nourish. It is then no surprise to meet him here, and to see that he has that same quality as you.

    Thanks for sharing him with us once again.

    Dan

    Dan

    6 Sep 10 at 6:54 pm

  5. megan – I know. Sometimes I feel that way about the whole thing too. :-/

    cicerosings – Yes, aren’t our dogs great company. I don’t think I would have survived for very long without Sabrina. I know what you mean about the future. I’m about the same age as you and now the future looks long and rather sad. Don’s family usually lived to be old and healthy – mine too, for that matter, but I never would have guessed that things would end up this way. I was always very sure that I would be gone long before Don. I can become quite depressed if I begin to give much thought to anything beyond today. For now, I seem to be well and am able to do just about anything I set my mind to. I guess that’s good enough for now.

    robin – Thanks. Yes, Don was all of those things you’ve mentioned. He was very much a person who lived in the moment and never worried too much about what lay ahead. He was the kind of person who was very easy to get along with and love – and yes, he does live on in my heart and always will.

    Dan – Looking back over our lives together, I see that Don and I had something that seems very rare in this world – a relationship in which we were probably about as simpatico as two people can be. We were almost always on the same wavelength, so wasted very little time and energy on trying to get moving in the same direction. If one of us suggested that we do something or go somewhere, the other wanted to do the same thing and often became even more enthusiastic about the venture or adventure than the instigator. It’s funny to think of how many cool things we did just because we simultaneously decided, “What the heck, let’s just do it!!” I think that has left me in good stead now — having the confidence to follow through on ideas without having to wrestle with internal opposition. In that sense, I do feel that Don’s spirit travels with me on these journeys – both the external and the internal ones. He is there in my heart, still saying “Go with what you feel!” each time there is a fork in the road. That’s been a great gift to me and I intend to put it to good use.

    bev

    7 Sep 10 at 6:25 am

  6. I looked at the picture of you two as kids. Wow. That picture makes me think of a past, my own past, that seems never to have really existed. I know it did, but it seems like a fairly tale now.

    Mark

    7 Sep 10 at 10:52 am

  7. Mark – That photo feels that way to me now too. It didn’t so much before Don died, but now it seems very like a fairy tale — all wrapped up in a time warp along with Alice’s Restaurant, back-to-the-landers and a bunch of other stuff. If there were a way to buy a ticket on a time machine, I think I’d be back there in a second.

    bev

    7 Sep 10 at 12:11 pm

  8. A lovely lovely man, and thank you so much for sharing this with us, Bev. Don was a veritable prince among men, and he should not have been taken away from you as he was taken.

    Ephemeral is the right word – we don’t know how much time we have been been allotted here on earth or when our days will come to an end. I never look at a good sunrise or sunset these days without having a catch in my throat, without thinking about how beautiful it all is and how fleeting.

    Cate

    7 Sep 10 at 12:57 pm

  9. Cate – Indeed, he was a very lovely man. Very special. Very kind. It’s difficult not having him here with me. Yes, I feel the same way about sunrises and sunsets – how good it is to see each one – unique as it is.

    bev

    7 Sep 10 at 2:10 pm

  10. He sounds and looks like he was a wonderful man. You and he were blessed to have so many years together to share all you did. I know that’s got to be slim comfort when you want those to go on but you got something, both of you, that not everyone does. I just wish we had cures for the diseases that take so many before their time.

    Rain

    7 Sep 10 at 4:40 pm

  11. Moving photos and memories, bev. Don’s spirit is clearly with you and Sabrina and Sage as you continue on your journey. Love is stronger than death.

    am

    8 Sep 10 at 6:59 pm

  12. Bev, you and Don had an amazing relationship. Reading on your posts over the past few years, I think it was based not only on love but on your collective wisdom that enabled you to live your lives to the fullest. I, like Robin, found it a bit tough to read this post without pausing for help from a handkerchief.

    John

    8 Sep 10 at 8:38 pm

  13. What a great thing to do Bev, to take a sad anniversary and turn it into something that celebrates the life you and Don had together. I don’t have a belief in any existence beyond this one… I’m sorry if that offends any readers but it’s the way things are with me… but I know we carry our lost loved ones in a very tangible way, in our memories of them and in how we recall them by trying to view the world as though through their eyes. When my partner Peter is away… and he often is due to work… I’m forever thinking to myself “Now Peter would love this programme and so I’ll make a note of it so that he can watch it on i-player.”. Or ” I know Peter would want this job done really well, and so I must brief the workmen carefully so that he won’t be disappointed with how it turns out.” By this means he’s always present, in every aspect of my life. If he were gone for good, as opposed to the temporary absences I’m familiar with, I know I’d be thinking in the same way, and there would be both balm and unendurable sadness in that. (I say unendurable, though the truth is that we must all learn to endure the unendurable in our lives, no matter how much we would rather not.)

    I read your blog with admiration for your fortitude and the depth of your love for Don, and with empathy for your loss. You’ve faced the unthinkable and come through it. And now you show us by example what bravery is all about.

  14. Rain – Yes, it’s true that we were very fortunate to have many good years together. That’s something I try not to lose sight of even though I feel sadness over losing Don well before what should have been his time. I hope that, some day, there will be cures for these cruel diseases.

    am – That’s how I feel – love is stronger than death – and that we can carry our loved ones with us in our hearts.

    John – I often think that what Don and I had was more a wonderful friendship, that just happened to also be a terrific marriage. We were on the same wavelength in so many ways that it made our lives easy in so many ways. It’s amazing what two people can accomplish when they work well together.

    C live – I hold pretty much the same beliefs as you. That said, I also find that there is a continuation as you have described – a mnemonic existence so long as we continue to think of our loved ones and consider how they might have responded to a place, object, or situation. I find myself thinking this so often during my travels, especially when I return to a place which Don and I visited together in the past. I have also made journeys to places we both always talked of going, but never had the chance to go during his life — Writing-on-Stone in the badlands of southern Alberta, and Bodie ghost town in the eastern Sierras being just a couple.

    I think unendurable is a legitimate word. Although we go on, the sadness often does feel unendurable, and yet we must learn to accept and endure it. Thank you for your most kind words.

    bev

    9 Sep 10 at 12:29 pm

  15. What a beautiful (and agonizingly poignant) testament you have created to Don with your words and pictures. I never knew about Chik-Chik before, but what a sweet and telling story that is. Animals and children are excellent intuiters of the type of energy we send out into the universe, and Don’s was all wonderfully kind and positive.

    Ed

    12 Sep 10 at 4:55 pm

  16. It is such a sad and bitter irony that the only reason I have got to know about this wonderful man is because he died.
    I wish that it were otherwise.
    Jxx

    J-in-Wales

    13 Sep 10 at 9:50 am

  17. If you have to leave, how good to leave knowing you were so deeply loved…..
    remain so deeply loved. You guys got it right!

    Steve

    14 Sep 10 at 10:13 am

  18. Ed – Thanks. Yes, creatures seemed to know that Don was kind and they felt safe with him.

    J-in-Wales – You are so right. I feel that about many of the people I have come to “know” through friends’ blogs. I too wish that were not so.

    Steve – Thank you… yes.. I do think we got it right. (-:

    bev

    14 Sep 10 at 12:09 pm

  19. What a beautiful memorial after two years of loss. You make the loss of him even more a loss to all of us, and so perhaps you are somehow less alone, in a social/sympathetic sort of way – like all your readers have more in common with you in that they all miss Don more, even the ones who never met him. I wish I had known him better.
    Don really was the half of you that we rarely saw, and I’m very, very sad that he’s gone.

    I’ve read all the comments, and everything further that I’ve been trying to write has been already very well expressed by someone else. I’ll just simply say that I admire your courage, and
    also that you’ve been making wise choices in how to continue your life without Don’s presence.

    Your life is precious to us, Bev. You’re honest, thoughtful, caring, and sharing – and something very precious to have in world – a great artist and an excellent writer. Last but not least, to me you are a very good friend.

    Aleta Karstad

    16 Sep 10 at 11:27 am

  20. Oh Bev.

    What a beautiful, painful, courageous post.

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a lovelier tribute to a man . . to love.

    My husband had a minor surgery 3 weeks ago.

    Sitting in that holding tank with him before surgery terrified me –

    Imagining life without him .

    I watch your determination to keep moving, to do as Don would have you do . . .

    I know many of your readers – like me – are asking themselves:

    could I do it?

    It’s a very large question. You help me face that question. That’s a beginning.

    Thank you for your brave candor.

    Cathy Wilson

    20 Sep 10 at 7:13 pm

  21. Aleta – Thank you for such kind words. I wish you had had a chance to know Don better too. He very much admired you and Fred and the work that you do.

    Cathy – regarding the question that you ask yourself – “Could I do it?” It’s pretty difficult. Sometimes I wonder how and if I can keep going. I put a lot of effort into trying to make something more of my life than just sitting around waiting for the end – which, to tell you the truth, is what I often feel more like doing. However, Don would not have been happy with that, and neither would the “old me”, so I try to keep pushing on, even though it’s not much fun doing this alone. However, Sabrina and Sage do make things easier for me.

    bev

    20 Sep 10 at 7:54 pm

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