Archive for May, 2012
Sabrina on the front lawn last week
This is another of those posts that I hoped never to have to write, but knew I would have to before long. As you will know if you read this post about our trip home, I had been concerned that Sabrina might not make it. As it turned out, she managed okay and even had a chance to do a little of what Don and I used to refer to as her botanizing. She had an uncanny interest in any plant that she regarded as conspicuous. She was also an excellent scout when it came to looking for frogs, snakes, and even butterflies – standing patiently as she gazed back and forth from me to the creature until I came over with my camera. She would then move on, scanning for the next creature along the trail. For many years, she was a great hiker, wanting to lead the way and choose which branch of a trail to take. She would look visibly offended if we did not take her advice.
Of course, those days have been over for some time as old age and arthritis gradually caught up with her. However, there is a story there too. In the last months before Don died, Sabrina became almost inseparable from him. She had always been Don’s dog, in that way that, when you have two dogs, one will often attach itself to one person and one to the other. During the first four years of Sabrina’s life, Maggie, an almost identical looking tricolor Rough Collie from the same breeder, had been her mentor. But Maggie was my dog, so Sabrina decided that she would be Don’s. That special relationship continued until Don’s death in September 2008. In the final weeks of his illness, Sabrina became increasingly vigilant and would not leave his side. In fact, she took to sleeping beneath the raised leg rest of the recliner chair where he spent all his days and nights toward the end. I practically had to drag her out to get her to eat dinner. Whenever Don had to spend a few nights in the hospital, she would remain under the recliner, staring at me for hours as though wondering why I took him away and returned home without him. By the time that Don died, Sabrina had become weak and almost emaciated. She could barely walk and I feared I would lose her too. However, as you will know if you have read this blog since the beginning, Sabrina and I departed for points almost unknown about five weeks later. Yes, she was weak and shaky, but the two of us managed okay, struggling along together on what has become a long, strange journey.
You have seen many of these photos in the past, often when I have written about Don on the occasion of the anniversary of his death. What is conspicuous is that Don and Sabrina were together in so many of the photos in my collection. So many times, I would snap a photo of them around the house or the gardens, or on a hiking trail, and there would be Sabrina sitting or standing close by. They really were an inseparable pair. While looking for photos to use in this post, I came across a couple of nice little movie clips of the two of them together. I hope these will work for you. The first is of Sabrina trying to protect Don from our lawn mower. Even though the mower is not running, Sabrina worried about it and would make a fuss if Don got too near. What is interesting is that she had two barks – a gruff serious bark and a higher pitched puppyish bark. It is the puppyish bark that she is using in this clip.
The second movie clip is just a short one taken at our farm around the time that Don was diagnosed with cancer. I am so glad that I shot a few short video clips – most are about a minute long – while we were walking around the trails on our land. These are nice reminders to me of our “family” back before the wheels came off of our lives.
So, anyhow, enough about the past and now to the present. For the past few days, Sabrina showed signs of weakening. There wasn’t really much to do about it. She is old – about 14 years old – which is really getting up there for a collie. I gave her what assistance I could in getting in and out of the house on the couple of steps, and then last night, she lay out flat and made no effort to rise unless I gave her a boost to a normal lying-down-dog position. It was clear that the end was nigh. This morning, I called the vet clinic and made arrangements to bring Sabrina there to be euthanized. It seemed the only kind thing to do – the last kindness that I couod do for a dog who has shared so many of the good times and the bad, that have taken place over the past few years.
I set her down on a soft comforter in the bed of the van and then drove to town, arriving there about twenty minutes early. I decided to go ahead on over the causeway as far as the tidal generating plant and turn into the fisherman’s lot and stop where there is a stone memorial cairn. Many is the time that, Don, Sabrina and I stood at that spot together to watch the tide flowing back out through the generating plant and into the Annapolis Basin, during our frequent summer trips to Nova Scotia. I opened the side doors of the van so that Sabrina could look out onto the waters and then sat with her for a minute, saying goodbye and telling her that I had done the best I could for her and now it is time for her to run to Don. She’s become pretty deaf in recent years, so I doubt she caught much of what I said, but she turned her wise old eyes to look into mine and I think she understood that all was well.
And so, that is how things went. I stayed with her until the end and it was genltle and an easy death. Of course, I am sad – sort of heartbroken all over again, I suppose. I have become so accustomed to death and loss that this time was perhaos easier than some of the others, but there is something different about this one, and the effect it has had today. I knew that when Sabrina died, it would be as though the final thread that bound the three of us together would finally be broken – and that is how it feels. My life is changed in ways I could never have predicted just a handful of years ago – and Sabrina’s passing is like the closing chapter of this book.
There is an odd little observation that I wished to include in this post. In August 2007, Don and I came here to Nova Scotia for a late summer vacation. Don had not felt well all that summer – tired and with a persistent cough that the doctors assured him was asthma as, after all, he was a never smoker. He seemed to feel so much better here by the ocean where the air is so fresh and clean. On our last afternoon on the Atlantic side, I shot this little movie clip of Don walking away into the sunset, and of Sabrina anxiously looking back at me and then deciding she should go on with Don. It was a beautiful late afternoon with a brisk breeze and a wonderful sky, but in the moment that I shot the clip, I felt a shiver as though something was about to change – as it soon did. Now, as I look back at the clip and this photo, I realize that I was just anticipating that thing we call The Future. It is not to be feared, but also the thing we may not change.
Farewell my beautiful Sabrina. You are free now. Run to Don!
my mom, Marian, around 1953
I wanted to get this post written and up online for Mother’s Day, but was sandbagged by technical difficulties. Better late than never are words to live by, and so I am posting this today.
In the past, I have written about my dad who passed away in 1999 from cancer at the early age of 69. However, apart from the odd brief mention in a story here or there, I have not written a post about my mom, so this one is long overdue.
If I’m correct, my mom will turn 80 in less than two months. She may not like it that I’m giving away her age, but it does seem some kind of milestone. Besides, we’re only as old as we feel, and it’s obvious that she can’t feel very old as she still moves like a 40-something year old person. When I watch her walking her Dalmatian out in the park in front of her house, I find it very hard to believe she’s not younger than me. She has always been very active, not so much into sports, although there were a few years in the 1960s when she set up a high jump pit at our cottage and she and I would see just how high we could leap. Mom was always a great swimmer and diver and on the few occasions that I saw her waterski in the 1970s, she was pretty darned good at that too.
my mom, her father, and a nephew, camping in the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River, around 1952.
My mom comes from a large family. They spent most of their growing up years in the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River. Her family practically lived on the water as her dad was a lockmaster on the old canal before the days of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Her parents raised their family during the Great Depression and then World War II. Several of her brothers went off to join the navy, leaving just the youngest family members at home. By the time my mother was in her teens, her father was quite advanced in age. He had been widowed and this was his second marriage and family. He loved camping and boating on the St. Lawrence River, so it fell to my mom and a couple of the other youngest brothers to accompany and actually pretty much enable the parents on boat trips to camp on the islands. In the above photo, my mom is sitting with her dad and a nephew who was along for the trip. The photo at the bottom of this post was taken on another such trip.
My mom always enjoyed being along rivers. When we kids were growing up, my parents bought a piece of forested land along the Ottawa River north of the city of Ottawa. They built a cottage and we spent over a dozen happy summers there – swimming, hiking, fishing, sailing, and boating. There is little doubt that our summer lifestyle played no small part in my preference for a solitary life roughing it in the bush, out on the desert or mountains, or along a river.
Mom was always quite resourceful and also rather impatient, and in fact, she is still like that to this day. If she wanted a picnic table, she would not wait for my dad to build one when he arrived at the cottage for the weekend. Instead, she would get out the power saw and make one herself. If she discovered a big poplar tree rotting out and looking like it might fall somewhere near the cottage, she would get out her trusty swede saw and cut it down. At night she would light a bonfire on the beach and we would bake potatoes wrapped in foil or roast marshmallows over the flames. She taught all of us and many of my visiting cousins how to swim at an early age.
mom and her older brother, Bill, around 1950
In addition to being an outdoors person, my mom was also very artistic. For as long as I can remember, she was always making something, painting, sewing clothes or something for our house. She is quite an expert upholsterer and could sew up a set of curtains in no time. She made some pretty interesting stuff up at our cottage during the 1960s, casting fountains in concrete, decorating the cottage with fishnets and shells, amd she even built a huge rustic entry sign over the lane – a rustic cedar pole affair with the name KON-TIKI spelled out in short cedar sticks with a big colorful Polynesian mask in the center – which she also cut out and painted. This was all a response to reading Thor Heyerdahl’s books about the expedition of the Kon-Tiki raft in the South Pacific. Mom read from the book that summer and we were all carried along by her own excitement. Probably much to her chagrin, it could be her interest in Polynesian adventures and North Pole expeditions that encouraged my own adventurous streak!
Music was another of my mom’s interests. Inspired by the many folk musicians headlined on Oscar Brand’s “Let’s Sing Out” weekly show, she taught herself to play guitar and sang tunes by Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, among others. Around the late 1960s, in the wake of Canada’s centennial celebrations, my mom composed a patriotic folk song which she entitled Walk Around. A music school teacher in our neighbourhood recorded it with her class choir, and it started getting some local airplay. One way or another, it ended up that Walk Around has become a favourite Girl Guide campfire song here in Canada. The lyrics appear on many Girl Guide resource websites and I even found a short sound file that provides the melody for a typical verse and chorus. Anyhow, suffice to say that music was always a part of our household back in those days, so it is no real wonder that all three of us kids have either played music for fun or as a profession at various times in our lives.
mom and her younger brother, Bert, around 1950
Another of my mom’s interests has always been social activism. For many years, she wrote letters to city newspapers on subjects dealing with public safety, shelter for the homeless, and a host of other topics. For perhaps a decade, her letters regularly appeared in the papers and she has a thick scrapbook filled with clippings. One of her most concrete civic activist achievements was to work as part of a small group of concerned parents who eventually succeeded in having a pedestrian overpass built over a major highway and multiple railway lines that cut between our neighbourhood and our high school. Many of us risked our lives dashing across the highway rather than suffering the almost hour long school bus ride to travel a distance that took just a few minutes in foot.
There are many other things to know about my mom, but the above provides at least a partial glimpse of the person. Life was certainly interesting around our house. Never boring. Always creative and evolving. Many of my friends admitted envy of our somewhat bohemian lifestyle. Looking back on my years at home, I realize that we were always a little out there compared to other families as both my parents were so innovative and ahead of the curve. That is something that I have come to value greatly as I forge on with my own life in the wake of all the upheaval that has occurred. How better to equip one’s self for a strange and unexpected journey, than to develop creative strategies for dealing with adversity.
My mom reads my blog all the time and will be as surprised as any of you to find herself the subject of this blog post. Mom, this one’s for you. Love, Bev.
mom on a camping trip in the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence River around 1950