Normally I would be posting one of my Lunedi Lunacies to start the week off with a smile but today is a day of remembrance. All Souls, in the church calender, is the day when all those who have died are remembered. In my old parish in Toronto the Orthodox Kontakion for the Dead was sung at the end of every Requiem mass. This canto from the Eastern liturgy contains a phrase that has always cut to my heart when it asks that the deceased be granted rest in a place “where sorrow and pain are no more.”
Today I remember especially four dear friends, three who I lost in the past year and one who’s passing three years ago is as painful today as it was then. And it is my earnest hope and prayer that they are all in a place where sorrow and pain – physical or mental – are no more.
Three years ago my daring Ryan decided to leave us. Why he choose that path is still a question that nags at those of us who loved him. We will never know and perhaps it is best to let the question rest – it was his path and though it robbed us of possible good times there are still the memories of what was shared for too brief a time. I still find that when I’ve seen an opera that I enjoyed – or better yet didn’t – I want to pick up the phone and call him. When I read an article, a blog post or book that I found fascinating that I want to send him an e-mail telling him all about it. And I so long to hear about his latest project, the new book in progress and his travels, reading and listening. He always had so much to share. And Christmas without one of his “Crackers” just isn’t complete. And there is so much that has happened since he died that I wish I could share with him . That lose of sharing is as acute today as it was three years ago. Ryan, your “darling boy” still misses you!
Deb and I met when I went down to Montreal to “look in” on a redesign project she was working on – five years later I left the project and retired to join Laurent in Poland. We were quite the team – all of us pretty much from “away,” – Deb from London, Peggy and Anna from the Maritimes, Carla, Maggie and Anthony from Toronto, Esther from Vancouver and me from Ottawa. We formed a tight little group – first around Jennie, a madcap Australian, then briefly a very unmadcap Egyptian who didn’t work well with women or gays (wrong group for you bucko) then with our Cathy. We had our differences – meetings could be drama ridden and I recall a few conference calls that had the wires burning up. But we produced a damned good product and more important we had fun and enjoyed each other as co-workers and as friends.
Deb had a wicked sense of humour and it was matched by an evil grin and a twinkle in her eyes. We shared a lot together – for a brief while we even lived together in a house in Pointe Claire. It was shortly after I left that she was diagnosed with cancer the first time. At one point she decided to move back to London to be with her partner James (left: Deb, James and I in January 2008) but still kept up her treatment in Montreal. Every few weeks she would get on a flight and go back to Montreal for her chemo – rest a day or two and then back home to London.
I was with her the day she celebrated two years of being cancer-free – we had returned to Montreal for a reunion and the day was spent having corned beef at Schwartz’s, picking up 20 dozen bagels with Anthony at St Vitar, quaffing wine in Old Montreal and dinner with the gang at a wild Vegetarian restaurant Gillian had chosen.
She met me at Heathrow the morning after she had been told the cancer was back. We were going to the tea at the Savoy and the Panto at the Old Vic. That was four years ago and on a train ride into London two years later – another Panto trip – she confided that at the initial diagnosis she had been given two years, three at the most but she had every intention of beating the bastard!
She fought a long hard battle and I honestly believe that she wasn’t defeated nor did she surrender. She made peace. Nowhere was that more apparent than on the day this past spring when we all gathered to say goodbye. Deb I miss that twinkle and that grin.
In the Foreign Service there are people who come into your life for a brief time and then are heard of no more other than as names on reports or posting lists. Then there are the others! People who keep showing up like bad pennies – like Steven and Betty Jean Culley. Okay they aren’t bad pennies, far from it but you get the idea. We had been together in Warsaw back in the late 1990s and we had corresponded sporadically over the next few years. They were preparing to leave Rome for Damascus as we were arriving and they were our first dinner guests after our arrival. And it was at that dinner that Steve told us that he had been undergoing cancer treatment but had been give the all clear. We broke open a bottle of grappa to celebrate. Sadly our celebration was short lived – Steve and BJ came back several months later for his check up and the cancer had reappeared. And they were going to stay in Rome for a while so his treatment could be resumed.
It was a bittersweet time. It meant that we were able to spend time together – Christmas with them and Sarah and Brian, an odd evening out – we even dragged poor Stephen to the ballet one evening (right: Betty Jean, Stephen and Laurent in our box), dinner, coffee or Sunday lunch. But it also meant that Steve was going through some pretty rough times – times when he just didn’t have the energy to socialize. But he never seemed to loose his ability to laugh and that laugh was so distinctive you could never miss it. And he had one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life – BJ – beside him all the way. It was a battle and the two of them faced it head on and still had time for friends, family and laughter.
The evening before they left for Canada I spoke with Steve – we were suppose to go out for dinner but he had a long journey ahead of him and had to conserve his energy. He sounded tired but at the same time exhilarated that he was going home. I know at that point as we said goodbye he knew what was coming but the last thing he said was: Its been a slice. And he gave that laugh. Two months later when Betty Jean’s e-mail arrived I knew that his laugh had been silenced. Stephen I miss your laugh.
Frank and I were work colleagues and friends for almost 30 years. He was a bright, charming, opinionated, loving and quite often exasperating man. We had worked together for Air Canada at Ottawa Airport and then after retirement both of us found ourselves working at Transport Canada (left: Martha, Frank and Bernie – old AC and TC friends and colleagues). Our clashes – particularly at the Toronto Commuter Desk – were known to be the entertainment highlight of not a few peoples Friday nights at Ottawa Airport. We both had our way of doing things and we both knew we were right!
But none the less we were friends – actually his wife Sharon (who worked with us) and I were, at one time shift spouses i.e. we worked the same shifts and saw each other more often than we saw our real spouses. Frank and I were almost direct opposites: he was as straight as they come – I …. wasn’t; he was a devout Catholic – I was a lapsed Anglican; he was a die-hard right winger – I was born a lefty; he was a company man – I worked as a Union rep. So we were never at a loss for things to “discuss” – and sometimes those discussion could get heated. There were times when after the heat came the cool, almost icy, but it never lasted.
Frankie took sick after I had left for Italy and I got reports of his condition from our mutual friends. Once again it was cancer and he underwent treatments which I know were wearing on body and soul. It was a long battle that, being very private people, Frank and Sharon endured quietly. When the news of his death arrived two months ago I greeted it, as I had with Deb and Steve, with a mixture of relief and sadness. Frankie I will miss our “discussions” no damned it our arguments.
I know that this day is a remembrance of all Souls who have departed this earth but today I think of four of them in particular and in my heart pray that they are in a place “where sorrow and pain are no more!”
02 novembre – Commemorazione dei Defunti