Saturday, August 11, 2018

Love you, Dad

My wonderful FIL went into palliative care on Wednesday morning and passed away on Thursday night, 20 years and two days after his only granddaughter was stillborn. :(   He was 89.

We thought he might put up a fuss about going to the hospital, but apparently he said, "Yeah, maybe it's time to go see the doctor..." (!). (He did start asking, after a few hours, when he was going home again.)

We went to see him on Wednesday night and again Thursday afternoon. He opened his eyes once while we were there, but was mostly asleep/out of it and did not speak. The doctor told us he didn't think he'd make it to Monday -- but we didn't expect him to go THAT fast. Two of dh's cousins were there to see him and called BIL to tell him FIL was gone. They told us he went peacefully.

FIL came of age in the ruins of post-WWII Italy, and came to Toronto in the 1950s in search of work and a better life. He spent the next 30 years working as a bricklayer and contractor, as the city grew and flourished. (Driving around the city, he would often point out the many buildings and housing developments he'd worked on to us.) He lived in a house owned by his cousin, who'd arrived in Canada a few years earlier, with a dozen other Italian immigrant relatives (and one bathroom), until he'd saved up enough money to buy his own a house a few years later (and then welcomed other family members to live with them until they too could afford their own house).

Like other Italian immigrants of the time, he & his relatives were viewed with suspicion by the citizens of the conservative, WASP-dominated Toronto of the time. They did not speak English; they were Catholic; their food smelled funny; they drank a lot of wine (which they made themselves). They were harassed by the police; their employers used them as cheap labour and took advantage of them. (Hmmm, why does this all sound familiar...??) Their children have their own stories to tell:  growing up in the 1960s & 70s (in the era of "The Godfather"), dh was subjected to ethnic slurs at school;  my SIL remembers throwing away the panini lunch her mother had made her when she got to school, because the other kids made fun of her for it (it wasn't Wonderbread!). (Of course, paninis are sold everywhere these days in cafes for ridiculous prices...!)

They persevered, and their families flourished. Everything we have today, we have because of FIL.

He was a small man, shorter than me, and wiry, but he had a huge heart and a personality to match.  He was kind and generous (the first time I met him, he handed me a $50 bill -- a small fortune for a poor student in 1983 -- and told me to buy myself a cup of coffee). He had a wonderful smile. He was Italian, but as the French say, he had a "joie de vivre" -- an exuberance, a zest for life. He loved to sing -- loudly! (he sang to us a little as he lay in bed at home, near the end, which made tears spring to my eyes) -- and would embarrass his sons by getting up & singing with the band at weddings when they were growing up.  He loved his garden (which he only gave up about two summers ago) and his espresso coffee, which he still drank until almost the very end, even when he'd lost his appetite for food. He loved his family, especially his grandsons, and got a huge kick out of watching them grow taller and taller until they towered over him.

Ti amo, Dad. We will miss you. Give Katie a hug from me.

BIL, FIL & dh, taking a walk while at Older Nephew's engagement party.
August 2014. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thank you

Thank you for your kind messages on Katie's day earlier this week. As usual, the anticipation of the day was worse than the actual day itself.

Dh & I drove to the cemetery that morning... only to find a work crew digging around in the flower beds RIGHT BESIDE the wall structure where her niche is. Talk about bad timing!! So instead of the leisurely visit and walkaround, and freeflow of tears I had anticipated, we only stayed a few minutes, whispering to each other the whole while -- long enough to change the niche decorations & leave the flowers I had brought. (Pink roses -- from the supermarket, but the girl at the floral counter arranged & wrapped them up beautifully, with a tulle ribbon, without me even asking.  I also found and bought a lovely butterfly ornament there that I left hanging from the niche vase holder.)

After leaving the cemetery, we drove to a nearby cafe where we used to have lunch sometimes, when we lived in the area, and had chicken caesar wraps. Then over to the local outlet of the mega-bookstore (which, IMHO, is bigger and much better stocked than the one where we now live) for a browse. Then dh insisted on going BACK to the cemetery before we headed home. The moment had passed, so no outpouring of tears, but we were able to take our time, and take a few photos, before we left.

We were both exhausted & went to bed early. I felt a bit guilty, like I hadn't done enough for her -- I didn't even take out her box of things and go through them, as I often do at this time of year -- but hey, we do what we can...

(On a somewhat related note: FIL's condition is rapidly deteriorating. We've been doing a lot of driving back & forth across the city over the last few days to be with him. Please keep FIL in your thoughts & prayers, if you pray.  Many thanks.) 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

"No One Tells You This" by Glynnis MacNicol

I don't know why I picked up "No One Tells You This" from the shelf in the biography/memoir section in the mega-bookstore last week. I don't remember hearing about it, or its author, Glynnis MacNicol (although I later realized I'd recently read an article she'd written for the New York Times), but I'm always looking for interesting new memoirs. Maybe the stark cover design piqued my interest, or perhaps the complimentary blurb from Rebecca Traister (a feminist writer I admire, and author of "All the Single Ladies," which I reviewed here) on the cover?

Then I opened the inside flap -- and read this: "If the story doesn’t end with marriage or a child, what then?"

SOLD!!  (lol)  I started reading it as soon as I finished my current selection, and blazed through it over the next four  days.

MacNicol, as it turns out, is a Canadian, from Toronto, who has lived and worked in New York City since her early 20s. She's now in her early 40s, never married, no kids -- and (finally) happy with her life. "No One Tells You This" centres on the time around MacNicol's milestone 40th birthday, and how she comes to terms with "the husband-shaped hole" in her life (not to mention her lack of children) -- while at the same time juggling the demands of work deadlines, friends & extended family. Most critically, her mother is diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and dementia;  her sister is pregnant with her third child, newly separated from her husband, and needs Glynnis's help when the baby arrives.

My one minor quibble about the book: I felt it went on perhaps just a teeny bit too long.  Part of me felt like the logical ending was probably at or around the end of Chapter 19, with Glynnis settled into a gorgeous new Brooklyn apartment, the envy of all her friends.  But of course, real life isn't always like that, is it? with a happy ending all tied up with a pretty bow. And I did enjoy hearing about what came next: her impromptu trip to a Wyoming dude ranch (because she could!), and about what happened to her mother (as well as her sister and father).

I started writing a longer review, pulling quotes and identifying some of the "aha!" moments of recognition I got while reading this book -- but it got to be a bit long & messy -- and so I decided I should probably let you read the book yourself and draw your own lessons/conclusions. :)  Whether you consider yourself childLESS not by choice, childFREE by choice or something in between -- or even if you're just a woman (married or not, kids or not) whose life hasn't turned out exactly the way you thought it might -- I think you will find yourself relating to this book in some way. I loved it. Thumbs up, 5 stars on Goodreads. :)

This was book #16 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 67% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) 2 books ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

It was 20 years ago today...

Twenty years now
Where'd they go?
Twenty years
I don't know
Sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they've gone

-- Bob Seger, Like a Rock  

I don't know either, Bob. ;)  I guess there are a few of the finer details that have faded from my memory -- but most of my memories of that time are still pretty clear, and some of them are (still) pretty painful.

I wish things were different. I wish she was here. She'd be all grown up now, a young adult, likely at university, maybe with a boyfriend. (I was 20 when I first met her father, after all...)  I wonder what she'd look like, and who she'd look like, and how she'd be like me and how she'd be like her dad.

But she's not here.

Still, I would not wish away these past 20 years, painful as some of them have been. I am so proud to be her mother -- even if it's not the motherhood experience I had envisioned or expected. I have learned so much about myself, about people, about life and about the world -- about what truly matters -- things I probably would never have known or understood so well, had it not been for Katie.

To throw in another Sergeant Pepper/Beatles/classic rock metaphor (beyond the title of this post)  ;)  if there's a reason I've survived these past 20 years, it's because I've gotten by with (more than) a little help from my friends, both in real life and in the computer. ;)  If you are reading this blog, then you are probably one of them, and there aren't words enough to thank you all and tell you how much you have all meant to me. How much you all still mean to me.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. And thank you again.

And sometimes late at night
When I'm bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin' a ghostly white
And I recall
I recall...

Monday, August 6, 2018

#MicroblogMondays: The Summer That Sucked

  • An update to a recent post: my high school girlfriend's father passed away last week as she held his hand, exactly four weeks after the death of her mother. :( 
  • Another (non-ALI, online) friend lost her brother a few days ago. She also lost her MIL earlier this summer.  :( 
  • StepMIL is contemplating whether it's time to send FIL to the local hospice. :( Dh & BIL have told her that's her call to make, as she & stepSIL are the ones caring for him 24/7 at this point (with the help of visiting nurses & home care workers -- but still...).  I don't think he will last very long away from home. :( 
  • It has been horribly hot & humid again this weekend. To say I am thankful for air conditioning is an understatement...! 
  • The "back to school" rumblings have started, particularly among my friends & relatives in the States...! 
  • I can't believe the summer is almost over, and we never got "home" to see my parents & the Little Princesses, and do all the summer things we usually do there. :(  
  • The daily news is so damned depressing, with the Orange One wreaking havoc south of the border, and Dougie & Co. following much the same playbook here in Ontario. Sometimes I despair for humanity. Kindness, generosity, civility and just plain sanity seem to have gone out the window. 
  • I broke my glasses yesterday when I was cleaning them!! They are wire frames, and snapped right where the lens piece joins the nose piece. I don't think they're fixable (dh's broke in the exact same place two years ago) -- I'm hoping the manufacturer still makes the frames, because then I can just order a new one & have the old lenses popped in. If not, I will have to get an entirely new pair of glasses. :p  I have had these ones for not quite four years. (In the meantime, I am bouncing back & forth between my computer/reading glasses and an older pair -- and getting slightly woozy from the less-optimal prescription...!)  And it's a long weekend (of course...!), so the earliest I can call the optometrist about them is tomorrow. And (of course), I probably won't be able to get in to see him until at least Wednesday -- not the least because... 
  • Tomorrow will be 20 years (TWENTY YEARS!!) since I delivered my stillborn baby girl. :(   (And THAT is my #1 priority on the agenda!) 
  • I am starting to think of this as "the summer that sucked."  :p  
  • It hasn't ALL sucked, of course. We had a nice time on our wedding anniversary. I got downtown for lunch with some girlfriends. We've had a few fun get-togethers with family. We celebrated Younger Nephew's birthday this weekend, and had a lot of laughs while we did. Spending time with Older Nephew's miniature dachshund puppy is always a mood booster. We've been out for gelato. I connected with some fellow CNBCers and made a great video about IVF at 40 (check it out, if you haven't already done so). I've read a few good books, and seen a couple of fun movies. 
  • But for sure, the last few weeks/months have been more memorable for the bad stuff than the fun/good stuff. :(  
  • (Sorry to be a downer, but that's my frame of mind at the moment...) 
You can find more of this week's #MicroblogMondays posts here. 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

"Christopher Robin" and the saddest day

Yesterday was a hard day for dh & BIL. They went to see their dad -- & then went with stepMIL to the funeral home/cemetery to begin pre-planning dad's funeral. :(  When they came home, they picked up me & then SIL and we went out for dinner.

It was SIL who suggested we should go see "Christopher Robin." BIL rolled his eyes, lol. Dh was willing to do whatever we wanted. I wanted to go see it -- but I would have preferred to go just with dh -- because I KNEW I was going to cry.  (As I mentioned in a recent post, Katie's nursery theme was to have been Classic Pooh, and I still have several Classic Pooh-themed items in our home, particularly in our bedroom.)

And I did cry. I sat between dh & SIL & cried through the entire opening sequence (young Christopher Robin leaves the Hundred Acre Wood to go to school, grows up and does not return), as well as other points throughout the movie. Not sure if SIL or BIL saw me crying -- and even if they did, I KNOW they did not make the connection as to WHY I might be crying (other than that I am an emotional sap, lol). Anyway, it was a cute albeit somewhat melancholy movie, beautifully filmed, & I'm glad we went -- although I think the adults in the audience probably got more out of it than the kids.

In the movie, Pooh calls "today" "my favourite day." Today, August 5th, 1998, was the day I went to my 6-month prenatal visit and heard the words no pregnant woman ever wants to hear.  Two days later, August 7th, 1998, is the date I delivered my stillborn daughter, the "official" date that's on her niche marker and on all the paperwork. It's the date we'll officially mark, on Tuesday.

But 20 years ago today was actually the saddest day of my life -- the first of many awful days that were to follow as, one by one, my dreams crashed around me. August 5th, and 7th, will never be my favourite days.

"I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I’ve been," says Pooh in the movie. After Tuesday, I will resume walking down this road less travelled to wherever it is that I'm going. But just for a few days, I will wallow a little in where I've been.

(Don't get me wrong, I haven't been sitting around by the Kleenex box all day. But I'm definitely feeling rather subdued. And glad that I don't have any reason to leave the house/condo today.) 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

"Mrs. Tim of the Regiment" by D.E. Stevenson

"Mrs. Tim of the Regiment" (also known as "Mrs. Tim Christie") is one of D.E. Stevenson's earliest works, first published in 1932. It's the first in a series of four "Mrs. Tim" novels, and the current book under discussion by my online Stevenson fan group.

As Stevenson explains in an introduction to the 1973 reissue, the book is based on her own diaries and experiences as a young officer's wife with two young children. Nothing hugely consequential happens in "Mrs. Tim" (or most of Stevenson's novels, for that matter), but it's a charming read nevertheless.

Mrs. Tim Christie (whose name is Hester) receives a diary as a Christmas present from her brother Richard, and uses it to detail the minutae of life as a military spouse over a six-month period. She visits the other officers' families, hosts semi-disastrous dinner parties, struggles with managing the servants, is exhausted by the antics of her two lively children, spends a weekend at a stately manor house (a la Downton Abbey), goes house hunting when her husband is transferred to Scotland, and vacations in the Scottish Highlands with her neighbour (among other activities).

Some of the members of my group have confessed they dislike books in diary format. I've always loved reading other people's diaries, whether real or fictional, and for the most part, I enjoyed "Mrs. Tim." I did struggle a bit with some of the military jargon and British-isms (and dated ones at that). For example, in one section (a weekend at a manor house), one of the guests suggests to Hester and Tim that they should "beat up Tony" -- i.e., go find Tony. That gave me pause...! (Later in the same diary entry, spotting one of the female guests coming downstairs late at night with a man who is not her husband, Tim comments that if he were the husband, he would "give his wife a good beating." – that REALLY gave me pause, even if she WAS being unfaithful and even if Tim meant it in a (sort of?) joking way…!)

I also struggled with Hester's privileged lifestyle. Group members have defended her, pointing out that she's frequently overwhelmed in her diary -- wrangling with the servants, running the household (without the convenience of modern appliances, etc.), managing the children, entertaining and visiting the "married families" of her husband's underlings, etc. And yes, today, we do have the advantage of more modern conveniences, and life for most of us is not quite so formal. And I know a lot of modern military wives find it difficult to get and keep a job because employers know they will likely not be around for too long.

Still, the vast majority of women today have to do most of the things Hester did (albeit perhaps in a slightly different way), plus the work once done by the servants (which, in Hester's case, included a cook, governess, maid & husband's "batman"). Plus deal with children every day (very few modern children, at least in North America, head off to boarding school for months at a time, as Hester's son does) -- plus hold down a job to help contribute income to the family.  I know it was a different time (and part of the charm & fascination of DES's books is the glimpse they give us of a very different past & a very different culture from modern North America) -- so much depends on what we're used to and what's considered "normal" in our communities -- but I will admit I find it hard to feel too terribly sorry for Hester and her domestic and social dilemmas. I can relate to her emotions (human nature does not change), but the circumstances that provoke them -- not always so much.

Whatever shortcomings the book has, it's redeemed by the wonderful (as usual) writing, wry humour and rich, detailed portrait of a military wife's life in 1930s Britain. I gave it three stars on Goodreads, & would have given it 3.5, if I could figure out how to assign a half-star...! ;) 

Many of Stevenson's books are out of print, but I was able to find a recent (2010) reissue of this title at a very reasonable price via Amazon. The other three Mrs. Tim books, however, are long out of print and fairly expensive on the resale market, but there is a rumour afoot that they may soon be reissued too. Fingers crossed!  (The next volume in the series, "Mrs. Tim Carries On," published in 1941, follows the further adventures of Hester, Tim and family during the Second World War, which I would love to read.)

This was book #15 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 63% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the moment, anyway...!) one book ahead of schedule to meet my goal!  :)