These are intimate stories.
They’re true stories, ones I’m not proud of.
The first features divorce, relocation and a visit home.
I’m talking to my ex-husband. How’s your mom, I ask. He tells me he doesn’t know. He’s been busy; hasn’t seen her for a while. I shake my head. Get in the car, I say. We drive – me, the kids, and the ex – to the extended care facility where his mom lives.
We arrive to discover she’s dying. Truly dying. The nurses confirm this.
My daughter, a mere colt at age ten, is overwhelmed. She shies away from the scene unfolding before her, pressing up against a wall. Her dad does the same. He’s at sixes and sevens with death; with any infirmity. But my son – he’s about eight – gets on top of his grandmother’s bed and strokes her face. That’s just the way he’s wired.
We stay, talking to her, holding her hand, as this remarkable woman slips in and out of coherence.
We stay, despite the fact that our flight is coming up and we’re supposed to be at the airport very soon.
What to do?
I’m unfamiliar with death. I presume that this process she’s in will last for days, perhaps weeks. School starts the next day. I’ve never had to cancel flights before. I don’t know what to do. It’s all happening too fast. She’s my ex-mother-in-law, but she’s a saint.
What to do?
The nurse tells us that another family member is on the way.
We back out of the room. We fly home.
Hours later, we’ve arrived home. As I walk in the door, the phone rings. It’s my ex.
His voice is frail, the words ragged. Mumbo – he called his mom Mumbo – is gone.
I sit down.
I sit down like coals falling down a chute.
I sit down like grain being tipped into a silo.
I sit down like a netful of cod being dumped on a boat.
I say I’ll fly back back with the kids.
He says, no, no need for that. We’ve just flown diagonally across the continent. They have school.
So, I don’t. I don’t fly home with the kids.
They go to school the next day.
And it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
If ever there was a moment when a parent needs his children, it’s the moment when that parent loses his parent. When the end of the road is the only thing on the horizon, it would be a comfort to be able to turn around and look the other direction. To see the face of your loved one in the next generation.
Just this week, I’d inquired about an old friend and her battle with cancer. She’s doing surprisingly well, came the response. The next day was her birthday and it was suggested that I be in touch. I declined; our paths had diverged years ago. I mentioned the years when we lived in each other’s kitchens, when our families gathered to trick or treat, when we’d laugh ruefully about wild nights when we shamelessly kept adolescent shenanigans alive well into adulthood. Indelible, those times. Indelible, that woman.
Yes, perhaps I should get in touch.
I got a text the next day telling me that the friend had taken an unexpected turn for the worse.
I got a text a few hours later saying, ‘We’ve lost her’.
I took a friend to dinner on a Sunday night. I was mildly annoyed that he was leaving his meal largely untouched. He called me on the Tuesday morning to say that he was in the hospital. On the Friday, he died.
Any summation here sounds trite.
We should listen to our better angels.
This week’s question for readers:
IT’S A GRIM TOPIC, BUT WHAT’S BEEN YOUR INTERFACE WITH FINALITY? IS THERE SUCH A THING AS A ‘GOOD DEATH’?
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Submissions to last week’s question:
What’s your boldest paint decision ever? Do you usually go with a shade of white just to be on the safe side?
My former husband – and no, we can’t blame painting together – and I compromised on Belgian Blue many years ago when updating our living room. Painting around the schedules of our two toddlers, we finished late into the night. The morning sun gave a completely different look than the electric lights of the previous night. A very bright turquoise was definitely not what we’d expected. As the colour started growing on us, we removed the drop sheets and realized we’d need to replace all of our furniture in order to make Belgian Blue work. Another trip to the paint shop for Wedgewood Blue – my original choice, (just sayin’) – and all was harmonious … for a few years, at least.
Back in the over-decorated early nineties, I made the bold decision to sponge-paint (gasp!) my West End rental apartment in various shades of yellow and coral. Coral in the bedroom was an especially bad idea as it replicated the colour of tomato vodka penne, and I was constantly hungry whilst in bed. But I digress. Needless to say that buckets of primer and endless hours of painting were required to receive my damage deposit back when I moved. Now don’t even get me started about the stripes I painted over top of the black wallpaper in the kitchen….
When we moved from a mainly white walled space into our East Vancouver home 24 years ago, we arranged to have a consultant from Benjamin Moore give us advice (even then for a song!). She noticed one of my paintings on the mantel and recommended colours from it: eggplant purple, nutmeg brown, dark magenta, buttery yellow, a lovely dusty pink and creamy white. Our house still glows like a jewel and I often think gratefully about her for recognizing our love of colour!
My boldest paint decision was Pepto-Bismol pink with white crown molding throughout my small dining and living rooms. Imitation must be the sincerest form of flattery because an aunt and uncle painted their townhouse the same bold pink with white crown moldings not long afterwards.
I selected the paint colour for the bathroom renovation that my husband and I were undertaking. I had envisioned a bathroom that would be cozy and inviting during the north’s dark winters. I was at work when I got a call from my husband questioning my design choice. “Are you sure about this colour? It’s kind of garbage bag green.” I replied that, yes, that was what I was going for. He completed the job and I arrived home later to a dismayingly almost-black bathroom. To lighten it up, I decided to sponge paint over it (it was the 90s!), which improved things enough to make it liveable. I’ve often wondered how many coats of paint the people who bought our house had to use to cover up that debacle. Now, every time we go to the paint store, my husband feels the need to confirm that “we’re not going for garbage bag green, are we?”
During our last renovation, I finally came to understand the countless versions of white when deciding on updating our dreary beige walls.. Luckily, I stumbled upon Maria Killam’s website. The best piece of advice was to put the shades that appeal to you up against a background of white poster board. The results are amazing as you can easily see the undertones. I’m looking to replace the feature wall in our bedroom. We’d chosen a reddish orange. It now feels dated. Lo and behold, it’s now the “it” colour for this year, according to your article. The takeaway is to choose what makes you happy. Next year’s “in” colour is sure to be the opposite of what you have … unless you have waited 15 years like me!
When I moved in, everything was white. It felt very cold and impersonal. Forest green for the living room was my plan. I brought home four green samples for my husband to check out. One was the aforementioned forest green and the others were the ugliest greens that screamed “not me!” He picked the right one and, today, twenty years later, is still happy with his choice.
Never in my life have I painted a room white! People studiously paint rooms separate tints of white and delude themselves that visitors see anything but boring white. My daughter’s room is my boldest colour choice ever – Green Spirit, a bright yellow/green a few tones lighter than FreshCo shopping bags. I love it! On a gray depressing day a few minutes spent there fills you with the feeling of spring, new life and hope. Colour does wonders for your mental health.
Knowing that we were planning a renovation on our beige kitchen, I decided to brighten it up in the interim with paint. I chose a colour called “Carolina Parakeet”. It was a bright, lime green! We had that colour for about five years before we started the renovation … and then we painted the kitchen “Thunder”, which was, of course, beige!
Years ago we finally tore down the minty-green wall paper in our dining room but decided that we would like to paint it a similar colour. As I was perusing the many tones of green at Benjamin Moore a designer who worked there asked if she could help me. When I said we were looking for a pleasant green for our dining room she declared,”You do not want green! You want Durango”. Weak-willed as I am, we ended up with Durango, which is a muddy colour that’s hard to describe – the farthest from green you can get! But we have grown used to it.