In February, a short interval mid-month included Chinese New Year’s Day (12th), Valentine’s Day (14th), and Canada Family Day (15th). Surrounding this auspicious interval on both sides were: my mother succumbing to cancer (3rd), and her funeral and burial (17th). She missed her 90th birthday by a mere 6 weeks.
In the weeks following that massive tremor, a heavy cloak of sadness clings on, interrupted occasionally by aftershocks in snippets of truth containing memory and regret. I get to relive the entire process of a parent’s death all over again; with Dad in 2014 and Mom in 2021, the double is anguish with complete finality.
For a long time, I’ve often questioned how much value there was in a family unit, given our inability to verbalize or communicate forms of positive emotional feedback. This post is a short examination of that question in a selection of images. I have to give Mom and Dad credit: they loved pictures of the family, in clear physical evidence by the scatter of photobooks and piles throughout the house. Few will ask whether a photograph at any given time can effectively capture the idea or mood of the moment. The true irony is the future value of that photograph as a means of time travel, back and forth, over and through giant waves of grief.
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With these pictures, I explored the perspective of witnessing a parent’s unstoppable decline to the end. I didn’t include pictures of my father in this set, but I gave voice to growing distress at his final journey in orbit around a downward spiral. My gaze drifted externally to the space and form of the hospital and to the surroundings outside.
On 19 July 2014, Dad was taken to Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital after he had a minor fall down the stairs at home. No bones were broken, which was remarkable considering his worsening health in the final stages of cancer. He would never return to the house in which he and Mum had bought and lived since 1976.
By the 2nd week, he had been moved from to the Palliative Care Unit (PCU) on the 10th floor. The wonderful hospital staff took great care of him and other patients in the unit. Dad charmed the PCU staff by chatting with them in broken English; it was his way of exerting some measure of control. I also witnessed the inevitable “shuffle”. One day, a patient slept quietly in one of the other beds, surrounded by members of his family. The following day, the bed was cleared, cleaned, and prepared for a new patient.
Into week 3, his mind and spirit departed, and he became completely unresponsive to external prompts. Over the following days, his body remained, accompanied by sounds of breathing, often shallow and laboured. He was at peace, and thanks to the meds, in diminished pain. I’d been with Dad a part of every day for 21 consecutive days. Friday came and went, and so did the passing of the sun. As I’d done every evening, I leaned down and whispered: “good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.” The following morning, I awoke to a phone call. The nurse’s voice was calm and gentle. Somewhere in the universe, I heard faint echoes of the death rattle. I said to the nurse: “thank you for your phone call. We’ll be at the hospital in a few hours.”
I ended the call and looked down at my watch: 613am. The date was August 9. He had celebrated his 82nd birthday only a few weeks earlier.
Northern summers, especially July and August, mean something entirely different.
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