Upfront, I want to add this disclaimer for any relatives that may decide to read this article. I am going to be honest about how I felt and what we talked about on my trip. You may not agree with what I say or what we decided, but our parents asked us to make sure they were taken care of, and their wishes followed. All three of us talked about what they had asked for, and while we all agreed, I am the eldest son. If you want to blame anyone for things not going your way, blame me. My shoulders are wide enough and strong enough.
Wow, the last two weeks have been one heck of a roller coaster ride for me personally. From joyful highs to mournful lows, I have seen it all in the last two weeks.
The joyous highs were all about my brother and his longtime girlfriend getting married in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia on 30 July. Not one to shy away from doing things with a bit of pomp and circumstance, the wedding party was a sight to see. The women were all dressed in lovely dresses and beautiful shows, and the men were dressed in khakis, Hawaiian shirts, and sandals. The thing is, knowing my brother and his now wife (and my new sister!), that was not out of character. It just worked.
As we left the hotel, a wonderful gentleman named Colin (hope I got the name right, it was a busy day!) bagpiped us from the hotel to the dock where we boarded the sailing ship to take us out into the bay. Even through all of fuss of getting everyone on board, Colin played strongly and consistently until it was time to cast off. After waiting almost ten years for this wedding, my brother’s wife did not want to do anything second rate. A wonderful sailing vessel with a wonderful crew, and a wedding on the water.
Even more interesting was that the rain that happened that day did not seem to dampen anyone’s spirits in the least. Sure, it meant donning rain ponchos for some of us and umbrellas for others, but everything was still a go with everyone having big smiles on their faces. And with the backdrop of the Lunenburg lighthouse in the background, the minister presided over the ceremony like the champ that we all knew her to be.
And as luck would have it, with the speaking of the words “You may now kiss the bride”, the rain stopped. Within fifteen minutes, the sun was out and within another half an hour, most of us were at least partially dry. But it didn’t matter in the least. It was not about the weather. It was not about the sailboat. It was not about the bagpiper. It was about my brother and his wife getting married. And nothing was going to damper the happiness of that event!
But the next morning, reality started to kick back in. My wife and I had planned a nice drive along the coast from Lunenburg to Peggy’s Cove, one of the famous places in Canada. The sun was shining, and the coast was beautiful, but my mind was already starting to turn inward. I tried to suppress that urge inward during the drive, but it was a daunting task. Finally, after suppressing the urge all day, I started to turn inward as we rested at our hotel in Halifax for the evening.
It had been over four years since the three of us had gotten together, so there was much catching up to do. Well, I say there was much catching up to do, but really it was just listening to the same stories and information we had heard on the phone calls we try and have each month. Those same stories just seemed to have a different shine to them when told in person. Everything just was “that much” better. Of course, being a true Canadian, it did not hurt that we talked over dinner or over that day’s Tim Horton run.
But the one thing I knew we needed to talk about before the end of the trip were my parents. We all knew the pieces of those stories, but we all felt that it was important to make sure that we were all in unison going forward.
The easy one was my father. My father passed away recently in Halifax, with specific instructions on how he wanted to be buried and where he wanted to be buried. The problem there was that it was back in the Toronto area, and my brother and his wife would not be going back for a while. They just finished their wedding, my brother is finishing school, and his wife is working. It will happen when it happens, and we all agreed to adhere to my dad’s wishes.
For any readers that have read my articles, they will know that my dad and I were not close. One of the reasons is that I believe my dad was on the Autism spectrum, just like me and my son. Connection with other people was always difficult for him, and I remember a handful of conversations where I believe he was trying to understand why that happened, but to no avail. I sincerely believe he tried, but he just did not have the tools or support to make it happen. Most of the other serious conversations that we had were about the war.
Being born in 1933, my dad was in his teens during World War II. I had heard stories from him about how things were, but only a couple of times. He really did not want to remember it at all. He did join the Belgian Army once he was of age, but he developed PTSD from that stint in the army. By the time I was old enough to talk with him about it and understand parts of what he said, he either shied away from talking about the war and the army or talked about it like tar was dripping from his mouth. I did not see my father cry that many times in my life, but in each conversation that included the war, he always cried.
Between all those circumstances, he just got to a place where he could not manage being a full-time father, and my parents got divorced. It took me a long time to process what happened and what the factors involved were. I believe that having PTSD and probably having undiagnosed Autism played big factors. I think he would have stood a chance at being a good father if he had been born forty years later, but it just was not so. Without the understanding of PTSD and Autism that we even had in the 90s, he did not stand a chance.
I can say a few things about my dad for certain. He hated any war and tried to avoid conflict. He felt sorry that he could not be a better father and tried to overcome that deficiency in his own way. He often wanted to communicate; he just did not have the tools to communicate effectively. Because of his hate of war and conflict, he just wanted to be buried alongside other family members, just as a normal person, leaving any of the military experience that he felt ruined his life behind.
With that agreed on, we turned to talk about my mother. With her having late-stage dementia, my sister moved my mother to a long-term care facility a couple of months ago. It was heartbreaking to have my sister describe her recent visit with my mom, but I believe she thought it was the right thing to do. Even so, I almost started crying myself as my sister fought back the tears and described her visit.
Dementia is a vile disease that takes parts of the person away bit by bit until only a shell is left. It started with her forgetting certain things around her home, such as whether she locked the door or whether she already had her meals. After she moved into an assisted care facility, she stabilized for a while before more things disappeared from her mind. Before long, she was walking into other people’s rooms, thinking that it was her room she was walking into. By the time she was moved to a long-term care facility, even that was mostly gone.
It was weird talking about my mom in the past tense, but it felt like the right thing to do. There was a person that looked like my mom in the pictures that I saw. But according to my sister, she is not sure that there is anyone she recognizes in that body anymore. The only communication that my mom seems to do is with people that are not there anymore. We are not sure if she is replaying memories in her mind or talking to people that have passed before her. We do not even know if she is aware of where she is. But to us, as terrible as it sounds, she is not there anymore.
Getting agreement between the three of us on what to do when it is my mother’s time, which was the easy part. She was a devout Roman Catholic and wanted to be buried beside her second husband by her home parish priest. With the state of air flights, the way they are, the only questions were around what will we do if we cannot get a flight to Toronto when she passes away. And we agreed that I will try my best, and we will cross that bridge if and when it is needed.
Grieving about what is happening is the hard part though. How do you imagine a world without the one person who gave up her marriage without a second though because of the effects of my father’s PTSD? Someone who was there to listen, whether she agreed with you or not. Someone who gave back to her community in any way she could up until the dementia made it dangerous.
The only good news is that the meeting with my siblings I think helped the grieving and healing processes along. But it is going to take a long time for me to process this. Step by step, day by day. Remembering the good moments of both parents, whether they were only a couple or whether they were as bountiful as the flowers that were always in my mother’s gardens.
So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.