Father's Day

I originally had something much lengthier written. I could write for hours as the words flow through me by way of his muse. I was going to share how he still visits me. Still protects me. Still delivers me signs that there is more to life and death than we could ever comprehend.

But I don't want people to think I'm crazy.

To think that I am making stuff up to make my writing more dramatic or engaging. For even I am not that imaginative. 

But the bigger reason may be because I don't want to share. In a world where most just survive their days, I want to hold this bit of magic close to my heart as a secret only I and his spirit know.

He visits me still.

He protects me still.

The power of love is unbound. 


This is a short story about my annual Christmas breakdown. Over the last three years, it has become an event that happens at random, at unexpected times and unexpected places. It is also nearly invisible to those around me; despite writing this public online journal about my life, I am very private and covert in person. Only those truly close to me ever suspect an emotional shift.  

Last year, it happened at work after I glanced up at my bulletin board and saw a picture of him. As it's right in the periphery line of vision of my computer screen, it is technically an image I see every day. Yet, last year I felt it. The weight of its meaning gave me pause as my breathing became heavy and I could feel my eyes well up with tears. I was having an anxiety attack. Thankfully, I have my own office and quickly closed the door to take a ten minute breather. 

Today, it happened in my car while waiting in a long drive-thru line at McDonalds. All afternoon I had been shopping with a friend, listening to them talk about their upcoming family gathering while observing other families out and about sharing moments and completing their Christmas shopping in tandem. After we parted ways, I knew I needed a junk food hit. The greasiest of burger, the saltiest of fries. Only this could provide comfort. After pulling in, it hit me. My lips quivered and the waterworks began. Good God, I miss my father. 

I don't really look forward to this season anymore. The emptiness of loss (and anger and sadness) is still there every. single. day. But in the week or so leading up to Christmas, it becomes amplified. And only those living it understand.

It really sucks.

It really sucks that my father will never meet my future husband or ever get to play with my future kids. I think that bothered him. It definitely bothers me. 

It really sucks that other people's happiness brings me down. I hate admitting this but I'm not above being human. It's a terrible thought to harbour and I feel great shame by it. It's not that I don't want their contentment to happen - most definitely not, it is what everyone deserves - just that I can't be 100% present in these moments because my mind is so clouded by envy. 

What doesn't suck though are small, serendipitous signs from the universe. After today's pathetic breakdown, I received a text from an old friend looking to reconnect. They, too, are still mourning the loss of their much loved mother. And my neighbour, an elderly widow, left a surprise gift at my doorstep of freshly-baked bread and cookies, inviting me for tea as she misses my company.

Perhaps these unexpected gestures were karma to detract from the negative one. 

That's the other thing about loss - those living it always look for meaning. I believe it is there. I am willing to search for it. I am not alone. 

And neither are you. 

Thirty Something: Vignette no.3

"It's gone now, so you will have a space to park your car when you visit."

It was a kick to the stomach. An unexpected, if not inevitable, moment I'd been waiting for and hoping would be miraculously put off indefinitely. Despite being nearly a year on, the permanence of the event had still not fully resonated. I had items to cling to – THINGS – such as old hockey jerseys and tools and the type of objects that dads just seem to collect and keep for no reason whatsoever. Within this amassed wealth of curios, I felt comfort that his spirit was still around. But now it seemed I needed to redirect. We are, after all, not our material goods. 

"It made me sad too but we needed to do something about it. The car couldn't just sit there forever. You have nowhere to park when you visit."

It wasn't a hockey jersey or tool, those were still there and would remain in their place, but it was my late father's vehicle and this would be much more noticeably absent when I visited. A gaping void next to the house cruelly reminding me of the unexpected loss. As my mother didn't know how to drive, it ultimately served no purpose other than helping us both stall change. She did the right thing. I will never be prepared to face this newfound reality. 

The 2000 Honda Civic SE wasn't just his vehicle, it was my old car as well. My first major purchase, my father talked me into buying it instead of moving in with a boyfriend back-in-the-day (which was good advice as the car definitely had a longer lifespan). He coached me in haggling a fair price. He taught me the importance of regular maintenance. He joined me on road-trips from coast-to-coast. The vehicle was a vessel of our relationship. Despite having another set of wheels, my father bought the Honda from me in 2008 when I upgraded. He never admitted it, but I knew it was a pity purchase once again meant to help me out. 

Part of me though believes he couldn't bear to see it go either. 

My dad proudly took pictures the day I bought my first car (1999). 

My dad proudly took pictures the day I bought my first car (1999). 

A Tale of Two Aliens

It was the worst of times. 

The final weeks of my father's life were spent fluctuating between the grim reality of the salmon pink cell he was imprisoned in and whatever worlds he was invited to while in deep pharmaceutical haze. This included a spaceship manned by aliens. 

One morning I entered my father's hospital room to find him wide-eyed and skittish. "Boy did I have a wild night" he stated before telling me about the drug-fuelled adventure he experienced upon waking at 3:00am. With no clue where he was or what all of the intermittent beeping was signalling, his mind raced to the only logical conclusion he could fathom in that altered state: he had been abducted by aliens for interplanetary research. And now he needed to break free. 


My father arose from the bed and studied the numerous picc lines in his arms, quickly attempting to remove them and the mysterious substances they were injecting into his body. This only caused more beeping. As he heard footsteps approach from the hallway, panic set in. With mere seconds to spare, he made an attempt to reach for his cane, a solid weapon he could use to beat the alien species with and show them that lifeforms on earth kick ass. 


He never got it. 


Instead, he got tangled up in the curtain, numerous cords and other medical paraphernalia that surrounded him. Imprisoned him. 


The "alien" entered the room. 


After untangling my father and gently asking what he was doing at that early hour, the "alien" put him back to sleep with the aid of more of that mysterious substance being pumped through his veins. 

My father laughed at this story but also showed serious concern. In the moment, he believed he actually was on a spaceship being tested against his will. He was also anxious about what would have happened had he managed to secure his cane. "I could have seriously assaulted someone" he reflected soberly. "I don't know what they're giving me in here."

Over the past few weeks, I've noticed a word that keeps popping up in my social media feeds (often as part of a dire news headline): Fentanyl. I normally would scroll by something that doesn't pertain to my life, but this word – this drug – has now become a part of it, triggering memories of my father's final weeks. A time spent in-and-out of lucidity. 

Winnipeg Free Press, October 15, 2014: Vancouver overdoses linked to Fentanyl, not heroin. 

Saskatoon Star Phoenix, October 18, 2014: Kayle Best has done meth, heroin and crack but no drug was as destructive as this. 

CBC News, October 24, 2014: Two suspected 'bad heroin' deaths not caused by heroin at all. 

Fentanyl wasn't the only pain medication prescribed to my father, although it appears to have been the strongest of all the opioids that were part of his treatment. These included codeine, morphine and oxycodone. Despite this abundance of pharmacological aides, my father continued to suffer from immense pain. So much so that the simple act of turning over in bed or being the recipient of a hug would result in wails of anguish. How much did this combination of drugs help? How much did it hinder? I suppose I will never know that answer but it does give me pause. My father's diagnosis was terminal, but I can't help wonder if the toxicity of the prescribed substances was the final shock to the system for a man that rarely took Aspirin.

Imagine being on medication described as 40 - 100x stronger than heroin and still feeling pain.

This is the life of a cancer patient.

Burned with radiation.

Poisoned with chemotherapy.

At constant war with their own body and forced to hold abstract faith in a world where impiety is more resolute. 

My father's medication to treat pain from Stage IV esophageal cancer. 

My father's medication to treat pain from Stage IV esophageal cancer. 

Diary of a Cancer Patient

This has become my most valuable possession: 

It is but a simple, coil-bound notebook approximately 4" wide x 6" long. Weathered. Covered in doodles. Most people have something of this nature in their drawers or at the bottom of their purse, perhaps near the phone if a landline is present. I have several that I use with varied purpose from compiling grocery lists to recording thoughts and ideas that present themselves throughout the day. This notebook was at one time in my possession but eventually ownership was transferred to my father. He used it as a medical diary of sorts. 

There is no linear narrative. Dates bounce from page to page and may contain anything from the day's food intake to a concise recording of every medication that was ingested. My father was on a lot of medication. I'm just now learning how potent they were. 

What makes this simple, coil-bound notebook so valuable to me are the final messages that my father wrote on June 28. They are indiscernible. The hand – and mind – used to write them clearly reeling from the effects of a massive stroke that would, in a matter of hours, steal all mobility from the man I often described as a "Clint Eastwood"-type. A strong man. A tough man. Someone that was rarely vocal about the pain he experienced but was ultimately vulnerable enough to record it. 


My father's final writing: "me go". 

The Trouble With Dreams

A few weeks ago, I experienced a dream that acutely tapped into dormant senses. It involved my father, again, embracing me, again. As he gave me a big bear hug, my head nuzzled tightly into his neck, the musky odour I associated with him from childhood manifested the air. I woke up immediately believing him to be in the room with me. And that's the trouble with dreams; their denial of reality a reminder of how disquieting life can be in comparison. 

As the date of October 26 nears, I've been thinking about how surreal the annum has been. This date - this godforsaken date of wretched despair - is the first commemoration of the worst year of my life. On this date twelve months ago, I was awakened by Monty gallivanting through my condo after returning from an early morning walk with my father who was in town on one of his monthly visits. As I opened my bedroom door, reaching out to take away a squeak toy and playfully scold the furry beast for disturbing my peace, I heard my father ask "are you up?"

At the time, I thought this was strange. Normally he'd be sitting on my couch watching British comedies on a channel I subscribed to primarily for his entertainment. Conversations would surround the long drive in from Winnipeg and the terrible drivers that plague Saskatchewan roads. As per routine, he'd then inquire what I wanted for breakfast. He always had a McDonalds coffee and fruit-and-fiber muffin. The exact change to purchase such lined up on his dresser the evening prior. "Are you up?" seemed like it had an obvious answer; superfluous small talk that didn't need to happen between two people well familiar with each other's habits. I only had about three seconds to ponder this though. When I looked up at my father's face to respond, I could see tears stream down his cheeks.

The first hit. Wounded. 

Then, through a cracked voice that was barely audible, "I have cancer and I have less than a year to live".

The second hit. Fatal. 

He pulled me close and gave me a bear hug, my head nuzzled tightly into his neck where I could feel his tears stream down his face onto mine. 

My father after his first round of radiation (hair loss at treatment site visible in picture at left)

My father after his first round of radiation (hair loss at treatment site visible in picture at left)

Two nights ago, I dreamt of my father again. I can't remember the full context of the narrative, I only recall his voice and the words of wisdom he was passing on. Mirroring my awakened state, I was depressed. Lost. Seeking deeper meaning and a glimpse of nirvana, even if superficial or fleeting. His response was "don't worry. Go ahead and do it."

I awoke.

Do what? 

This advice can pertain to way too many things going on right now, many of which require more substantial therapy than a well-meaning reminder quoting a Bobby McFerrin song. If he's trying to counsel through my subconscious, my father is going to have to be less vague, I thought to myself as I reached for my iPad at 3:23am. 

If there's an upside to insomnia, it's being forced to glimpse a side of the world that one forgets about during regular business hours. In my case, I read Japanese blogs as these are the only ones routinely updated with new content while my timezone – 15 hours behind Tokyo – is in deep REM. I appreciate the attention to detail that is placed on all facets of the culture from art and design to various social graces. Even something as mundane as drinking a latté has been turned into a magical experience, however superficial and fleeting.  

I've been in the early stages of planning a trip to the country since my father died on July 3. In his final weeks, I promised him I would climb Mt. Fuji on his birthday in 2015. I'm not sure why exactly. I just kinda randomly threw it out there. I think I was looking for a grandiose way to express how special he is to me and that I would never, ever forget it using the date as a way to commemorate this love every year eternal.

I resisted booking a ticket though. Mt. Ontake had just erupted, leaving dozens killed. There are predictions that Fuji may do the same. I'm also in shit shape with no motivation whatsoever to better myself. Wheezing up a mountain for two days would probably kill me if lava and ashes didn't. I decided to check aircanada.com though, to see if there was any fluctuation from the $2300.00 single round-trip ticket price that had been listed. 

There was. A thousand dollar difference actually. 

My father, famous for frugality, may have nudged me at that exact moment to "go ahead and do it". To book that ticket. I did. 

I believe what he was really telling me though was "don't worry. Just live."

My dad with two Harajuku girls in Tokyo (2009).

My dad with two Harajuku girls in Tokyo (2009).

INFOGRAPHIC: Breast Cancer

Designed the second infographic in a series detailing the symptoms, risks and treatment options for various types of cancer. To view the first for esophageal cancer, click here. These may be distributed freely with credit. If you have any of these symptoms, please consult your doctor immediately. 


To view/download the full-res version, click here