And on and on and on.
Gail’s Mom was big on holidays. Christmas was her favorite time of the year. But what woman can resist a holiday like Easter, which centers around such a variety of chocolate?
Gail, Alma (Edward’s wife) and I spent several hours decorating eggs, covering the house is streamers and Easter cardboard cut outs of rabbits and eggs. Pastel Hell.
It was fitting Easter was overdone in pastels, at Christmas the apartment had been a riot of green and red. The plastic tree had threaten to topple with the weight of the ornaments and nine strands of lights, blinking at unrelated intervals. Under protest, I had hung two packages of tinsel icicles on the tree. After the decorating and cleaning frenzy, Joanne, Gail and I stood back while Gail’s Dad proclaimed that, yet again, the `Pixie Puke’ effect had been achieved.
But it made her Mom happy. There were no small children, so we hid unwrapped chocolate eggs for Beast and Beasly (her parent’s Sheltie) and some catnip for Misty.
Misty is a black and white persian, who looked huge because she was so furry. She actually only weighed a few pounds, but she was hard to pick up because she’d go limp and boneless.
Her favorite game is `Pet me! Pet me! and I’ll bite you when you do.’ She also likes to makes you chase her, then she sits down after two rooms and waits for you, as if to say `Oh, did you want lil’ole me?’
Beast found all his eggs before I could get my camera ready, so all I got was a photo of him with chocolate lips.
I had taken a small basket of Easter Candy for my niece Katie. As a two year old, she was more interested in stringing the plastic grass around the house than the candy.
It had been a few weeks since the last major upset, so Gail and I relaxed and were letting ourselves deal with the stress and emotional upsets and grief.
It is sometimes better to suppress the bad feelings so you can cope with the tasks at hand, like funeral arranging, or even just get a bit of distance between yourself and painful events before you begin to work through them.
We were glad to hear that Gail’s Grandmother was back home and had begun working in her garden.
The pleasantness of the Easter weekend was shattered with another frantic phone call from my Mom.
My Grandparents had been in a terrible car accident on their way to Castlegar to visit Elaine and June. They were going to spend a day with them, and pick up some garlic sausage and a surprise that Patsy had sent for them.
They were negotiating a tight corner and their Hyundai hit head on into a Ford F250 pick-up. The Hyundai spun around and settle facing up the mountainside. The front end shattered.
The Ford hit the concrete fence which, fortunately, stopped them from plummeting down the cliff side. All three occupants had whiplash, the teenage son lost his front teeth, the father broke his collar bone and the mother was relatively unscathed.
Grandpa’s hip and nose was broken, and he was trapped in the car. Gramma’s neck broke and she died.
When rescuers tried to remove Grandpa, he begged them to help Gramma. They removed her from the car, and a nurse, who had been driving behind them had resuscitated her. Her breastbone was broken too, but it was never made clear if that was because of her seatbelt or the CPR. In any case, she arrived alive at the hospital.
Later, Gramma would tell Elaine that she had visited a garden and that Dan was waiting for her there.
Gramma was taken to the Kelowna Hospital where there is a neck and spinal injury trauma unit, because of the nearby ski resort. Grandpa was flown to Vancouver General Hospital.
I couldn’t believe it. It just couldn’t be true. When was all this going to end? It wasn’t fair. I know that I had voluntarily not had much contact with my Grandparents, but that was changing. Dan dying made me really understand you don’t have people forever. But I had just gotten them into my life, goddammit.
It’s understandable that I was complacent. My Gramma’s family was very long lived. I had known my Great-Great-Grandmother. She was in her late 90’s when she passed away. My Great-Grandmother was, and still is, alive and living in a home on Vancouver Island.
This wasn’t supposed to be happening. How much more is a person supposed to take? Can take?
My Mom began organizing visiting teams, scheduling the family in car pools to divide their time between the two hospitals. Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, grandkids.
I was torn about going to Kelowna. Gramma’s injuries were serious and she was in Intensive Care. Grandpa was in the trauma ward, and not in any immediate danger of dying.
I was afraid that if I went to Kelowna that my last memory of Gramma would be her hooked up to machines. I already had that as my last memory of Amma. I couldn’t bear the thought.
If I didn’t go, and she died, my last memory of her would be hugging me goodbye in Kelowna and exchanging `I love yous’.
If I didn’t go, and she didn’t die, I would see her when she got home.
It was a dilemma that no one could advise me on. Sometime what you need to do in the moment is not what you’d want to look back on in five years. I have always wished that my parents had not made me see Amma’s body. It would have been better to remember her, wild with pain, unable to remember english and speaking in Icelandic to dead relatives and friends. Even better to just remember in the hospital when I visited her.
I mildly regret going to my Uncle Gus’ body viewing, but at the time, I thought it would erase the horrid image of him lying on the bathroom floor in a fetal position, blood from his forehead and pools of water with traces of blood in them on the floor.
The decision to not go to Kelowna was made easier by thinking of these. Amma was not a choice I had, and my parents thought they were doing the right thing. For Gus, I made the best decision I could have at the time, there was no way to know how much worse the viewing was going to be. I’d rather err on the side of no more traumatic images. It’s better to wonder sometimes.
I visited Grandpa every day. I would go to see at around 3 pm and stay until about 4; until I had to pick up Gail from work.
It was hard to see him. He was always a tall, robust man. He was pale and frightened looking. It was hard for him to talk the first few days because of the tubes.
Understandably, he obsessed about the accident. He couldn’t figure out how it had happened. He did not believe that he had crossed the centerline.
His need to talk outweighed my need to not know the details. He described the impact, the helpless feeling of the car spinning, the searing pain when the car came to a rest.
“Gramma kept screaming `help me help me'” his already shaky voice broke, “I couldn’t get to her because of my hip. She was having trouble breathing, her head kept drooping, she kept saying `help me'” Tears were trickling out of the corners of his eyes.
I wanted to leave. I have never slowed down to look at an accident site. And I couldn’t stop the images in my mind.
“She stopped breathing, I saw her go limp, she was turning blue.” I squeezed Grandpa’s hand.
“Do you need some water?” I asked, already reaching for a kleenex.
“Yes,” he said. I dried his face and held the straw to his mouth so he could sip the ice water. I knew it wouldn’t help the burning, but it would help him to speak a little clearer.
“I couldn’t help her,” he continued. “I just couldn’t reach her, my hip hurt so bad.”
The conversations were pretty much the same for the first two weeks. We talked about Gramma’s passion for being a packrat. He’d had to pay for her collection of Chatelaine magazines being moved from Abbotsford to Kelowna.
“Over $2000 that move cost!” Grandpa said, smiling.
I remember when they moved there two years ago. They’d gone to Castlegar to visit Elaine and June. Gramma had seen the beautiful rose garden in the West Bank area of Kelowna. Suddenly, they were selling their house and buying the rose garden house in Kelowna.
I remember Grandpa stopping by my parents house with the last load that he hauled. He sat looking vaguely surprised and muttering, “All this for a rose garden.” Gramma was in Kelowna, unpacking and arranging. Probably so Grandpa couldn’t see all the junk she’d hauled up there.
Dad helped them haul some stuff in his Nissan pick-up. Grandpa gave him a Filter Queen and an Electrolux, which me and Sherry received. Gramma had three or four vacuums.
I told Grandpa that Patsy had flown to Kelowna from Saskatchewan, and we shared a chuckle over that. Patsy was terrified of driving, never mind flying.
She had only ever came back to British Columbia once in my life after moving to Saskatchewan. Her husband got a ticket for driving too slow.
Gail and I had purchased a realistic-looking stuffed cat and sent it to Kelowna for Gramma. For Grandpa, I tried to find a Sheltie dog stuffed toy, but had to settle for a brown and black beagle. He said it was cute, but what would he do with it? Grandpa is a very practical sort of person.
I kept the stuffed dog, and Gail and I named it Femme to go with the stuffed cat I had bought her last year when she had had to have a laporosocopy to check on the progression of her endriometriosis. The cat was teal and white, and named Butch.
The stories got confused. Grandpa and Gramma were eating cookies, and maybe he crossed the centre line without realizing it as he reached for one. The other story was Gramma pointed to a hot air balloon over the lake the highway was skirting, Grandpa looked…
Witnesses said Grandpa crossed the centre line. Grandpa had no recollection of do so. Unfortunately for him and for me, his recall of the aftermath was crystal clear.
Mom told me that Grandma loved the cat. The paralysis she had initially was wearing off and the cat was becoming part of her therapy. The nurses would see how tight she could grasp it.
Elaine would make the cat `walk’ around the bed and rub against Gramma, and it never left her when she slept.
Elaine told me later that I would be surprised at how that cat got around, even the nurses played with it.
Grandpa had reconstructive surgery for his nose and his hip needed a pin to hold it together. There was complications with the first hip surgery and he had to undergo a second procedure.
By the third week, Grandpa was convinced that Gramma was dead and that we were all lying to him. I almost had convinced him that she was doing until he asked if I had seen her.
I had to admit I hadn’t.
It was awful to watch his hopes sink like that. He seemed to get smaller as I watched.
Tearfully, he mentioned that one of his nurses had suggested calling Kelowna and arranging for a telephone call, but no one had set it up.
I talked to a nurse and phoned Kelowna myself. The call was arranged for 10 o’clock the next morning, three hours before Grandpa was scheduled to be flown to Kelowna.
The timing didn’t matter to me, ending his fears did. This way, he could fly looking forward to a reunion, not dreading and fearful of an empty house and wishing he’d died, too.
I felt relieved and guilty when Grandpa went home to Kelowna. I was glad he was going to see Gramma, but I felt guilty that I was glad I didn’t have to hear any more details about the accident.
Gramma’s recovery was coming gradually, she was able to take a few steps, and she’d been off the respirator for just over a week. Mom said she’d need some plastic surgery to her face, the windshield had shattered; but overall things were looking up.
Gail and I had talked about going to Kelowna. Gramma was out of the danger zone. She’d had surgery on her neck to relieve the pressure which in turn was easing the paralysis.
It would be nice to get out of the city, and I hadn’t seen Aunt Patsy for almost ten years. I really wanted Gail to meet her.
Aunt Patsy was the `bad’ kid. She’d moved out and lived in the West End of Vancouver with a gay man in the mid-60’s. Of all my aunts, she’d taken the news the best. She told my Mom it wasn’t a big deal and that she should be happy I had told her at all.
Aunt Patsy was also the cool one. She had dreamt of being a painter as a young woman, and like many people, had more talent than ambition and got married, pregnant and moved to Saskatchewan.
She kept all her paintings and would haul them out sometimes and play the `What if…’ self-torture game. I used to do it myself with my high school poetry, the difference being that those were teenage angst drivel and Patsy’s paintings were good.
At the last minute before we told my family we were coming up, a friend of Gail’s asked us to play bed and breakfast for another friend who was coming over from Naniamo on Vancouver Island.
We put the trip off, deciding to go next week end. We had a good time with the friend from Naniamo, but a falling out with the one who arranged the visit.
It was childish, we were only supposed to be the bed and breakfast and not socialize. Meanwhile the Vancouver friend barely made time to participate in the visit at all.
The weekend ended and the unexpected guest departed. We geared down for a quite week and arranged for Gail’s parents to take Beast when we went to Kelowna the following weekend.
People come and go, but life goes on…