Saturday, November 19, 2016

Death, Remembrance Day and Leaving Hope

My only brother died.  It was his funeral.  I felt guilty for not returning to be with my family, giving support and caring. But I’m all sapped out. Grief doesn’t become me.  I trained with Elizabeth Kubla Ross. She was amazing.  I have seen too much death. I’ve sat holding hands of dying patients in ICU’s. Gunshot wounds, industrials accidents, car crashes.  I’ve known too many near death experiences in my life.  I was with my brother last year and the year before and the week he died.  We talked into the night. My nephew and my sister in law were the finest humans in the whole world.  My brother knew a good death. The doctors and nurses in Kingston and Napanee were remarkable.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more. But my brother did say he wanted more time with his family. And I regretted all the time I’m not been with my family.  All the years of training as a doctor then a specialist then nights on call and divorces and the courts and the persecutions and ignomy.  My brother shared the sadness of living. My brother shared the persecution. We talked of his work late into the night, his fears for his family.
I think I’ve spent my life crying in silence.  Kierkegaard said, “Life is suffering unto death.”  Buddha said, desire is the root of all suffering. And I have desired.  I’ve known passion and love and agape. I’ve been blessed and known grace.
I was remembering my father sitting in his wheelchair at the epitaph with fellow old vets.  Laura and I had taken him to the Remembrance Day ceremony in Vancouver.  I was so proud of my father that day.  I’ve always been proud of my father.  RCAF Bomber.  He flew the West Coast.  “They said we bombed a Japanese submarine,” he’d laugh. “I think it was a whale.”  He also was a spitfire mechanic and made the frame of a picture of my beautiful red haired mother and he, in his RCAF uniform the day of their wedding. Two Spitfire bullet casings framed the picture.  It sat on the white mantle piece till they left their home of 55 years to move into the apartment where they’d celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.
My brother cared for my father in the last years of his life. I’d visit every few months but Ron and my nephews and sister in law Adell were there every week, sometimes every day.  Dad had cared for mom till she’d died.  Her last year in the hospital he’d take an hour bus ride in summer and winter to get her dressed so he could wheel her around the hospital in her wheelchair. She liked to sit and watch the little birds in the garden visitting even when it was 40 below, snow was all around and roads were ice.  I flew back and forth to be with my mother in her dying. All the while my staff were stealing from me and doing drugs while I was away.  It was a horrid year.  I’ve never much believed in government. Arendt talked about the Banality of Evil after Nuremberg. I’ve know those kinds of bureaucrats. Little Hitlers and Little Stalins.
In Canada when you are vulnerable the rats attack and are savage. They smile compassionately as they stick in the knife and twist. Beurocrats in communist countries are the meanest and lowest.  They are entrenched and their security gives them license. They have no freedom, given their bitter hearts, but they have license. The authorities love their loyalty even if they lack any merit.
My brother talked about the French Canadian mafia and government corruption. I blamed the government for his cancer.  I blamed everyone and everything and God too for his cancer.  As Elizabeth Kubla Ross taught in the stages of grieving there is ‘anger’. I’ve known my share of anger.
Christians are the most persecuted people in the world.  If you stand up you make yourself a target. My colleague says that ‘telling the truth’ is the most daring and dangerous act in Canada today. I’ve been a truth teller all my life. I’ve also fought for the underdog, defended the weak and sick and experienced the full weight of the stigma against the mentally ill and the addicted.
My brother spoke of the fears of a father raising children in a society gone mad.  He and his wife did an amazing job.  The boys are handsome, smart, compassionate and wise before their years.  Amazing nephews I don’t deserve.
I keep my distance from people.  When my life was threatened for speaking out national radio against antisemitism my brother and his family’s lives were threatened as were my father and mothers. Right now a man has been threatening my life and my dog’s life repeatedly . The windows of my house were shot out. The windows of my girlfriend’s car were smashed by beer bottles one year. I’ve been pilloried in the papers and courts for my stand against marijuana and for diagnosing addiction which results in people being required to get treatment. I’ve been very troubled this last year when patients say, “The Prime Minister smoked dope and he doesn’t have to be drug tested. Why are you forcing me to be drug tested. It’s medicinal marijuana.”  Just last month a person didn’t say, “I’m feeling suicidal.” They said instead, “I’d like physician assisted suicide.”  He was in his 30’s. The heroin addicts are 20 year olds now.  I know the fentanyl deaths.
Death is a drama.  The one time when you can hope to be centre stage is at your birth and at your death.  Family made space for my brother’s soliloquy. We gathered round and I felt so helpless. My brother wanted to live.  He planted flowers and fruit trees. For years I’ve convinced people to live who wanted to die. There’s more money in suicide. I delivered babies and did abortions. There’s more money in abortions. Death is rewarded in our death culture. But my brother wanted life. He was one of the most alive people I’ve known.
As a child he wondered at all things natural.  With my father we’d walk in the woods and Dad would tell us the names and uses of the wild plants. Ron and I and he ate rose hips. “Full of Vitamin C’.  We picked blue berries with mom and dad.  Ron and Mom loved gardening. I hunted with my dad.  We lived one foot in the city and one foot in the country. Mom was the city girl from Toronto.  Dad grew up on his father’s ranch. We rode horse’s together. My father was an amazing horseman.  Like I rode a bicycle.  My uncle a full fledged cowboy. My cousin raised Appalusa’s. My Aunt was the executive assistant to the the Canadian Ambassador to the US in Washington in WWII. Mom worked as a Toronto executive assistant when she met dad.  They were called ’secretaries’ then.
It’s been a couple of years that I’ve been visitting my brother and his family.  A busman’s holiday on one hand. The closeness and kindness and love of family, the honour of being close to one so great. My brother was a great man, the quiet sort.  Understated. Loved. Always a smile. I’d gone to him a few times when my own life collapsed and his love held me.  We fought as kids but he defended me against any outsider.  Then we were separated, his work and family, my work, marriages, divorces, and more work and more work.
Tom and I were hunting.  We’d stopped on the logging roads, heading up to Clinton.  I couldn’t attend a funeral even worse a ‘celebration of life’.  I just wanted to be out in nature.  There is so much noise in the city on every level. People are so walled in and defended they don’t notice it. City people are so very loud. The city is always humming. A great aunt hill.  I sit face to face with people and hear their pain like nails on winter window panes.  I share spinal columns. I fight with their demons. I beg, coddle, entice, and every once in a while I win one back from the death devil. Early in my career work was easy. I loved general practice. I loved surgery. I was happy at the end of the day. We won all the cuts and bruises and even the myocardial infarctions. I lost them in the Emergency after the crashes when they came in dead. I resurrected some of the dead even but I’ve moved on.  In training it was easy. We were in headquarters. It was Washington in WWII.  A great party. Lots of time and endless resources and all the planning went well. Then there were the hospitals, great troops of healers and masses of doctors and nurses working together and everything a protocol and acceptance.  Everyone agreed there was no hope for the dead.  We did our best. No one blamed anyone. We were collectively immune. It was so easy.  We were all so full of ourselves.There was never any humility. You learned to swagger with the best of them.  It was exhilarating.  But I went off to the front lines. I went out beyond the timber line.  I was so often alone and alone so often wanting.  It’s at the bedside of the dying in a room in a blizzard on the tundra that one knows humility. It’s on a little island with a screaming child that one learns to pray. I used up all the textbooks over and over again. I began phoning the heads of universities decades ago. I’d read about someone who knew what I didn’t about a sick patients I’d call them in the middle of the night. I was a hacker once. I hacked all the government computers early pc to learn if someone had an answer.  I didn’t accept death. I didn’t accept disease. Not on my watch.
Meanwhile life and death happened and all I did was delay the inevitable.  I remember we’d get them out of the most expensive ICU int he country only to see them die a week or two later on a medical ward. I resuscitated an old man a half dozen times. I resuscitated my father and my mother.  They wanted to live that bad.  Near to death they came back from the edge to be a little longer with the nephews. Mom and dad loved the babies.  Ron got out of bed and walked when they said he wouldn’t. He went home to sit by the window and watch the ducks and geese land on Hay Bay.
Tom said as we left hunting in the valley to head north to Clinton where I’d booked rooms that we could go to the Hope celebration. We parked in Hope. It used to be a great town for outdoorsman. For years I’d stopped and bought thousands of dollars of groceries and gear in the hunting store, always filling up with hundreds of dollars of fuel, lunching in the town, loving the welcoming atmosphere, feeling that after Vancouver, Abbotsford and Chilliwack increasingly suburbs of the megalopolis, I was getting out to the country. I liked the Canadian values outside of the city, what had made Langly, Cloverdale, Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Hope so different from West End Vancouver. I liked the West End, lived there, but it wasn’t any different from New York, or LA. There was nothing distinctive about the city. Perhaps the people made it different but it wasn’t like London or New Orleans where history make it so attractive. The location was everything.  And there were so many good things that people were doing.  Space age.  But I think of BC as god’s country. It’s in the towns and country I come face to face with God in a special old time way, the traditional. The city is a whirlpool and only time will percolate the best then something will stay like a Steam Clock or Granville Island.  I loved being in Istanbul recently and seeing the layers of civilization going back thousands of years in a site where they were going to build a high rise hotel.  Palaces and brothels had been buried there before. Vancouver is just a new Constantine.  It’s not like Hong Kong even. it’s a great harbour and it’s aging well but it’s a wild west of corruption and grief.  The Chinese say, “may you live in interesting times.”  It’s a blessing and a curse. Vancouver is a blessing and a curse.
With Gilbert at my side I stood listening to a hymn being sung by the epitaph.  I couldn’t remember how long it’s been since I heard a hymn being sung in public.  I thought of my sister in law Adell’s angel voice. When we were young she sang solo in the church. Everyone loved her when she sang those hymns of praise to the Lord. My brother Ron loved her more.  I remember him radiating when he was with her.
Dad’s last year of life he ate with three other men. They were all Vets. One had been with the Royal Navy. Another had been in the Artillery. The third had been a French Canadian who’d volunteered to fight for Canada with the Infantry. Dad was air force.
I remember them saying, and all agreeing and all shaking their heads saying,  “If we’d known Canada would become what it is today, we’d not have fought in WWII, “ they said that.
Pierre Trudeau was a communist.  The Liberals never liked Anglo Canadians.  Mom and Dad didn’t like when they took the blue out of the flag.  It was like the country once red, white and blue was reduced to just red and white.  The blue was killed at the stroke of a beurocratic pen. My brother used to laugh at the thought of flag that celebrated a maple leaf, a tree that only grew in the east.  We’d been born in Toronto and grown up in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  I went west.  Ron went back to Ontario and spent his life in Ottawa. He had a fine sense of irony. He loved Hockey and had a great sense of humour with a real appreciation for hypocrisy.
“Sir, could you come over here, sir.”  The RCMP officer was asking me to move away from where I was photographing the laying of wreaths at the epitaph.
Walking with my little dog, following the young officer I wondered what the problem is.
“Sir, is that an ammunition pouch on your belt.” he asked.
“Yes, my friend and I were just hunting on the logging roads back there. He realized the time and we just came in for the ceremony.”
“People have been complaining about your wearing that.  You can understand can’t you?”  he asked.
I can understand people complaining.  Canada is a country of complainers.  Canada is famous the world over for it’s complaining. I wasn’t always that way.
“is it against the law?” I asked.
“No. You don’t have a gun do you?” he asked very politely, somewhat embarrassed.
I opened my sweater and showed him I didn’t have a gun.  “My rifle is locked in the case in my truck. I ‘m sorry I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.  I always try to obey the law. I’m a law abiding citizen. I didn’t know there was any problem. It was under my jacket. I didn’t think anyone could see it. If they did it must have been when I bent over to play with my little dog.That’s the only time it would even be visible.” Gilbert was beside me being a very good dog.
“Can I see some identification?"
I showed him my Driver’s license and my Firearms and Ammunition Acquisition Permit.
He wrote down my name in his little black book.  I spelt it out for him.
“Can I have a phone number we can reach you?"
I gave him my phone number.
“It would be best if you put that in your pocket out of sight so it doesn’t upset so many people."
I said, “I’ll take it back to my truck. I ‘m sorry I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong."
I walked back to the truck, leaving the epitaph.
I sat in the truck.
Tom found me later. I was crying.  Sometimes I feel so afraid and alone I can’t help it.   Gilbert was trying to comfort me licking away the tears, cuddling.
Tom drove us out of the valley. I felt better leaving Hope.
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