Closing The Circle


by Roxanne Tellier

Sometimes grief will steal the words right out of you. All morning I have struggled with how I could possibly explain how devastating and final it feels to know that my aunt Pat is gone.

Patricia Donovan, December 2015For too long, I kept putting off a visit to Ottawa to see her in her nursing home. She’d been such an integral part of my early life, and yet – there was always a reason, some excuse, why I couldn’t jump on a bus or a train or a plane, and spend a few hours in her company.

She would have been 95 this December 14. That was one of the many things we had in common, our December birthdays. She was the first to gift me turquoise jewelry, our shared birthstone. Theresa, Pat , Roxanne and Jodi

Of all the people, places and things that have made me “me,” it was her guidance, especially in literature, that informed the person that I continue, daily, to become. When we lived in Alberta, it was her annual gifts of classic children’s literature that I most appreciated on Christmas morning. I would gobble up the works of A.A. Milne and Noel Streatfield. I would revel in the never-ending adventures of Edith Nesbit‘s plucky children, ignoring the snows of an Albertan winter, dreaming of the Five Children and It, and wishing that I could be one of the talented – yet never vain – Fossil sisters. Through the books she sent, I played in the Thousand Acre Woods with Christopher Robin, Pooh, Piglet, and the ever depressed Eeyore. Those books taught me to dream, and to know that there was so much more world than just what I could see around me at this moment in time.

I always admired her exquisite taste in all things, be it jewelry, clothing, or art – she had an innate flair and sensibility that made her every surroundings special. Her talents were many – she could write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction with equal flair and ease. She painted as well, usually monochromatic and faintly geometric figures. There was one painting – a symphony in shades of blue – that she told me she’d created in an homage to the novel, Don Quixote. I would stare at it for hours.

But she could not sing – oh my lawdy, lawdy, she could not sing, and yet she did .. often, and enthusiastically! Sadly, in a family as musical as ours, she was the only one completely unblessed with a musical ‘ear.’ She loved music, even as she murdered it in it’s cradle of song.

auntie pat young 001In her youth, she’d worked as an executive secretary in several companies, with her longest and final stint being with British Petroleum. At one point in the sixties, she worked in Washington, DC, where a chance invitation to a party got her hauled in before the FBI, to explain why she had briefly visited a home where there were posters of Che and Lenin on the walls.

But by the time we’d returned to Montreal from Alberta, my aunt was living with my grandmother. From then on, and wherever we landed, in Park Ex, NDG, or Westmount, we always lived very close to my aunt and gram. For a very long time we actually lived in adjoining buildings, with second floor balconies that were literally a stone’s throw from each other.

When I moved to Toronto in 1976, my family weren’t far behind me, and soon, first my sister, then my mother, and finally, my aunt and grandmother, had all taken up residence in two buildings in the Yonge/Eglinton area, literally across the parking lot from each other. There was comfort in the proximity.

In 1986, my sister died, and in 1992, my grandmother went into the hospital, for the last time, in the last week of March. She’d had heart issues for decades. But she hung in, as was her style, right up until April 1st. Such a joker, my gram … it was like she wanted to have one last laugh with us, and pass on April Fools Day, at the age of 95. My mother died eight days later.

And now my aunt is gone, on Friday, March 29.

There is the feeling of a circle closing in my aunt dying almost exactly 27 years after her mother and sister. They had always done everything together, as much as they possibly could, and she must have been very lonely. living nearly another thirty years without them. I know how lonely I have been, without my mum and sister, and despite having had the love and support of husbands, children and grandchildren. There are some rifts of the heart that can never be mended.

Gram and her five kids 001Patricia Donovan was very much loved by her family, and the many nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews that knew her. She gave so much to us, and I would like to think that we gave back a little bit of what she needed in return.

You know, you get to be a certain age, and it’s harder to cry, harder to justify the tears when you rationally knew that death was always to be expected at some point. And so on Friday night, I hid in my bedroom and watched the film, Christopher Robin, the recent follow up to the films about Winnie the Pooh .. and I remembered. And I wept.

There was so much more to my aunt than these few stories, but I have lost my words. In late spring or early summer we will gather in Montreal to inter Pat’s ashes, and then, I think, this very talkative family will share our memories, and laugh at the crazy antics of this passionate, talented, wonderful family.

My cousin Rita was the family’s bridge to Pat, visiting her, keeping her up on the family’s adventures, and keeping us informed on her health. Rita was the one who notified us of my aunt’s decline, and then death. In her email, she included a few photos, and this poem. I hope you will enjoy it.

FALL ON ME

Pale pink petals
Dropping from a tree
Fall on me
Fall on me

A minute ago
You were the tree
And now you’re
Part of me

From your branches
Showering tree
Rain on me
Rain on me

A week ago
You wouldn’t let go
And now you rain
On me

Pale pink petals
Waiting on the tree
Fall all over
Me.

Patricia Donovan

Pat early 80s Broadway apt 001Patricia Donovan   (1924-2019)

 

Of Time and Tides


not ready for growingupNext week, I’ll be heading to British Columbia to visit my daughter, granddaughters, family and friends. My husband gifted me the fare; he knows I’ve been aching to see the girls. I’ll be there for my daughter’s birthday, and to reacquaint myself with my granddaughters, who are teetering on the brink of their teenage years, at ages 11 and 13. My daughter will have her hands full for the next decade with these two little minxes.

I, on the other hand, have ‘grandmother privilege.‘ I get to see them when they’re on their best behaviour, and to leave the room for a nap or to visit friends when they’re acting up. Life is good!

For years I was unable to travel. A weird combination of finances and bureaucracy kept me from obtaining the necessary identification to board a train or plane. My clever friend, Barbette Kensington, steered me through the morass of paperwork, and now … I am a genuine, legally viable, traveling person!

So I’m looking forward to this trip, for many reasons, and despite my insane fear of flying. It’s a joy and a privilege to be able to travel, and one that I’ve not been able to do in over 16 years.

Getting older is a privilege as well, although many of us hate to think about it. As our loved ones, idols and contemporaries succumb to time, it starts to seem like the world we once knew is fading away, leaving us adrift in an altered space.

Coming to grips with aging looks a lot like getting thru the stages of grief. You’re gonna have to go through denial, anger, bargaining and depression before you finally come to acceptance.

I have my own theory on how we deal with getting older; I think I read it somewhere, but it’s mine now. Basically, there’s three stages.

In the first stage, you feel pretty much like you always did. You still want to do all of the things you used to do, and for the most part, you are able to socialize, travel, and maintain your hobbies with maybe a little more resting time needed than before. But you’re still a you that you recognize, and if you’ve got a few bucks, you can finally relax and enjoy life.

In the second stage, something goes wrong, either physically or mentally. Maybe you break a hip, or have a stroke. Now you’re wishing you had gotten in that trip to Peru before your lungs decided high altitudes were no longer an option. You get a little angry that your social calendar looks barer than it used to, and you might start to tell people that you’re “not as young as you used to be,” in order to get out of doing any sort of strenuous movement … like walking up the stairs.

do not regret growing olderIn the third stage, you can’t do very much at all, and there isn’t much you look forward to anymore. That’s the last bit of the human journey, and probably the least anticipated.

Aging is inevitable, and few would prefer the alternative. Ready or not, at some time in your late fifties or early sixties, you will realize that you’re nearing, or in, that first stage, and that you have no idea when exactly the second stage will kick in.

We live in wonderful times. While we can’t turn back the clock, we can be grateful that medical science now allows an array of options for dealing with aging bodies. Hip surgeries and knee replacements are commonplace. Who knows what miracles will be available as we age and need a few more drastic nips and tucks?

laser surgery. jpgWe simply can’t anticipate what the future will hold, for good or ill. As a kid, I never dreamed that there would someday be a surgery available to correct vision … I had just assumed that I’d eventually lose my sight entirely, as both of my grandmothers had. Thanks to lasers, I had two decades of perfect vision. One of these days, I’ll have more laser surgery, and that will correct the effects of aging as well.

It would be great if there were big advances in cancer treatments. Cancer is a cruel bitch, and she’s taken away too many of my loved ones. Last fall, I had to finally admit that it was time to stop smoking, and I quit cold turkey. I’ll be dealing with the damage that I did to myself from here on in, and keeping my fingers crossed that I escape the Big C.

Took me too long to realize that you only need to change a few letters to go from ‘excuse’ to ‘exercise.’ A regular exercise program makes me feel a lot less stressed. Maybe the aquafit will also help me lose a few pounds. Couldn’t hurt. For sure it’s refocusing my attention on how good it feels to be able to stretch without pain.

The first stage of aging can be a bit of a shock – it’s almost as though our bodies are betraying us. After years of doing pretty much whatever was asked of them, our bodies have gone mutinous, and are demanding that we treat them with more care.

There’s several reasons for these changes, but they are all inevitable, so you may as well get used to them.

” Two biological phenomena appear related to the aging process:

• Accumulation of waste products in the cells
• Loss of elasticity of the connective body tissue

These changes, sometimes called nongenetic, occur at the cellular level. They have a direct bearing upon many declines we experience in our physical and sensory capabilities.

Many bodily changes take place over the entire lifespan— some beginning with birth. They are part of a relentless, post-maturational phenomenon called senescence (biological aging).

Senescence results in a decrease in the physical capacity of an individual, accompanied by an increase in a person’s vulnerability. As a result, any product or environment may become less friendly and less supportive for some people while adequately providing support for others.

Most of the changes that characterize senescence occur slowly. As they occur, individuals adapt to them. For example, people with arthritis may select utensils with larger and softer handles to ease the pain and enhance their grip.”

http://www.transgenerational.org/aging/aging-process.htm)

While the changes are inevitable, how we deal with them is up to us. Denying the realities of aging only leads to a more rapid decline, and if we try to force ourselves to perform at the same level, mentally or physically, as we did in our prime, we’re doomed to failure, and to setting up a negative feedback loop that tells us that it’s no use to even try for what improvement we can rationally expect.

What we really crave is a happy aging experience, and that’s easier to get to when we aim for smaller goals, with less dramatic gains, but gains that are progressive and ongoing. In a positive feedback loop of self-reinforcing and self- energizing behaviours, we can find the sweet spot of feeling comfortable at any age.

those who love deeply never grow old. jpgThere’s got to be joy in our lives. That’s what really motivates us, and leads us to the healthy actions and interactions that make getting up every morning something to anticipate rather than dread.

We need ‘fresh air and friendly faces,’ people that we care about and people who care about us. We need to love and be loved, and to hold dear those whom we treasure for the good impact they’ve had in our lives.

We need to appreciate where we’ve been, and what we’ve done, while embracing new experiences that stretch our abilities. And sometimes we need to get on an airplane even when we’re terrified of flying.

There’s no sense in denying your ‘golden years;’ there’s only the reality of how you’ll choose to live them. My choice is to make the rest of my life, the best of my life.

mark twain on travel