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)

 

Mother’s Day, CMW and This is America


mum with r and j 1960.jpg 001My mother has been gone since April of 1992 … 26 years now. There are days when it feels like we were playing a spirited game of Rummoli only yesterday, and other days when I can’t remember what it was like to have my own little family. After my mum and grandmother died just days apart in that horrible year, the tenuous link we had with Montreal was broken. While I’ve been ‘home’ a few times since then, Quebec hasn’t really drawn me back for decades.

I thought of my mum on Thursday, when I spoke with a small boy who was waiting for the bus, holding a plant pot with one pansy growing in it. He told me, with great joy, that he also had a poem written in French for her, and that he’d drawn her a card. His face lit up as he told me “she’s gonna have so many presents!

mum with r and j 1964 001There was such a lot of delight in his expression as he counted up the riches he’d prepared for his precious mother. We forget, over the years, how good it used to feel to be able to gift our loved ones with something that we’d made specially for them. It might have been a paper plate with some glittered macaroni pasted to it, or a wobbly cut out paper heart, with our shaky handwriting telling them, “I LOVE YOU,” but it was what we had to give, and we gave it from our hearts.

Mums never ask for all that much, when you’re growing up. Maybe they ask you to help with the chores, or keep your room clean, but most mums know that you’re growing and learning, and that all they can try to do is to get you from the day you are born until the day you two say goodbye, with as little heart ache and heart break as possible.

Missing my mother, and wishing my two beautiful daughters a very happy Mother’s Day.

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My butt is dragging today, even after collapsing into a solid ten hours of sleep last night. I spent the last several days doing all things Canadian Music Week, including working as a ‘day host,’ expediting the conference panelists, and getting out to a few of the events under the CMW banner. I straggled home last night from a long day at the show, followed by a scrumptious buffet at the Rivoli, where Music Nova Scotia and the Dreaming Out Loud groups were presenting the annual TIKI LOUNGE extravaganza.

CMW Greg Lefsetz et all May 2018

During the conference I spent most of my time onsite in the Speaker’s Green Room. In this pic, our long time associate Greg Simpson confers with his speaker registration aides, Sue Mills and Cassandra Tari. Behind them, propping up the wall, is Steve Lillywhite, uber producer and musician whisperer of U2, the Rolling Stones, XTC, Dave Matthews Band, Peter Gabriel, the Talking Heads and a host of other worthies, as he chats with Ralph Simon, who is is acknowledged as one of the founders of the modern mobile entertainment & content industry, and Bob Lefsetz, music industry analyst and critic, and author of the Lefsetz Letter.

In May of 2015, the last time that Bob Lefsetz had spoken at CMW, I had asked him if we could meet, so that I might interview him for this column. Although he agreed at the time, circumstances conspired, and I missed my window of opportunity.

So when I saw him seated towards the back of the Green Room on Saturday morning, I seized the day, introduced myself, and reminded him of the last time we’d almost connected. He immediately said that he’d be happy to talk with me ‘later’ – but he’d be leaving the Conference around four p.m.

So I waited patiently, hoping for a time when he might have a minute free. But shortly after Steve Lillywhite left the room, Eric Alper flew in the door and plonked himself down for a chat. Meanwhile, my duties as Day Host kept me rather busy, and I spent a lot of time getting speakers organized and then off to their panels in a timely manner. By the time I realized I’d once again missed my interview, it was about 3:10 p.m. I’d just finished introducing legendary music journalist Larry Leblanc, who was about to begin an interview with Marcie Allen, a trailblazing entrepreneur who is known as the Queen of Brands and Bands. My duty done, I set off to try and find the elusive Mr Lefsetz.

About an hour later, I conceded defeat. Apparently, this interview was not to be.

PostScript: If you are one of the many who receive the Lefsetz Letter, then you will have received his CMW wrap-up when it arrived last night. In his p.s., he mentions that he’d spend his last half-hour on the site at …. the Larry LeBlanc/Marcie Allen seminar I’d introduced.

Wrong Way Roxanne strikes again.

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We have to talk about Donald Glover/Childish Gambino‘s new video – This is America. Firmly in the tradition of protest songs such as GrandMaster Flash‘s White Lines, the song/video demands multiple, critical, and admiring viewings.

This video is almost enough to make music videos relevant again, rife with symbolism and casual observations that nail the truth of the racist gun culture that America, as distracted as a kitten by shiny strings and dance fads, chooses to ignore.

jim crow character this is americaThe main character, stripped to the waist, pulls facial expressions and uses bodily movements that seem to be modeled on Jim Crow, a minstrel show caricature, which white actors would perform in blackface, acting out black stereotypes. His movements distract from the chaos that plays out in the background, as behind him, people on cellphones film the action while ignoring the violence and rioting going on all around.

(The Jim Crow Laws were put into place after the Civil War, and were a system of racist local and state laws to keep the ex-slaves in their place, and designed to enforce segregation and oppression in the Southern American states.) this is america imageAfter both of the shootings, the guns are treated with care and respect, and gently wrapped with red cloth. The guns are valued over human lives, as the victims are either dragged away or left lying in their own blood.

Between shootings, the exaggerated dancing seems to be a commentary on how America prefers to focus on entertainment and distraction rather than to have a discussion on gun control, while dismissing the dead with an airy assurance that they are sending “thoughts and prayers.”

this is america commentIn the background of one scene, Death, riding a pale horse, and a biblical symbol for the apocalypse, gallops by, pursued by a police car. Everyone is too caught up in dancing or in their own anarchy to focus on the bigger picture of the violence going on.

In the last scene, Gambino, surrounded by vintage cars representing America’s economic stagnation, lights up a joint, and it is then – rather than during his gun rampage  – that the police begin to chase him. In the tradition of black American history, he has to run to save his life.

This Is America is a strong, artistic statement that will stand as valid commentary on today’s Divided States of America.

 

Hold Your Loved Ones Close


Easter was magic when I was a little girl. My mum was a writer, so we would wake to a trail of poetic clues that would lead us to where the Bunny had hidden his goodies. As kids, any creature that left goodies, be it Santa, the Easter Bunny, or a Leprechaun, was all good in our books.

I will never forget the year that my godmother sent me a chocolate bunny that was as tall as I was! We ate chocolate until we were bursting, and then my mother had me take the leftover candy to share with my friends.

Trump as Easter BunnyIt was a simpler time. But I guess everyone likes free stuff, even if you know in your heart that you’re gonna have to pay for it in the long run.

I paid my Catholic dues as a child and teen, singing in the choir. “He is risen!” we chorused, as the dark days of Lent and deprivation came to an end, and the little snowdrops popped their heads up thru the last of the winter’s snow.

It’s been years since I’ve thought much about Easter. The kids grew up and moved away, and took the grandkids with them. Neither Shawn nor I are religious, and I got out of the habit of making big, fancy Sunday dinners decades ago. Not much point, with the family scattered to the four winds.

This year, however, we have had to acknowledge Easter. Shawn will be spending Easter with our daughter, son-in-law and seven year old granddaughter, along with his many siblings and relatives, all of whom do indeed celebrate the holiday, whether with chocolate or prayer, or a little or a lot of both.

Shawn’s youngest sister died suddenly on Tuesday, and he has traveled to Windsor to be a pall bearer at her funeral, while I am home, holding the fort, and herding the cats. She was just 46 years old.

Both of Shawn’s parents married several times, so he actually has a total of eleven brothers and sisters, though not all of them are related by birth. We don’t see them as often as we’d like, but we try to keep in touch via social media.

Alison Counihan LeeAlison was a lovely girl. Twenty years younger than Shawn, she had a positive, happy spirit that endeared her to all whom she met. When I think of her, I always picture her in the middle of a hearty laugh. Physically, she reminded me of the country artist Wynona, as she had a similar look and charm.

For the last decade, she’d worked with Value Village, managing the teams that open new stores in other countries, and was well loved by the employees she directed.  She was engaged, and was to have been married in a few months.

Twenty plus years ago, Alison and I spent a lot of time together. I’d often travel to Windsor to visit with Shawn’s dad, Asa, and the family, and spend some quality time with ‘the girls,’ all of whom were blessed with quick wits, good humour, a love of a good time, and mad dance skills. It was worth the long bus ride just to hang with Alison, Jackie, Mary, and Debbie. They were Shawn’s sisters, but they became my family and friends.

Asa died, and his frequent requests that I visit ended. In time, we just drifted apart. Everyone got busy, and had complicated personal and business lives, and after a few years, our interaction waned, finally tapering off to the occasional comment on social media. And I’m not very proud that I allowed those relationships to slip away through inattention.

love the peopleLife can get away from us. We’re always so busy, and then one day, there’s a phone call, or a knock on the door, and our opportunity to spend time with a loved one is gone forever.

Easter is as good a time as any to remember to hold our loved ones a little tighter, while we still can.

Alison taught me – or at least tried to teach me – how to dance to Janet and Michael Jackson‘s big dance hits in the nineties. I was hopelessly two left footed, but I would give it my best shot, and she’d try not to fall over laughing at my efforts.

She had such a big happy laugh.

Whenever I hear this song, I’m always reminded me of her.

Rest in peace, Alison. You are loved.

 

 

Mourning Gizmo


I first wrote this column four years ago today … still missing the little geezer … some pups take your heart with them when they go …

………………………………

I freely admit that I am a crazy pet person. I love animals, respect them, honour them, and hope I understand a little of what they are unable to tell me in words. Their eyes, their little furry faces, their body language; these are the ways we humans commune with animals.

Our sweet friend, Gizmo, lost his battle with heart failure this week. A little dog, with a heart so big, his passing continues to impact on all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.

Gizmo 2012My half Siamese cat is really having trouble mourning the loss of her pet dog. We all had to say goodbye to Gizmo on Tuesday, but Jade, for some reason, had the hardest time of us all. She sat near him, even before we went for that final appointment, staring at him, seeming to beg him to rally, one more time … Jade has never known a life without Gizmo. He was her dog. She was devastated.

After we returned from the vet, with that empty pet carrycase, Jade wound herself around my ankles, and kept close to me, demanding an explanation for the lack of ‘dog’ in her house. I cooked liver for her, a special treat. I opened a fresh tin of tuna and put it in her bowl. But nothing would assuage her pain.

I made a cup of coffee, and headed outside. She followed me, talking to me in that strange Siamese language, demanding to know … where was her friend?  And all I had was the scent of the vet’s office on my clothing; I had no comfort for her.

She found a perch in the back yard, and stayed there, for hours. Shawn and I both went out, and talked to her, trying to get her to come in, but she was inconsolable. She was sad, angry, frustrated, and possibly even more bereft than Shawn and I. She’d never known a day without that crazy dog in her life. Suddenly, for all of his interruptions into her life, he was gone. And she was not happy

People tend to fall into two camps; the ones that believe that animals have feelings, souls and interior lives, and those who think that pets are just a convenient way to pass the time, impress friends, and to show their children the “miracle of birth.”

To my mind, they are companions, in a life that will have ups and downs, but will always end with you and that pet, furry or otherwise, going nose to nose and shoulder to shoulder.  My pets know me, and love me. We communicate, even if it’s not in a way that others can understand. They share my joys, my sadness’s, and are always just a few inches away from me when I need them. Have you many friends about whom you could say the same? I’ve never thought that any sacrifices we’ve made for these wonderful creatures is too much … it’s always been such a win/win situation.

Cat-Holding-HandsWhen we take on an animal, we do so, hopefully, with a clear picture that we will not only love them when they’re cute and cuddly, but also through the awkward teens, through their middle age paunch, and slow descent into old age. It’s a lot like taking on another human being. Sadly, many pet owners don’t feel that way; they coo over the baby and toddler animal, but can’t abide the inevitable decline. Pets age so very much faster than we do, and we, as a species that venerates youth and abhors the spectre of age, have to face our own mortality, when we look into the grey beard of that sweetie pet that has now transitioned, sooner than we expected, into an older dog or cat.

We took on a dog, many years ago, that enriched out lives to the point that we could open our hearts to other needy creatures. All of my pets have been rescued from situations that were not kind to them. There are so many animals that need to be loved and respected, so many creatures that were taken on as an amusement, and later shucked aside like an old boot, like a toy that’s lost it’s charm. I can’t, in my heart, condone anyone who takes on a pet as an ornament to be displayed only until it loses its gloss. Pets and humans, if lucky, inevitably settle into the golden years, bearing the scars and stretch marks of time, lovable only to those who shared the living, or those who can see past the years, into the heart within.

Like humans, cats and dogs are born adorable, ready and eager to love and be loved by those who’ve chosen to take care of them. The horror is that so many people make a full stop in their minds when the pets become older, less cute, and a burden.

Eventually, I had to bring Jade in to the house. Although she didn’t want to come in, I’m a lot bigger than her, and I could pick her up, and put her in front of a dish of tuna. She wasn’t happy, but I knew that she had to eat, to find the strength inside her. Her mourning will go on, I’m sure, but I don’t want her to fade away while she misses her dog; I want her to understand that I’d never hurt her, never do anything to her that would harm her in her life, but that I, as the person who can see when the time has come to end her pain, will have the wisdom, and the compassion, to do so in the kindest way possible.

But tonight, all that Jade knows is that her dog is gone. She can still smell the scent of the vet on my clothing, and she can’t forgive us for taking away her friend. All I can hope for is that she, like we must do for ourselves, will eventually forgive us for ending the life of a loveable dog who only ever candlelightwanted to love us, protect us, and bring joy to our lives. Because that’s really what it’s all about. When you bring a pet into your life, you make a pact – and breaking that pact for any reason other than compassion, empathy, and love is a sick abdication of your humanity.

 

 

first published July 14/2013 at https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/roxanne-tellier-mourning-gizmo/

Honouring Life


It is so very easy to get caught up in getting from day to day. There are always bills to pay, mouths to feed, people who need your attention … and then there’s the silly things, the diversions that gobble up the time we call spare.

I am a dreamer. I want love and beauty and peace and happiness around me. Cocooning in books, music and film could consume all of my time, if not for the ‘have to’s,’ and the ‘should do’s.’ Eking out moments to do the ‘want to’s’ gets harder when I’m feeling guilty that I’m not living up to other people’s expectations.

But the sad truth is that life goes on, with or without my enjoyment or participation. The clock keeps ticking, and the days on the calendar keep moving forward, even If I’m not doing the things I would rather do. Some weeks it seems like I wake up on Monday, and go to sleep on Saturday, having neither seen nor felt much in between. When I flip through my appointment books for 2013, 2014 and 2015, I can see at a glance that I’ve done very little to achieve the things I had planned. Will 2016’s calendar look any different?

Where did all of that time go? It went to housework and make work, appointments and meetings, cooking and cleaning up afterwards. It went on necessary trips to the grocery, and unnecessary hours of playing computer mah-jong. What it didn’t go towards were enough hours spent communicating, by phone, in person or by computer, with those I cherish.

happy birthday balloon wheelchairOne of my dearest friends died from cancer, two years ago. It was a long illness, fraught with surgery and chemo, but she always believed that she could beat the disease. Still, she made sure to spend what time she had in doing what she’d put off for years; spending time with loved ones, traveling, taking courses, and enjoying live entertainment. What she stopped doing was living up to other people’s expectations.

I never had the guts to ask her if she had any regrets. I hope she didn’t have any, by the time she finally passed. But, through my own denial and in not wanting to crush her optimism,  I missed a chance to ask a question she might have wanted to answer. And now I’ll never know.

One day I will not wake up. Like the sands in an hourglass, my time will have sifted away. Whatever I meant to accomplish in my trip from birth to death will be moot; only what I’ve actually done will be of consequence.

Since I can’t know what day or year that will be, I can only try to make each day count, in whatever way I choose to honour this brief life.

our lifes carry us along