A Good Home, Blogger Friends

Flowers for Jeni and family

You may know her as The Hopeful Herbalist.

She writes gorgeous poetry and prose, and posts lovely photos of life at her home in Scotland.

She’s also a blogger friend to me and many others. As an example, Jeni’s kind wishes and comforting verses helped bolster my hope and faith at a very shaky time.

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Recently, Jeni has been going through a challenging time, alluded to here.

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Jeni and Ian and your family: you are in our hearts and prayers.

If I were half as good a poet as you, Jeni, I’d write something wonderful — but as you know, I’m poetically challenged.

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And as you might guess, Hamlin took these photos. I didn’t.

But I chose them for you.  And I send you love.

Stay strong, my friend.

From my family, to you and yours, with hugs.

Grace and peace.

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A Good Home

A Strong Voice, Silent Now

Canada has lost one of its greatest fighters for people with disabilities.

Bill McQueen — musician, TV producer and disability champion — has died.

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It breaks my heart to see him go.  Bill was my dear friend. 

When I got lost in the fog of pain and injuries from a car accident — not making sense and stuttering so badly I would not use the phone — Bill called. He sometimes called several times before I called back. I couldn’t stand to complain to someone who was handling so much, and doing it with forbearance.

Mind you, Bill had little tolerance for the health system when it didn’t work for its patients. Many doctors didn’t take the time to explain to patients, he felt, especially when delivering bad news about their health. He believed in patients pushing back, doing their own research. 

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When I blamed myself for not healing faster, when I felt ashamed of my  disabilities, Bill kept me on the phone, talking, willing me to change my attitude.

As my husband says, “He was always there for you.”

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Do you know what a precious gift that is — to always be there for someone?

The thing is, it wasn’t just me.  Bill was “always there” for many people living with disabilities. It’s one of the reasons I respected him so much.

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He and his business partner Don Peuramaki and colleague George Farrell founded a production company –  Fireweed — the first we knew of whose principals all lived with disability.

There, they continued the work they had started at CBC Television years earlier at “D-Net”, the weekly CBC TV series which Don executive produced, and Bill produced, along with George. (My boss, Les Lawrence, had helped with the start-up; I met Bill and Don when I became the chief journalism trainer and, later, a mentor for the team.)

Most of their programs at the CBC and Fireweed were about people trying to participate: trying to access workplaces, institutions, and to make their contributions  in a world that often seemed indifferent. 

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Most of Bill’s work was voluntary. He was a musician, and belonged to  his beloved symphony, but there’s an impressive list of other voluntary initiatives that he and Don worked on. Many of them focused on getting people with disabilities employed in the media, or changing the way the media portrays them.

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Don and Bill lived with multiple disabilities, yet worked tremendously hard for the participation and inclusion of other people with disabilities.

They lived on very limited income, but spent money on (e.g.) securing video archives of the fight by persons with disabilities for inclusion. When Bill told me how much he paid to store the videos safely over many years, I was shocked.

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When Don fell seriously ill, Bill took over the fight. He wanted to make sure the 100+ hours of video stories and raw video that Fireweed owns is used to train others — and to  help tell the history of the fight for respect, inclusion, participation. 

Bill and Don were both recently hospitalized — not for the first time. Bill returned home, quietly certain that he wouldn’t live much longer.  His voice was weak, resigned.

“I’m really sorry I won’t have a chance to do more,” he said.  He meant the goal he’d set for himself.

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Then, this week, Bill sounded upbeat again. I told him that Les and I were talking: we wanted to help him and Don reach their goal.

As always, we ended the conversation with: “Love you, Bill.” And “Love you too. Take care.”

The next day, we spoke again, and I headed to the hospital with gifts, card, love and hope in my heart. He was sitting up in bed, talking.

The next morning, I called. And called again, leaving a cheerful voicemail message, silently reassuring myself there was no need to worry.

This morning, Les called to say Bill died yesterday. 

We love you, Bill. Thank you for everything.

Photo Credits: Innoversity

A Good Home, Cooking, Food

Sprouting Feathers

 

I’m known for my cooking. How I wish that were not so.

I burn things, forget half the ingredients, forget what I added then put them in again. It’s right there in my books, on my blog, and in the memories of everyone who knows me.

And now nobody trusts my cooking.

Take Marilyn.

“Do come for lunch”, I say.

“Oh, great,” she says.  “You choose the restaurant.”

What’s the point in visiting a person at home if you’re going to go out for lunch? But I was so glad to see Marilyn, I didn’t fight.

Then there’s Elaine.

“You make the tea,” she said. “But I’ve read your book. So I’ll bring something for us to eat.”

Then Jane took sick.

“I could make you a roast chicken”, I phoned Jane and said, not revealing the thing was already roasting in the oven. 

But Jane declined immediately. “I have pneumonia,” she said. “Don’t want you to get it.”

“I didn’t know you could catch pneumonia from someone else,” I argued.

“Well, with your luck, you just might,” she replied.

So there’s a roast chicken sitting in my fridge. Or lying on its back, as roast chickens are wont to do. In a freezer bag. Surrounded by lovely roast potatoes.

But the real reason I’m not pushing the chicken is because, since I’d have to deliver it whole, I’m unsure how it tastes.

“How ‘bout I bring her half of the chicken we roasted for ourselves?” I suggested to my husband. “We know it turned out well.”

“You can’t bring half a chicken!” he replied. “It’s like giving someone your leftovers.”

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What to do?

Muriel to the rescue.

My friend Muriel is in her 80’s, her husband Michael in his 90’s. Michael’s been ill and in hospital. Muriel, meanwhile, needs all the help she can get. She spends almost every day at the hospital, returning home exhausted.

What could I do? Well, I’d considered giving her a roast chicken too, but then I started to worry – what if I’d over-seasoned it? Worse, if Muriel got sick anytime in the next 10 years, I’ll know it was my chicken that did it.

Then Muriel called to say Michael’s health was improving. I was so happy, I offered both roast chicken and butternut squash soup. My soup – pureed butternut squash, made with apples and onions – always turns out well. I said so.

“I’d be glad for the soup, Cynthia. Thank you, dear.”

Thank God. Thank Muriel. 

So today I brought soup for Muriel. Then for Jane and Allen.

I’d planned to leave it at Jane’s door, run away, then phone to say, “Check your front door!” But she opened the door  just as I was about to do so, thanked me, and said they’d be glad to have my soup.

Hooray!  I’ve finally become one of those women who bring food for their friends.

Meantime, my poor husband claims he’s sprouting feathers.

“Chicken again?” he groans.

Yes, dear. Until that roast chicken is all done.

A Good Home, Old Friends

Good Friends

 

 

The problem with old people is that they have a habit of dying.

And the problem with me is that I know this, but I keep loving old people.

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Last time I checked, roughly half of my close friends were over eighty.

I’m decades younger myself, but from hanging out with these friends, eighty has come to seem positively young to me. Not to mention fun.

So I don’t temper my naughty jokes because a person is eighty or ninety.

I only realize that I’ve referred to octogenarian Jane as “Kiddo” or to Muriel as “my dear girl” if someone else points it out.

They are my pals. Jane, Muriel, Mae, Marion, Merle are among my closest.  Harry, Mr. Smith, Henry, Bryan were also my pals. My mother, Louise, most of all.

I love them. I loved them.

Elderly people make the best friends and I love being in their company.

Which makes The Grim Reaper my big enemy.

I find myself wanting to fight off The Grim One, wrestle him to the ground, or at least tell him to take a hike.

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Old people speak their mind.

“I’m not elderly. I’m old!” says my 80-something friend. “It’s okay to use the word. I don’t mind.” I can almost hear her shrug into the phone.

It’s as if being candid is not an option at this stage in their lives, but mandatory. After all, with a relatively short time left on the earth, who has the time to lie?

Yet they have also learned to temper their frank assessments with grace. At least the old people that I love do.

They have a way of passing on affection with criticism, of pointing out the error of my ways without drawing blood.

Sometimes, it’s delivered in an observation so astutely phrased, it makes me want to rise above my knuckle-headed ideas about how to solve a problem.

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“With your manner, Cynthia, I just know you could manage to get the point across without causing hurt”.

Gosh, that’s diplomatic.

“Have you ever thought that this person may just be very shy and intimidated by all your qualifications?”

Well no, I hadn’t thought of that. But now that you’ve mentioned it, I’ll have to review my harsh assessment of that person we were just discussing….

Offering criticism in such a positive way is a skill you can learn in school or in the great learning-place of life. Most of my elderly friends have learned at the latter, and that makes them experts.

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Elderly people have tons of insight to share, if you’re willing to listen.

It may take a little time. They may have to insert a story from long ago, a memory of something or someone that helped them learn an important life lesson.

“I remember when…”

The moment you hear these words, you may think “Here goes another long story… how much time do I have?”

But chances are, whatever I’m about to learn is more than worth my time.

Elderly people keep in touch, sensing when you need them to call and make you laugh at life’s travails.

One moment I’m howling with pain, a long-term gift from a car accident. But minutes later, the phone rings and I’m howling with laughter.

It’s one of my old friends, telling me a dirty joke, knowing that I need to laugh.

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When I reconsider, I think what I’m trying to say is that my elderly friends are wise and kind people. And that I’m blessed to have their friendship.

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But, there is still that problem: the fact that they tend to die.

I should temper that blanket statement with this explanation: It’s not that they necessarily want to.

Some, though barely mobile, still love life. They love to do things, to hang out with their friends, to go shopping, to share a good joke. They’d like to stick around much longer. 

But some people, it’s true, simply want to die. I had one such friend.

He was ill, with no improvement in sight. He depended on others to take him around, sometimes even to get from one room to another. He couldn’t enjoy the activities that gave him pleasure.

In some cases, there’s no-one left who shares the person’s memories. No-one to remember the people they grew up with, the times they lived. They’re left trying to explain an era to younger people like me, who love them but don’t remember.

Worse is when the person him/herself can’t remember.  In their clear moments, they’re terrified of a future in which they’ve lost their ability to recognize loved ones, or even themselves.

Whatever the reason, they’ve had enough of living. They’re tired. It’s time to go. 

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I’ve come to understand this: the problem isn’t theirs.

It isn’t just that they die, or that one or two may really want to.

The problem is mine. That even as The Grim One makes his plans for us all, I love my friends, and I’m never quite ready to let them go, no matter what their age.

I have to work on that.

Luckily, some old friends will still be around — with wisdom to share. Bless their hearts.

In Memory of Harry.