R.I.P. Emma


(From 04-04-2014)

Following a “massive stroke” my beautiful friend of almost exactly fifteen years has left me. Emma (short for Emerald, the colour of her eyes) dropped to one side, sprawled on the floor, and let out a yell worthy of her Siamese ancestors.  Now my breaths draw up sobs and tears as the quietest kitten of her litter, who later went on to bite quite mischievously, won’t be waking me up tomorrow morning.  I love you Emma.

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Early morning, April 25, 2007


A prompt this week to write about something in a health-care context brought out this story which, despite having been told over and over in my head, had heretofore not made it down in writing.

It wasn’t quite 5:30 am and Janice was already waiting for me on the main floor of Union Station. Her husband Randy, who drove her in from Ancaster, needed to get to work but first back to his parents who had been drafted to baby-sit the two kids.

Janice and I hugged, exchanging exasperated greetings, then continued the conversation from late the previous night.

Our brother Craig had been walking to his home in Montréal’s Le Plateau neighbourhood, arms weighed down with food and other birthday party necessities for Claude, his partner of sixteen years who turned 54 that 24th of April 2007.

As Craig approached their three-storey stone walk-up, he tripped and fell, almost instantly smashing his head on the sidewalk. The owner of a small store directly across the narrow street saw Craig go down and rushed to his assistance. He was clearly unconscious, his head bleeding profusely. She called 9-1-1 and eventually Craig was taken to the city’s well-known Neurological Institute (think “I smell toast, Dr. Penfield!”)

Claude was contacted at St. Luc Hospital, where he worked, and he rushed to the Neuro calling my sister Lynn in New Brunswick on the way. Janice phoned me after hearing the grim news from Lynn. They decided that Janice and I should go and stay with Mom at this critical time; that having seen Craig and Claude just a couple of weeks earlier over Easter she would be upset enough without rushing to Montréal. So Janice and I took the train to Kingston and then a taxi the eighty kilometres or so to Perth. Janice phoned Mom from Kingston, gently breaking the news and giving Mom a bit of time to absorb some of the shock before we got there.

I couldn’t believe it. Craig and I had both survived HIV/AIDS since the early 1980s, watching many loved ones die. But not like this!

Over the next few days Lynn kept us up-to-date on Craig’s condition which was critical at best. When our uncle told us he had to be in Montréal over the weekend, and offered to take any of us along, Janice and I decided to go.

The drive up the steep hill of University Street from the Ville-Marie Expressway seemed to take an eternity, not that traffic was especially bad but because of the pits of anticipation in our stomachs.

George dropped us off at the front door and Janice and I found our way to the Reception area of the Critical Care Unit. The hospital screamed, “Demolish me!” with its cracked interior walls and historic odours. Lynn stepped out of Craig’s room.

“I just want to prepare you as best I can for how you’re going to see Craig,” she said. “Whatever descriptions I’ve been able to give you over the phone this week really don’t count for much in person.”

She was right and, one at a time, Janice and I found out.

I went in first, Claude walking over in tears with a big hug and kisses on both cheeks. He made small talk in his broken English until I asked a few questions.

One of the first things I noticed about Craig was how the swelling of his brain had inflated his face to a preposterous size. His eyes were wide open and couldn’t shut even if he wanted them to. There was a large flap of gauze on one side of his skull, taped at the top but left unattached at the bottom to let the emergency surgery to relieve swelling of the brain do its work.

The most telling piece of equipment in the room, which was expanding his chest and belly the way his brain swelled his face, was the respirator and its associated oxygen pump, which rhythmically forced air in and out of Craig’s chest because he could, and ultimately would, not breathe on his own.

The artificial breathing made up in noise what the strained but quiet breathing of Claude and I did not.

Claude stood closer to Craig and shouted the news that Janice and I had arrived, at which point he gave the “thumbs up” sign. I eventually saw that to be his only method of communicating, and I now wonder if it wasn’t just some involuntary impulse of the brain.

Claude and Lynn reviewed what doctors had told them. Craig was in no pain, and no pain relief was necessary. They could tell this by the fact that he wasn’t restless at all. It almost went without saying that pain sensors in his brain were damaged, if not destroyed. Even in their earliest assessments, the doctors had told Claude and Lynn that if Craig survived he would not be the same person.

Janice and I stayed for an hour or so and then we all walked back to Claude’s (and Craig’s) place on de Grand-Pré. It was a cathartic walk, one which we would repeat, through the edge of the McGill campus, around Molson Stadium, and up Park Avenue, cutting across Fletcher’s Field to avenue Mont-Royal and Boulevard St-Joseph.

When Janice and I again visited Craig the next day before our ride back to Perth, I had a very tearful intuition, if not realization, that this would be the last time I saw Craig.

One attempt to see if he could breathe on his own had already failed. Staff hoped to try, or at least Lynn and Claude were certainly going to encourage another try, in the next few days. We were all in agreement, as much as feelings can be, to accept the results.

Ultimately the attempt failed and, while Lynn and Claude were out of the room having lunch, Craig died on May 9, 2007 – six days shy of his fifty-second birthday which that year also happened to fall on Mother’s Day.

That unimaginable Sunday was spent travelling to Montreal with Mom for the funeral service the following day. Then on Tuesday it was back in to two cars for the drive to Perth where a sunset burial was held at Scotch Line Cemetery next to the plot owned by Mom and Dad.

Later that spring, Claude bought a headstone with Craig’s birth and death dates as well as Claude’s birth date. The inscription described Claude as Craig’s “compagnon de vie”, the first openly gay – and surely among the first bilingual – grave-markers in the town’s three or four cemeteries.

Chaplin Craig et Claude

December 6th


While we honour the memory of all victims of male violence against women everywhere, before and since, Canadians particularly recall today – on this our National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women – the names of the victims of the Montreal Massacre at l’École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989:

Geneviève Bergeron, 21, was a second year scholarship student in civil engineering.

1

Hélène Colgan, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and planned to take her master’s degree.

1

Nathalie Croteau, 23, was in her final year of mechanical engineering.

1

Barbara Daigneault, 22, was in her final year of mechanical engineering and was a teaching assistant.

1

Anne-Marie Edward, 21, was a first year student in chemical engineering.

1

Maud Haviernick, 29, was a second year student in engineering materials, a branch of metallurgy, and a graduate in environmental design.

1

Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31, was a second year engineering student specializing in engineering materials.

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Maryse Laganière, 25, worked in the budget department of the Polytechnique.

1

Maryse Leclair, 23, was a fourth year student in engineering materials.

1

Anne-Marie Lemay, 27, was a fourth year student in mechanical engineering.

1

Sonia Pelletier, 28, was to graduate the next day in mechanical engineering. She was awarded a degree posthumously.

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Michèle Richard, 21, was a second year student in engineering materials.

1

Annie St-Arneault, 23, was a mechanical engineering student.

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Annie Turcotte, 21, was a first year student in engineering materials.

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Each died, in a deranged man’s gun rampage. because they were women.

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AIDS is still here but so am I!


Submitted to Aless.ca today

I find the anticipation, whatever the outcome, of World AIDS Day quietly overwhelming.

“Not much,” I replied to a friend asking what plans I had last night.  I might as  well have had dental freezing in my brain, such was the unacknowledged numbness.

When I think of World AIDS Day I think of, as a blur, the forty or, I’m sure, more friends and fellow travelers who died of AIDS long before, and some since, the chance to survive with complex medications existed.

It is such a blur that I do not wish to single any one out.

Nearly six years ago, a blogger friend in California reminded me of something I do not mention much about my family, and then it’s usually “someone else in whose footsteps I was following”. I always respected my brother’s own, non-blog, ways of carrying himself in public.

Let’s just say there was this guy I write about more than anyone else (me) with an older brother who, like me, is gay and has been living with HIV/AIDS since the 1980s. Both are openly loved and accepted by family, close and extended, and many friends.

When I “came out” to my parents in 1981 it was not a complete surprise when they revealed that my older brother had also come out to them a few years earlier. One of the reasons I had not been in on that, however, was the fact that I – at that time – was test-driving ways of suppressing my homosexuality, to the point where I joined a right-of-Baptist, left-of-Pentecostal church for awhile. The test-drive, as evidenced in my subsequent writings, ended in a high-speed crash into a spiritual wall. My internal emotional injuries were very serious.

After I came out to our parents my brother wrote me a letter (in those days before email and long before Facebook), another letter I wish I had kept. In addition to lending support and understanding, I recall the note offering some wise advice about the difficulties inherent in living out one’s sexual orientation in a gay ‘community’ which, at times, can seem like a very cruel world. (Rufus Wainwright, a favourite, profoundly captures this in his song “Poses”.)

To say that Craig and I became closer, after I had withdrawn from my ‘doth-protest-too-much’ stance against homosexuality, would be an understatement. However, to this day, I regret any actions that separated us during those times. The relationship thankfully evolved to being much more comfortable over the years.

I learned in confidence, in the mid 1980s, that Craig had been infected with HIV – news which Craig later shared with other family members.

With all of that background, I vividly recall having a picnic lunch, a few years later, with my Mom and Dad during a brief vacation I had taken deliberately to disclose my HIV-positive status to them.

This being 1990, my medicine bag only had AZT in it and yet it seemed like the heaviest thing in my back-pack that day. Knowing that I would need to take that capsule before the picnic party had returned to Mom and Dad’s home I now only recall these key moments of the conversation.

 Kenn: “When Craig told you he was HIV-positive the best information he had, at that time, was that I was negative.”

Mom (sighing deeply): “Oh, don’t tell me…”

 

That was in the summer of 1990, a little more than a year after routine blood-work had first shown tell-all “counts” in reverse, certainly abnormal, proportions. (Those blood samples, from the spring of 1989, were later tested specifically for HIV and were found to be positive.)

That picnic seems like a lifetime ago. My parents and siblings gradually integrated this overwhelming information and were very accepting as I shared my story publicly, even via television and newspaper media. (One magazine article, originally meant as a simple tribute to my parents’ longstanding involvement in their community, included the traumatic events when my mother barely survived an attack of necrotising fasciitis – ‘flesh-eating disease’ – and how my father suffered a major heart attack as Mom was in the midst of her recuperation at home following more than two months of critical care hospitalization.)

In layer-upon-layer of irony Craig fell in April of 2007 and, tragically, hit his head, suffering irreversible brain damage.  He died a few weeks later just days before what would have been his fifty-second birthday.  Mourners shook our heads as we thought about Craig having survived twenty or more years of HIV/AIDS, quintuple bypass surgery just a year before, only to have a freak fall end his life so horribly.

I still carry Craig with me and, while we shared an AIDS diagnosis as well as our sexual orientation, he was definitely his own man and I miss him as much today as any other.

Whispering “Help!” from the windmills (or silos) of my mind


Those of you who have followed me, be it through my writing, my tweets, or home from the convenience store will have picked up on the fact that I have a fair amount on my plate.

I’m a very slow eater.

I recently joined a support group for long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS – in my case it’s been no less than 23 years. Even more recently I quit the group when I convinced myself that there was something to the quizzical looks I was getting from existing supportive friends, surprised that I might have anything I couldn’t discuss with them.

Particularly those who were also HIV-positive; also long-term survivors.

It felt good to formally end my relationship, short though it was, with the “support group” and to tell them why.

I don’t want to compartmentalize my life any more than I’m ever convinced I have to – if at all.

I want to safely, sanely integrate the many facets of my life – which too often feel like they’re in individual silos – into something that I can present to anyone I choose.

To recap what loyal readers already know:

I am a survivor of childhood trauma at the hands of an elementary school head teacher/principal.

I was bullied – by him and by peers both in early grades and in high school. I survived.

In my adolescence I was sexually abused by strangers, i.e. more than once, in a part of my home-town that I would only, as an adult, recognize as a “cruising area” for men seeking casual sex with other men (or, since I was there, with boys).

I buried that sexual trauma until I described the first incident in the third person at a HIV/AIDS-related workshop in 1990, some eighteen years after it started.

Then I buried it again, for the most part, but it kept reappearing particularly in the context of dealing with alcohol and other addiction.

I sought support for the addiction but only occasionally mentioned the trauma(s), believing that help was not available as one-stop shopping. (It was also too much to deal with in the context of my HIV progression to AIDS-related illness, the support and care of friends who have long since succumbed, and my inability to stay sober for more than five to seven years at a time maximum.)

When my brother Craig died tragically in 2007, and I was drinking at the time even if not in the presence – not even the same town – of my grieving family I came to a critical point of despair. Thoughts of suicide both tormented and comforted me.

Earlier that spring I had considered running for political office. Me! On long-term disability insurance! I had also wasted the bulk of an insurance settlement from a 2003 accident as if I wasn’t going to live long enough to enjoy it.

I was assessed and diagnosed with/as (I’m not sure which) bipolar II, one step on the spectrum from the more notorious bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness, as it used to be called.

Believe it or not it was a relief to get a better understanding of what had begun, to me, simply as an absence of depression – for which I had been treated since around the time I tested HIV-positive – and to make sense of what had clearly become episodes of hypomania and depression.

The cautionary experiences of my peers, plus the general stigma still associated with mental illness, have made it difficult to articulate all that I have been discovering about myself as I review the years but one thing is for sure: I can no longer just be a gay, HIV-positive and (to some a recovering addict) friend or relative to some while hiding the largely successful, but ongoing, treatment of my psychiatric illness. The silos drive me crazy – and anyone with a passing acquaintance of farming will know that silos can spontaneously combust!

I do not know to whom any, or all, of this is news. Please let me know. Maybe this is just a rant I occasionally need to let rip. My emotions are not helped by a temporary physical malady today but, then again, I know that’s what it takes to move me sometimes!

The bottom line is that I want to be able to describe the whole picture, even if I mix oil with pastels, chalk with water. The silos aren’t all filled at the same time, usually, but that’s just the point. I don’t want silos any more. Could you at least help me with a better analogy?  I would be so grateful.

Five Years Since a Critical Day One


It was an early night to bed on Tuesday, June 19, 2007.  I had absolutely no more drinking to do and decided that the last day of this particular spring was a bitterly appropriate day to reach out again for sobriety.  Ruminations of suicide the past few days signalled to me that it was nearly past time to get help.

Fortunately I had been down this road before, so I knew where to turn, but I had never been trying to also recover from as tragic a circumstance as the traumatic brain injury death of my brother Craig.

I was certain that I should have been the one to die, as if it was as simple as trading places.  Such was my state of self-worth.  I was sick of hearing anything – anything at all – about “God’s will” even if all that was meant was that, had he survived, Craig surely wouldn’t have had much of a life.

I was inconsolable, yet with a familiar reserve of  just enough life energy not to give up.

I had survived HIV, even a serious AIDS-related illness, since at least 1989.  Burying so many friends and acquaintances I had good reason to believe that I wouldn’t be far behind.  Yet I took every possible medication, right from the start, and as the more promising combination therapies came along I responded well.

In 2003 I had been struck by a cab, fracturing a femur and a wrist, and been hospitalized for five weeks during what became known as Phase Two of SARS in Toronto.

Then I developed signs of Type-2 diabetes, quickly becoming insulin-dependent.

In 2005, though, I took a rail and bus tour of Canada’s Maritimes provinces.  I count it among my trips of a life-time, completing my journey across Canada from the west coast to the east.

I had been clean and sober since 1998 but, in recent years, had not sought the support I needed to maintain my sobriety. I politely declined the offer of champagne as the Halifax-bound train departed Montréal.  A couple of days later in Halifax, however, following up on a wish to tour the historic Alexander Keith’s brewery, I made a conscious decision to accept samples of various beers and ales being offered at a most enjoyable céilidh.  I quickly became that single guy on the bus tour whose exploits provided morning entertainment for fellow travellers.  I could see the progression within days and will never forget the story of how I got lost in Charlottetown.  You know you’re loaded when…

2005 rolled into 2006.  I carried my bottles in a gym bag, lest any of my former acquaintances see me.

When I received news of Craig’s fall on April 24, 2007 (his partner Claude’s birthday), I sobered myself up and left Toronto.  The family was not going to see how I had fallen in my own way.  After staying with my mother for a couple of weeks following Craig’s death, I changed my train ticket to First Class (free booze) and headed back for Toronto.

That was May 24, 2007 – the beginning of the end of a month of hell until June 19 (my last drink) and June 20 (my first day of sobriety).

The first years were in the shadow of grief and loss.  Other than psychiatric help, which has shown good results, little else stands out for me aside from a lot of inner work.  Things have improved, certainly, to the point where I am looking forward to whatever I can make of life, having said goodbye to the worst ideations of death.

I begin a new day, a new year, with hope and gratitude.

Craig`s timing


When Craig died five years ago today he could not have ordained that his memory would loom large during this week each year as the award in his name is presented at today`s Convocation ceremonies of United Theological College.

He would not have chosen, for Mom`s sake at least, to die so close to his birthday, either, this Sunday – yes, Mother`s Day, just like it was in 2007.

But it is what it is.

Skies are considerably brighter in Montréal today.

While the sting of the first few years of grief has lessened considerably, this is one of those days when missing Craig is quite a bit more intense.

Plan ahead – before it kills you


h/t to my friend BA!

Today, April 16th, is National Advanced Care Planning Day in Canada…have you started the conversation? Here’s a link for more information and a 3 ½ minute video produced by the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association. Please forward this video, share on your Facebook page, tweet about it and help to get the word out!

I carry a wallet card which reads,

In the event of my death please notify:

Humphrey Funeral Home and Chapel Ltd.
Toronto, ON
(416)487-4523

They have written instructions regarding my prepaid funeral arrangements.

…and they DO!

There will be few “heroic” measures taken if my quality of life is at stake. I trust my family members with these decisions.

A few years ago, following my bad-but-could-have-been-worse encounter with a taxi cab I visited a basic funeral establishment, which Humphrey later acquired, and set out the simplest of instructions for the dispensing of my body. I’ll be cremated in the cheapest, most environmentally-friendly container.

As for my ashes, I’m of two minds – they’ll either be buried in my parents’ plot at Scotch Line Cemetery on the outskirts of Perth, Lanark, County, Ontario – in any event my name is already on their stone with my other siblings – and/or scattered in Grant’s Creek (Tay River) at one of my favourite photographic settings at Allan’s Mill (not far from Scotch Line).

Here’s why:

Now, the mill and surrounding buildings are privately-owned so I wouldn’t want to have any problems with the residents (only one, a previous owner, of whom I have ever encountered when there), and Friends of the Tay Watershed might be consulted on the advisability of the sprinkling of my fairy dust in the creek!

Also from BA:

I would love your support for the bereavement and hospice work I am now doing in Scarborough. The Scarborough Centre for Healthy Communities (SCHC) is hosting a Hike for Hospice on Sunday, May 6th to raise funds and inform our communities about the new Hospice and Caregiver Wellness Program (for which I am the newly hired Volunteers, Outreach and Training Specialist). Here’s how you can help:

1) Go to the link and REGISTER TO BE A WALKER http://www.schcontario.ca/support-us/featured-event/hike-for-hospice
Even if you don’t have time to get pledges, please register and just come out and support the event to help to raise awareness about our new programs in Scarborough! Bring your kids, family & friends and forward this note to anyone you think might want to know about us.

OR

2) MAKE A DONATION through Canada Helps (secure online charitable donations site) https://www.canadahelps.org/DonationDetails.aspx?cookieCheck=true. Just make sure to put HFH – Betty Ann Rutledge in the message box!

No sentence could undo the harms caused by Graham James


I join the outcry today over the sentencing of convicted serial pedophile Graham James to two years in prison for the sexual abuse of Theo Fleury and Todd Holt. Counter-intuitively (because I knew it would just get me stirred up) I watched the news coverage of the lawyers’ statements and victims’ reactions.

Graham arrived at court wearing his best perp ensemble:

Following sentencing, which The Globe I think rightly criticized for its lack of nuance, Todd Holt spoke on behalf of cousin and fellow victim Theo Fleury.

“I stand here today, on behalf of not only myself and my cousin Theoren Fleury, but as a voice for every man.

For all the young boys, the old men and the ones that got stuck somewhere in between because of the most devastating type of abuse; sexual abuse inflicted on us by someone in a position of trust and authority. Theo and I were two of those who got stuck in that middle place between boy and man; we made some terrible choices and watched the life we were meant to lead spiral down the drain.

No longer.”

It was, for me, a powerful and meaningful beginning to an expression of feelings – I even heard myself in his words – which later criticized the justice system.

This was where I switched to thinking, “Hmmm…”, and I’m sure it will take me some time to sort out why.

As my headline reads, and as legions of all types of crime victims can attest, the length of Graham James’ sentence, while still shocking (considering that two years probably won’t last two years), is secondary to the horrors, and their after-effects, that James inflicted on Theo Fleury, Todd Holt, Sheldon Kennedy and who-knows-how-many-other young hockey players I would otherwise not know, let alone relate to.

They are still recovering, having taken the familiar route of spiralling downward before they were fortunate enough to make it back without ending their lives.  Theirs, as mine, is a life-long journey.  Every time I/we think we have reached another air-pocket of resolution, something takes it away – or at least I let it be taken away.

There’s a tough-on-this-kind-of-crime demon whispering inside me thinking Graham James and his ilk should be chemically castrated, if not as a barbaric punishment then at least as a preventive measure.  Or is that just the wolf of murder by lethal injection in sheep’s clothing? And would that alone take away his predatory impulses?

My self-image, a work in progress, was moulded in part by a monster or two in my childhood.  I continue to try to make sense of so much, even the crap in my own past that makes no sense at all.  But I persist, with your help.

Toronto AIDS Memorial, 519 Church Street Community Centre


With one eye on the wider world, marking thirty years of AIDS (and hopes that we may be seeing the beginning of the end), my other eye is on memories of friends lost here in Toronto (and hopes that many more may yet survive).

Pte. Thomas Earl Butler: 17 March 1896 – 1 March 1917


It’s been over ninety-four years since my paternal grandmother’s brother, Tom, died on the World War One battlefields of France, roughly five weeks before the final  assault on Vimy.  It seemed to me that Grandma bore his death with pain right up until her own death in 1991.  She was already acting as home-maker to her widowed father and perhaps she thought he should have been staying home on the farm.

Perth newspaper accounts were quite limited, but brought the war home.

My father, who died in 2002, was given the first name of his late uncle (Thomas).

Any memories of Grandma talking about him are filtered through the eyes of the child that I was when these stories were told – less interested than I am nowadays. How I would love to hear them again.  I can only imagine he went off to war because. at the very least,  it was the thing to do at the time.

Though I’m sure there was at least an official telegram this is how Tom’s death was reported in the Perth Courier:

My sister has a formal portrait of Uncle Tom, in his handsome uniform (different from the one in the press clipping), taken in Perth before his deployment, as well as a cloth belt which was sent home completely covered with various regimental pins from across Canada.

The newspaper clippings come from Veterans Affairs Canada, as do these copies of Uncle Tom’s ‘attestation papers’. (Looking at his signature, I can see an amazing resemblance to my grandmother’s penmanship, as well as my Dad’s!)


Only tonight, watching the first part of “The Great War”, a film on CBC-TV by Brian McKenna, did I learn that “Complexion: Fresh” was racist code used to distinguish non-white soldiers, gladly accepted when county-by-county quotas were low, from their ‘fresh-faced’ comrades.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) web site provides these stark ‘Casualty Details’ (I have added links):

Name: BUTLER
Initials: T
Nationality: Canadian
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment)
Unit Text: 75th Bn.
Date of Death: 01/03/1917
Service No: 787151
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: VII. D. 17.
Cemetery: VILLERS STATION CEMETERY, VILLERS-AU-BOIS

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There’s a bit more of an online tribute, however generic, here.

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Final tributes to Jack Layton in pictures


It was an emotion-packed, life-affirming day.

There is no hierarchy in grief: Of Norway and Amy Winehouse


Please read this from Scott Dagostino, whose writing makes me admire the way his mind works.

Being someone who might preemptively describe myself as naive (which endears me to world-wise friends and the ne’er do-well-alike), I must say the title of Scott’s post took me in with more than its most obvious sarcasm and led to a deeper, even more evocative message.

The pallbearers of history seem frozen in their places these days, BREAKING NEWS interruptions startling and incomprehensible. Are we to be judged, as facts settle, for an uncomfortable lack of surprise?

As Scott points out feelings surrounding more than one tragic event at a time are not only possible but healthy. I don’t give the blame-stream media much credit for this, one moment sanctimoniously screeching, “What’s with Amy?” and the next re-tracing the steps of her train-wreck. Musicians,fans, and salaried pop-culture followers – many of whom know the industry of which they speak – are a welcome exception.

Those of us who identify with even a fraction of Amy Winehouse’s experience, who perhaps hope that our lives will be remembered not for the hurdles we’ve overcome but for the overcoming itself, would do well to think more than “But for…grace…there go I”. Powerful though that contracted quote may be – for reasons I have felt for a long time – very few would suggest that this doesn’t require willingness to work. Sometimes, and my knowledge of Amy Winehouses’s story begins and ends with her music, an obvious need for help (or defiant cry against it), is not enough when our perception of the problem is her solution (as it has been for me/us in the past). This was not about reasoning with her. We are left to mourn and to miss Amy Winehouse.

Back to Norway and referring again to Scott, he gives examples of evidence that the varieties of scale notwithstanding, it goes without saying that deranged people and their despicable acts are not unfamiliar. This guy – be he right-wing fundamentalist Christian, xenophobe and/or I’m wondering if maybe homosexual-minus-the-gay (wouldn’t that be a clever escape for the Right?) – kept himself alive for probably only the most sadistic reasons, his freedom to speak at today’s court appearance thankfully thwarted.

Nothing will hold back our shock, grief and anger. However a healthy brain is complex and, therefore, resilient enough to process all matters of information and emotions. Maybe even laugh along the way. With a name like “gallows humour”, you know that expressions didn’t come from the “Y” generation, and I’ve been known to enjoy such humour in AIDS circles. A now-defunct letter (newsletter would not suit its editors nor those claiming more legitimacy) called Diseased Pariah made the rounds at the height (let’s hope) of the AIDS scythe’s attempted purge of my community. DP was irreverent, offensive to many, even hard to stomach for some in the HIV-infected camp – of course what wasn’t hard to stomach back then? It found a niche but didn’t last as long as some of us might have liked and brought laughter to the grimmest of times for many.

Whether in formal or informal support groups I have been fortunate to have at my disposal the listening ears, hugs and shared laughs of countless fellow travelers. Many of the best models for care, of self and others, were exercised and developed when hope seemed so fleeting. Those tools are still operational.

Laughing then, as now, was a relief valve of stress, sorrow and feelings of certain death. It has a time and place with receptors eager to work, in the same minds as the distraught, whenever we are ready.

There is an important difference between humour and satire, or other genuine comforts, and some of the crassness or just unwitting ignorance which sells itself as information (news even!)

How long before we hear about “closure”?

I had been meaning to post this sooner but “computer says ‘No!'”

May’s contradictions


The month of May is one tinged with melancholy for members of my family.

On May 4, 2002 my father dropped dead in his garden which, for him, could not have been a more suitable place. Yet he was only seventy-five, a birthday celebration only a few weeks earlier for which the entire family had gathered in Perth, coming so soon after a non-debilitating stroke. He and Mom would have been fifty years married the next July. Instead we buried his remains on May 8.

My older brother Craig died on May 9, 2007 after a fall on April 24 of that year which resulted in critical brain trauma. He never regained consciousness nor the ability to breathe on his own. The accident occurred on the birthday of his partner, Claude. A memorial service was held at St. James United Church in Montreal on May 14, the day after his birthday (and Mother’s Day!), followed by a burial service at Scotch Line Cemetery in Perth the following evening.

So May 4, May 8, May 9, May 13, May 14 and May 15…and my mother has an unfortunate knack for being able to remember dates. What was Craig’s birthday on Mother’s Day the year that he died, is now Mother’s Day and Dad’s burial day in 2011. Twill be ever thus or a combination thereof.

And yet…and yet, May comforts us with its warmer air, its greener grass, its blossoms and blooms and beautiful fragrances. Even on the first of the month there was healthy foliage, if not blooms, where Claude had planted tulip bulbs at both Craig’s and Dad’s graves.

All things considered, I’ll take May over November, for example, to mark these grim milestones!

“The Shack”: allegory, empathy and the question of forgiveness


“I brought a book I think you’ll find interesting,” my cousin said as we sat down for lunch recently, handing me a paperback copy of The Shack by Wm. Paul Young.

I believe, now having read it, that she might have been nudged to give me this book because she knows, perhaps as much as any confidant, “The Great Sadness” (as the novelist puts it) which has been stored, occasionally visited, and allowed to grow unchecked in my own run-down Shack.  I’m guessing she might believe some of the messages of the novel could be applicable to me.

It is not difficult for me to imagine how wrenching it would be, certainly a step out in faith, to face those men I have written about who wronged me in my childhood and youth.  At least one is dead and the others, well, I don’t even know their names let alone their current state-of-being.

That’s not the point.  Were they to appear in my dreams I would almost certainly be forced to confront them.  Would I, in such a dream, or do I now, in compartmentalized pain, feel willing – to say nothing of empowered – to symbolically release their throats from the anger of my tight grasp and hand them over to the power whose many names include God?

The message seems to be to trust that something beyond my judgment, my imagination – beyond belief often – is a better repository for my judgment (which I ultimately can’t inflict anyway) than am I.

Somehow, in releasing my grip, I imagine forgiveness looks more like letting go – leaving judgment to forces beyond me. The haunting “monsters” of my past, after all, are dead as far as I know so my preoccupation with holding on, even if it’s not uppermost in my consciousness, is clearly only hurting me. I get that. To let go completely, though, seems more than I can do – at least on my own. Another message of the book, then perhaps, is that I don’t have to do it by myself.

To the best of my ability I release my hold on these men, that in letting go of them their power over me will be lessened. I will not, however, shy away from using the experience – all of it – as best I can whenever I believe it might be of assistance to someone else.