Sunday, 17 August 2014

lost at sea

My mother passed away when I was five years old after losing a battle with breast cancer, so throughout grade school I was always looked at by my classmates as “the girl with no mom”.  To my friends - a handful of young girls who were very close with their mothers - it was unimaginable.  

The truth is, I never really thought it was a big deal – partly, I guess, because I was too young to understand and partly because my mom’s best friend whom my brother and I had known our whole lives (and married my dad a years later) took care of us after my mom passed so I never really felt like I was without a mother.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother and I miss her dearly, but five years isn't a whole lot of time to get to know your mom, especially when she's sick and confined to her room for about half that time.

As I got older and my friends started losing their parents to illness, I considered myself lucky that I was so young when I had gone through that.  I couldn't imagine having to lose my mom at 23 years old, so I was glad, for lack of a better word, that I had already experienced my share of the untimely loss of a parent.

 It's common knowledge that we will have to bury our parents.  Most of us hope that it will be many, many years down the road, after they've lived a successful and fulfilling life, and we've had our chance to say all that we've wanted to say.  Unfortunately, this wasn't the case for either of my parents.  My father was diagnosed with lung cancer on March 11, 2014 and passed away a month later.

Sunrise April 16, 2014
You assume that when you know a loved one is going to die, you will have the chance to say everything you’ve ever wanted to say to them, but it’s not always so.  Dad died on April 16 but it feels like I lost him much sooner.  His condition deteriorated rapidly and by the time I came to terms with the reality that he would soon be gone, he wasn't my dad anymore.  He had withered away to nothing, he had trouble speaking, and he was confined to his bed.  One afternoon I poked my head in his room to see how he was doing, and he just stared at me as if he was trying to figure out who I was.  He didn't know me anymore, nor did I really know him at that point.

About a year ago, my step-siblings’ father very tragically died of a heart attack.  At that point I decided it was important to take advantage of the fact that my father was still around and that I could still spend time with him.  I started staying home more, going to all of his softball games, and listening to him every day on the radio (he hosted a show on CBC Radio One).  Had I not been hit with that reality check, I think I would have a lot of regrets right now, which is why I hope you will now realize that life is short and you have to take advantage of the time you have now with the ones you love before it's too late.
My dad was often referred to as “the voice of the little guy” on the radio.  He was adamant that everyone had a right to be heard, whether it be the LGBT-Q community, victims of mental illness, or men and women of the fishery.  He was never afraid to say what was on his mind, “politically correct” or not.  He would always tell me “there’s no such thing as bad publicity, just make sure they spell your name right”. 

 He took a genuine interest in things that most people his age didn't have time for. Though he was a veteran journalist, he had a childlike side to him.  Some of his favourite songs to sing along to were, oddly enough,  “Dilemma” by Nelly, “21 Questions” by 50 Cent, and “Mmmbop” by Hanson (to name a few).

He was one of a kind in the best ways.  He was a die-hard Bruins fan, he loved Coronation Street, and he wouldn't eat anything that he didn't like the name of.  When he needed to talk to me, he'd ask if we could have a "chin wag". He got me to put the entire Jerky Boys discography on his mp3 player.

We had this inside joke where we would address each other as "Captain".  Even though my father was never one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, I knew that "Captain" was a term of endearment; it was our "I love you".

I’ve been so overwhelmed with the stories I’ve heard since he’s passed and all of the people who have shared their experiences with him.  I knew his reach was large but I didn’t know how large.

Dad was always so grateful, even for the smallest gestures.  When my step-mom was working long shifts, I would throw on a can of Cream of Mushroom soup for dad before he got home from work so he wouldn’t have to worry about supper, but he’d walk in the kitchen and his eyes would light up as if I just cooked him a five-course meal when all I did was boil some goop on the stove.  That’s the amazing thing about dad; he was so easy to please.  All he needed was a cold can of Pepsi, a bag of Lays, and his family around him to be happy as a clam (he used that expression a lot).

I used to come home a couple of times a week and tell him about stupid grammatical mistakes people at my work would make, like someone using “beneficiate” to mean “benefit”, or using the word “seize” to mean “cease”, and then we’d laugh and laugh and he'd say “well Sar, not everybody can be as smart as us”.

I only recently started talking to Dad about my wanting to become a writer.  He critiqued my first letter to the editor that was published in The Telegram, he read one of my pieces from my creative writing class and gave me some pointers, and he read all of my blog posts and gave me feedback on each one.  Though he’ll never see it if I make something of myself as a writer someday, I’m glad I got to share that little bit of myself with him.

Most of the time, it doesn’t feel like he’s gone, just that he’s on vacation.  My brain doesn’t allow me to think about the fact that I’ll never be able to talk to him; or hear his goofy jokes, or see that mischievous smile.

I was with Dad as he took his last breath; he passed away in his bed, next to my step-mom, my step-sister, my brother, his palliative care nurse, Marie, and myself.  Every now and then a noise will bring me back to that night; I can hear his staggered breathing, my step-sister's voice reading the lyrics to Dad's favourite Leonard Cohen songs, my step-mom's quiet sobs - it just feels like a bad movie that I want to turn off.
 As each day passes, I can feel myself becoming more and more like him, even without having to make an effort to do so.  He was my captain, my hero, and my best friend.  I truly feel lost without him and I hope someday I will make something of myself that will do justice to the Furlong name and that would have made him proud.

Here’s to John Furlong.

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