Friday, October 30, 2015

Learning to say good-bye

A friend, David Fry, died last week.  He was a friend I hadn't seen in years but always kept in touch with yearly Christmas cards and letters.  The fact he lived in Halifax and I, in Vancouver, was one reason I didn't see him.  And recently we became friends on Facebook.  And that is why a tribute to him flashed before me.  Strange… And then I did an internet search and found the news he had indeed died.  Chilling. Shocking as I hadn't even known he was ill.

 Tuesday night I was in a good mood and again the next morning and realized I really had been feeling very sad ever since I found this out Thursday night.  Curious in a way since I hadn't seen him probably in at least 25 years.  The last time I spoke with him, he was in Burnaby, and wanted to know if I could get together with him that night but I was exhausted-school-probably an after school meeting, and I just couldn't face going out to Burnaby.  Needless to say, I wish I had found the energy,  but as a friend said I had no way of knowing that I missed that last time seeing him.

Each year there would be the news and an invitation to visit.  I did go to Nova Scotia a few times but that meeting never seemed to happen.  And other than the airport and a couple of hours downtown I haven't spent any time in Halifax in about 38 years.

We met at Queen's when we were both doing our Bachelors in Education, but we weren't in the same program or courses.  A mutual friend introduced us and we became good friends.  I was impressed by his self-discipline and although not someone you typically thought of as a jock he would run each evening to the pool on Main Campus about a mile away from West Campus where we were and swim for an hour and run back.  He was also in the experimental elementary education module which was also a bit brave in the early seventies when you were a male and had a degree, especially at a university like Queen's.  Until that year, only high school had teachers trained at MacArthur.

We made a movie together-I think we signed up for a short course on film making, and cast our friends with dramatic aspirations in our film.  I know we loved doing this and it was all about the life of a teacher in and out of school.  I have no idea what happened to this brief "masterpiece". We were idealistic and wondered I guess as well how we would adjust to the life of a school teacher.

David loved his native Annapolis Valley(which I had then never visited) and introduced me to his  favourite book, The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler, a book I enjoyed reading.  I think we thought it also had great potential as a movie.  Many years later I finally visited the Annapolis Valley and visited Wolfville where he grew up and where his dad was the post master and all through our day long journey I thought of him and how much he loved this beautiful area.  This picture was taken by one of his former swimmers.

He ended up teaching in Halifax and coached swimming and I met him several times when he brought swim teams to Ottawa and then Montreal.  My last principal in Montreal had a nephew who was on his team and I knew how well respected he was by his team members and their families.  That time in Burnaby he was staying with the family of one of his former swimmers.

I remember him and a friend staying with me in Montreal-I think they were on their way to Europe where they ended up at the home of one of my friends there.  Angela's parents wanted them to go to her wedding although they had never met her.  I loved that story!  He was also very kind of another friend of mine who moved to Nova Scotia.

He briefly went into administration  and decided it wasn't for him and went back to just teaching, and then ended up coaching swimming full time, becoming the head coach at Dalhousie and received many honours.  He did a masters and a law degree as well along the way as well. After retirement he ended up being convinced to coach the Acadia Team for this last academic year where he had once been a member of the swim team.

I kept thinking I would see him the next trip to Nova Scotia and maybe visit their cottage in Prince Edward Island, but that just didn't happen.  I had no idea he had apparently been diagnosed with cancer years before.

I was so moved by the beautiful tributes from so many of his former students. There have been newspaper articles and a beautiful obituary.  It was very clear that David was one of those people whose basic goodness and kindness were consistent.   And funny how I don't remember as many details as I wish, but I can still hear his voice with that Nova Scotian lilt.

I so wish I had had a chance to catch up or made a real point of doing so.  I always felt that it was a friendship that could have been easily picked up again.

Emails have gone back and forth with our mutual friend, Patti, who lives near Toronto.  She had seen him briefly in the spring and a couple of years earlier had made a trip with him and his partner, Alex, through the Maritimes.  She said she wished she was rich and we could charter a plane and go to the memorial this Saturday.  I had had a similar thought...I thought it was lovely that some of his former swim team members had their own memorial to him in Calgary this week.

A life too short but definitely well lived.  I skimmed a critique of The Mountain and The Valley and the author cited an interview with Ernest Buckler where the author said, "Heart is what we live by; I don't think we live by mind, I think we live by heart".  And when I read all these beautiful memories and how he inspired and encouraged and nurtured them as people not just as swimmers, it struck me how David lived by heart.

Now back to the title of this piece.  When you are younger, the people who die are first your grandparents' generation, then your parents' generation with only an occasional person your age.  Then it seemed suddenly it began being more my generation.  Ten years ago a friend was diagnosed with bone cancer and almost five years later died.  Another close friend  from childhood died that year as well suddenly.  Last year two friend's husbands died the same day.  And I could go on.  Recently a close friend here was diagnosed with stage four cancer and I was once again devastated.

The other day another friend, talked about having to learn to say good-bye.  Basically as we get older there are more people that we will have to say good-bye to.  And we kind of have to learn to handle this…

And yes, we do have to learn to say good-bye-and probably each time it is different, but I also know that spirits live on.  Scenes for instance just live on in my mind for one thing.  I can see my friend, Kitty, dancing on a boat in Goa or feeling her clutch on to my arm as we had a ride wild ride in the back of a car in New Delhi.    I can remember how it felt walking around our small town with my friend, May, waiting, for our lives to really begin; and then almost fifty years later spending an evening with her beautiful daughters and the grandchildren she didn't know would exist…And right now I feel so happy that so many young people were coached by David and still feel his influence on so many aspects of their lives.  I am so glad my friend had such a deeply fulfilling life and that I had the pleasure of his friendship.  

Friday I saw this perfect cartoon just when I needed to.  So here is to a life well lived...

Going home in time literally and figuratively...

A few days I came back from a ten day whirlwind trip back east.  I have had a yen for awhile to catch autumn colours in the Eastern Townships where I grew up.  They don't last long but they are brilliant.  It's hard to know when they will actually be.  Last year they were early and this year later.  Due to not booking early and wanting to use those pesky Aeroplan points I was a bit limited about when I went and how long I stayed.  Leaves were only really beginning to turn when I left Montreal, but eight out of ten days were perfect weather wise and I was able to do much of what I wanted to do.

I have lived in Vancouver for 35 years and have made many trips back east, but generally in the summer and sometimes winter.  I went once at March break and said never again as it was spring here and still winter there.  I was there just once in spring, the beginning of May, and that was nice.  Two trips back in Autumn were due to family medical emergencies and too early or too late to see colourful leaves.  I usually have too many things I want to do and often not enough time and this trip I wanted to go to Ottawa and Quebec City as well, two cities I haven't been in in years, as well as spend a couple of days in the Townships.

The trip was a bit hectic and I had a slight cold through most of it, but it was kind of wonderful.  Seeing friends and family, catching up, getting to hang out in favourite places, fabulous.  I even checked on houses I once lived in, and of which I still have nice memories.  I went to places I hadn't been before as well.  I saw friends with whom I had gone to university and hadn't seen since, but with whom I had picked up the threads of friendship thanks to Facebook.  I spent time with one of my photo group friends as well, and it felt as if I had known her forever.  I was able to spend  to see my best friend from childhood's daughters and see her grandchildren who she sadly never got to see.  I spent time with friends who I have known since we were young and have kept those friendships always.

I saw the film, Five Easy Pieces, in university, and I think that was the beginning of my yen for the West Coast.  Mountains, ocean…and I have lived here now longer than I lived in Quebec, and I doubt I would really enjoy those long winters anymore but…

I always find reentry a little strange-putting my life back into this orbit, but I do love living here.

I had a somewhat frustrating summer after my falling down garage in my backyard was taken down and then the contractor quit.  My backyard was finally  put back together the week I after I returned, and perhaps the landscapers' hard work in the back yard, motivated me to work on cleaning out the attic some.

I opened a suitcase and went through old pictures, a journal from my second year of teaching, an old letter never sent, and bad poetry.  Another life in many ways.  Some of the pictures were very fun and not looked at in ages.  After reading that journal from my second year of teaching, it is a wonder I taught 38 years more.  But somehow nice, that many of those friends then are still friends forty years later.  Old letter, bad poetry I threw out, but I think some of those images and revelations that I had forgotten are stamped again on my mind.  To be young…In some ways exhilarating, but also heartbreaking, frustrating.  In some ways I haven't really changed but I hope I have become a bit more even!
But I am so happy I grew up where and when I did in the Eastern Townships, and I loved being young in Montreal.  And yes, I loved going home...