Sunday, February 28, 2010

Congratulations Canada On A Great Olympics!

Congratulations to the organizers, volunteers, supporters and athletes on a magnificent Olympic Games. With the win by the men's hockey team, Canada has now won more gold medals than any Nation in Winter Olympic history.

The weather gods may not have been kind,but they gave the games their grudging support.

The critics of the games in other countries may have been harsh, but now its their turn and we'll be watching.

But, for tonight, we'll be celebrating.

As we should.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sepia Saturday--Johanna

Each week we are following the lives of members of my Great Grandfather Fraser's family as they appear in this 1890 family portrait. Last week we focused on Alexander (back row second from the right) and this week we look at his sister Johanna (far right).

Like her brother Alexander, I also did not know his older sister Johanna existed, although she was a widely acclaimed public figure in Toronto during the 1920-1930's whose passing made front page news in the local papers.

But then, I wasn't around in the 1920's. So, when I first caught of glimpse of her existence in 1990 it took me a full ten years to research her background. But what I found nearly took my breath away.

Poet, playwright, artist, composer, lyricist, teacher, when I contacted the archivist at the Sister's of St. Joseph to inquire about her, I was told, "Oh that one, if you're related to her you're related to a whirlwind."

Not exactly the kind of comment you'd expect to hear about a nun.

Johanna, known as Annie, was born in Scotland in the village of Portree on the Isle of Skye in 1871. Her family appears to have been frequently on the move with her parents born in Enzie, her brother William and his sister Mary Anne born in Inverness and the family immigrating to Toronto, Canada in 1872 (immediately after the birth of her brother Alexander on the Isle of Skye).

Although she was the fourth child born in the family, Johanna may have been the first of her remarkable siblings to have entered religious life. She entered the Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph, in Toronto, at 20 years of age.

Most of her religious life was spent teaching in the Separate school system in various locations around the Province of Ontario. In this apostalate her dramatic and musical talents blossomed and she produced songs, plays, poems and operettas for the pupils. Most of these plays were of a religious nature and brought her to the attention of the wider community.

One of Joanna's paintings, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Larger productions for the whole community followed: "The Poserello" on the life of St. Francis of Assissi (coincidentally the name of her parent's church where her brother William was associate pastor), "Christ the King", "A Salute to Canada 1867-1927" performed at Toronto's presdigious Massey Hall, and "The Lone Company" about the Jesuit Martyrs commissioned by Archbishop Neil McNeil.

All of these plays were produced anonymously and she was scandalized when the Toronto Star revealed her as the author, writing a scathing letter to the paper and creating more than a little controversy.

I have a copy of "The Poserello" which has a very dated feel to it. The convention at the time was to litter historical plays with as many "thees" and "thous" as possible but today it gives them an artificial and dated feel. Although there are moments when the dialogue just sings and its possible to get a sense of what audiences at the time must have experienced.

She died at a relatively young age for this family, at 61, on July 26, 1932, her obituary making front page news in the Toronto Telegram.


To see posts from other Sepia Saturday members (or to become one yourself) CLICK HERE

Friday, February 26, 2010

My Town Friday Shoot Out--Replay

It's the first Anniversary of the My Town Friday Shoot Out!

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Home Town Friday Shoot Outs (FSO). And that's where you'll have to go to find our post featuring a replay of our favorite shoot from the past year.

So come on over to see our contribution (and to find links to the all the FSO contributors from around the world)just by CLICKING HERE

See you there! And after your visit maybe you'll be tempted to join us?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Lindsay Helps Out

My car glides through the light covering of fresh snow on the surface of the parking lot and comes to a halt at the entrance to the park.

It is early in the morning and normally it would be quiet here, but Lindsay, on the back seat, hasn't been for a run in several days and is beside her self with delight. Alternately whining and barking, she is prancing back and forth on the seat waiting to be let out.

Taxol hasn't run through its kit bag of chemo side effects yet. Two days ago I was shivering, couldn't get warm no matter how many blankets I huddled under, and my joints felt like knives were being pushed into them. Yesterday those same joints were stiff and I was flattened by an enormous sense of fatigue. Today the tips of my fingers and the bottoms of my feet are aching.

But I have much of my strength back. And I'm as desperate to get out for a run in the woods as Lindsay is.

I open my door and crawl out of the car. Then open the back door. Lindsay waits with wiggling impatience for permission to jump out.

"Okay, Lins, lets go," I say and she leaps out into the snow covered parking lot. Then comes to a halt. Tail raised and stiff legged, she surveys the area for danger before I tug on her leash and we head off down the forest pathway.

After a while the pain in my feet feels no worse than walking barefooted on gravel. My body adjusts its tolerance level and we begin to make time.

There isn't a lot of snow and the forecast for today is for a light rain that might wash it all away. But Toronto has had so little snow this winter that even this mean whiteness is transformative.

Lindsay is beside herself, her nose to the ground, tail wagging, her feet a blur of motion. She runs off down the trail, then turns and runs back circling my legs in a kind of thank-you before heading off down the trail again.

She has a lot of energy to burn off and so do I. But it takes me a while to begin to realize just how much energy I have to burn. How necessary this walk was for me.

I had looked at this as a treat for her and a sacrifice for me. But I was wrong. Despite the pain in my feet, I can feel tight muscles beginning to loosen, tensions beginning to let go. It is an agony of relief.

And then we come to edge of the Scarborough Bluffs and suddenly the vast blue expanse of Lake Ontario stretches out to the horizon and beyond and the absolute beauty of the day is like a body blow that nearly knocks me off my feet. I grasp the trunk of a nearby tree for support as Lindsay and I look out across the lake and breath in the cool winter air.

I'm not sure how long we stood there before I turned and headed back to my world, its troubles and demands no longer seeming as forbidding.

Lindsay dancing with delight as she runs on ahead of me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Complexities Of Death

Death isn't a simple matter. It's a highly complex business.

Especially when you're in the midst of your week of chemo side-effects. Hopefully your last week of chemo side-effects, but that knowledge doesn't lessen the pain any.

In the blink of an eye I've gone from a strong man to one crippled with arthritis. I'm stiff and all my joints ache as if sharp pins are being inserted in my knees and elbows and fingers. I have a bone deep chill and cannot get warm. And a headache.

By the weekend it will all start to pass and by the middle of next week it will all be gone.

But it's this week that funeral arrangements need to be made for my mother. Her retirement home needs to be given 30 days notice of vacating her room, her phone needs to be disconnected, dental and optometrist appointments need canceled, an estate account needs to be opened at the bank, letters need to be written to distant relatives and friends, a notice needs to be prepared for the newspaper.

And decisions need made about her funeral service.

My brothers and their wives along with Linda and I spent four hours again yesterday at the funeral home, making decisions about flowers and urns and stationary. And signing papers.

This afternoon I will have to go back to make a formal identification of my mother before her cremation. You don't want to be cremating the wrong person.

Then I go back again on Thursday to sign more documents canceling her various pensions and health insurance cards and social insurance number.

Then it will be done. And I can rest. The chemo side effects will start to taper off over the weekend. The phone will stop ringing.

And on Saturday March 6th my mother can be laid to rest.

And my life can go on.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Peacefully In Her Sleep.....

Rosanna 2/27/1919---2/21/2010

Peacefully in her sleep, her family by her bedside, my mother, Rosanna, passed away early Sunday afternoon within minutes of receiving the Last Rights from the Hospital Chaplain.

She lived a long and vibrant life, faced adversity with intelligence and compassion and maintained until the end a delightful sense of humour and an enormous capacity to love.

As she, in turn, was always loved.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sepia Saturday--Alexander

Each week we are following the lives of members of my Great Grandfather Fraser's family as they appear in this 1890 family portrait. Last week we focused on Theresa (back row second left) and this week we look at her brother Alexander, standing to her right.


It all looks so easy now, and logical.

But when I first began researching this family I didn't know Alexander existed.

I certainly didn't know he lived in Chicago and had founded a very large branch of the family in the United States.

Alexander, the fifth child of William and Johanna Fraser, was rumoured to have been born on board the ship that brought the family from Scotland to Canada in 1873, at least there is a family story to that effect. However, newly discovered documents firmly place his birth in Portree, on the Isle of Skye, in 1872, the year before the family immigrated to Canada.

In any case, no matter where he was born, once launched, Alexander was a man on the move. After finishing his schooling in Toronto Canada, he became a stone mason who traveled extensively, following job opportunities around Canada and the northern United States. The smoke stacks that once graced the plant on the front of the Shredded Wheat box, were built by him.

Alexander married Ellen Hallett in Toronto and together they had eleven children.

My Grandfather Charles, Msgr John and Alexander at Alexander's home in Chicago

Ellen died at 33 years of age. Alexander's sister Mary Ann (who was already caring for his older sister Isobella's three children after her death just 4 years previous) stepped in to assist with the children.

With work scarce, and having many mouths to feed, Alex followed the job market to Chicago where he eventually met and married Mary Fitzgerald. Alex had not told Mary that he had been married previously and was father of nine living children. Wracked with guilt, when he found work away in Winnipeg he took the opportunity of distance to write to her fully disclosing his past. Mary had him immediately come home and together they caught the first train to Toronto where they gathered all the children and took them back to Chicago with them.

When I eventually connected with this family I discovered, counting in-laws, that Alexander had over 500 descendants throughout the United States from Circus performers to Army Generals.

Mary eventually added Francis (a Catholic Priest) and Gerald (a Catholic Priest) to the family.

Francis and Gerald were to play a key role in my unraveling the mystery that was my grandfather Charles, the black sheep of this family. But we will get to Charles story eventually and the key role Alexander played in his life.

Alexander died April 5, 1953 and Mary in 1965.


To see posts from other Sepia Saturday members (or to become one yourself) CLICK HERE

Friday, February 19, 2010

After The Bells Have Rung

Before the Bells have rung, I'm sitting on the bed in the Chemo Day Care Centre, my vital signs being taken by my Nurse for the day.

"Your blood pressure's elevated." She looks back through my chart. "You've usually been between around 130 over 65 and today you're 156 over 80. Do you have any unusual stresses in your life?"

"Beyond spending my day being poisoned in Chemo Day Care," I ask.

She laughs, looking back through my chart, "Oh that! That you seem to handle with a breeze."

"I have a mother in Emerge at Centenary Hospital."

"You still have a mother?"

"Don't get smart!" I smile. "Yes, I still have a mother. She'll be 91 in 9 days time, if she makes it that long. They've done all they can medically and are arranging to have her moved to Palliative care."

"Well that would explain your blood pressure," says the Nurse. "You need to find some ways to relax and take care of your self through these stressful times."

"Like coming here for the day," I suggest.

"Don't get smart," the nurse laughs. "Besides this is your final visit with us. Relax and enjoy it and maybe we'll let you ring the bell at the end. Do you know about the bell?"

Yes, I know about the bell.

And speaking of bells I know one reason why my blood pressure has been elevated. I haven't been sleeping well these past few days, expecting a phone call in the middle of the night to tell me my mother has passed away. This has been her 5th day in the ER and every day she has declined further. I'm as prepared as I can be for her passing, she is nearly 91, but but worrying about that possible phone call in the night is disturbing me.

Another reason is that my brothers and I are meeting with the funeral director, after I get to ring that bell today, to discuss funeral arrangements. I am not especially fond of funeral homes. Or making funeral arrangement.

Its not something that's wise to leave to the last minute, and this is about as last minute as we can get without it being the actual last minute.

The funeral director turns out to be a bouncy smiley woman in her late twenties who guides us to a table in the basement filled with urns and coffins. She looks at us in wonderment.

"Three men making funeral arrangements!" she sighs, "The world really has changed."

"Well we're not here to make decisions about flowers or urns," my brother Keith tells her, "Anything we decided about those would be wrong."

"Ya," my brother John agrees, "If you only had two choices, we'd make the wrong one."

"If you only had one choice,we'd make the wrong one." I laugh.

"So its just all the other stuff then," the funeral director says, sitting down and opening a large file at the end of the table.

And so we make decisions about the coming day and finances and costs and we get a discount because this qualifies as pre-planing even through we are approaching this so late.

And my blood pressure stays up.

And then John drives me home and I do a little tai chi and mediate for a few minutes and then turn on the computer and discover the world has been ringing bells for me.

And as I read comments after comments I can feel my blood pressure coming down.

I visit blog after blog in a state of wonderment.

And last night, again, the phone doesn't ring. And I do get to sleep, eventually


For today's Friday My Home Town Shoot Out on Town Plazas, visit my shoot out page HERE

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Bells Are Ringing!

"No, you can't go yet," said my nurse as I finished my final chemotherapy treatment and said a (not so fond) farewell to Taxol.

"There's something else?" I asked.

"Of course," she replied. "You can't ring the bell without me! Just give me a minute to finish up with this other patient."

So I waited and as I did I thought I could begin to hear other bells ringing in the far distance. No, I thought. It couldn't be. Not really.

The nurse finished plugging the codes into the new patient's intravenous drip and then took me by the arm and led me to the exit. On the way she gathered all the other nurses and volunteers in the chemo day care who were free. By the time we got to the bell over ten nurses were there waiting.

The bell is a good size, made of brass and is attached to the left of the exit door. To accommodate shorter patients, it has a long cord attached to the clapper. It is there for patients to ring as they complete their final chemotherapy.

I took hold of the cord and took a moment to think of all those who posted such touching comments about their own battle with cancer, or the battles family members have fought. And I thought of the hundreds of bloggers who where joining in this bell ringing.

Then I pulled the cord on the bell back as far as I could and RANG THAT SUCKER. LOUD AND LONG!

While the nurses and volunteers cheered and laughted with delight.

So I rang it again and they cheered some more.

The door exits into the Chemo waiting room where thirty other patients and their supporters waited their turn for treatment. And, to my shock, they were also all yelling and cheering and clapping as well.

Bringing me to a complete halt Stunned with surprise.

While, in the distance I was now certain I was hearing Hindi temple bells, ranchhand triangles, dog collar bells, cow bells, artistic Manor Iron Bells, jingle bells, Tibetan singing bowls, elephant bells, china dinner bells, Alaskan bear bells, cat toy bells, Andre Rieu playing hava nagla (honestly see Skip Simpson's blog for details)and hundreds of others more.

Eventually my brother-in-law Steven, who had spent the day with me, had to physically take my arm and move me out of the waiting room, cheers and applause following us down the long hallway. The sound only fading as the elevator door closed behind us and we descended to the lobby to find my brother John waiting to drive us home.

Home to my blog and all of these comments!

I am beyond moved.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bells For Thursday

I am overwhelmed.

When Anvil first suggested others might want to join in and celebrate my final chemotherapy by joining with me in ringing bells, I expected maybe ten people. Twenty at most.

Not hundreds.

But hundreds it is and from all around the world: Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Asia, South Africa, the Caribbean and undoubtedly many other places as well. Just look at some of their names listed on the sidebar to the right. Or better yet, go visit their blogs where many of them are also celebrating.

People are ringing cow bells, school bells, door bells, church bells, temple bells, bike bells, cell phone bells and even playing YouTube videos of bells ringing.

I'm thrilled to have you all with me and truly humbled by the response and the support. I know many of you are also ringing for family and friends who have also been touched by cancer and I salute you and I will be ringing for them as well.

On Saturday Linda and I took my family out to celebrate my oldest daughter's and her husband's Birthday (their birthday's are only 3 day apart) and at dinner my wife Linda gave each of our grandchildren presents as well. When they opened their presents they discovered they had each been given a bell to ring, along with all the rest of us Thursday at 2 pm (those are their bells in the photo above).

As many of you know my 90 yer old mother was rushed to hospital on Valentine's day after a series of falls at her Retirement Home. Her condition has continued to decline and she was moved to Palliative care this afternoon. So my own bell ringing, while joyful, and loud, will be tempered by an awareness of the fragility and preciousness of life.

Please listen for me ringing that bell at 2 pm and I promise to listen for you as well!

With deep appreciation,


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Calm Centre

We are at the calm centre of a nightmare of activity in the Observation Room of Centenary Hospital's Emergency Department. Around us swirl and moan the sick and injured, their families and doctors and nurses.

My mother is mumbling quietly, her hands occasionally reaching out for things only she can see. Rarely the mumbles become words, "shoes and boots" she'll suddenly say, or "I could tell she was angry with me". My mother's voice, its timber and pitch unfamiliar to me.

We are sealed off from the turmoil around us by a thin curtain and more than enough worries of our own.

Tired from an hour of tai chi this morning, I am trying to concentrate on Eliot Pattison's book, Prayer Of The Dragon, when my mother's mumblings suddenly become coherent as she starts to whisper a song in her new but tiny voice.

"O're land or sea or foam,
You can always hear me singing this song,
Show me the me the me..."

Her voice trails off into confusion.

"...the way to go home." I finish for her and she suddenly smiles with contentment. "Oh, hello son," she says.

"Hi mom" I say, taking her cold hand. "How are you doing?"

"Is it time for breakfast?" she asks.

"No mom, it's 2 o'clock in the afternoon."

"Oh is it? I don't feel like having an egg today."

"You're in hospital, mom."

"Am I? (Show me the way to go home, I'm tired and I want to go to bed....)Did you say we were having breakfast?"

"No mom. Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

"She didn't want me to wear shoes. Boots....She was angry with me..." her eyes close and she drifts back to muttering.

I continue to hold her cold hand for a while longer, looking at her tired face, her hair unkempt, her eyes fluttering, her breath laboured. In my mind I'm picturing the photo we have of her in our family album, in her bridal gown, her face nervous but radiant, being escorted to the church by her father, an amazingly long life time ahead of her. Two husbands, four sons, a stepson, four daughters-in-law, five grand children, four great grand children.

And for the longest while I just stand there, holding her hand and stroking her hair.

She is eleven days away from her 91st birthday.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Because My Life Lacks Sufficient Drama

This wasn't how I'd planned to spend Valentine's day.

Linda and I had taken our daughters and their families out for dinner the night before and had a quiet Valentine's Day planned for ourselves.

We exchanged cards and gifts in the morning, did a little blogging, read for a while and were discussing where to go for dinner when the phone rang.

Although Linda answered, I knew right away it wasn't a typical call. Phone calls from our family and friends now follow a new protocol. People no longer say "Hello how are you?" Instead they say, "Hello how is Barry?" and Linda spends five minutes giving them an update on my condition.

But this person wasn't interested in me and Linda was saying things like, "Oh my gosh, how is she?" and "When did it happen?" and "Where did they take her?"

It was my brother Keith calling about my 90 year old mother. She'd had a series of falls in her senior's residence that morning and they had sent her to the ER at Centenary Hospital. My brother's wife is a Registered Nurse and is the Residence's contact person for medical issues. Keith and Lynda were on their way over to the hospital and would phone when they arrived.

And so we waited for their phone call.

Which eventually came. My mother had a number of bruises from the falls and was somewhat disoriented and dehydrated. She was still waiting for a doctor to examine her. She had been sent to the hospital without her glasses and was asking for them. Could I go her Residence and pick them up?

Well yes, I could do that.

And that was how I managed to spend most of Valentine's Day at the hospital. By the time I got to the hospital with the glasses, mom had been admitted to the Observation room and had been examined. The doctor had ordered blood work, an electrocardiogram, a chest x-ray (suspecting a chest cold had turning into pneumonia) and a CT scan.

Realizing it was going to be a long haul, Keith and Lynda went home for a while and came back to relieve me at seven o'clock.

I got text messages from Keith up to midnight. The CT and X rays weren't completed until 9 oclock and from then until 12 they were waiting for the doctor to read the results and give them some feed back.

Lord knows what time Keith and Lynda finally got home but it would have been late. Very late. It isn't 8 am yet so still a little early to call them. Although the news couldn't have been too dramatic or they would have phoned no matter the time.

I'll wait until 9 and, if I haven't heard by then, I'll phone.

Today, in Ontario, it's Family Day, our new Provincial holiday. A way to break up the vast distance between Christmas and Easter. I suspect I'll be seeing a lot of my family today.

At the hospital.

The photo above was taken last year on my mother's 90th Birthday. She will be 91 on February 27th.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Love doesn't make the world go round,
Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.
~ by Elizabeth Browning ~

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sepia Saturday--Theresa Fraser

Each week we are following the lives of members of the Fraser Family as they appear in this 1890 family portrait. Last week we focused on William (back row far left) and this week we look at his youngest sister Theresa, standing beside him in the pretty dress .

You are one of only two members of this family that I knew in person.

And I hated you.

Well, perhaps it wasn't you I hated exactly. I had nothing against you personally. I just hated visiting you.

Once every month or so my father would force us to get dressed in suits and ties and drove us to the convent where you lived your life behind closed doors. We were admitted to a visitor's room where we sat in silence on beautiful but uncomfortable chairs.

As a cloistered nun you were not permitted in the same room as us, but sat in the room next door, opening a small partition for us to communicate.

You gave my four brother's and I hard candy to suck on, one piece each, as if they were precious jewels. And you were old, so old and delicate.

We boys were not used to delicate things. We were not used to old things. We were not used to female things. We were not used to sitting still. We were not used to being silent.

What I remember most about you was how your lower lip always used to be so wet it glistened.

Teresa followed the example of her older sister Annie, and entered the religious life by joining the Convent of the Good Shepherd at 17 years of age, receiving the Habit on August 5, 1893 and being professed on August 8, 1895, taking the religious name of Sister St. John.

Teresa's older brother William was a carpenter who was hired to do some necessary work around the convent. So touched was he by the peace and tranquility of his sister's new life, that he left shortly after to become a Trappist monk himself.

Perhaps I could have tolerated my visits more, or even enjoyed them, if I'd known that she had not always been a cloistered nun and had once lived a much more adventurous, and even downright dangerous, life.

In 1900 she was one of a band of five missionaries chosen for work in Mexico. Here she learned the Spanish she was fluent in for the rest of her life. After nearly a decade at this work, she was forced to make a dramatic escape, fleeing for her life to the United States at the start of the Mexican revolution in 1910. At the U.S. Mexican border she was forced to disguise herself in secular dress and to wear makeup for the first time.

But, when I knew her, this was ancient history to her and not something she ever spoke about.

After she returned to Toronto, Sister St. John was named Mistress of the Magdalens. According to the Archivist of the Convent, "Her exuberant nature soon won the hearts of her charges and for thirteen years or so, she guided, directed, and consoled these dear souls through their many trials, temptations and difficulties, celebrating her Silver Jubilee with them."

She was named Mistress of Novices in 1932. Again, according to the Archivist, "She had great love and zeal for the Missions and inculcated this missionary spirit in her Novices. Naturally enough, her predilection was for the Scarborough Foreign Mission Society her younger brother John had founded, and as she became acquainted with the young Seminarians, through her Priestly brother's petitions for prayers for their perseverance, she would designate a certain Seminarian to each Novice to keep under her spiritual wing."

Playing religious matchmaker from the tranquility of her convent.

Like her older sister Johanna, she was a skilled artist but water colour, not oil was her preferred medium. Her beautiful floral borders grace some of her sister poems.

In 1940, at age 65, Sister St. John was retired from her charges and turned to Sacristy work in the laundry, mending, pleating and folding Sacristy Linens until eight months before her death at 86 years of age, after a lengthy illness.

Over 14 priests served at her funeral including her nephew, Bishop Francis Carroll, of Calgary, R.S. Diemert, the Superior General of the Scarborough Foreign Missions and P. McGovern, the Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto.

To see posts from other Sepia Saturday members (or to become one yourself) CLICK HERE

Thursday, February 11, 2010

FSO--The Aquariums of the Toronto Zoo

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Home Town Friday Shoot Outs (FSO). And that's where you'll have to go to find our post on The Aquariums of the Toronto Zoo this week.

So come on over to see our contribution (and to find links to the all the FSO contributors from around the world)just by CLICKING HERE

See you there!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Staying In Touch

"Do you mind if I touch you," she asked.

"No, not at all," I replied, without any concern that my wife might object.

It was the respectful question the Tai Chi instructor always asked before physically showing us how to reposition a errant limb.

Or limbs, as it was in my case. She turned my hands palms up, pulled both arms closer into to my body, placed my left arm over top of my right.

"There," she said. "Do you feel the difference?"

"So I was only doing everything wrong" I guessed.

She smiled, "Well, just about."

I was having an odd experience. The harder I tried to perform the required Tai Chi moves this week, the more I was messing up. And I was messing up a lot.

Which only made me try harder.

And mess up more.

The tiny, but limber, instructor moved back to the head of the class. Paused. Looked back at me. Shook her head, and came back over.

"You know what I think you're doing wrong this week? You're trying to think your way through this. Your body knows what to do, but you've lost trust in it. Stop thinking and just let your body do what it knows how to do."

And I thought, oh great, now how do I do that?

She held my gaze for a minute before walking back to the front of the room. "Lets start over from the beginning."

We all lined up.

And I stopped trying. Just went along for the ride.

And found my body did know what to do. Not perfectly, but much better than I did.

We repeated the first fourteen moves twice more before she called us to a halt.

"No no sweety," the instructor called out, but this time to one of the women in the class. "Do you mind if I touch you?"

"Oh please," said the woman. "It's been a long time since I was last touched!"

We all laughed.

And I discovered I had a right brain that knew what it was doing.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Bell And You

High on the wall next to the exit from the Chemo Day Care Centre at Princess Margaret Hospital a bell is waiting for me. As I mentioned in my post a week ago Friday, there is a ritual at PMH that those patients completing their last treatment of chemotherapy, ring the bell as they leave.

And whenever it rings the nurses and volunteers and other chemo patients pause for a moment and applaud.

When I finish my last injection of chemo, on Thursday February 18th at about 2pm Eastern Standard Time, I'm also ringing that damn bell!

As loud and as long as I can!

My cancer may not be cured. I may find myself back there again sometime, but for now, at least, I'm declaring victory. After all, you don't have to win the whole war before celebrating victory in battle.

When I posted my intention to ring that bell last Friday a number of people told me they would listen for that clang. Bonnie, in Montreal will be listening as will Two Flights Down in Japan. A dozen others have told me they plan to applaud and cheer and dance.

Now if I really hammer that sucker and if things will just quiet down on the 401 corridor between Toronto and Montreal, it is possible Bonnie might hear a triumphant peal just on the edge of audible sound.

And I might just hear the sound of her cheering in return.

But even if we were to shut down the engine of every city between here and the west coast and managed to turn the mighty Pacific Ocean into a mill pond, I can't imagine the ring of that bell making it all the way to Japan.

Alas, poor Two Flights Down!

Fortunately, people have started offering to help, to join in the ringing of bells on the 18th.

a former teacher will pitch in, as will JarieLyn, and Leslie Avon Miller, JeanetteLS will ring and dance and Delwyn has her donger all ready.

If you'd like to join us in the effort to get the sound of that bell all the way to Japan, just let me know in your comment to this post and I will create a box on the sideboard listing all those who are planning to join in: ring a bell, applaud, cheer, commit to making some kind of joyful noise around 2 pm on Thursday February 18th (Eastern Standard Time)!

Not just for me, but for everyone who has ever struggled against impossible odds and won.

Lets declare a victory on behalf of us all and let the world know it!

Or at least Two Flights Down in Japan!

Bell photo courtesy of Photobucket.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Sepia Saturday-- William Fraser 1867--1952

My great uncle, William Fraser, was born on April 2, 1867 in Inverness-shire Scotland and immigrated to Canada at age five in 1872. This photo of him with his younger sister is the oldest in our family album. He attended St. Paul's School in Toronto and the University of Toronto's St. Michael's College. Following his graduation (about 1888) William joined the building trades as a carpenter like his father, working at his trade for over a decade. Then he made a very dramatic move,joining the Trappist Monks at the Abbey at Our Lady of Gethsemani of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, in Louisville Kentucky in July of 1896 at 29 years of age. Although second oldest in the family, William was the last to join a religious order.

William became attracted by the monastic life after doing some carpentry work at his sister Teresa's convent. The peace and tranquility of her new life as Sister St. John, had a profound affect upon him.

William also believed that the monistary offered hope of his becoming a priest. However, when it became clear that this was not to be the case, after three years as a monk (he had taken the religous name of Brother Andrew), William left in 1899 to study for the Priesthood at the Collegio Brignole-Sale, in Genoa, Italy where he majored in Philosophy. He was ordained on March 31, 1905 and literally set sail to join his younger, brother Msgr. John Fraser as a missionary in Ichi Kiang, China until 1909. However, he did not have the same linguistic skill as his brother and could never master the Chinese dialect. He returned to Toronto as Associate Pastor of St. Ann's Parish until 1913, then was named Pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Grimsby Ontario. 1915 found him serving as Associate pastor at St. Michael's Cathedral and associate pastor of St. John's. In January of 1917 he served as associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi (later St. Agnes) at 15 Grace Street in Toronto, just a block away from his parents home at 41 Grace St. He was joined there for the summer of 1917 by his nephew, the future Bishop Francis Carrol, just prior to Francis Carrol's first appoitnment as pastor of his own church. William was still at St. Agnes when his parents died, within six months of each other, in 1920.

Fr. William Fraser, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Father William was an easy going man who enjoyed a cigar and a occasional drink. When in the wake of a scandal involving a young priest, the church, in Toronto, decided no priest would be permitted to drive within twelve hours of consuming alcohol or ever ride in the same car with a woman, Father William, one of the oldest men present at the meeting called to announce the new rules, publicly challenged the Cardinal's decrees, saying they went too far. The Cardinal was not amused.

After a brief stint as administrator of St. John the Evangelist Parish he returned to China with his brother from 1926 until 1929. Finally returning to Toronto in 1929 at 52 years of age, he was appointed Champlain of Loretto Abbey and Loretto College School, an exclusive Catholic Womens College in Toronto. According to Sister Juliana Dusel, General Archivist of Loretto Abbey, William went blind in the latter years of his time at the Abbey, however he had memorized two forms of the Mass (The Mass of the Blessed Virgin and the Mass of the Dead) so that he could continue to serve. However, blind and now old, his saying of the Mass began to take so long that the Sisters, required to be at their various schools to teach, were frequently made late. Sister Juliana also notes that, "he is remembered fondly by all who knew him, and who describe him as having been always kind and gently--an excellent chaplain to the Sisters and our boarders."

revwilliam, originally uploaded by Anexplorer.

Notes from the handwritten annals of the Abbey track his decline:

"April 16, 1950 - Father Fraser has not been able for some time to say mass. He is not able to walk and comes to the second Mass on Sundays in a wheel chair. Msgr. Fraser is soon to leave for Japan and the parting will be hard.

"June 5, 1950 - Bishop Carroll said Mass at 8 a. m. He is to give the priests' retreats at St. Augustine's Seminary in the next three weeks. He spoke of Father Fraser and intends to speak to the Cardinal, he thinks Mercy Hospital would be the best place for him now that he is no longer able to say Mass.

"Sept. 22, 1950 - Our dear Fr. Fraser whose strength has not returned enough to enable him to say Mass at all since last March had finally become reconciled to moving to Mercy Hospital and was ready when a room was announced for him for today. Mother General and a number of the community were at the door to see him into the car with Mr. Smith (driver for the sisters), his radio and other things occupying the other seat. M.M. Dionysia had done much, and Mrs. Ralston his neice the rest, in sorting and packing everything. He was very lonely leaving but cheered up somewhat when Mother General (Victorine O'Meara) held out the hope that he would come back to say Mass in the new chapel."

Father Fraser lived out the last years of his life at his nephew, Bishop Carroll's beloved St. Agustine's Seminary until his death on November 24, 1952 at age 85. He is buried in the Regina Cleri Cemetery in Scarborough Ontario. Bill and Rosanna Fraser, attended his funeral where they met several relatives (Father's Frank and Gerald Fraser) who were Catholic priests from Chicago, Illinois, son's of William's brother Alexander, from the Chicago branch of the family. Father William was well known to them and had visited them in Chicago many times.

Carpenter, Trappist Monk, Parish Priest, Missionary to China, religious poet, Chaplain to St. Micheal's Hospital and Lorretto Abbey. Although the paths of our lives crossed in time, sadly I never met him and never even knew of his existence until I began researching my family history in 1990.

To view the many other contributors to Sepia Saturday, most not as wordy as this one turned out to be, CLICK HERE

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Shoot Out--Circles

Linda and I are continuing to combine our efforts and jointly host a single page for our Shootouts on Friday. And that's where you'll have to go to find our post on CIRCLES this week.

Our joint contribution will continue at least until I'm through this new round of chemotherapy (which will end on the 18 of February!!).

To see our contribution please CLICK HERE

We'll see you over there!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Proof The Universe Is Unfair

Lindsay is standing in the open doorway of the bathroom wondering what I'm doing.

I'm wondering what I'm doing.

Alright, I know it's called shaving and I used to do it everyday, sometimes twice a day, across my full adult life (well, except for that year I grew a beard but that's another story).

However, chemo is suppose to kill all rapidly growing cells in the body, including hair. I've lost my eyebrows, and the hair on my head and other places, and yet my beard continues to grow.

Not grow normally, mind you. It is weird, scraggly, wispy stuff that now grows on my face. Oddly brittle, it also hurts when I touch it, sort of like pushing pins into my flesh.

This weird stuff grows slowly, so I only have to shave every ten days or so. And shaving it is more like wiping cobwebs from my face than scraping away an actual beard.

Lindsay looks on with intense fascination as I apply the shaving cream. I take out the razor and, due to the cobweb-like consistency of my chemo-beard, in thirty seconds I'm done. Shaved for the next ten days. And as I start to put my shaving equipment away she gives me a look that says, "You're done already? You went to all that trouble for thirty seconds of running that thing over your face? Humans are weird!"

No Lindsay, humans aren't weird, chemo is weird.

And the fact that I still have to shave during my time of baldness is proof the Universe is unfair.


Willow has asked me to post a picture of me in the beard I mention in this post. I grew it about 9 years ago to look more "grandfatherly" for the birth of my granddaughter Natasha. Not many pictures were taken of me with the beard (for which I'm grateful), but here is one that survived. Obviously I'm the one with the beard. Also in the photo are Linda and Natahia.

Remember, you asked for it. Or, at least, Willow did.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Corrosiveness of Doubt

I doubted.

I hurt and I shivered and I doubted.

And I sat, immobile, frozen to my core in a warm house under two blankets.

While the red numbers on the digital clock moved forward at an inexorable pace.

There really was no sense going to tai chi today. I had missed the first class and the forth class, out of four, due to conflicts with oncologist appointments. That was fifty percent. Half the sessions. I was too far behind with no hope of catching up.

And I was wracked with chemo side effects: I had lost feeling in my feet and finger tips, all the joints of my body ached, I had a head ache, a sharp pain in my lower spine, I had bone deep chills and couldn't get warm no matter how many blankets I put on, and I was weary and profoundly tired. All I wanted was another blanket, a comfortable position to lie in and to be left alone.

While the red numbers on the digital clock moved forward an an inexorable pace.

It was stupid to go to tai chi. It was stupid to have signed up for tai chi in the first place while I was still on chemo and would be missing every third session due to hospital appointments. Missing today would put me so far behind I would never catch up, but I could take the class over when it was offered again in the spring, when chemo was finished and I could make every session.

However, while my brain was busy debating the issue, I pushed off the blankets and got up on weary legs and started putting on my coat and shoes.

This was stupid. I shouldn't go. I'd missed too much, I hurt too much. I was too far behind.

I put on my hat and walked carefully out to the car.

Besides, I thought, it's too late. I'd spent too much time debating whether to go or not and now, unless I got every green light, I'd be late for class.

I started the car and made every green light.

At the Scarborough Village Recreation Centre the class hadn't started yet. The previous group using the room had run late and my group were still waiting in the lobby.

One of the women was complaining to the instructor that she was so far behind that she was getting confused with the movements. And suddenly everybody was agreeing. They were all getting confused. Confronted with a mutiny, the instructor agreed to use today's class for a review.

And she had brought a tape of the first 17 movements if anyone wanted to borrow it. It wasn't available in DVD, only on VHS. So there were no takers. However, I still had my VHS player hooked up to my TV and since no one else was interested, I took the tape. And asked the Instructor to order me my own copy.

In the class I discovered I was no more confused and behind than a majority of the people. And as I moved and stretched and twisted and reached I began to feel better. Aching knots in my body began to undo, painful joints eased.

Now between the tape, an instruction book my cousin had sent, and with the last of my chemotherapy sessions looming on the horizon, I began to believe I could do this.

I had faced my doubts, caught up with the class and went home a happier man.

At home I buried myself under three blankets, whimpered pitifully a few times, took an Advil and went promptly to sleep.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Beautiful Noise

Let's try this again. I just lost an entire post. Hit the wrong button, or something and poof it was gone. Now it will have to be a more modest posting--

Neil Diamond has invaded my head. He is not often there, but when he does come to visit he is often hard to shake. His music is infectious. I walk with Lindsay along the beach at the foot on the bluffs, trying to focus on the sounds of the waves, the rustle of the wind through the bushes and trees, the music of the bird calls; but all I hear is Neil's tribute to the sounds of the City.

It was my fault, of course. I had invited him in. I'd been thinking about a recent Friday Shootout on the sounds in our community. And suddenly, there was Neil singing.

And singing.

In my head.

However much I might yearn for the peace of the country, I am a city boy, and the sounds of the City I love fit me as well as a hand in a glove....

The weather was mild enough yesterday for me to go out on our back deck and listen to the sounds of the night: the distant whistle of the GO train, the hammering of the guy three houses over who's building something (what do you build outdoors in the winter?), the sirens from the fire station a kilometer away, the sirens from the EMV on Kingston Rd a kilometer in the other direction, the roar of the 747 passing over head. Ah, and breathe in the taste of that air (cough, cough)!"

Alright, I love the city that I know, where I was raised and lived most of my life. But I love the country too, where I lived for more than a decade. Like Neil, but in a more modest way, I'm caught between two shores.

Or maybe I just need to go back to bed.