December 6, 2018
I have just finished reading Jann Arden’s beautiful book, Feeding My Mother. It’s Jann’s story of losing her mom to Alzheimer’s Disease. Feeding My Mother is on our book club list for next month, otherwise I might never have picked it up.
After all, I’ve done dementia…my dad, Lincoln’s dad, my mom growing frailer and more lost to us by the minute, and Lincoln. I wasn’t sure I wanted a share of someone else’s sorrow. I wasn’t sure I wanted all those memories tweaked, all the grief buttons pushed. I am not finding this second year of mourning a whole lot easier than the first. Why should it be?
I cried as I read and I laughed almost as much. Jann Arden is brilliant and self-aware and very honest and very kind and very funny. Often, I was laughing and crying at the same time. She told her stories and I remembered ours, Lincoln’s and mine. And yes, all those grief buttons got pushed and yes, it is hard to keep having to live in that place but, when I am brave enough to go there, I am always sad but never sorry.
This morning on my CBC newsfeed there is a story about the restoration of the Gem Theatre, in Grand Forks, BC, little-town-of-my-heart, our home for over 30 years. The Gem is set to re-open, after this past spring’s devastating floods, because the owners, Marius and Maureen Paquette, have spent $200,000 of their own money to make it so.
Lincoln loved movies and he loved sitting in the front row of The Gem. That beautiful, old space has a full orchestra pit in front of the small stage and the big screen…so the front row is a very comfortable place from which to watch. My man, chronically late for almost everything, was always on time for two things—work and movies—and for movies, we were usually early. I remember many bitter cold winter nights standing outside The Gem, stomping my feet to keep them from freezing, while we waited for Marius to open the ticket window. And it was Marius who had to make the 911 call on my behalf when Lincoln bolted from the theatre and from me on another bitter cold winter night.
We never went to another evening screening at The Gem after that evening; I learned, in breaking-heart ways, that the dying of the day ramped up Lincoln’s symptoms, his confusion and his fear. But we managed a few late afternoon matinees. We showed up for one 4 pm screening and it was clear there was no one else in the theatre. I told Marius and Maureen we would go home, that they didn’t need to run the movie just for us. They seemed shocked at the idea! Of course, they insisted, they would run the movie.
Our routine was to buy the kiddie pack of juice and popcorn that came in a nice manageable box with a holder for the juice. It was perfect for my shaky hands. I eyed the chocolate bars in the display case and asked Lincoln if he would like one. I should have known better. Decisions were beyond him and his distress was obvious. I changed the subject…I was learning…and we took our front row seats. Minutes later Maureen sat down beside me and handed me a chocolate bar, and not just any chocolate bar, not one from the display case, but obviously one from their private stash. A large, thin bar of smooth, dark chocolate and, I am sure, an expensive one. Such a sweet kindness. I watched the beginning of the movie through tears. No one who knows the Paquette’s will be surprised by this story but that moment, that gift lives in my memory as one of my most treasured. For all that Marius and Maureen lost to that horrific flood—the amazing memorabilia, a lifetime’s savings, the emotional cost— they will always have the deep love and respect of one small town because they are good, good to the core, and their actions speak to their goodness in very big ways and in the very small.
The grief is unavoidable no matter how or where we try to stuff it away. We just have to walk with it. That’s all. And we need the examples of the brave and the good, like Jann Arden, like Maureen and Marius Paquette, to show us the way forward.
I think how lucky I am that this is how my day began.