Oh Canada Day

//Oh Canada Day

Oh Canada Day

Do you have a typical thing you do to celebrate Canada Day? We’re so darn close to the U.S. border, have you ever done some bad planning and ended up in the U.S. for Canada Day and then find you’re heading back home on July the 4th? I recall wistfully seeing fireworks from various locations over the suburbs of Detroit once while driving east along I94 toward Sarnia.

These days, I like to start Canada Day off in the best way possible by doing Jazzercise on the Beach in Grand Bend. I’ve done it for various charities – Terry Fox Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation and then many years for the Roy Davis Foundation, a charity set up to support kids in sports, something my nephew Roy, who died way too soon in 2007, was passionate about. This year, more than 50 people came out, on a frigid (but not rainy!) morning, to work out and we raised over $2,300 for Wellspring London and Region, in memory of Bonnie Lupa, a dear friend of my dear friend Kathie. Bonnie unfortunately died of cancer in 2010 and her daughter was able to pay tribute to her in this way.

Huddled in sweat shirts, we then sipped coffee and chatted over snacks at my cottage and in the afternoon B and I and remaining friends and family wandered over to the main beach to listen to some bands playing. Fireworks, lit off the pier, don’t start until 10 p.m., so the anticipation was tremendous, especially since this is the first year Simone and Naomi got to see them. We claimed a spot on the beach just after 9 and watched, amazed, as a crowd gathered, mostly wearing red and waving everything from small flags to glow sticks to sparklers to a fantastic neon bubble gun. “People are so fun!” Jetanne said and we discussed how we need to step up our game.

The main event was spectacular, but response from my two wee girls divided – Naomi chewed her blankie and stared in awe and Simone, our super-sensitive one, covered her eyes with her blankie, because of the sound, and actually managed to fall asleep. She must have seen some of it, though, because they both talked excitedly about the colours – “and the blue, and the purple, and the green, and the red” – on the walk home.

Ten years ago, I could not have envisioned such a fulfilling day surrounded by friends and family. Here is how this charity event began, from an excerpt of Long Climb Back – Trekking through loss and beyond:

My mother-in-law died of cancer on June 28th. She struggled through the night and as dawn approached her daughter Gail whispered to her, “It’s okay. We’re okay now. You can go.” She drew another ragged breath and let go. Because of Hugh’s death, perhaps we were selfish and hung onto her longer than we should have.

Her funeral service is on Canada Day in the afternoon at the same funeral home as for Mom, for Hugh. I’m not responsible for arrangements so I haven’t run into Dawn of the Dead. I’ve noticed that the colour of the high-ceilinged chapel is the same as my high-ceilinged living room at home. “Medieval times green” I think Deb called it. It even sounds depressing. I must change it.

This will be a big day of faking it for me as I’m hosting Jazzercise on the Beach in Grand Bend with my Jazzerbuddy Louise in the morning. She waits for me on top of the cement platform of the Beach House at 8 a.m. with a small black Tim Horton’s coffee.

“You doing okay?” she asks handing me the coffee, hugging me tight.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff crammed into my head,” I tell her.

She pulls back and we study each other through dark shades. “You’ll be fine. You can do it.” She smiles bright, rubs my biceps and goes back to assembling her stereo. I post music lists, tape Canada flags to the outside railings and set up the registration table. This year, Louise and I decided to make it a charity event for the first time. We chose the Terry Fox Foundation, the same one as for Hugh’s funeral. With Hugh’s aspirations of running marathons, Terry Fox was a big inspiration to him, running the equivalent of a marathon a day on one leg.

I read somewhere that living with the disease of cancer can equate to a feeling of living without hope. Yet here I have two fine examples disputing this: my mother-in-law and Terry Fox.

I also read recently that without faith there are no answers. With faith there are no questions. Besides searching for a “new normal”, I am looking for faith. My dad, a devout atheist, has been institutionalized for a couple of decades now due to alcoholism. After Mom’s death, Ray, Jana and I wheeled him to a bank of windows in his room at Parkwood Hospital to tell him.

“I’m sorry about my wife,” he eventually forced out in a harsh voice I didn’t recognize, drool sliding from the corner of his mouth. “But do we have to sit here all day?” The sun bombarded his eyes, but still, his response was heartbreaking.

I figure being atheist didn’t help him any. I’m such a realist though. I haven’t been able to take that leap people talk about that is necessary to adopt faith.
Turning back to the event at hand, I see Gail and Tina emerge from the stairway, so I show them the paperwork and the stack of white T-shirts, emblazoned with a red maple leaf and the word “Hope”, that are for sale.

By the time I’m ready to welcome everyone and begin the warm-up, Gail and Tina confirm there are close to sixty people in attendance. I let Louise take over instruction for a while and join the participants in the front row. The sun is warm on my back, the lake aqua and inviting in front of me. It always amazes me how on a calm summer day Lake Huron can provide such a tropical vista. All that’s missing is palm trees. People are sweating around me, laughing at their mistakes.

I take over instruction again, proud that Louise and I can attract so many people to work out with. I focus on the routines I know so well, giving them that extra energy to boost the participants’ response. Toward the end of the hour, Gail and Tina inform me that we’ve raised over $3,400. Wow. That feels good.

There is no time to go back to my cottage for food and refreshments, so we break it all out on top of the Beach House, eating and slurping ravenously in the sun.

After gathering my equipment, I race home to shower, practicing my mother-in-law’s eulogy in my head over and over. I’m honoured to verbally share how positively her life, her incredible smile, influenced my life. And I’m upset that this is the third eulogy I’ve written in less than a year and a half.

Canada Day fireworks were cancelled in Grand Bend on July 1st due to fog, so will be lit on July 2nd. I’m back at my cottage with the kids and an exhausting revolving multitude of their friends. Don and Tina are coming up later and we’ll be visiting various friends of our own in the village. I spend the morning in the hot sun, cutting grass, weeding flower beds and watering window boxes. I recall a summer morning from a couple of years ago when Hugh and I sat on the back deck sipping coffee, going over all of the chores we needed to do before we could go out in the boat.

“Wait a minute,” Hugh said, shoving his feet down and propelling himself out of the zero-gravity deck chair. “We have a whole crew in the basement.” He disappeared into the cottage while I smiled and cradled my coffee, recalling the noise Tan and her girlfriends were still making at 2 a.m. that morning. A short while later I watched Hugh instructing five unhappy hung-over girls toting various tools – lawnmower, weed-whacker, hoses, brooms, watering-can. Hugh and I finished our coffees, packed towels and a cooler and took them all out in the boat to thank them. One of the girl’s faces turned green, she started puking over the side of the boat and we had to return her to shore.

I feel sad and scared when I have this memory. Sad because I miss Hugh terribly for the first of each event I must do without him. Scared because Jay is the one that needs this done to him now and there is no one to do it. I picture myself trying to rouse Jay and his friends to help me. I see them laugh at me, roll over, go back to sleep.

I take a book down to the beach in the afternoon. The Deeper Wound by Deepak Chopra. He wrote it in response to 9/11. I sit on the beach in the sun, listening to waves lap, watching people swim and play, trying to get in touch with Rita’s soul. For my own survival, a survival that is worthwhile at least, I know I must go inward rather than outward. I consider accepting what Deepak says, that life and death walk hand in hand, that creativity needs death for evolution, that real, physical things are less enduring than intangibles, like time, gravity, love.

As dusk approaches, I assess the situation for watching fireworks. I decline an offer by Don and Tina to watch them with friends who are couples and they grab sweaters and head off. The kids have various friends they are hanging out with. I throw on my white Olympic sweat suit with the red stripes, the one the kids gave me for my birthday last year, made in honour of the 2004 games. A year of extreme highs and lows for me. 2005 feels capable of just lows. I grab a small bottle of Grand Marnier and one shot glass and go down to the boat. I hop in, open the motor cover, turn on the battery and pull out the rear light post. I make sure the lights work then lean over to the lift to lower the boat into the water. The river is the colour of a soldier’s combat gear, so the lift keeps destructive algae from growing into the hull. Putting it into neutral, I give it tons of gas, wham, wham, wham, like Hugh taught me and it starts right up. Many boats are heading down the river into the lake to watch the fireworks, which are set up on the pier. I wait until a break in boat traffic and ease out.

I’m still nervous driving the boat so much on my own, but I do it because I have to. Once I find a safe water pocket to drift in amongst the boats and away from the flashing lights of the police boat, I turn the engine off and pour my drink. I watch the sun sink, glorious and orange, casting brilliant pinks, reds and purples onto the low-slung clouds once its final tiny crescent is swallowed by water. I note the dry tiredness around my eyes. My lids, both top and bottom, feel like little cardboard disks caked with shop dust. I blink, moistening them, then turn my gaze to the pier and wait. I think about how Hugh surprised Don and Tina and I last Canada Day when we’d driven our bikes to the east coast to take Mom’s ashes home. We were in Halifax that day and Hugh arranged for us to go out on a tug boat to watch fireworks explode over Halifax Harbour. It was bitterly cold that night so I bought a Canada Day sweat shirt for myself, picking up Canada Day boxers for the boys as a joke, which they put on over their jeans. There are pictures of us laughing outrageously.

One year later, I push couples away because I feel I don’t belong. And I just helped bury Hugh’s mom and there is no one to talk to about her.

The fireworks start against the great dome of black sky, reflected in the black water. I hear “oohs and ahhs” from the boats around me.

“There is no better place to watch fireworks than over water,” I recall Hugh saying.

You never had to do it alone, Hugh. You never had to do it with just your soul to keep you company. Why do I have to?

There I go asking questions again. Which leads me back to the issue of faith.


Leave A Comment