Understanding Comes with Time

Don
First published March 17, 2012 on facingcancer.ca

St. Patrick’s day is renowned for raucous celebrations, mad-cap parades and great craic. On occasion, I’ve enjoyed it myself (once in Dublin and another time in Belfast but since both of those resulted in missed flights back to Leeds I don’t like to recall them too often.)

What I do recall too often though is that on this day in 1967 my mother, Eleanor, died after spending six months at Toronto General Hospital in her ultimately losing quest to beat bowel cancer.  I was 14 and ever since have felt a little chill every time I drove past TGH.

I take that drive quite often now, or did last fall when we were spending a lot of time with Kate’s team at Princess Margaret.  It is now getting to the point where I don’t even much like driving up University Avenue.

However, now that I have become familiar, as an adult, with cancer treatment and as I’ve looked out from PMH across the street to TGH I wonder if cancer treatment advancements could have saved my first mom, Eleanor.  What a difference that would have made to my sister and me.  And, for my father, who traveled every single day from our home in Hespeler to Toronto to be with her, I now have greater understanding and empathy than ever before.  I am just fortunate that my caregiving doesn’t require a 120 mile/day round trip.

It is still difficult for me to dwell too long on telling tales of my 14th year and how the lingering impact of my mom’s departure influence me ’til today.

In my dark moments, of which there are mercifully few, I think of my own boys, Gabriel and Samuel, and can’t envision for them a life that does not involve the every day hugs and laughs and scoldings and treats and advice that come in their interaction with Kate.  In the brighter moments I am so very grateful that medicine has come so far and that on some level the sacrifice Eleanor made in the early to mid ’60s somehow benefit my beautiful wife.  That is the golden thread through all of this and the one anchor that keeps me loving Eleanor (I should mention that she was actually my second mom as I was adopted as an infant so yes, I am one of the chosen people!) and feeling so supported by people past and present.

It also reinforces for me my commitment to make this blog somehow useful and to let other 14-year old boys know that even if you experience the depths of adolescent hell, there is hope eternal and a great life to be had as you move forward.  If you’re lucky to be embraced by loving family and friends you can let some of that anger go.  That energy you expended giving an extended bollicking to the snow drift present at graveside can be turned to a useful purpose and that out of darkness light will emerge.

Yes, every year on St. Patrick’s day I wonder.

I loved you Eleanor.  You helped me grow to the point where today I can extend to my wife and my sons the love you showed to me.

Bless you for that always.

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