Tag Archives: Remembering

And Then It Happens

We were sitting in the waiting room of the IWK Heart Centre when it happened.

I was looking around the room with a head full of thoughts. The play toys all seemed so small now. The chairs next to them so tiny. I remember how Mark and I would sit together in them and play countless games while we waited over the years.

We are sitting together today too. But there’s nothing little about him anymore. I steal a glance at him to my right ~ he sits taller than me ~ engrossed in his Michael Crichton book.

And then it happens.

A faint noise outside in the hall.

A honk?

I see Mark lift his head.

Wait. No. Not a honk.

A squeak. A rubber chicken squeak.

And then I can see it in Marks eyes ~ a sense memory that lives somewhere between his brain and his heart. From long ago.

That sound is more than familiar to us.

Mark discreetly but purposefully looks over his shoulder through the glass wall out into the hallway.

He slowly looks back to me and smiles.



We sit there for maybe one whole minute and we don’t say a word. I know without a doubt we are both thinking the same thing.

“What do we do in this situation?”

Mark is probably thinking “I desperately want to go see this person who was the most consistent part of my time here at this hospital. But I’m 15, and I don’t want to make a big deal and I’m not really a patient like I used to be.”

Meanwhile I am thinking “I can hear him playing with a young child.He is in the middle of something very important. And these kiddos deserve every moment with him. We had our time. Now it’s their turn. Plus we have an Echo to get done.”

This is what we are individually thinking in that 60 seconds.

That’s the key word. Thinking. This is what our brains are telling us.

But our hearts, well, they are much more straight forward. Our hearts simply want us to run out the door into the hallway and catch him before he is gone and yell (with no grace or humility) “We are here! Come see us! Play with us! Talk with us!”

But we don’t.

Ofcourse we don’t.

Instead I smile weakly at Mark and say “We should respect his time. We can try and drop in another time when he has a moment for us”.

Mark agrees and nods, and goes back to his book.

But I swear his ears are at 180% listening power trying to hear that familiar voice and laughter.

I know mine are.

And wait a second. Is that sound getting closer? It is. We both look at each other again and then before we have a chance to voice anything the door to the Heart Centre opens, and in comes a small boy, his mother, and a clown.

The Heart Centre waiting room is quite small with chairs lined along the walls facing inward to the centre. I am sitting immediately to the right of the door and Mark is next to me. I almost have to shift in my seat so the three of them don’t bump into me when it opens.

The Mom heads to the reception area and Buddington and the little boy sit smack dab in the middle of the floor – facing in our direction.

Mark and I can’t stop smiling.

Ear to ear smiling. We must look like idiots.

But we don’t say a word.

This clown who we have come to care so much for is working. It may not initially look like that to an outsider, but he is. His attention is focused on his work – on who is in front of him. He is fully engaged on the floor with the young boy. And its not our place to interrupt that, as much as we want to.

A minute goes by and we sit and watch.

I feel as if I’m in a dream watching this man, this clown, play with this boy – who I know isn’t my child – but it so mirrors the time we spent here. It mirrors my memories from long ago. It’s the most surreal feeling.

So I’m sitting here filled with nostalgia and gratitude trying not to cry, while Mark, well Mark quite clearly wants only one thing – to leap out of his chair and talk endlessly to him about his life now as a teenager.

And so we sit.

Silent. Thinking. Wondering if he would even recognize Mark now that he is a young man.

Smiling our stupid grins.

And then it happens.

The radiologist comes out to the waiting room and loudly and distinctly says two words.

“Mark Wilkie”

And at that moment, not taking our eyes off Buddington, we see his head raise up from the floor and meet our gaze.

The recognition in what he has heard is instantaneous and the look in his eyes match exactly the look in my son’s face: a mutual, genuine and deep affection that time hasn’t changed.

Mark unfolds his 5 foot 8 frame from the chair, walks over to him, and what happens in the next thirty seconds before we go into our appointment can’t be put onto paper or into words.

It will remain one of my most vivid and personal memories ~ that short interaction between them in that Heart Centre waiting room as they, together, process the years that have passed and the years they have shared.

You see, Buddington started working at the IWK only three months before Marks diagnosis. That was 12 and a half years ago.

We don’t remember the IWK without him.

And maybe ~ just maybe ~ in a way, he almost doesn’t remember it without us either.

There’s a Cupboard in My Kitchen

We built our dream home in 2006. When I say dream home though, please keep that in perspective. It is under 2000 square feet … it is no mansion. But it is very much “our” dream home … built in a beautiful, quiet, country setting in Nova Scotia with a stunning view out over the water.

We had waited so long to come home, had waited a long time to figure out the style of home that best suited who we were as a family, and we eagerly drew up the plans ourselves, ready to build a place we would call our forever home.

An absolute must was a large open concept kitchen. We are – by birth and by choice – Maritimers. And by that one small truth, you by default are required to have a large, warm and welcoming kitchen if it is within your possibility to do so. And we consciously planned for that.

We built a big island and tonnes of cupboard space, stained in a cinnamon colour I had them custom make for me. It is after all where Maritmers congregate. It is where we share drinks and food and laughter. It is where friends and family come and cook together and gather together. It is where secrets are told and burdens are shared and laughter rings out.

I knew all of this when I was designing it. I am proud of my strong roots and I knew … I hoped … that our kitchen would prove to be a place of countless parties, potlucks and dinners … with shared laughter and great memories. Eight years later all of this has come to pass. Every single moment. And there is nothing I don’t love about my kitchen. It is my favourite room in the house. Bar none.

What I didn’t know however, all those years ago, is that there would be a certain cupboard in my kitchen.

Now I’m blessed to have many beautiful doors in my kitchen, but this one is to the left of the fridge. I don’t remember if I chose it because it’s proximity to the fridge but I probably did.

This cupboard isn’t filled with spices or wine glasses or pottery. It’s not one of my corner cupboards that hold my entertaining dishes. It’s actually quite unassuming, but would come to be the most important and sometimes most often used space in my kitchen.

It’s my sons chemotherapy cupboard.

And I tell you … when I was planning our kitchen I never thought we’d have one of those!

But so it was.

As we moved into our new home and I unpacked boxes, I sat aside this cupboard for the three and a half years of medications and chemotherapy and paraphernalia we would gather over the years. As I unpacked China and silverware I also unpacked syringes and steroids and supplementary therapies. Side by side these things got put away.

So began our chemo cupboard for our son. There was Septra and ranitidine and methotrexate and 6MP. There were binders full of information and contact numbers galore. There were barf basins and Emla and piles of blood work. Thermometers and vitamins sat along with medication schedules and chemotherapy so poisonous I wasn’t allowed to touch it or even inhale it (meanwhile my son was expected to ingest it on a daily basis). Post it notes were stuck on the inside door and antibacterial wipes and purell abounded.

I would come to access this cupboard as much or more than any other one in my home.

And the thing is, is that I’m writing this in the past tense … which of course that part of our journey is over. But truth be told that cupboard … the one by the fridge … still hasn’t been emptied. It still stands there, waiting for me to take that step. I don’t know when that will be, but I know its time will come, like so many other things did from that time in our Iives. One can analyze that all one wants. But I have learned that things come at their own time and pace for everyone.

So yes. There is a cupboard in my house. One that most families have never had. One that we never thought we would need. But one that served us well, and that sits unassumingly in my favourite room of our home, with cinnamon colour doors and hematite colour knobs. A cupboard that will someday be emptied … when the time is right for me … and one that will hopefully never be used again.

And Then I Met Two Girls

Once Upon a Time.  We read those words so often as children, but I can’t say I have had the natural urge to use them in relation to my own life.  They conjure up visions of other worlds and fairytales.  Of times a little larger than life and utterly magical.

But I guess that is to say – I haven’t had the natural urge to use them for my own life … until now.

You see. Once upon a time … there was a place called Banff.

For those of you who have been to Banff you won’t question the validity of me using the much-coined phrase “Once Upon a Time”.  It truly is a natural wonder. And for those of you who have not only been, but have lived there, well, you will not only understand, but you will feel those words in your soul.

When I was 10 years old my parents saved up their money, piled us into a Ford LTD, with a trunk the size of my mudroom, and took us on road trip across Canada.  My father was a bus driver and my mother was a stay at home mom.  We didn’t have a lot of money but my parents were dreamers, and they saved and saved, and they made this 6 week road trip happen for us.  It was the best gift I ever received from them.  I will carry it with me forever.  I know this is where my passion for travelling began – but as I often say, that is another story.

The point of this one, is that one of our many stops across Canada was Banff National Park. While we were there my mom met a young woman from the Maritimes who worked in the town itself.  After chatting with her my Mom turned to me and said, with such conviction, “You can do that Karrie-Ann. When you grow up you can come here for the summers to work too”. I never forgot that. And when my university year ended and summer arrived, I high tailed it to Banff remembering being that little girl whose mother told her “you can”.

I remember getting off the plane in Calgary all those years ago. I knew no one.  As in nobody.  I was 18 years old.  I was 5000 km away from home and I was going to be gone for 3 ½ months. I was with no organized group or on any academic journey. I felt so alone that first day.

And then I met two girls. And that was that.  I wasn’t alone anymore.

Our summers were endless. They were those summers in between years of school and we were all just discovering who we were going to be in the world.  They were filled with parties and day trips and drama and boys and friendships. All of this set in the most breathtaking place you can imagine – with a backdrop of mountains too numerous to count and rivers and lakes so clear and blue you are entirely sure they can’t be real.

We worked on top of Sulphur Mountain and took a Gondola to work everyday. We worked above the clouds. Literally.  I mean come on.  We were kids from rural Nova Scotia and now we are working in the clouds. Yup.  We had the world by the tail.  And we knew it.  We lived every moment – and I do mean every moment – to the fullest until it overflowed. And when it did overflow we got up the next day and did it again.

There has never been a time in my life that can compare to Banff. It was possibly the only time in my life I ever remember having no real responsibility. My University experience was amazing – but there was still this weight and expectation of achieving something. I enjoyed high school very much, but high school seemed like such a small box we had to fit into. What was so unique about Banff was that there was no box. There were no expectations.  There was just this crazy mish mash of people who all shared a little quest for adventure, a little taste for travel and a shared desire to experience more than what was at our front doorstep.

But like every mish mash of people, there are those who rise to the top. And these two girls … well … they were my cream.

Fast forward 20 years to a weekend at a little cottage in a tiny place on the Amherst Shore of N.S. Fast forward through growing up, and broken hearts, and diplomas and degrees, and adventures, and marriages, and children, and opportunities that make you and challenges that break you.

Because there I was.

This past weekend.

Sitting with those two girls ….. because we will always be “girls” ….. reminiscing and laughing and catching up on decades of full, vibrant lives that have happened since our Banff adventure.

And in a way – to be honest – I thought we would be strangers.

But we talked like we did back then. With an honesty and a caring that happens when you have no choice but to rely on each other because you are so far from home for so long. Back when the world hadn’t taught us to filter our feelings quite so much.  Because when you are 18 it seems that all you have are ‘feelings’.  Feelings and emotions so raw and so overwhelming, bubbling to the surface you feel like you are going to explode.

Yes – there was something about the “realness” and easy-ness to the weekend that surprised me and that I treasured.

Our friendship began before cell phones, Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. Not once during the weekend while we were talking did any of us pull out a device during the conversation and check it.  What a gift that was.  How rare it is now I realize.  There was such respect for each other and conscious listening and sharing – of intimate and real things that had affected our lives over the years.  I couldn’t believe that comfort was still there after so long … after all … we didn’t even know each other as adults.

Being with them again was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

These girls reminded me of when I was fearless and young. They reminded me of a time when we seemed untouchable and invincible. Of a time when nothing seemed impossible and the only logical answer to any question was yes.

And I was reminded how some friendships are born – through necessity that turns into something more.

Banff gave me so many things. It helped me realize that the world can be as small as I want it to be or as big as I want it to be. That saying yes can pay off in ways you couldn’t dream of. It gave me a confidence and courage as a young person. It gave me an appreciation for nature and the beauty that exists in the world. It gave me a place to test my wings.

And it gave me these girls. These girls who I felt so uninhibited and real and safe with. Still. After all these years.

They say you can’t go back. I believe that. I do.  But this past weekend we didn’t go back.  We went to Amherst Shore.  And it was such a gift.

Remembering (and Not Remembering) Nine Hours

It’s funny in life what we remember and what we don`t. Why does our mind hang on to some details but let’s go of others? Is it the importance of them, or in turn the insignificance of them? I really don’t know, because I forget things you would think would be extraordinarily important, but remember inconsequential tiny details like the tile on a bathroom floor.

All of us have moments or events that happen that are life changing. Ones that you can never go back from. That change your worldview. That transform who you are to the core. What do you remember about those events? What don’t you remember? How do our memories of those events shape who we are now and how we navigate the world in the future? Or are they just that … memories? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. But I do know that as time marches on I am afraid of losing my voice … or forgetting who I was … who my family was … during moments in time that for better or worse are a part of me and that have made me who I am today.

Not very long ago I made a post called “That Time of Year Again”. In it I talked about the anniversary of a certain day and how much I tried to avoid remembering it, but memories are a tricky thing to avoid. So I decided instead to embrace them.

The following is a glimpse into the first nine hours into a part of my life you would think I would remember EVERYTHING about. It turns out the things I do remember surprised me – as did the things I don’t. Maybe that’s just me. Or maybe you have similar experiences when it comes to memories in your own life. Either way, it has been interesting to think about as I recollect a time that should be so clear to me.

I always remember it as Summer Solstice. Summer Solstice – the longest night of the year and the first official day of summer. I always thought what a great night to have a party. You know what I mean – one of those beginning of summer parties that everyone counts on coming to every year. Summer Solstice would be a great night for a party.

But these nine hours don’t really start on Summer Solstice – they start the night before.

My daughter Megan had a soccer game. She was five years old and I was convinced that soccer would be as good as sport as any for her to try. Megan thought that was just great … but she thought picking daisies on the field while the rest of her team actually ran after the ball was indeed much more fun. She still to this day would rather pick daisies than kick that black and white ball around the field!

Craig was working and I brought Megan to soccer practice with Mark in tow. Mark was 3 years old. 3 years, 2 months and 27 days old. It was a hot night and he fell asleep on my lap as I sat cross legged on the ground. Did I bring a chair? I think I did. I think I brought a chair but he fell asleep before I got up to get it. Him falling asleep on my lap will make so much more sense within 24 hours. But at the time it just seemed normal that my three year old was in the middle of still needing his naps.

I don’t remember anything else about the day – what we did earlier in the day or coming home. I don’t remember anything standing out until I got Mark ready for bed.

What DO I remember from that night? I remember the rash. I remember exactly where I was in his room. We were renting a house waiting for ours to be built so it didn’t really feel like ‘his’ room, but it was. I was kneeling down. The floors were hard. I remember that. I hated those floors. Laminate throughout the whole house laid right on cement I’m sure. I was kneeling and I took his shirt off over his head. I remember his back being covered in what looked to be a heat rash. I don’t remember anything else. I don’t remember tucking them in or putting them to bed. But I do remember going to the computer and getting on the internet. I remember something not sitting right with me.

I can still see the page that I found as clear today as I did all those years ago. I remember scrolling down and down until I found the description of his rash. It was the last one. It said go to the Emergency Room Immediately. I remember it was in all capital letters.

I remember walking him up the walk way to the clinic. I was holding his hand and he fell on the paved walkway. He cried. He was wearing sandals. Him falling seemed like a big deal to me. Why?

I remember waiting in the waiting room of the Berwick Clinic. I remember what chairs we were in. I don’t remember how long we waited or how many people were there or not. I remember the room we eventually went in but I do not remember how we got there. I remember the doctor and the little plastic rectangle he put over Marks rash. It looked like a lab slide. I know what he was doing now, but I didn’t at the time. Did I ask? I don’t remember.

I remember him having Mark lay down in the bed and …what? … feel his stomach. I know now he was checking the size of his liver which would have been severely enlarged. He told me none of this. I remember it was then I started to cry. He hadn’t said a word – but somehow I knew our lives would never ever be the same. They were not sobbing cries. Just big fat silent tears that streamed down my face. I remember him asking me why I was crying. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember him confirming that I had reason to cry. Not with any sort of diagnosis – but I remember him confirming them. What did he say?

I remember walking with him to his little reception area and him calling Valley Regional Hospital and telling me we didn’t need and ambulance – but we needed to drive directly there. Where was Mark? Still in the room? Who was he with?

I know I called Craig then, but I don’t really remember doing so. I do clearly remember seeing him when he came though. I was waiting for him outside the room and I saw him at the end of the hall. I remember seeing him standing there. I will always remembering him turning to look at me. He seemed so far away down that hall. I don’t remember what I said to him or what he said to me.

I don’t remember the drive to the ER. At all. I assume Mark fell asleep. I know this – but I don’t remember this. I don’t remember my conversation with Craig. Not even a little. I remember it was dark. I remember Mom and Dad came down to be with Megan who was sleeping in her room that really wasn’t hers.

I don’t remember checking in. I don’t remember being rushed in. But I do remember exactly which bed we ended up in at the ER and I do remember getting bloodwork asap. Mark was asleep. He had never had bloodwork before and I remember the phlebotomist asking me if they should wake him up. This question amazed me. I think it was then that I thought – maybe he can sleep through his whole night, and everything will be fine.

I didn’t really know what the right answer was – so we left him sleep. It didn’t take me long to know that this was the wrong answer. Who wants to wake up in a strange place and find strange people sticking you with sharp objects? It seems so obvious now, doesn’t it? It seems so obvious as you read it … but by then I was somewhere above myself watching the whole scene take place.

The ER at Valley would be the last time I would allow myself to be that distant-floating-person-removed-from-the situation … watching myself from above as if I was in someone else’s nightmare. Soon she would be gone and I wouldn’t allow her or anyone else to treat this – our life – as a nightmare of any kind. But for now – there I was – floating above it all for briefest moments of time which somehow also seemed like eternity.

I remember the docs asking about family history and I remember calling Mom. I remember what the phone looked like and felt like in my hands. I do not remember what questions they wanted me to ask her or what questions I did. I remember there was a point my brother had been pale in high school. I remembered the school picture of him during that year as I hung up the phone.

I remember having to have diarrhea more than once. I remember exactly what the bathroom looked like. More than anything I remember thinking “What the hell is WRONG with me – Mothers aren’t supposed be to be in the bathroom while all hell is breaking loose with their child! What the HELL is wrong with me? Get me out of this bathroom!!!!” I remember thinking how happy I was that the bathroom was 2 feet from his bed. Of course I didn’t really understand that my body was in shock. Not shock like we throw the word around in the world … like oh – she was in shock to be in this situation … but real medical shock – where your body just starts to shut down. It didn’t ofcourse. Not completely.

I remember the paediatrician on-call arriving and sitting in front of me. He sat at the end of the bed in a chair. I remember him having bloodwork in his hand. I don’t remember looking at it at all. I’m sure I did. This fact surprises me so much that I don’t remember. Cancer moms analyze blood work like we have a degree in it. It fascinates me now that I don’t remember looking at it. I remember him saying the word leukemia but would not diagnose it. I don’t remember what I asked or what I said. I don’t remember where Craig was physically. To my left? I remember the Doctor giving me his card for when we returned for treatment.

I remember being told we were heading directly to the IWK and Mark would need a transfusion as soon as we arrived. I remember being told we would go in an ambulance and I remember Mark being out on the stretcher. He slept the whole time they transferred him. Again … maybe he can sleep through the whole thing …

He actually did sleep through the entire ambulance ride.

I went in the ambulance with him and Craig followed it in the truck. Or van I guess. Or something. I remember worrying about Craig driving by himself. Craig never thinks anything can go wrong. I remember thinking if he would be ok. I remember being worried about him.

The ambulance drive was surreal – ofcourse – but the whole night had been surreal. I had to sit either backwards or sideways in the ambulance and this made me so very motion sick. And I remember thinking – once again – “Get with the program lady!” Again – some of it was probably shock – but I do get motion sick in general. Either way – didn’t want to be thinking about motion sickness at the time.

I remember saying over and over again … please let him be ok – please don’t let it be cancer. I remember rooting for it to be haemophilia. I really had no idea even what that was – but knew it had to do with the blood just like leukemia, and well – to me it sounded better than cancer. So I remember sitting in the ambulance with an annoying ambulance attendant hoping for haemophilia.

And boy DO I remember the ambulance attendant who sat with me. He talked incessantly. Looking back I’m sure it was his job to do so … to help ensure I didn’t go into shock. But my god – shut up already. Do you not see what is happening to us … SHUT UP!!! Then I remember him saying that Mark was very sick. I remember hating him for this. For saying that. At the time I truly remember a visceral hate. It makes little sense I know. But I remember that. Since then Mark and I have been in dire enough circumstances to have to be taken via the ambulance two other times and I have great respect and admiration for all that EMTs are and what they do. But that night I’m embarrassed to say that I did not.

I don’t remember entering the IWK and I don’t remember getting to the room. I do remember the room was HUGE. Like an entire freakin ward huge. We had it all to ourselves. I do remember it was about 2 a.m. And I remember the transfusion. His first transfusion. His first of … countless. No – honestly countless. His first of so many that soon it becomes ‘normal’ for Mark and no one calls to find out how it went … as if someone else’s blood products aren’t being pushed through your son’s body. As if there are no risks and as if he wouldn’t die if he didn’t get them. Soon it will just be another day. But this wasn’t soon. It was now.

I don’t remember them getting a line into him and I don’t remember him crying when they did so. You would think I would remember that.

I remember Mark was asleep and so was Craig. I remember the nurse. Platelets were the transfusion he needed and platelets have to be “pushed” through a very large syringe. So you don’t just get hooked up to a pole and let a bag drip down into your arm. A nurse sits there and literally fills her syringe from a bag of platelets and pushes them into my sons arm. Very slowly. It’s a process. I remember there were 4 bags (I would learn this to be a common number of bags for Mark) I remember thinking “Oh – they’re yellowish color – not red.”

I remember he had a fever and they were very, very concerned about that. I was so confused. I remember thinking they don’t seem that concerned about the possible leukemia … but they are up in arms about this little fever. I remember asking about that. I don’t remember their answer. I think it must have been vague. Little did I know I would spend the next 5 years fearing fevers – living and dying by a thermometers reading and a little something called febrile neutropenia that could take my sons life.

And I remember the nurse. She was my first experience with a little thing called hope. But not in the way you may think. We talked and she told me a story of how a boy came in a while back with similar symptoms and it ended up he didn’t have anything too serious … that he just had to wear a helmet for awhile. A helmet. I know now ofcourse that wasn’t really hope. It was false hope (later I would call this something else). I knew that then too. I really did. But I clung to the Helmut Story. And I remember at 3 a.m., sitting in the one hospital that every parent dreads … and I was thankful for that nurse and for her story. It was what I remember thinking about as I tried to fall asleep on the night … that had become morning … where everything in our lives had changed forever and there was never any going back.