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The Healing

Story ID:6415
Written by:Richard Laurent. Provencher (bio, contact, other stories)
Organization:Retired
Story type:Family Memories
Location:Truro, Nova Scotia B2N 2B2 Canada
Year:2010
Person:Richard L. Provencher
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The Healing

“Dickie? Your father passed away suddenly tonight, a massive heart attack. It was so fast. I can’t believe it. He’s gone.” Then the crying began. After speaking a long time with mom, 2,000 miles away, I hung up the phone Thoughts and feelings swirled through my brain.

*

It was four years ago since seeing you, dad. At the time you had been operated on for lung cancer. “He should be as good as new,” the doctor said, trying to be cheerful after the hardship you went through.

You survived eight days in the Intensive Care wing. Usually a patient was out of danger in six, and relocated within the hospital. Or, they were dead. You survived being on life support on two occasions after the removal of one third of your lung.

“He’ll have no second wind,” the doctor said at the time.

I remember the hush in the room at my home in Nova Scotia, where close friends gathered. They shared my concerns hearing you had undergone a lung cancer operation. A hurried decision was made, arrangements quickly completed and the plane was soon taking off from Halifax airport.

My prayer was, “Dear God, please don’t let dad die before I get there. I have things to say.” They were answered. The mission statement emblazoned on the wall of St. Joseph’s Hospital ended with, “Caring hands” a testament to their care. You were the recipient of quality care from those loving hands. A twinkle sparked in your eyes briefly, then the doctor was gone to share some news to others waiting, on behalf of their own kin.

I remember the Family Room held ten or twelve people. Most had been crying for a loved one holding on in the Intensive Care unit. Except for a couple of teenaged children, who shuffled nervous feet, unsure of what to say. As I stepped through the doorway, my sister Susan, your daughter held a handkerchief to her face. After a brief hug, I went in to see you, dad. The other patients could barely lift their eyes as I walked past.

You had tubes coming out of tubes. “He’s on Life Support,” they said. You looked old, much older than 76. Still so young, I thought. I knelt and said a prayer. Later you challenged me with, “I suppose you came all this way to save my soul.”

I didn’t know what to say at the time. If I had been quick enough on the draw, I would have answered, “Of course. I sure didn’t travel 1,500 miles by plane for nothing. And certainly not to see you die,” I would have added. But at the time, there was no desire for joking. I was thankful you remained alive.

“The farthest dad ever walked was from his apartment to the liquor store down the block,” we used to joke.

At St. Joseph’s hospital in Toronto, most patients aren’t aware of the hundreds of thousands of cars whizzing by a short distance away. One of the busiest highways in Canada propels vehicles forward, almost like out-of-control kites. But, inside the hospital most people don’t seem to care about the traffic. Their concerns are about getting well, walking home, and returning to family. Some had working shifts waiting for them, and children to care for.

It was a dream for many patients to climb from their hospital beds. Then sit at their own dinner table with family. Maybe even have a glass of water, wine, pizza, or salad. Anything. Just to be away from the medicine, needles, and pain. And all those white-smocked people coming into the room and staring. Many would bend towards the patient and whisper concerned thoughts. After leaving, the patient was left wondering how long the healing would take.

A few family members were on their knees in the corner, praying. I joined them with my own lips moving silently. It was like being a child again. Many years ago, I did this very thing. On my knees in the classroom, facing the back of my wooden chair. My bony knees always hurt. A priest once told us, “Pain and hardship brings you closer to God.”

As a child, that kind of advice simply provided confusion. Surely our God was not a God of pain and retribution, I thought.

*

The first time I had a confrontation with you dad, I was three. At the time we were living on Taschereau Street in Rouyn, Quebec. Even at that age, I realized one has to be quiet on wooden sidewalks. Mr. Rubick owned the apartment house we lived in. And chasing noisy children was not on his list of favorite things to do. Thankfully, we lived upstairs at the back, out of his sight.

One day when I was older, I let a kitten drop from the second story onto the grass below. It was a stupid thing. The pussycat was not hurt. I never forgot that moment of pain when I rushed downstairs to check on the cat. By the time I got there, she was gone. Since then, I have always taken excellent care of my cats. It’s as if I had to make up for that mean moment in my life. I was eight at the time.

How do I remember that incident, dad? It’s incredible how the mind works. And images filed away seem to spurt forward on occasion. Not long after the cat incident, I had a birthday cake party. I still have the picture and verify the count of eight candles.

Memory even carries me back to age three, when I wandered down the street via the old wooden sidewalk. It was right in front of our apartment and seemed like a highway to somewhere. I was always on the go. And my growing legs became bolder wanting to see over the next hill, or the end of the boardwalk. I have that same child-like curiosity today.

Except, at that young time in my life, it was a “No-No” to head to Osisko Lake, situated in the center of town. I was enthralled by the sound of engines. Otters and Beavers constantly landed and took off for parts unknown. My soul wanted to be part of their excitement. Later when my own children were growing, I learned the depth of worry and love a dad has for their child. While I stood watching the activity on Lake Osisko, the back hairs from my head stood up. I dared to turn around and saw you coming with a willow branch to ‘smack my butt.’

I remember doing a lot of praying all my young life. Everyone told me I was going to grow up, be an altar boy, then join the priesthood. I did neither. But, I never stopped praying for your recovery. That time four years ago, my prayers covered me like a blanket as I now headed for Toronto once again. Except this time, you would not be waiting for me.

*

I was lucky to be able to mooch a ride with dear friends. Actually they felt sorry about my sadness. It’s not the most pleasant news to hear your dad has died. So many thoughts kept churning in my mind, yet, glad to have made peace with you in Toronto, four years before.

It’s as if the prayers I had brought then all the way from Nova Scotia stirred your soul. You had recuperated enough in the week I was there to be released shortly after I caught a plane home. If only … those words, left in a corner of my mind had been spoken... “I forgive you, dad,” just a short phrase. I know you would have loved to hear not just the quiet closing of my mind to your ranting in the past, but my quiet whisper of forgiveness as I stood over your hospital bed.

*

As I watch through the car window, thoughts of your funeral occupy my mind. Why is it we don’t visit often enough when someone is still alive? Somehow I must make an effort to visit my siblings, scattered from Toronto to Vancouver.

My friend’s car takes us through Fredericton, NB. It’s a lovely city, with trees of white birch surrounding many beautiful homes, and secluded back porches. An Irving Big Stop whizzes by, city of Salisbury too then another truck resting place. Some drivers are snoozing, others playing in the games room. Instead of prowling the highways like those men of steel-eyed resolve, I’m on my way to dad’s funeral. With friends who kindly changed their travel plans, leaving a day earlier for Toronto.

Imagine just for me, and for my dad. We’re going to be together again, one more time. My spirit is numb as the countryside blurrs along. My eyes glaze over, torn between memory, scenery and tears. Trees flip by, acreage stretching far into the next ridge. My mind flips through a journey of recollections, progressing from childhood forward.

As I breathe, I can still smell the pizza we ate a little while ago at Pizza Delight. 10 toppings. I had my usual ample share. Licking my lips, the aroma still covering me like mist.

Edmundston sprawls beside the highway outside my window, like an alley cat snug across several hills. Houses are sprinkled in random bunches, shingles scented with colored patterns. Mismatched ones a reminder to owners where rain used to penetrate into rooms below. Someone must have had to duck between raindrops. A friend perhaps, someone without much knowledge in matching properly, was kind enough to volunteer the job. In any case, the act is done and the rain now redirected across the roof, to rusting eaves troughs.

Notre Dame de Lac this time of year is like a breath of icy surface. Its bays are finger-shaped spreading in five directions. One of them is an outline similar to Moose Bay Beach, from my childhood in North-Western Quebec.

Patches of white lay in lazy clumps, aside the highway. The snow like mottled colors on a Guernsey cow.

Leaving New Brunswick, the sun splits the mountain from sky. It pierces eyes, distracts my vision, and slowly creeps into hiding as our highway dips into the next valley. I’m like you, dad. I care. I hurt. I cry.

Remember the time mom and I went looking for you? It was Payday at the mine and you weren’t home in time for supper, for two straight days. Looking for you meant a boy of twelve had to be a man and take his worried mom from bar to bar. Gambling and booze loved your precious paychecks. Yours was a favored feast. I found you sitting at the table in a back room, cards on the table with a stack of loose paper money in the center. My young hand shot forward and grabbed a bunch of bills.

“Take your hands off that kid,” a boozy stranger’s voice said at the time. You just sat there, bleary eyed, proud of your boy. You knew I was only a kid but gutsy, making his move, because the time presented itself. That attitude often helped me in my quest for future employment years into the future.

“Mom’s outside in the foyer waiting, dad,” I said at the time. No movement, just sadness in your eyes. No money left in your pocket, with five kids and a wife back home needing more than words of love. As I grew up into the world I felt that same helplessness mom felt, knowing there was going to be little to eat for a few days.

I remember that young boy, me, retreating to the front of the appropriately named, Sports Taverne, in Rouyn. Weaving between tables of empty glasses, stale air and go-go dancers noticing they hardly wore a thing. My eyes flicked around, right and left, a tightness growing between my legs. I wasn’t supposed to like coming in there, but I did.

Mom was waiting. Unescorted ladies couldn’t enter the Taverne, but male kids like me could. It was confusing.

*

My friends and I drove into the Province of Quebec at 8 pm; 7 pm Truro, Nova Scotia time. Greeted by purple streaks, pastel strands of cloudy wisps, silver and gold wrestled for sky space. It was a nice welcome for a return to my home province. As darkness descended, rumbles of wheels followed. Trees mashed together in darkness, only their tops bathed in rays of descending sun, reluctant to leave this world.

House lights lit up like flames from jack-lanterns, directing us to Riviere Du Loup. Hills as sleepy lions humped along the shore followed our car’s movement as it sped along on rubbery steps. The man in the moon seemed sad. He must have looked into my soul. Truck trains, two 52-foot trailers, full loads attached to a semi roared alongside. Trees whizzed by, water flashed silvery reflections, and the sky tumbled into a sleepy stillness as farmers continued to plow their fields.

Bedroom lights peeked between blinds, peering from windows. It’s as if a ranch was tired out and shutting down after a hard day on the range. You enjoyed reading Zane Grey westerns. So did I. I always wanted to be a cowboy, ever since I was around eight. I remember running around in the snow after opening up my neat Christmas present, cap guns blazing. I wanted to be the hero, the brave one capturing villains. And rescuing helpless damsels, waiting for someone like me to come along.

It was my nature always wanting to help others. And perhaps explains why I spent twenty-two years in Community and Social Services work.

I was so young and innocent in my youth. And as I grew older, much of that bravado left me. Life’s bruises stuck like shades of brown skin. You kept telling me how tough the world could be, especially after you climbed back home after the Second World War. Dear dad, so much to remember. My head feels like a cliché. Burnt fields outside my window appear as darker patches within a spreading quilt.

A car begins to race ahead on a road parallel to ours. Front and sidelights challenging. Wants to play -- now going ahead. It’s just like you, isn’t it dad? I know it is. Always telling me I can do better. Sometimes I can’t move fast enough to keep up. Guess I’m not supposed to get ahead of myself. And I know you’ll be there waiting for me, at least in spirit.

No nagging, no complaining and giving me no chance to sulk and run off into the woods where my respite always waited, by some bank alongside a wilderness lake. I’m really trapped here in the car, a captive heading in only one direction, to a funeral, yours.

I can see where Levis Ultramar oil storage tanks are followed by the Quebec City Museum of Civilization; then Travelodge Motel. Signs and more signs begin to dot the landscape as an out of control blustering of signage. From Quebec City, buildings of glass are trim bricked footsteps of light adorning the highway, pointing the way to Toronto.

The eastern sky is a sliver of silver, peek-a-boo eyes of orange on the horizon. Residential developments arise as splayed models of architecture. Hewett Caterpillars are in rows of yellow, sleek tools of construction.

My transformation from wimp to overbearing at times began as a six year old. In frustration over some silly disagreement, I tried to punch a boy in the schoolyard, missed and hit the cement wall instead. Pain and shame accompanied my hurting in class. I remember the taste of blood on my knuckles, upturned edges of skin raw, causing me to wince. Even now I can still make out the scars on three knuckles of my right hand. Perhaps it was then I vowed to use my tongue instead of fists.

Sorry about that, I did enter a boxing tournament at high school, won the preliminary, got clobbered in the final. Never boxed again, and that is the truth. I still remember the blood over the front of my t-shirt; mine. And mom screaming at my ruthless opponent.

Billboards are colors of information- CAP SANTE one reads. My tears begin to fall recollections of our few precious times together fade as our car continues on Highway 40 Ouest. A black sky hovers overhead, surrounds us like a piecrust. Moving forward, onward, a metronome in my head, while in the background of our car, a song. “God is Good.”

Waves of geese are squadrons of newness, a journey of their return. They remind me of the wonderful year I spent in James Bay. I wasn’t lonely at all, with the Moose River breeze confronting me as I stood on the shore looking across towards the Federal Reserve. I know you were proud of me dad, going all that way up north to work with the Cree Natives. It helped me grow up quite a bit.

More signs begin to show up, as we get closer to our destination.

TROIS RIVIERES 35 MONTREAL 205---Fleur de Lis are painted on the side of a wood shed. Separation used to be such a big thing among the people when I lived in Rouyn. Now it’s mostly the politicians trying to figure out who will be King of the glorious hilltop. We turn off on Highway 40 Ouest to Montreal.

Wood chip piles waiting for usage like us, wanting to be useful, and piled higher than a rockslide. BAR COUNTRY is another billboard of information. Steeples from churches rise boldly among the lesser buildings, as a mother hen surrounded by baby chicks. 8:30 am traffic begins to pick up. Cars of all sizes, makes, colors are hurrying. Why?

The flow of civilization is the first sign of human activity. (If only, you could do as it says in the Bible, dad. “Arise and come forth,” Jesus said to Lazarus). I wish you were here right now, talking with me, instead of just listening to my ramblings.

Lawnmowers cough all over the boulevard, a man picks up refuse on the side of the road, and I close my eyes. It’s now two days since you died. And I continue on my way. RUE SHERBROOKE, ST JEAN BAPTISTE billboards. I remember that lit up cross on the hillside. It’s been about twenty years since I climbed those steps to St. Joseph’s Oratory. And remember Brother Andre and his saintly ways.

Long lines of traffic match acres of oil refineries on either side of our highway. Montreal roads seem to be covered in endless rows of slow, then faster vehicles. I’m pleased my driver knows the way. The condition of my mind wouldn’t allow me to concentrate on driving.

40 OUEST CORNALL 59

OTTAWA-HULL TORONTO 490

BRIDGE TO USA TORONTO 360

Construction continues on our overpass, more developments to maneuver around. Kemp Park Playground is a collection of swings, wired up baseball backstop and grass. Remember dad? When we played ‘scrub-baseball’ with the neighbors?

Everyone used the empty lot beside the Veteran’s town-site in my hometown. Boys, mothers, sisters and fathers of all ages, shapes and sizes joined in the fun. I could barely swing the bat properly then. I’m better now. I almost got a homerun when I played on my wife’s Montreal bank team in Sarnia, Ontario. In fact our team won the championship. It was so exhausting; I never played since.

Highway 401 separates at Kingston. Did driving fools cause this? It’s such an expense to prevent careless ones from smashing into one another. We stopped and ate at Arby’s in Brockville. I remember flying in a Cessna with a friend back in 1968. We drove speedily from Toronto to Brockville to pick up a plane and practice landings. After taking off, the ground below looked like squares of green shades. I was the navigator trying to find our highway on a road map.
Imagine, me, the shy kid with googly-glasses. Bullies used to chase ‘four-eyes’ like me. And here I was telling my friend where to fly his plane. I was the esteemed Navigator.

TRENTON 19 TORONTO---154 Trenton Air Cadet memories remind me of my first summer camp in 1955, an LAC at 13. And the second time there at age nineteen I was a Pilot Officer. Six of us were in charge of about 400 kids, under the supervision of adult officers, of course. What a summer that was. And I know that page of memory is still fresh in my heart. I know you were proud of me, dad.

PETERBOROUGH---At Haliburton Scout Camp nearby, I was a Composite scout leader for two summers. You were dumbfounded I would dare to drive 400 miles on a Honda 50, with a top speed of 30 mph. And I drove all that distance including every secondary road imaginable. It was a great experience. Learning to organize canoe trips was a challenge. working with a four-person team helping 32 kids from the Toronto area enjoy a summer of bugs and trees. On Haliburton Lake, new swimmers learned a thing or two.

And that small Honda motorcycle my best friend Steve loaned me in 1964 sure came in handy. It got me from my home, along a busy highway safely to my destination. Yes dad, family and friends sure make life worthwhile. It’s now 3pm.

OSHAWA 17 TORONTO 72---Remember the Cub camp I went to, and my old girl friend in Oshawa? “About time you got interested in girls,” you said at the time. I wonder where she is now. TORONTO 57. Traffic is now picking up, all heading for the big city. AJAX 67,000. I remember when the population was 10,000 in 1965.

SHEPHERD -- KINGSTON RD---Now we’re driving on the outskirts of the big city. I’m always amazed how a large number of vehicles can pour into Toronto and find a place to park. The sign says TORONTO 2,260,000 pop (now amalgamated). There was a lot of hullabaloo about how it would be more efficient if all the surrounding towns and cities joined together for the sake of efficiency. Only folks who live here know whether it works properly or not.

CTV, and other huge business towers are more like tall trees over residential areas. Cars now join us, as an army on the move on our left, the other side of a never ending-cement road divider. NEW EXPRESS TOLL HIGHWAY---is an interesting message.

AVENUE ROAD---signals its approach. Remember the summer job I had in Toronto as an Air Cadet? I was learning about Orenda engines. You knew how much I hated grease and oil. But I wanted to get away to the big city. You did say “Learn by experience,” and I did, often.

KEELE ST – BARRIE---Now I’m getting closer. WESTON RD---The signs keep coming, sharing routes, exits and miles to go before any kind of peace could take place in my heart. But there is such a pathway of signatures from many areas of discovery. Signs keep pointing the way. They’re a link to my destination, to your side.

Even though we won’t speak again, I look forward to seeing you once more dad. Sadly though it will be to see you in your coffin.

Remember your accident in Toronto, the year after our whole family moved there? You followed that car into the yellow light, and the other fellow stopped suddenly. It was the last time you drove after that fine and suspension. I believed you dad it wasn’t your fault. After all these years of driving I now understand how easily it could happen. AIRPORT---My driver-friend says we’re 1,710 km from Truro, Nova Scotia, where my wife, Esther, awaits my return.

TERMINAL 2-NEW PARKING (Large Garage)---Originally, this was certainly a surprise a whole new area needed for incoming planes. You didn’t like to travel by plane much, dad. But I did, guess it was because of my enjoyment from six years in Air Cadets.

HWY 427 to QUEENSWAY to STEPHEN DRIVE---I finally get out of the car on Stephen Drive, at the apartment where you and mom lived for 30 years. Did you have really good memories there dad? It was where your sudden and massive heart attack took place. I’m glad mom was with you, even if terrible for her. I hope my wife is with me at the end. She and I are also very close. By my side, forever and always, she is; best friend and partner.

At the apartment your personal effects have been well marked, so they can be shared with family and friends. Hatboxes with dark fedoras, scarves, gloves, paper bunched up in boots barely used. Files in drawers are very well organized. A few shirts out of style with pointy collars, some with large wings like old friends, and a pile of socks. All the distinctive colors you liked, something for each and every occasion; yes you had them all.

In fact you had a habit of passing some of your spares to me during a visit. Unfortunately I didn’t want to get any this way. Pills in your desk drawer masked the silent death that was lurking at your door. You had serious heart problems not known to mom. You always tried to keep bad news away from her, dad. Arthrotec- 1 tab by mouth every 4 hr (personal note marked painful). Idarac- 1 tab every 4 hr. or when required. (Pain is a note scribbled on your RX bottle).

This is not really the end of my journey, dad. Yes, my car trip is over. Now that I’m here, our whole family; two sons and three daughters are giving solace to Mom. Her pain is now our pain. We’re sorting your memories, sharing stories and getting ready for the funeral. Your oldest son is grown up, like you knew he would.

We’ll never forget you, dad. Love and hugs from each of us.

* * *

© Richard L. Provencher 2010