Saturday, April 16, 2022

Recollections of Easter weekends past...

 I felt the urge to share some thoughts with you again this weekend, as I have found myself awash in memories of Easter celebrations from the past.  This year it will be quiet again, and I am fine with that.  I have become a more private person in the last two years so a quiet Easter weekend should not be too surprising.

First though, my apologies - again - for not resuming my arts reporting duties in this space.  I had hoped to get back on the arts beat for some time now but to be perfectly honest with you, I have not found the passion I once had.  I hope to reclaim it again as the year goes on but for now, occasional memories in this space are about all I can manage.  Sorry about that.

I was thinking today I cannot recall much at all about my last Easter with Sophie in April, 2020.  We were all in lockdown of course, so you couldn't go anywhere.  I know Sophie would have created an amazing vegan Easter dinner, happily enjoying her break from her regular work routine.  And yet, totally unawares of the cancer that was to claim her just four months later.

But I vividly remember our first.  It was Easter 2001, also likely April, and Sophie and I were in that wonderful happy state that courtship and new love brings to a couple.  I had lost Mom in February 2000, so Dad and I were making our way through special occasions together for about a year at that point.  But Sophie offered to make us Easter dinner at her house that year and Dad and I both readily accepted.  

I still remember now Sophie telling me she got up about 2:30 in the morning to start preparing her feast, as everything had to be perfect.  She planned for us to have an early afternoon Easter dinner, shortly after the noon hour as I recall.  This was long before she decided to pursue a vegan lifestyle, so being Greek she made what many Greeks make for special occasions:  lamb.  It was the most amazing meal I think I had ever had!

Afterwards the three of us took a drive for a late Sunday afternoon, and I remember we went to Niagara Falls for a visit.  It was one of those early spring days not unlike today; cool and partly cloudy, but just fine by us.  Driving Dad back to his apartment afterwards we both thought Sophie was a pretty amazing cook...and woman.  And indeed she was.

Sophie I am sure, slept early and well that night.

My second Easter memory was 2009, and it would be Dad's last.  He had grown rather cantankerous about Sophie's formality at dinner in his later years, and I know that caused some friction between them.  But Sophie once again created a memorable Easter dinner at our home, being the ever gracious hostess.

Taking Dad back to his retirement home after dinner it was evident his frailty could not be ignored.  It was a real effort to get him down the front steps and into the car safely, but we managed.  That Easter, also in early April as I recall, proved to be mere days before tragedy struck.  Dad took a bad fall at the retirement home and was sent to hospital with a punctured lung due to his ribs, and it was not long before he got pneumonia and he never recovered.  His funeral was late April.

Moving to my third Easter memory, I vividly remember early April 2017.  I was well employed with Canada Post, we bought a new car in January and had paid off the house the previous year.  So it was time to do something daring.

Now, I have to back up a moment here and explain to those who did not know the details of our earlier years together, our marriage actually never happened.  Oh in the eyes of the law it did of course, but that never pleased me.  We had intended more than once to make it official but for one reason or another it just never happened.

When in the fall of 2016 Sophie dropped a broad hint what her engagement ring should look like, I felt I had my chance.  With great secrecy I had her engagement ring custom made to her exact specifications and my plan was to propose on Easter weekend 2017 when we spent the long weekend in downtown Port Hope.

All was in readiness when we departed for our weekend away, and on the Saturday night we stayed at the historic Waddell Hotel right in the heart of downtown Port Hope, with a room overlooking the rushing Ganaraska River.  On my afternoon walk prior to dinner I found the perfect spot I would propose that night.  There was a newly constructed viewing platform and gazebo directly across from the hotel, overlooking the river.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the hotel restaurant and then, both in need of a walk, we strolled the main street after dark looking at all the storefronts.  My hand was jammed in my overcoat pocket protecting the precious cargo.

Returning to the hotel I suggested before we go in we cross the street and view the river from the new viewing platform and there, on bended knee, I proposed and presented her with the engagement ring.

Her first reaction was laughter.  

Mirth notwithstanding, the reaction was positive and wedding plans were to go ahead for the next year.  But again, for reasons I will keep to myself things were delayed.  And then it never happened.  

To say I was heartbroken is an understatement.  It was all I ever wanted, to fulfill that dream and it was lost forever in August of 2020 when cancer claimed Sophie.  And to this day I think of that glorious moment in Port Hope in the late evening of Saturday of Easter weekend.  I will never forget it.

So I have plenty of emotions swirling around in me this weekend.  Will there be new experiences on a future Easter weekend I will remember fondly?  I hope so but right now I just don't know.  I still tear up this weekend and I can't imagine that changing anytime soon.

Oh sure, we had lots of Easter weekend trips over the years, including Collingwood more than once and in 2012 a memorable trip to Utica, New York.  But none will compare to that golden weekend in 2017.

Five years ago tonight.

I miss Sophie so very much.

Thanks for hearing me out, and I hope you have a very special Easter weekend with you and yours.

Happy Easter!

April 16th, 2022.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Going back while waiting to go forward

 With the New Year here I plan to start writing in this space again, although at first likely not on a weekly basis as before.  It has been a slow process for me to return to anything resembling normalcy of course, so for now I will content myself with simply contributing some thoughts as they happen, usually on an occasional basis.

A long tradition for New Year's Day evening for Sophie and sometimes for me was to tune in to WNED-PBS to watch the annual New Year's Concert from Vienna.  For years we would watch the late Walter Cronkite host it, later Julie Andrews and now Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame.

Of course I tuned in this year, for Sophie, and the cats and I snuggled as we watched the music play out as it always does.  I noted social distancing at play in the audience of course, with masks present for audience members as well they should be.  Yes, that gilded hall was not full to capacity again this year but those who attended were bound and determined to get their Viennese fix to start the year.

I noted though the orchestra members were not socially distanced and there were no masks on those that could while still playing their chosen instrument.  It's funny how you notice these things now and although from a safety standpoint the optics were bad, I am sure the powers that be made sure they did what they could to ensure the musicians' safety.

As always the concert was a pleasure to watch.  I know a lot of the music is heard year after year, particularly the last two encore pieces, On The Beautiful Blue Danube by Strauss the younger and the Radedsky March by Strauss the elder.

There were some tantalizing diversions though, such as a collection of the short dances by Beethoven, which prompted me afterwards to dig my copy of the complete set out of my CD collection to listen to the following day.

After that bright and happy start to the New Year, I started searching through the collected shows still on our PVR of earlier concerts and I found two:  the New Year's concert from 2020 as well as an open air summer concert from 2019.  Before I touch on those, though, a bit of a technological diversion here.

We acquired our PVR in 2018 as part of the package of phone/television/internet services provided by our chosen supplier, currently Bell.  It took awhile for Sophie to get used to the channel changes and such but she got up to speed far quicker than I did, as she did with the PVR operation as well.  I sometimes simply gave up and handed the remote to her to figure out.

Thankfully I am more or less up to speed now that I am on my own.  With no opposable thumbs the two cats are no help at all...

But it wasn't always that way around here.  Sophie was what you might call a slow adopter of new technology.  We for years simply made do with rabbit ears for television reception until digital signals rendered that practice obsolete.  We started years ago with basic analogue cable which upped our channel selection from about 10 to something like 34.  Sophie was like a kid in the candy store going through the remote and saying repeatedly "Oh! We get that!"

The next big advance, albeit a difficult one, was acquiring our first DVD player.  Sophie never saw the need for anything other than her trusty old VCR player that weighed a ton.  Then one January I took the $50 gift card for Canadian Tire I got at the company Christmas party to buy a snazzy new DVD player on sale in the Canadian Tire flyer.  It was $49.95.

Well.  Sophie was not amused.  "What do we need that for?" she queried.  I tried to sell her on the benefits of the then-new technology to no avail.  But then a wondrous thing happened.  About a week later at dinner Sophie admitted I had made a wise purchase and thanked me for it!  She listed all the things she could do with DVDs that were simply not doable on a VCR recorder or much more difficult.  And oh my, all that bonus material you got on the DVD too!  

She was one happy girl.  I licked my finger and marked an imaginary "one" in the air.  Score one for me!

I mention this because in hindsight Sophie quickly took to the PVR unlike anything else I had ever seen, to the point she probably would have barricaded the door should I ever try to dispose of it.

So that brings me to the collected shows still stored on the thing.  Many early ones Sophie recorded are still there and I will get to them.  Two of those were the aforementioned Viennese concerts.

The New Year's 2020 concert was quite fascinating insofar as it was mere months before the world changed due to the pandemic.  I sat there looking at that full audience, sitting side by side and never dreaming of wearing a mask, and wondered aloud if they even imagined what they were in for in mere months.  

I also wondered - hoped actually - we might be that carefree again while in a public space.  Time will tell...

I also, and this is me speaking as a man who likes to dress properly while in public, scorned more than a few male orchestra members for not having their shirt collars and ties properly done up for a concert being watched by millions around the world.  But that's just me...

The summer outdoor concert from 2019, conducted on that occasion by the young firebrand conductor Gustavo Dudamel was far more interesting on several levels.  This was my first time watching him conduct rather than just hearing him, and the fact he conducted the entire concert from memory with no score present was quite impressive.  I have often thought other conductors surely could do this on a regular basis as well.

Using a baton for most of the concert, he only deviated from this practice once on that occasion, using his very expressive hand gestures to conduct the Barber Adagio for Strings.  It was a pleasure to watch.

The entire summer concert that year was American music, save for a couple of encore pieces.  The music was universally warmly received each and every time.

But that brings me to the outdoor audience on that summer night in 2019.  I noted they were overwhelmingly younger in age, in stark contrast to what you would normally see in North America where symphony orchestra concerts appear to be largely attended by an older generation of music lovers.  Indeed, this is in Europe I told myself, where musical appreciation is much more ingrained into the national psyche in many countries.

I have written in this space many times the need for many arts organizations, not just orchestras, to find ways to lower the age demographic of their audiences if they are to survive, and this concert highlighted the need even more.

On this night, 85,000 concert goers sat on the surrounding lawns and casually dined while listening intently to the music, appreciating every piece, including that very quiet and string-filled Barber Adagio I mentioned.

Of course all ages were represented at this concert but I noted more of a younger demographic was present and that I found encouraging.  If classical and near-classical music is to survive we have to grow the audience from a young age.

During an encore that deviated from the American theme by presenting a requisite Viennese waltz, I was struck by the number of people in the audience, again many younger couples, who immediately got up, moved to an open area nearby and started waltzing with the music.  Beautifully too!  Would we ever see that here?  Perhaps, but not often I suspect.  

It was noted during the broadcast the government sponsored the event, making it a free event for the 85,000 attendees.  That might be the crux of the problem of course.  State sponsorship of the arts is far higher in Europe than it is here and that is a fact of life in North America.  But what a vivid example of what more state funding of the arts can achieve I thought!

Overall, both flashback episodes from the PVR brought back memories personal and otherwise for me, and I quietly thanked Sophie for having the presence of mind to record them for me to enjoy now.

She always knew what she was doing...

Thanks, love.

January 15th, 2022.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

A New Year's Update

 On this New Year's Day 2022 I thought I would update you on my progress since my last report in this space at the end of August.  I made some promises to myself as the old year ended and I put my head on the pillow last night, and they involve increased optimism in the year just upon us.

Yes, I know COVID is still with us and is showing no signs of waning, at least not yet.  But I remain hopeful before the end of this year we might be able to see the end of this long ordeal.  But we'll see.

Amid the backdrop of that dark cloud still looming overhead, I see clearing ahead for me and I hope for you as well.

I generally don't make New Year's resolutions much.  Oh sure, the usual ones cross my mind on the final night of the calendar year:  lose weight and have more sex in the New Year.  Yeah, right.  We know how that will turn out more than likely.

But seriously, I wanted to give you something of a report card on me since my last entry here, and let you know with the dawn of a New Year I hope to finally find the wherewithal to renew my commitment to reporting on the arts in this space in the very near future.  I have missed it but to be honest, the words have not come easily to me the last sixteen months since Sophie passed away.

Sixteen months.  It hardly seems possible it has been that long and yet, there are days I thought it was an eternity already.  The norm seems to be to grieve the loss for a year after a spouse's passing and I thought that would suffice for me.  But in August last year when the year had passed, I found I was not ready yet.  Yes, I know everyone is different and I am usually slow with most things so why be any different with the grieving process...

Things gradually improved throughout the fall, although I would still find myself becoming very emotional when I least expected it, such as a fall Sunday afternoon when I would come in from doing yard work at the end of the day and I was used to hearing the TV on in the kitchen where Sophie was presiding over an amazing Sunday night dinner.  Now, I would come in and there was silence.  It hit me more than once, to the point I almost turned the TV on before I went out in the afternoon to cushion the return later on.

It's little things like that you don't always think about.  Often, it's the little things that seem to affect me the most, I find.  That being said, progress was made this fall to the point when December arrived I found I was ready to do something I didn't do at all last year:  put up Christmas decorations.

Last year, I barely even listened to Christmas music.  It was just too painful for me.  This year as has always been my custom I pulled out some of my favourites at the beginning of December, leaning heavily on choral and much less on pop Christmas music.  It just seemed an appropriate start this year.

I have not put up the big Christmas tree again this year and to be honest, I don't know if I ever will.  In the past I was tasked with lugging the behemoth up from the basement and setting it up in the stand, and then leave the decorating to Sophie.  It was not my choice not to take part; it was just understood the only way it would be done properly would be if Sophie did it.

Ahem.

Anyways, I chose to go what I call quietly elegant this year, whispering Merry Christmas rather than shouting it.  It worked for me and I think that will be the norm going forward.  I chose some of my and Sophie's favourite decorations for the house and ignored the rest, at least for now.  I changed up some things and in the end created a look that worked for me:  it respected our past and looked towards the future.

In a sense, it turned out to be an analogy for my life going forward in 2022.

I will always preserve and honour Sophie's memory as I should, celebrating her amazing life whenever the opportunity presents itself.  But now in addition to that, I feel 2022 brings with it a new opportunity to step out on my own now, reclaim my independence and state I am honouring the past while looking towards the future.

Two words define this New Year for me:  Move forward.  In everything I do now, I will move forward.

To that end, I have promised myself to do some things in this New Year I have not done up until now.  Firstly, I will celebrate myself.  That may sound odd but truthfully, I looked at what I have accomplished in the last sixteen months and I realized I am a lot stronger than anyone, including I believe Sophie, ever realized.

The day she passed away, I knew the journey in front of me would be hard, lonely and tough.  But I knew I would achieve what I had to do through my inner strength and the support of so many caring friends and family members.  Although it was not the case, some days it felt the weight of the whole world rested on my shoulders.  But I survived and here I am.

So what will change in the newly-minted year you ask?  Several things I hope.  I still have a tremendous amount of purging to do here at the house, particularly in the basement which basically looks like lighting a bomb down there could not make things much worse.

But I also want to do something I have not done much of the past almost two years, due both to COVID and my personal situation:  I want to dress up more.  The times have been few and far between when I actually put on a suit and tie and made the effort to look my best.  That for anyone who knows me is a sign things are not quite right.  I like to dress well albeit somewhat in the style of a slightly eccentric English gentleman, and even after she is gone, I still want to make Sophie proud.

I realized on Christmas Eve when I dressed for my annual Midnight Mass broadcast, donning my vintage full evening dress, I had to make several attempts at tying my white tie.  I realized it had been a year since I had last done this, and I was out of practice!  It took four attempts but I got it to look perfect, and that prompted me to do this more often as things (hopefully) improve over the course of this year.

It felt good to dress well again, and I want to make the effort going forward.  For me, and for Sophie.

The other thing I hope to embark on this year is to feel love again.  I am not all that old in the overall scheme of things I'm told and feel there is still some gas in the tank to take a chance at love again should the opportunity arise.  Indeed Sophie said she wanted me to meet someone new, but up until now I didn't feel the time was right nor was I ready.

I know COVID protocols will prevent much opportunity in the near future and that's fine with me.  But at some point I would feel ready to at least tentatively dip my toe in the tepid waters of adult dating and see what transpires.  The mere thought of dating again at my age is enough to keep me up at night and not for the right reasons, but I will cross that tricky bridge when I come to it.

But if it doesn't happen, that's fine too.  I am comfortable enough in my solitude that if this is what's in the cards for me in the future I am fine with it.  We'll see...

For now though, I am content to keep the house up, purge, hone my caveman bachelor cooking skills and be ready for better days ahead.  They are coming...for me, for you, for all of us.

Together, let's make 2022 a better year all around.  I think all of us deserve just that.

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2022.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Life Goes On: Part Three of Three - Moving On, Alone

This is the third and final instalment in my series on life after Sophie, entitled Moving On, Alone, which is exactly what I am now doing.  The road ahead will not be easy for me and I will draw on all the support I have had over the past year going forward as well, but I think I can do this.

Although the one-year of traditional grieving is now past, I find little solace in that at the moment.  I have felt a tremendous weight lifted off my shoulders to be sure, but I still have dark days full of despair and longing, and those I expect to continue off and on for some time yet.

Last week for example right out of the blue, I was plunged into a two-day feeling of deep despair as I replayed the final week and in particular the final weekend caring for Sophie before she passed away.  I held a fair amount of guilt about the final morning in particular, and the feeling I could have and should have done more was overwhelming.  This is not uncommon, I'm told, but that doesn't make it any easier for me.

I reached out to two of my most trusted friends of Sophie's who have been with me whenever I needed their support, Kathy Brophy and Norma Chan, for some guidance.  In both cases over the course of two days I was able to regain my equilibrium and start to slowly move forward again.  It is a fragile recovery at this point, but progress at least is still being made.

I thought a lot about that final weekend again on my morning walk today and although I teared up again I was able to work it through and by the end of the walk I was okay.  This, I hope, will be the case for the next while as I continue to recover and heal.

What you need to know about this stage is simply this:  while someone may appear to be okay after a traumatic loss such as the loss of a mate, inside they may be not quite right at all.  I want you to know it is not an invasion of my privacy nor an abundance of nosiness on your part if you just take a moment to ask how I am doing if we talk in the future.  I can't speak for others but for me just a quick check to make sure I am okay is in a way reassuring that I am not walking this road alone.  Others are with me and offering support.

So, where do I go from here?  As mentioned in the last instalment I have my work cut out for me here at the house as there is still so much of Sophie's life to deal with.  Her business, her personal belongings, the life we built here over almost 20 years together.

Just this past weekend I put the finishing touches on the front porch refresh that I feel has changed the look of the home as you approach the porch from a more businesslike setting Sophie required to a more relaxed, welcoming atmosphere of a private residence.  That's not to say the old look was wrong.  It was what Sophie wanted and required for her business.  But now as I private residence again I feel I can do other things, and I am.

The big thing over the next several months will be going through the rest of the rooms in the house and doing the same thing:  taking Sophie's original vision and refocusing it to the new reality of a private residence with a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere.

I have almost completely finished doing this with the main floor kitchen, master bedroom and Sophie's former salon, which is now to become my office very shortly.  But there will be plenty to do in the remaining rooms, the basement and of course the garage.

One of my dreams has been to actually park the car in the garage, something I have not been able to do since we moved in.  I have to reconfigure the fence/gate arrangement on the driveway to accommodate that dream but hopefully next year I can get that done.  It will be an exciting day when the car is parked in the garage for the very first time!

The basement will be my winter project, as there is simply so much down there that never should have been saved but is still there.  I have nightmares about what else I might find down there.  But it will be done.

So all this will take me, at my estimation, to when I actually turn 65 next June and I can then actually say I am retired.  But until then, there is plenty to keep me occupied here, I can assure you.

As for me, we'll have to see.  I had a long and wonderful almost 20 years with Sophie and although it was not perfect, she meant everything to me.  The love in my heart will never diminish, nor should it.  At times I have shook my head at what I found she squirrelled away in this house but then I would smile and say "that's Sophie!"  And that is fine with me.

I hope to find love again; I don't know if it ever will happen or when, obviously, but I remain hopeful I have one last great love in store for me in my retirement years.  I still feel I have a tremendous capacity to love again, but not just yet.  It is too soon for this heart of mine to experience those feelings you should feel when you meet a new special someone.

If it does not happen, I am fine with that too.  I lived alone until I was 44 when I met Sophie, so I am really going back to the way things used to be, albeit in a much nicer setting than before.  But I feel I have the strength needed to carry on alone should it come to that, forever.  It does not scare me.

So we'll see what the future holds.  The past 20 years was richly rewarded with the love like no other.  If it happens again I will be careful, but ready to welcome it with an open heart.  But I will never be needy.  That's not me.

So that's it.  This series of essays has been somewhat cathartic for me and has resulted in tears more than once, but I felt I had to get it out there.  I am a writer after all.

After today I will take a short break from these duties in this space to recover and hopefully in early September I can return with my weekly arts updates as I did in the past.  But we'll see.  In the meantime, thank you for reading, commenting, supporting me and simply just being there.  It means the world to me.

Take care until we meet here again!

August 24th, 2021.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Life Goes On - Part Two of Three: The Grieving Process

 Continuing my three-part series of short essays on what has happened the past 13 months since I last wrote in this space, I title Part Two of Life Goes On as The Grieving Process.

As I wrote last Tuesday, my wife of almost 20 years Sophie passed away from stage four stomach cancer just over a year ago, August 2nd of 2020 to be exact.  The shock of the brief illness and resultant repercussions for me were massive, and I feel I still have not recovered from the shock of it all.  I doubt that will come for some time yet, if ever.

Sophie and I discussed many things while she was still in the hospital awaiting the final diagnosis, including final arrangements.  She was adamant she wanted to be cremated but had given no thought whatsoever to what was to become of her remains afterwards, and she never did give me the final answer before she passed away.

When the time came to make that decision, I wrestled with it but ultimately came to the decision to keep her ashes with me in the house.  The urn we picked out for her was beautiful and I felt rather than have it hidden away somewhere I had to travel to in order to visit with her, I would have her where she worked so happily for all the time we lived in the house together.  So today, as is the case every day, Sophie resides in what used to be her salon, soon to become my permanent office in the house.

To me it was the only decision I could make and I am glad I made it.  I have spent many moments seated beside her over the past year grieving her loss, or simply telling her how my day was and what I was thinking.  I still do that now, albeit with a little more circumspection than I had in the first year.  There will come a time when I make my own funeral arrangements I will have to decide where then we both go certainly, but for now this works for me and brings me comfort at a time I have desperately needed it.

The pandemic affected a lot of things over the last year, not the least of which was the grieving process those of us who have lost a loved one must endure.  The visitation was carefully orchestrated to perfection and after that, I spent a lot of time home alone dealing with the myriad of legal machinations that inevitably follow the death of a close family member.

It also limited the amount of time I could receive visitors looking in on me due to the second and third lockdowns.  When I could, it would be very carefully planned out and of course, little or no hugging at all, which I personally found I missed tremendously.

My sister and brother, the only surviving family members now beyond me, both live a good distance away and neither was in a position to come down for either the visitation or the time afterwards.  I have still yet to see either one in person although we still keep in touch regularly by phone and video chat.  It is not perfect but under the present circumstances they were the only options open to me.

As a result I, and many others in a similar position, have had to endure the grieving process alone, without a lot of human contact.  It has been quite onerous I can assure you, but there was little else I could do.  If nothing else, it proved to me and others how mentally tough I have had to become over this period.  Oh sure I have broken down and cried privately quite frequently, often when I realize the enormity of the job I still have ahead of me, but in public largely I have remained stoic and reasonably upbeat.  I have to be.  I have no other choice.

Any number of friends, both Sophie's and mine, have done what they can to help over the past year and to all of them I offer a sincere debt of gratitude for your herculean efforts.  I can't and won't name you all; you know who you are.

But for the most part I have had to trod the path of recovery alone, on my own, with nothing but my thoughts and an iron will to see this through to the bitter end to sustain me.  It has been lonely to be sure and many times I admit I would despair my predicament, but eventually I would gather up the courage to carry on and so I do to this very day.

There is now, even over a year later, plenty to do.  Having died without a will, Sophie left me with a very complicated legal process to negotiate and with the help of my lawyer, financial advisor and accountant I have managed to deftly negotiate much of the legal and financial jungle in this first year.  Basically at this point I am down to working through the governmental avenues still to be negotiated, but I have hopes that too will soon come to an end.

I have been lucky, really.  It could have been much worse and tested me more than it already has.  It may still, I just don't know.  But I promised Sophie I would remain strong for her as I advocate on her behalf and I continue to do so, and will continue to do so until I reach the end of this process, however long it takes.

The toll on me has been great, I must admit.  I tend to stay home a lot now keeping close to the cats, both of them knowing things have changed and I need their love and support, even if it takes rather unusual forms. But we're the Three Muskateers here now and will continue to be, living with their mantra "One for all and all for one!".

I decided to retire from my job at Canada Post in January of this year as I found, even though I could have stayed on until 65 as I had planned to, it was simply becoming too difficult for me to maintain the early morning hours and stress involved with the job as well as deal with Sophie's estate and the work that needs to be done here at the house.

I miss the money of course, although my financial advisor assures me I have nothing to worry about, and I miss the people I used to work with certainly, but it was simply becoming too onerous to carry on.  So retiring a year and a half before I planned to is what I did, and so far I have not regretted the decision.

Most of my days now are spent keeping up this large Victorian home Sophie and I fell in love with 20 years ago, and that for me now has become a full time job.  There is still much of Sophie's belongings I still need to dispose of, most notably the rest of her extensive and stylish wardrobe still in her closets.

Sophie was also a bit of a hoarder so that has added to my work load and I expect that to occupy a lot of my time for several months to come.  But while doing so I am reimagining the home in my image, all the while honouring and celebrating her vision for our home over the years.  I have been busy converting the home back to a private residence from a home & business model as it once was, and that has allowed me to take creative licence in a way I never would have been able to before.  So that part has at least been enjoyable to me.

Will I sell?  No, not for quite awhile for sure.  I tell people I will be spending so much time making it my space now I want to enjoy it, so yes eventually when I tire of the upkeep I will likely sell but for now, we are still inseparable in this house and always will be.

But that leads me to the third and final part of this series, and next Tuesday I will look at Part Three:  Moving on, alone.

Thank you for reading.  Until then, take care and thank you everyone for your support.  It means the world to me.

August 17th, 2021. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Part 1 of 3 - life goes on.

 I have not written in this space for almost exactly 13 months now, and frankly I didn't know if I ever would again.  My life took a sudden turn last July and as I noted the last time I posted here I needed to step away to deal with a sudden illness in our family.  So today, I will begin the painful yet necessary process to write what is in my heart, difficult though it may be.

Last July 2nd, 2020 my wife of almost 20 years Sophie Koutroulakis entered hospital for excruciating back pain.  She called an ambulance to take her to hospital about 1:30 in the morning after being unable to take the pain any longer.  It would be the last time I would ever see her descend the front steps of our home under her own power ever again.

Little did either one of us know what was to come.  I almost still can't believe what happened, so over the next three Tuesday afternoons I will attempt to put my thoughts and emotions into words in this space, as I describe in three parts what happened, what followed, and what is yet to come.  I hope you will bear with me during this very difficult process as I embark on the next chapter of my life.

When COVID struck and Sophie was, as was most everyone else, forced to close her business for a time, we both thought it would be a short break from the rigours of life and then she would be back in the salon again, busy as ever as the spring and summer season were almost upon us.  But Sophie never opened again.

Initially Sophie revelled in the free time, watching her favourite TV shows, catching up on movies she had recorded on the PVR, and working her way through her ever-growing mounds of old magazines.  She commented one day "If this is what retirement is like I think I will look forward to it!"  She made lunch and dinner for us every day, remarking to a friend on the phone one day I was "eating like a king!".  So I was.

All the while I was still working early mornings, coming home to clean and organize the basement every day.  It was, for a while, a remarkably happy time in spite of the difficulties surrounding the growing pandemic.  Sophie was, I recall, happier than I had seen her in a very long time.

It was not to last.

In early April Sophie woke up one morning and discovered a growth on her neck, right next to her jugular vein.  Obviously alarmed she called her doctor and after several trips to the hospital that month to undergo tests it was determined to be a blood clot.  No explanation could be found for this occurrence but Sophie was prescribed blood thinners and in short order the clot dissipated.  It did reappear briefly about a month later but again went away.

No one could have predicted what was to come but perhaps it was indeed an early warning sign.  There were frequent follow up visits to the doctor and hospital throughout April and May followed by an emergency extraction of two teeth in Fonthill, further adding to the complexity of the growing situation.

Late one Friday night in May Sophie passed out briefly with the resulting fall causing back pain to grow more intense throughout the rest of the month and throughout June.  Through it all Sophie kept in contact with close friends and even made a couple of visits on her own to friends' homes.  She began plans to reopen the business June 30th in spite of the growing back pains.

But the final week of June the pain became so intense Sophie found it difficult to walk or even sleep due to the increasing pain, so several trips to a nearby chiropractor were arranged, which helped somewhat but the gains were minimal.  Finally on July 2nd. in agony from the increasing back pain and unable to even lie down or sleep, she made the decision to go to hospital.

As expected Sophie languished in emergency throughout that Friday and Saturday undergoing tests and was finally admitted to hospital early on Sunday morning, July 4th.  That began three weeks of intense testing and exploration that early on revealed Sophie's back pain was caused by something far worse than anyone could have imagined.

She had cancer.  The exact location eluded the team of doctors looking after her for almost the next two weeks.

As Sophie's mother died of colon cancer at a relatively young age years ago that seemed a good place to start.  Nothing.  A lump on her breast also seemed a likely candidate.  Again nothing.  And so it went, day after day, one painful exploratory procedure after another, with a specialist in bone cancer being called in from Toronto before the final diagnosis was made at the end of the second week.

It was stage four stomach cancer, and as I later found out from her doctor, it had evidently spread to her spine by June, thus causing the ever-increasing back pain.  I still remember taking the phone call from Sophie on the Friday night with news of the diagnosis, and the grim realization she did not have long to live.

There were efforts to get Sophie to a specialist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto or even to the cancer centre in Hamilton, but the cancer was so swift there was no time.  Sophie was sent home in late July, and lived for another week and a half before succumbing to what we believe to be cardiac arrest early Sunday morning, August 2nd.

Throughout this period Sophie received friends while in hospital when allowed to do so and often found herself comforting those who stood there in shock at the news of the prognosis.  In many ways she was the rock that kept us going rather than the other way around.

At home Sophie had around the clock care as she lay in a hospital bed in her salon, with her closest friends, the ones I came to refer to as Sophie's Angels, staying with her by day and a nurse with her by night.  She returned to hospital twice that first week for appointments but she proved almost incapable of travelling at all and I am of the belief the visits back to hospital likely hastened her deteriorating condition due to the difficulty in getting her there.

The decline while at home was almost immediate and incredibly difficult to watch.  I should mention I had kept working throughout this entire time, not by choice.  Once she knew she was arriving home in a couple of days I looked into taking a leave of absence from work in order to care for her but Sophie was adamant I should keep working.

I still remember a call I received the first Friday morning she was home, while I was on a break at work.  She was defiant and angry with me I should even consider taking time off work when all her friends are available and willing to stay with her until I arrived home each day.  So reluctantly, I kept working.

The final week was the most difficult I have ever experienced as I tried to manage long hours at work starting at 3 am, coordinate appointments for Sophie and care for her while at home.  I still don't know how I made it through.  But thank you to Sophie's Angels for being there every step of the way:  Lisa Raham, Mary Kudreikis, Denise Papaiz, Olivia Rinaldi, Norma Chan and countless others who offered their time.  But the greatest thanks goes out to Kathy Brophy, who stickhandled so much over that period of time coordinating just about everything.  These ladies and all the others were with Sophie to the very end and have earned my eternal gratitude.

Sophie had only turned 60 in March of last year, still as strikingly beautiful as ever.  I look now at a photo I took of her the night we celebrated with friends and it is hard to believe less than 5 months later she would succumb to cancer.

The following 12 months has been one of incredible loss, loneliness and the feeling I could have and should have done more for her in the final days than I did.  But more on that later.

I will rest my mind now after having gone through this cathartic, painful process of writing again.  I decided to wait until the one year of grieving is done before I attempted this, and hope it at least answers some questions for those who don't know the full story.

Next week, Part Two:  The Grieving Process.

August 10th, 2021.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

A very brief yet necessary message

My apologies for not writing in this space over the last week but life has taken a sudden turn for your humble scribe.

I won't go into the details at the present time but I just wanted to post briefly here that due to a sudden illness in the family I am stepping away from my writing duties here at least for the month of July in order to deal with life.

I am fine physically although emotionally not so much.  But please respect our privacy at this time and understand when I have the heart to continue I will do so in this space.

For now, thanks for your support and I will be in touch again later this summer, hopefully.

Mike.

July 11th, 2020.