This post is dedicated to my big brother, Jamie.
And so another Wednesday dinner at Apartment # 1001 has come and gone. Last night’s dinner at 1001, however, was not like any other. It was the absence of our parents and the addition of Jamie that made it extraordinary.
It began as any other Wednesday night – the kids and I arrived first. Dorothee offered Dad and I a glass of wine? Dad said to me, “Are you having one?”
“Yes, Dad”, I replied and then queried, “Are you?”
“If you are.”
And the dance began. Wine was poured, dinner was prepared, Ana arrived, Mary Anne, Megan, and Jonathan arrived… and we sat down to eat. I sat in Mom’s chair – as I always did. Dad’s chair was left free. We all chatted and talked about our days, talked about the food, adjusted the meal as it was too spicy for young Megan, and went back for seconds. And then the weirdest thing happened. We were all expecting it – but not knowing what to make of it… Jamie arrived.
He was not a regular Wednesday night flyer. His entrance was a relief. He became part of the Wednesday night dinner crew last night. It was so right and yet so wrong. It was not that Jamie was there that was wrong – it was that neither Mom and Dad were there that was so wrong. And Jamie was attending a Wednesday night dinner to say good-bye to apartment 1001 – and the memories of Mom and Dad.
And the memories raced towards us like a torrent of rain. Photo album after photo album came out of closets and nooks and crannies. Mom had laboured over those albums for years… and each photo was lovingly placed neatly in an album with a “caption” placed below to help whoever was looking at the albums identify the figures and the actions. Mom always asked, “What good will these albums be once I’m gone? No one is going to look at them. You will likely just throw them out.” She had no idea how powerful her work had been. Looking through these pages felt like I had swallowed a blanket full of pins and they were ripping me apart from the inside. Talk about bitter sweet. The memories was so beautiful – but I just couldn’t take it. I had to stop looking at the images.
How had Dad done it? His digital photo frame still sat poised and at attention for Dad in his pink chair. Night after night, Dad was transfixed by the photos Jamie and Mary Anne and others had added to the frame. Some were old and some were new. Dad watched them all. I just couldn’t do it… not yet. But I couldn’t not look at them either. Once again, I was frozen.
Out of the pages came the photos. Jamie had his work cut out for him as it was decided it was now his job to scan the photos and convert them to digital images so that they could be shared by all. The most difficult part about the whole process, however, was answering the question, “What do we do with the originals?”. There was so much history in our hands – how can one simply throw the originals away? It seemed / seems almost sacrilegious.
And then it was time to say good-bye to apartment 1001. It wasn’t until Jamie was putting on his shoes ready to go that I caught the distress in his eyes. This was to be Jamie’s last time in apartment 1001. Crap. I had to turn away. Jamie went down the hall to Dad’s room and on the way, pausing to glance at Mom’s room as Dad had so often done. Mom had been gone from that room for a year-and a half but if you looked carefully enough and closed your eyes, you could see her laying calmly in bed – smiling and waving at you. She would have normally been up – but this Mom was a tired Mom. She needed a rest. Jamie proceeded down the hall. I stopped following him with my eyes in an effort to respect his private moment with “Dad”. It was a significant time later that Jamie emerged. It was a sad Jamie that emerged. The moment was solemn. He had said his good-byes…. again. It was in Dad’s room where my brother and I had buried the hatchet with each other – with Dad as our witness. It was in Dad’s room where Jamie and I had given Dad morphine to help him through his final journey. It was in Dad’s room where Jamie and I had sat on either side of him and held his hand while he slipped the surly bonds of earth and moved to be beside his Paula – our mother. Intense. It had all been in apartment 1001 where Mom and Dad had lived – and Dad had died. And it was time to leave.
There was only one thing to do at that moment. And I did it. I sang Anne Murray. “Beneath the snowy mantle cold and clean… ” Dad was back. Jamie rolled his eyes. The Dancing Nannies laughed.
And that was that. The door closed behind us as Jamie and I left apartment 1001.
The ride home was full of story-telling. There were stories that I could just barely remember and I felt so fortunate that Jamie had become the new raconteur of our childhoods. He became the inspiration for stories yet to be re-told. God certainly does work in mysterious ways. When the door to apartment 1001 closed, a window opened.
Funny how that night at dinner, on the tenth floor, a little bird flew up to the balcony window and hovered there in an effort to get in. I was shocked. I had never seen a bird up that high before – maybe the odd seagull soaring, but never a little bird like this one. And that it was just hovering trying to check out what was happening inside? Was that Dad? Who knows. I guess all in all, he really didn’t need to come to be with us in the form of a bird because he was already with us – in our hearts forever.
I remember one of my last conversations with Mom when she was in the hospital. I asked her, “What will I do without you Mom?” Her answer was simple, “I’ll always be with you. I’ll always be here in your heart.”
For my brother, it was TTFN Apartment 1001 – in his heart forever.