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Between Him and Me

        They told me his body lay on a mattress in a room that wasn’t so bad. They told me he was covered, and peaceful. They told me he spoke of love that night, that he laughed. They told me he made plans for tomorrow before he closed his eyes.

        Next morning, in the warm heart of summer, my son’s body lay cool and slack, the scaffolding that held up his being for twenty-one years, now absent. When his soul flew, the tent poles collapsed. Only a quiet skin inscribed with markings remained.

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        Confusion isn’t new, Holden wakes up in weird places all the time. He is an accomplished couch surfer because he isn’t picky. The first question he asks himself most Saturday mornings is, where am I? The second, who is beside me? Continue Reading →

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The Biggest Headstone

I have no grave to place flowers by.  I have no headstone to polish and sweep.  I do have a beautiful, smooth, wooden box, made by my husband Cam, that we keep on the same shelf as the vodka. We don’t reach for the vodka often, or the box for that matter. The box contains the burned bones of my son.

And now I also have a sixty-five foot cement wall in a parking lot in East Vancouver covered in glorious red paint, at the centre of which there is a huge and uncanny portrait of my son Holden in black and white, smiling out at the world.  He looks truly happy.  I hope it’s true. There is no good resting place for your child, but this wall makes sense.   If there has to be a symbolic location for Holden to be recognized, well, this is his kind of place.  

 Continue Reading →

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Permission

“Mothers are all slightly insane.”

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

*****

        First there is the sigh, then, “Why are you doing that to yourself, Babe?”  His voice drifts toward me from the other side of the king size bed jabbing at my bubble.  Just a slight whiff of exasperation trails along behind his words.  I wondered what he is talking about?  Doing what?  I blink a few times, sharpening focus.  He has cracked the shell leaving me no choice but to  look at what is exposed.   Oh God… it’s me, a curled up feverish child tangled in the rumpled duvet, clothes unchanged and musty, hair unbrushed, breath of the morning though it is night.  I have been here for hours, for days, for months sobbing quietly, or not so quietly, with a book in my hands and an unending stream of hot, fat tears rolling sideways across my nose onto the damp pillow.

        I am reading “The Catcher in the Rye.”  Well, trying to.  Swimming in it is more like it.  The quirky words, that gorgeous dialogue and the vivid scenes it creates scrape my heart raw but somehow this etching and scouring feels … right.  It’s a good kind of pain, like the sore muscles in your back after a day of gardening in the Spring. It feels right to me anyway.  As right as a table with three legs can feel.  I am desperate to spend time with any Holden I can find. Continue Reading →

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Stuart McLean Was Nice to Me When Nobody Was Looking

All any of us want to be is seen and heard and, if we’re lucky, understood.  Stuart McLean’s greatest gift, one that he shared with gleeful abandon, was to reassure us that we are fine, we are normal in our abnormality, and our little, seemingly insignificant lives do mean something after all. He revelled in the regular.  He got me.  And he got you.  He saw us.  Stuart held up a big mirror and in that reflection we looked just fine thank you.  Better than ever actually.  He polished us until we shone with his affection for the every day.

Reading other people’s email these days is asking for trouble (Hillary!) but in this case I think we’ll all be forgiven as they reveal something valuable about an extraordinary person.   Stuart McLean was a friend and inspiration to me and I choose to show you some excerpts from our correspondence to illustrate what a thoughtful and kind man we was, even when no mic’s were on, no tapes were rolling and nobody was looking. Continue Reading →