A year and a week ago, I learned that my mother had stage four pancreatic cancer. And the way I heard about it sticks in my mind.
I had no idea that my mother was so sick. She was having trouble with blood clots in her legs, and she had been prescribed anti-clotting medication to deal with them, but other than that there were only small hints that we came to realize were symptoms, after the fact. Then, one day, she accidentally took two doses at once and, fearing an overdose, checked herself into hospital, just in case. The nurses laughed a little at her worry and calmed her down. It was unlikely she overdosed. However, she did complain about a pain in her back, and thinking this was odd, one of the nurses checked it out. Suddenly, it wasn't a laughing matter anymore.
Of course, we didn't think so at the time, but in a way, I think that this accidental diagnosis was lucky. No, it wasn't early enough to stave off the inevitable, but it did alert us to what would happen over the next seven weeks before my mother died. We still weren't prepared, but we did get some time together to say goodbye.
But what I remember most about that day, however, was going into Toronto. It was later than I usually do, but I was planning to take the ferry to Ward's Island and take some time lapse footage for the Night Girl book trailer. I would attend the launch party of JM Frey's Forgotten Tale. I boarded the subway at Yorkdale station, and dove underground where the cellphone signals couldn't reach me, and when I emerged at the streetcar stop at Queen's Quay and York Street, I began taking pictures, before I noticed that there were messages on my phone.
It was my father, calling from the hospital, crying. He was calling from the hospital's payphone, so I couldn't call back. I could only listen in stunned silence to the news and the prognosis. I crossed the streetcar tracks, probably not looking where I was going, and found a place to sit down, just absorbing and dealing with what I'd been told. I cried. Quietly. Then I called Erin, as I strode back towards Union Station looking to catch the express train home.
I did manage to get home in time to head to the hospital and have a relatively normal conversation with my mother, but of course everything had changed in that moment. And that moment has a very specific place.
A few times, now, I find myself coming back to that streetcar stop on Queen's Quay and just standing there, watching the cars go by and the people, and I remember. It's not quiet. It's not restful. Today, it was bitterly cold. But, strangely enough, being there is helpful. It's like a grave site to me. I think I'm going to be going back there again and again.
Last year, I missed the TD Book Awards Gala because of my mother's diagnosis. To put it mildly, I wasn't in a celebratory mood. However, earlier this week, Erin, Vivian and I went into Toronto (with thanks to Eric for picking up Vivian from school and watching Nora for the evening) to attend this year's gala. It was time to sparkle.
This year, a lot of time was spent remembering Sheila Barry, a renown editor most recently with Groundwood Books, who passed away unexpectedly due to complications from cancer earlier this month. A eulogy to her life and contributions received a standing ovation from the crowd. That was right and appropriate. I was, however, surprised and appreciative to hear other names read out afterward in memorandum, and to hear my mother's name listed among them. It was a bit of a shock, for myself and Vivian -- we were not expecting it -- but it was right and appropriate, and I am grateful that she was remembered.