Thursday, 31 May 2012

Two Weeks: The Family Dynamic

Well, I re-read what I wrote yesterday. That was some pretty bad writing. I saw a couple of glaring typographical errors, which I can live with, but the prose was rambling and had no common thread. I will try to write better from here on in. The problem with all this is that I am tying to describe every facet of Calista and that is a hard thing to do.  Impossible without covering some ground about our family dynamic.

Well, if you have been here at all, you know that I am a veterinarian. As veterinarians go, I am fair to middling.  I certainly did not graduate at the top of my class; in fact I might have been somewhere near the bottom.  Its not that I am incapable or dull; what I am is scattered.  I tend to be passionate about everything and focused on nothing.  I am fanatical about maintaining my fitness level, sometimes to the point of neglecting my professional responsibilities.  I lift weights, I used to swim close to 25,000 meters each week, and at one point I was teaching karate three nights a week. I have thousands of dollars invested in references on karate and martial arts.  I have managed to get myself published on the topic of karate several times (albeit by the same magazine). When my daughter showed an interest in art, I immersed myself in art. I studied art history, various schools of art, and the art of architecture. I studied this with my typical passion: bought books, attended museum shows and watched DVD lectures on art history.   Calista used to find it amusing: her dad was a modern day Mister Toad, Esq, going passionately overboard on just about everything he did.

When Calista was young, I used to drag her to the various art shows that the local museum was sponsoring that year.  I believe the first show was a collection of Impressionist paintings that actually covered the period of the late Realist period right into the early post-impressionist period.  I got the feeling that Calista was less than impressed, but when I got her a Monet poster for Christmas that year she was absolutely overjoyed. That poster hung over her homework desk in our home for years and still hangs in our spare bedroom.  She must have enjoyed something about that show.  After that first visit we rarely missed any of the local shows and actually took in two major shows in Vancouver while on holidays. ("The Dutch Masters" and "Realists through Surrealists"). Her favourite of all time was Andy Warhol Retrospective in Regina. Even now I see Warhol's influence on much of her work.

My wife was the driving force behind most of Calista's athletics.  She dragged her out to gymnastics (my girl enjoyed the trampoline, but the stuff that involved pain was quickly off the list of fun stuff), we tried dance (Calista did not have natural rhythm. She had my rhythm. That girl loved music, but could NOT dance), and we finally settled on swimming.  The swimming all came from my wife.  Roni cannot swim a stroke; sinks like a rock. She swore her girl was going to know how to swim, so into lessons she went. Roni made her take ALL of them, and eventually Calista really was a good swimmer.  Eventually she ended up in competitive swimming and she seemed to find a home there.

Competitive swimming was not my first choice for my daughter. I personally was a pretty decent competitive swimmer; I actually made it to semi-finals at the 1980 Olympic Trials. That just was not the life I wanted for Calista. Competitive swimming is too focused on one skill set and it REALLY does not do much for coordination. Swimmers are usually clumsy.  I also had nothing good to say about the early-morning work-outs because you know it was never Roni's job to get up at 4:30 am for work-out.  Furthermore, the competitive swimmers social life was limited to a few close friends who are also swimmers; three to four hours a day in a pool pretty much edits your social interaction time.  But, as my old Cree friend said to me, you rarely get what you want, but you often get what you need.

I eventually did end up doing the 4:30 am wake-up call for nearly three years. Once at the pool, I decided that I might as well exercise myself and ended up right back where I was 30 years ago; paddling up and down the pool. I trained right next to my daughter most of the time.  Funny thing is that I found myself enjoying the mindless strenuous repetitions. I lost close to fourty pounds and eventually was performing sets that I would have been proud of as a teen-ager.  I think my daughter was proud and embarrassed for me at the same time.  Having a cool dad is Ok, as long as he is not constantly around to say inappropriate things to your friends at the worst of times.  I personally think my daughter increased my life expectancy by decades by helping  lose weight and get fit.  Of course, now that is a double edged sword: I will now miss her for decades longer before finally being allowed to rest. I doubt I will every enjoy swimming laps again: that is something I did for her and with her.

All through this I have managed to ignore the person who really was the most important person in Calista's life: her mother Roni. How does one describe such a complex relationship?

Between Calista and Roni, the relationship was closer to twin sisters than mother and daughter.  My wife is blessed some sort of vampire anti-aging gift, so she does not look anywhere near her mid-forties.  Add that to the fact that Calista acted like a lively thirty year old since she was about ten, and you have a pair of women that were constantly mistaken for sisters. And they acted like it.  The two shared clothes, make-up and jewelry.  This was handy for me since one excellent gift of an expensive accessory often would make both of them extremely happy. Typical of siblings, there were fights, many of them. I often had to step in and become the peace-maker, which then made me enemy to both. Of course, once they had a common enemy, they would then make-up immediately and go shopping. I would then pay in two ways: hours of the silent treatment and major traumatic credit-card injury.

One particular incident I remember clearly occurred when I had travelled out of town for a conference, leaving the two of them alone for a week.  I had just made a down-payment on the treasured Smart Car for Calista and was looking forward to delivery in about three weeks. Roni was not terribly happy with me for buying a car nicer than either of our own vehicles for our teen-aged daughter. I had my motives though: Calista was a terrible driver and the Smart Car is an incredibly easy car to drive and has superb safety ratings. Besides, I am pretty sure that no teen-aged pregnancy has ever happened in a Smart Car. A boy was going to get a back spasm before he gets fresh with my girl.  Anyway, about three days into my business trip, I get a text-message from Roni to the effect that Calista was going out with her friends without so much as a please and thank-you. She was not telling Roni where she was going, who she was with or when she was home. She was breaking the only rules I actually ever made for her with regards to going out at night.  The car deal was hanging in the balance, and around our house whatever Roni says is what is going to happen. I finally texted Calista with the message "Calista, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? I know you think you are right, but if you keep up this behaviour, you are not going to be happy. Tell your mother the where, who and when before you leave the house or something really bad is going to happen".  Typical of Calista, all I got back was a one letter reply "K".  On the other hand, she was true to her word; since that one note until May 16th, the night before she died, she checked in with Roni every time she was heading out. She figured out early that we did not want to control her, we just cared for her.

I will always treasure our trips to Las Vegas.  Roni could be a big kid sometimes and, after one very boring year in LVN, Roni took it into her head that Calista had to go to Las Vegas with us each year so Roni would have company for shopping expeditions.  And my lord did those two shop.  The first day Calista visited "The Strip" she only wore a pair of cheap flip-flops (it was so warm, it was like going to the beach). The poor girl could barely walk by noon due to blisters and she ended up walking home in bare feet (four hours later though) rather than suffer those flip-flops one more moment. Its a good thing the LV Strip is kept so clean. Calista enjoyed the shopping, but she was never seduced by the bright lights of the big city.

Calista could not figure out how thin skinned Americans could be about their country.  She also never did pick-up how well her voice carried in public. On our first trip to Las Vegas, as we descended along the landing corridor, she stared out at the bleak Las Vegas scenery and loudly commented that it was the ugliest city she had ever seen (not that she had seen that many cities, but that was still rich coming from a kid that grew up in Regina Saskatchewan).  I pointed out that she was likely surrounded by Americans, some of whom were returning home. Typical of my girl, never worrying about what people thought of her, she just shrugged. She also did not learn subtlety the first time around: six days later, as we waited in McCarren International Airport for our plane to load, she rejoyced that she now had a good feeling about writing her essay on why she loved Canada (after six days in the ugliest city in the world I can only assume).  All the shushing in the world could not silence that girl sometimes.

On our last trip to Las Vegas, Roni checked in with Calista nearly hourly. Each time she found some new, unexplored and unexploited shopping experience she had to drop a line back to the girl on how much she was missing.  We actually started collecting some of the unique marketing magazines Las Vegas supplied hotel guests for Calista.  Calista was the only person I ever met who fingered through magazines to critique the advertisements rather than the articles (specifically the photography in the ads rather than the ads themselves). Calista was disappointed that she had to miss this year since there was a huge photography conference being held at the same time as my annual veterinary conference; she thought she might just crash that party.  We had made tentative plans to get her a pass to the photography conference next year somehow.   I guess she will be missing that show now.

I am not sure how my wife is going to survive this loss. I have remained quite strong through this, mostly because of my writing, memorial planning and scheming to get the scholarship plan going.  I am at my best when I am in action and I fail miserably when I pause. Roni, on the other hand, is a person who isolates herself and goes into lock down when faced with adversity. In many ways my wife is stronger than I; when she finally comes out of this (if she does) she will be tougher than I have ever been. In the mean time, I have to try to be strong for both of us. Its tough though: I fear that I may alienate Roni by not appearing to be hurt by the loss of Calista.  If there is one thing this has taught me, its that grief does funny things to people.  I have become more driven and less tolerant of fools than I ever thought I could be.  My attitude now seems to be "Lead, follow or get the hell out of the way"; something that is far from a good point of view when you need people's help and support to attain your goals. Roni, on the other hand, is so fragile that a simple curt word from anyone is enough to cause her to fold and cry.  The problem here is that to heal you have to want to heal, and neither of us can see the point right now. We literally lived our life to give our girl a better life and future than either of us; what do you do when your reason for living is gone?

Today I returned to work. I agreed to do this without actually considering the day or date.  Two weeks ago today my world cracked open and burned.  I did not have a good day. When I finally escaped work and drove home, I could only remember the last time I came long Joyce Avenue during a business day I was returning home to a hysterical wife, a young police officer, a grief counsellor and my own version of hell.

Tomorrow I return to Courtenay to attend the opening of the College's annual photography show. All the artists have to be present for opening night; Calista's portrait will be there in her stead... and so will Roni and I.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

One Week, Six Days: Parts of Calista

Yet another day goes by without making any appreciable progress on getting Calista's memorial scholarship fund going.  Four calls to the director with not one returned, the bank tells me that I cannot set up an account for this express purpose: I guess that is a pretty common scam for confidence men, my accountant does not like me using (or miss-using?) the Family Trust set up for Calista and I have not a clue what else to do.  My final effort was to call the chairman of the board in charge of the college funding programs; if you cannot get satisfaction from the bureaucrat in charge of things, go to the volunteer in charge of oversight.  It makes enemies, but it gets things done.

Into the light we walk; more parts of Calista.

I guess Calista's love of things material was honestly earned as the daughter of Roni. As long as I can remember Calista was all about fashion; first under the direction of the master fashionista, her mother, but by the time she was four Calista had a good idea how she should be dressed for any occasion.  Of course, there were a few times that she was....well.....inappropriate for the occasion.

Our first veterinary clinic in Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, had a back door that exited out of my office and into our back yard.  In the short summers, on the odd warm day we would have, I had a habit of  opening the back door  to let some of the clean, fresh Yukon air into the medicinal atmosphere of the clinic.  One July day a young mother came into the clinic with her child that was about Calista's age; maybe two and a bit. I really was not paying attention.  About half-way through the appointment the young mother panics because her child has taken it on the lamb, scrammed, escaped altogether. I had a good idea what was up and tracked down the hall to my back door and there was my dear Calista stripping to her birthday suit with her new "friend", aiming to run through the sprinklers.  I retrieved the client's child no worse for wear ( I am not sure she was all that appreciative or even slightly calmer)  and then had to scoot Calista home since I was not sure having a buck-naked youngster tracking around the clinic all afternoon would be all that good for business.

By the time we had moved to Regina Calista had a very distinct sense of fashion. Everything she had ran to pinks and purples and damned if they did not have to match at all times.  Except when they were supposed to clash; then they REALLY clashed  (That trend was a life long love; right now her bedroom has four hot-pink walls and one lime green wall. It sounds gross but it surprisingly works really well. It is staying that way because, you know, it is Ground hog Day every day).  About the time she was four she was dressing herself.

At some point Roni had bought Calista a big blue laundry hamper in the shape of a cartoon whale. Calista took to that whale immediately; it was filled with dirty clothes all the time.  Sometimes three times a day when Calista was in full blown "princess" mode. I guess somewhere along the way Calista had got the idea that if  pants, shirts, skirts or dresses even touched your body they were dirty and should go into the mouth of the whale.  That came to a screaming halt once Roni told her that she would have to do her own laundry if she filled the whale one more time.  After that Calista stopped filling the whale with clothes and, to the day she died, she never did her own laundry.  Roni was actually doing her laundry today (because it is the last time she will ever do Calista laundry and you need to finish well if it the last time you will get to be a parent, right?).  Calista also never really returned to using any laundry hamper; we just learnt to assume that if clothes were thrown on the ground, they were probably (but not always) dirty.  Even now, we kind of had to sift through her clothes carefully to see if any of the clothes were somewhat dirty since after her whale episode Calista had a habit of returning "slightly worn" clothes to the drawer rather than generate laundry for her mother.

By the time Calista reached her teen years, she had a very distinct fashion sense that really worked. Unfortunately at about twelve or thirteen she ran into an unexpected problem. Puberty.  Her breasts developed over one summer and all of a sudden my little girl was a young woman. Now it might seem a bit unseemly that a man notices his daughters chest, but her first day of school her grade eight year was a bit of a war zone.  At about 7:45 am my little girl trots downstairs wearing a V-neck T-shirt that might have fit when she was ten, but did not even come close to fitting at twelve.  I felt so old that morning as I looked at her, shook my head, bit my tongue and told myself that I had been a young man once. Then I remembered what I was like at 13 and turned to her mother and shook my head.  The war started at once, with Roni on the full attack.  I am pretty sure Roni was reduced to finding one of her white dress shirts when we realised how much Calista had sprouted over the summer.  Calista was driven to school by her mother just in time for class (I usually did those honours) and I am pretty sure a safety pin was in place to keep the top buttons buttoned for the day. I am also pretty sure that safety pin was gone about one minute after Roni had rounded the corner next to the school. My girl was always her own woman; leader of few but follower of none.

As she aged my girl continued to have an ongoing war with her chest. To this day I am pretty sure the reason her competitive swimming career ended so abruptly at 16 was the fact you cannot swim fast well when you are built like Mae West.  On the other hand, it did come to define one of my daughter's most notable idiosyncrasies: she had the largest brassier collection known to woman kind.  I thought it was kind of bizarre on laundry day when I was confronted by probably a dozen bras hanging from a clothes line in the basement. I never actually thought about it much beyond it being a cute fetish until one of her close friends explained it to me. It seems that when a woman is large enough to be "hard to fit" she buys three brassieres every time she finds one that fits right. I can go with that; but someone should explain to me why Calista had a passion for Betty Page memorabilia?

Shoes! Oh my God; shoes were beyond a passion, they were practically a religion for my girl.  Whenever we travelled she would always have at least five or six pairs of shoes with her, just to make sure she had all her bases for every occasion.  Always two or three pairs of sneakers (comfortable favourites, dressy for going to the mall and something mildly athletic just in case she found a boxing club in the neighbourhood), flip-flops for casual trips to the neighbourhood and then a pair of dress shoes (or two or three for that matter) just in case a dressy occasion appeared on the horizon.  At home things were even more dramatic. Dress boots, practical boots, dress shoes, multiple pairs of sneakers and I have no idea how many pairs of dress shoes.  She even had "costume shoes" for those many occasions that one just needs to attend an affair dressed as Marie Antoinette or Betty Boop.  And it was shocking how often something like that was necessary.

My Calista took "dressing up" to a whole new level. Every Halloween required at least two costumes; one for daytime wear and one for evening wear.   That was kind of my fault: one year when she was maybe ten I decided I could manufacture a pair of angel's wings for Halloween out of wire, paper-mache and feathers. By the time I was done I had a pair of angels wings that were as all as he and looked like real wings. Unfortunately they also weighed close to twenty pounds and were five feet tip to tip.  We needed a back-up costume just in case the wings failed to fly. After that we always had an alternative costume for weather and foolish father contingencies. Calista merely continued the tradition as she matured into an adult.  Daytime would get a businesswoman Betty Page look, including the fishnet stockings and the retro hair-do, while evening would get a distinctly ribald Marie Antoinette look.  I am not sure that the Queen of France ever wore a dress quite that short, but it worked for my girl.  I'm not sure she could safely pick up anything she dropped, but she probably had four boys around at any one time to get that accomplished. I should mention in passing that she did like to wear her plastic princess tiara on her birthday. I would just bet that her university and college instructors just loved that; I loved her for it.  She never cared what people thought of her because she just celebrated life every day of her life.

I had a note from one of her instructors today that was just so typical of my girl that it made me smile as the tears of longing welled up in my eyes.  She did her professional photography practicum with Sean, who I guess does "product photography", her speciality.  He used her at one photography shoot as an hand model on short notice. On the next trip out, this time to take product pictures at a cup-cake bakery, she anticipated a encore performance. She took the time the night before the shoot to carefully paint her nails to match the cup-cake theme.  I have to ask just where the hell did she come up with this stuff?  I saw the pictures and sure-enough she not only has cup-cake fingernails, she has cup-cake themed jewelry on. Who the heck has cup-cake jewelry except my crazy, artistic kid?

Still on the subject of Calista and her love of dressing for every occasion, Jesse, her good friend from College had us doubled in laughter explaining how Calista seemed to have a never ending store house of props for photography. One of Jesse's photographic projects was "Magic: Old and New" and two of the references she used were Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" and the newer "Harry Potter" series.  Jesse was at a loss over how to get props for the photos she wanted to take.  Calista started off the conversation with "Lord of the Rings? Well, I have "THE RING" (as in "The One Ring") and sure enough, she coughed up a collector's edition of the ruling ring, engraved and all.  Then the conversation turns to Harry Potter and Calista manages to find a Gryffindor House scarf in red and gold. It made Jesse's project easier to complete, but it confirmed to Jesse that Calista was just a little odd after all.  That leaves me wondering where my girl picked up the miniature Greek column and the stuffed crow that still decorate the stairs of her tiny two level apartment.

Then there is the jewelry.  Calista had quite a collection, all of it relatively cheap costume jewelry, but my lord did she wear it with taste and flair.  That girl never looked cheap (unless that was the look she was going for, and then she did "cheap with flair").  She did have some quite unique pieces though. Every birthday and every Christmas I liked to get her one good but unique piece. Some of my gifts were real winners and some of them were just love tokens that she loved but could not wear.  I would hunt all year for that perfect  piece and usually finally settle with less than a day to go on the best of what I found on my searches.  Two years in a row I found one of a kind pieces from an artists in Ghana who liked to work in tumbled beach glass and antique brass. The beach glass was a winner, the antique brass not so much. I guess in retrospect I should have known better since the brass necklace kind of looked like something a village shaman might wear at an exorcism.  My last gift to her was a cute silver necklace that took the form of a snake that wrapped around the neck and clasped with a magnet at the throat.  I heard that it was a great hit; she and her friends thought I was going with a Harry Potter theme (the snake being the symbol of Slytherin House).  I never got to see my girl wear that necklace, not even a picture of her in it.

I guess now my wife and I are going to have to figure out what to do with all of this.  The clothes will be impossible for my wife to let go for probably decades. Heck, we still have some of her baby clothes (first we kept them because we thought there might be a little brother or sister to hand-me-down to, then we just kept them because we realised our reproductive days were behind us, now we will just keep them). The shoes will be an effort; there are just so many pairs here, including some hot pink stilettos that only Calista could pull off wearing and a pair of high heeled two-tone wing-tips that she looked great in but I guess were a torture to wear. While I was searching her room for the still missing iPod and suspected missing flash drives (yet more photographs) I found shoes stashed in the most unlikely places: empty antique hat-boxes, hidden shelves under the head-board of her bed,  back corners of closet where they have sat unused since she arrived from Regina.

My lord I miss that girl.  I keep on forgetting she is dead, even more frequently lately as the immediate searing pain of her loss fades.  Just today I caught myself smiling as I thought about gently teasing her about something her instructor had said about her. Then I came back to reality that he had wrote it on her memorial page. I realise now that I am likely to miss her every single day for the rest of my life. With my luck it probably is going to be a really long life. Punishment for unknown sins I guess.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

One Week, Five Days: Life Interrupted

When someone dies suddenly, there are just so many things left undone and unsaid. Since that day I have  dealt with that fact on two fronts: trying to clean up all my Calista's outstanding commitments and finding all sorts of hidden surprises left to remind us of her. There is almost a pathological need for me to tie up all her loose ends. If I fail to get it all cleaned up I will feel like I have failed her. Just the thought of it makes me angry. Anger is my constant companion right now (which would explain my barely controlled road rage this afternoon).

My first and most important goal was to complete her College degree. I really want my girl to graduate from her photography program with a real degree; no post-humus "honorary" degree. My girl worked damned hard for that certificate and had managed to garner high marks in nearly all her courses through nine tenths of the course. She likely has most of the outstanding assignments already in her computer drive somewhere and I am going to find them and submit them. I might even find and submit assignments she did not actually start yet; her ghost will guide me in how they should be done (an example would be her portfolio: I know my girl well enough that I am sure I will be able to submit the pictures she would most like to represent her body of work). That diploma will be the real thing, earned by her work if it kills me.  I just wish my girl had a better filing system in her computer and multiple external hard-drives. Thousands of files to look through, some files hidden inside files on top of files. It has been a trying week. Thank God she did not pass-word protect any of those files since so far I have not been able to hack through into even one of her pass-word protected computer spaces (including the games on her iPhone).

One thing I did learn though: at a college there is a world of difference between the administration and the educators. I approached the dean of the college and he, very pleasantly mind you, immediately offered to award her an honorary certificate rather than an earned certificate. The man may understand how to manage a college program, but he has no idea how to manage bereaved parents. People have to understand that part of the survivor guilt that the parent is experiencing is the unwillingness to allow their dead child to accept second best. It feels like a failure to the parent and we who have lost children cannot bear to fail those children. It is our responsibility to fight for our children; it is our last chance to do right by them.

A lot of people are astounded by my determination to complete my daughter's work. Some people have even suggested, in a very understanding voice, that I am taking on too much and I need not worry if she had fulfilled all her commitments.  They need to step back and just for a moment step into my shoes: by finishing her projects I am keeping her alive  for just a little longer. If only by proxy.

I found a portrait of a four year old girl today that my daughter had obviously printed up to present to her mother.  The mother's business was quite out of my way and the employee told me that the personal delivery was hardly necessary. Yes, my dear, it really was necessary. My daughter's ghost demands that I fulfil my oath as her father.

Last night I finally finished reading "The Great Gatsby"; it was the last book my girl ever read.  On her last visit home she had told me that she had just finished it. I asked her if it was any good and she replied that it was "not bad".  She tossed her dog-eared copy at me and I had just started reading it the night before she died. I am not sure why Fitzgerald was considered a great writer; I found the story somewhat lacking. I was not sure I was going to finish it, but then she passed and it became obligatory that I get to the end of Gatsby because this would be my very last shared experience with Calista, I thought....

This morning my wife told me that Calista had been quite eager for both of us to read "The Hunger Games" trilogy. I started it this afternoon. So far, so good; it certainly is more entertaining than Gatsby.

I wonder if I am seeing too many phantom messages here though: Gatsby is about a young man full of  potential killed before his time while "The Hunger Games" is basically just full of young people tragically killed.  The threads of fate certainly seemed to be coming together, at least in these things.

I guess my last effort for my girl is to live long enough to make sure her memorial scholarship fund is fully self-perpetuating before I die. I know I am her father, but I know my girl Calista was destined for great things; she had talent, vision and a good work ethic. I have to make up for that lost potential somehow. It will not bring Calista back but it just may fulfil her potential through another person's success. It may finish a life interrupted.

I found a news story today about an 18 year old boy (the newspaper had the audacity to call him "a man"; obviously he was not related to the writer in any way) that was killed in eastern Canada by a lightening strike. The boy had no warning, no time to have any last words, no chance to be saved by the doctors at the hospital. He died just like my girl.  Despite the fact I did not know the parents in the least, I felt obliged to send them a note of condolences; yet another two members of the Association of the Damned.  Another life interrupted.

You know, most of my anger comes from the outrage that my daughter lost her life. The pain that my wife and I are feeling is a trivial matter compared to the loss of potential when that girl died. I could cry myself into an early grave and it would still not amount to half a hill of cow dung compared to the loss of my girl's life.  She was everything I never was: independent, unique and inspired.  How a little grey man like me produced something so golden as her I will never understand.

Enough dark for now. Tomorrow we go back into the light and talk some more about my girl. The smile is already on my face because talking about my Calista is what I enjoy the most.

Monday, 28 May 2012

One Week. Four Days: Groundhog Day

The title above refers to the classic Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day". The premise of the show is that Bill's character is a shallow, miserable television reporter doomed to relive the same day (Groundhog Day) repeatedly until he gets it right.  I am not sure that I can possibly get anything right ever again, but I feel like I am experiencing Groundhog Day.

Each day dawns the same way: Calista's alarm goes off at 6:10 am each morning (except yesterday; I guess my girl had programmed the phone to let her sleep on Sundays), I roll over gently and extricate my numb arm from under my wife who has to be cradled to sleep each night. It takes me a few moments to remember, but then I do and my spirit drains away and I start the same day over again, just with a different date. My wife stays in bed crying until 9 or 10 and then slowly showers, trying to wash the misery out of her body. I feed the cats and then decide if my place is at my wife's side or hammering away at organising my daughter's memorials. Today I split the difference and stayed with my wife until about 7:30, at which point my planning and scheming called out to me.  I downed my first of many cups of coffee today, joylessly downed some cold cereal (breakfast used to be my favourite meal of the day), checked my early e-mail and started to look for printers that could make up the memorial cards.  I settled on the first one I came to, but that ended up being a good choice: local guy who prints locally.

All this paper shuffling and organising. It's all just busy work to keep my mind from wandering. I have started to question everything. Maybe if I had kept my daughter home, maybe if I had remained in Saskatchewan, maybe if I had spent more time with my girl and paid attention to her health better I would have been able to save her. My life will now be spent with regrets and pretty much one day is the same as the next. They are all "groundhog day" as far as I am concerned. The only difference from the movie is that in the movie the antagonist gets to eventually fix his problems and move on with a wonderful life. I will never "fix" this problem; I was never even given the chance.

The other issue that makes this like "groundhog day" is my ongoing effort to retain everything I can of my daughter. I cannot bring myself to turn off her iPhone alarm; in fact last night I nearly panicked when I realised the battery was getting low. The idea that the alarm may fail to sound made me think I was starting to let go of my girl. Of course the alarm did ring this morning, but once I was up and showering (showering is a bad time for mourning; you are naked and alone with nothing but your inner thoughts to occupy yourself) I started to worry that we were eventually going to have to cancel her phone contract and, maybe in years, the phone would die. The loss of that phone, filled with her music and messages and contacts and, well, everything that is left of my girl would be a disaster.

It goes beyond the stupid iPhone. We have thousands of files stored on flash drives, portable hard drives, and of course her lap-top computer. Some of those files are important and some are merely junk that she had not had time to delete yet.  I don't know one from the other.  We still have photograph files from her high-school days; pictures that she would likely prefer to be lost forever.  Then there are her wardrobes of clothes, shelves of shoes and an entire apartment of furniture. Last but not least, there is the much loved Smart Car sitting in our driveway. Only two people with three cars; what do we do with the one car neither of us can stand to part with?(but I can barely stand to look at; I bought that car new especially for her since she had always wanted one since she was about 13). So many mementos and each one of them would be heart-rending to let go.

Inasmuch as people say they want to "move on", in fact anyone that has lost a child spends huge amounts of time trying to just hold onto everything. It is as if we could turn back time magically by holding onto the memories with all our efforts.  It becomes a real superstition; if I turn the alarm off, let the phone die or, God forbid, I actually deactivate the phone it is some sort of betrayal of our dead loved one. This all seems pretty harmless, but behaviour like this plays into the guilt and slows the healing process.

Now, in the beginning of my mourning period, all I think of is my daughter. Some moments are heartrending, but some moments are truly pleasurable as I remember some fun moments or some quirky personality trait. Those moments even lead to laughing and truly fun times. Unfortunately, there comes the inevitable pause in the conversation, even just a moment, and the wave comes back, grabbing at your throat and drowning you in tears. These waves are a bit different though, because they are coupled with a strong sense of guilt: you forgot your loved one is dead and you had the audacity to stay alive. You are alive and they are not; survivor's guilt is real.

I am told by people that this is a common and lingering issue. Years later a survivor may be enjoying a game of golf and something reminds them of their dead child. The good time then spirals down into a black cloud of remorse: why am I still here when my child is not? Friends watch this and sometimes make the foolish comment that it is time to let go.....a parent that buries a child will never let go. Never. Unfortunately, unless you are part of the Association of the Damned, you are completely incapable of understanding.

I have had the odd person say "I know how you feel because I lost my elderly (Father, Mother, Uncle, Brother, Fill in the Blank)". Sorry; you don't have a faint clue on how I feel. Those elderly relatives were loved and it was sad that they passed, but they died having lived life, loved, had children, maybe grand-children and seen some of the world. They had their fair chance while my child had so very little.  I am angry for the loss to my daughter; she deserved a life and what she got was death. Please don't even begin to compare my 20 year old girl to some retired seventy year old that will be missed by her 4 married children and ten grand-children.

I will try to let this go; really, but right now, every day is Ground-hog Day. I wake up with some hope in my heart and then I remember: my little girl is never coming home. Never. Coming. Home.....and it starts all over again.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

One Week Three Days: Parts of Calista

Just in case you did not catch the entry:  "The Fallen Musketeer" Photography Show featuring the works of the Four Musketeers and celebrating the beautiful life of Calista Jasmine Fleming (and, no, she was not named for a Disney character.  We selected based on versatility; as she grew she could be Calista, Cali, Jasmine, Jazz, C.J.; anything she wanted.). At the McKinnon Photography Studio, Courtenay BC, June 16, 2012, starting at 6pm.  Enough shameless promotion.

I want this to be a good day, an upbeat day, a happy day. Today is another Calista day, where you get to meet some more of the person this is all about. The person that could have taught all of us to live better and would have if she had survived long enough.

An old friend of mine passed on to me an ancient Indian tale about a grandfather teaching the children about the nature of good and evil. The grandfather tells the children that within all of us live two wolves: one is good and the other evil and both constantly vie to lead the pack. The youngest child asks the grandfather which wolf usually wins and the grandfather replies "the one you choose to feed".  I am trying to take my friend's advice to heart and I am trying to let some of my bitterness bleed out now; it has been a hard day filled with regrets and anger. I am not sure I am really able to do my Calista justice tonight, but if I don't post something each day until her memorial I will feel as if I was betraying her memory by being a quitter. And Calista hated quitters.

I should talk about Calista's lifelong attraction to artwork. I will ignore her first faulty efforts at true artwork since they amounted to the liberal use of indelible markers on the face of her peacefully sleeping father (not appreciated at the time, but early signs of a healthy sense of humor). In my opinion, the first sign that Calista was headed into the arts was what Roni and I called "the art appreciation hour". It was, by any measure, peculiar behaviour for a child that could barely walk.

I grew up in a home filled with fine art. My father had three things going for him in that regard: an eye for good contemporary art, a widespread network of art and antique dealers, and, as a doctor, the cash flow to feed both of  those. We had excellent Canadian art hanging on many of our walls and father taught all of us the value of refined aesthetics.  I inherited his taste in art, but not his earning ability. I am afraid my art collection runs to well framed quality prints and a single valuable painting that I received as my share of my father's estate. Sometime in 1993 I acquired a very nice print of a scene of a western frontier gaming saloon called "Mind if I Join You, Gentlemen?" by Arnold Freiberg. I was taken by the detail and reality of the scene and the superb quality of the framing. The print was completely inappropriate for our decor at the time, but I was young and quite lacking in taste. The strange thing is that now, nearly 20 years later, the picture is perfect in my home. It now sits across from a 200 year old lithograph of an old veterinarian caring for a dog and an excellent Jack Lee McLean western scene.

For some strange reason, Calista took quite a shine to the Freiberg, asking me repeatedly to lift her up so she could look at the print closely.  Each night I would arrive home from the clinic and she would demand that she inspect the painting for long minutes at a time. I basically would hold her there until my arms gave out. (she was a lot heavier than she looked). Eventually this game was getting a bit old for me and I started just paying lip service to her art appreciation.  I thought that she was just basically asking for attention from her father rather than actually looking at the print. That belief came to a screetching halt the night I came home and she had dragged her high chair out of the kitchen, across the carpeted floor (no little effort there) and out in front of the print.  When I entered the dining room there she was, climbing up the chair as it tipped side to side precariously and demanding that the light be turned on and trained on the print.  Roni and I carried the chair to that spot for weeks after and she happily sat and gave us her uncensored opinion of the work each night. Lucky for Mr. Freiberg that she could not actually speak much more than Daddy, Mommy and a few choice swear words that I had mistakenly used in front of her (why do kids always pick up those words so darned easily?).

Calista recieved her first camera at the age of 7 or 8. My wife was a little incensed at the time that I would give an youngster something delicate like a camera, but I asked her if I should instead give her a knife, the treasure I recieved on my 7th birthday. The argument stopped. I think Calista still has that silly little point-n-shoot viewfinder camera stashed somewhere.  I am not sure that she ever went anywhere without a camera after that. I am not going to lie to anyone and pretend that Calista was a child prodige: most of her pictures at 7 were poorly constructed scenes involving blurry kittens and fuzzy puppies.  Focus and stabilty were not something she was concerned about back then, but puppies and kittens were very important subjects. On the other hand, it is embarrassing to admit that many of her early pictures were better than anything I ever took in my life. (I am one of those guys that read all the books, bought many of the toys, and still cannot get a good photograph if my life depended on it)

Of all the cameras Calista owned, the most durable and constant camera has been a little digital point and shoot that travelled everywhere with her. This version of the point-and-shoot is the second she has owned: her first was stolen, likely be a friend at swim work-out.  There is an amusing story behind that though. One afternoon that I was home early from work, Calista comes through the door, crying hysterically and babbling incomprehensibly, the latest boyfriend in tow. Her crying is getting progressively worse and finally her boyfriend volunteers to give me the bad news. Well, picture it: middle aged father with a 14 year old daughter dating a 16 year old boy, she is crying hysterically and he is looking sheepish. You have to know what I am thinking. Finally Calista blurts out that her camera was stolen at swim work-out. I just start laughing and tell her not to fuss, stop crying. It's just a camera (albeit, an expensive camera), its not the end of the world. I tell her to cry like that when your best friend dies or you are told you have cancer (or you are told by a young police officer that your lovely daughter has suddenly died). I then turn to the boy-friend and, seriously, tell him that he is one lucky dude because I thought I was going to have to kill him.  I swear that kid went as pale as an anemic ghost and he was already had transparent white skin and blond hair. I replaced the camera the next day, hopefully teaching my kid that possessions are just things and can be replaced (but maybe I just taught her that daddy would do anytthing for her and that he had good credit).

Calista bought her very first real camera when she was 17 and had her first real job stocking shelves at Staples.  A very capable salesman convinced her that a Canon 40D would be a good gateway camera to get her through photography school and start her on the way to a professional career. I paid for the $1800 camera, but that girl was rigid about paying me back; she never missed a monthly payment and actually paid it off well ahead of time.  About that time she took her first course in photography; an introductory course at the high school.  She did a lot of projects that semester, but I remember her final project. It was supposed to be a photos essay in a series.  While the other students did enthralling subjects like "my favourite sport", "my dog" or  "the color red", she decided to do "The Nature of Good and Evil" and proceeded to do a series filled with visions of the 7 deadly sins. It seemed appropo since she was enrolled in a Catholic school, but really shocked the class.

 That salesman really knew his stuff though: the Canon 40D really did come through and did very well until just three months ago when a small malfunction forced us to step up to the Canon 7D to finish the course. (I likely will give that 7D to one of her close friends; I will never be able to bring myself to use it).

Once Calista graduated from high school, it was obvious that she was really an artist. I had hoped she would enter the sciences where a more assured career could be had, but you cannot make an leopard into a lion. I was never sure that the university environment was appropriate for her; too formal and I suspeced that she would falter as the professors tried to make her just another brick in the wall.  I eventually realized that she needed some help if she was going to find her way in the art world.

 I was very lucky; one of my favorite clients happened to be an internationally well known wild-life artist by the name of Jack Cowin.  Jack agreed to take her under his wing and nurture her abilities until she found her way. The only conditions that he set is that she turned in his various assignments on schedule without exception. The first missed assignment and the deal was off. He thought she would last maybe three months; she lasted 18 months and finally left him to move with her family to BC. 

Jack realized early on that Calista had very limited drawing abilities. That girl just could not draw and she had only a very basic understanding of color use. What she did have was a natural gift for composition. Jack questioned where this came from and realized that her real calling was always photography. After that revelation, Jack concentrated on photographic assignments and their relationship smoothed out.  It was Jack that recognized her gift for taking pictures of clothing, shoes and jewelry and making them desirable.  I am not sure if he aimed her in the direction of marketing photography or if he just saw a skill waiting to be released.  I believe it was Michaelangelo that said that a great sculptor merely revealed the statue trapped inside the marble rather than actually sculpting the statue.  Perhaps this is true here: Jack merely revealed the artist waiting inside my daughter and released her to pursue her dream. Either way, I owe Jack for finding my daughter's "Magic One": that one job that she would do for the rest of her life and never call work. Thanks Jack.

Last Friday I brought my girls ashes home. The funeral home director said something quite funny as I left the building; watch out, she is suprisingly heavy for such a small package.  I bitterly laughed at that: Calista always was surprisingly heavy,both physically and mentally. That's Ok: she's not heavy, she was my daughter.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

One week, 2 days: Those left behind.

So exactly how do we manage to make anything good come from the sudden death of a beautiful, vivacious and truly enjoyable young woman like Calista?  Beyond the loss of a life filled with infinite potential, the wreckage left in the wake of this disaster includes her parents, family, and many friends all left with great emotional wounds raw and bleeding for a long time to come. There are the poor kids that were present when she died and who tried to save her. How do they find value in this travesty? How can there be anything good or just in the death of a young person, taken before they have even had a chance to live, love and contribute?

We can approach this question in several different ways.

 I personally am not terribly religious, so I could counter that there is NO meaning to this at all. We should not try to create meaning to an early death because there is no "cosmic meaning" to life. We are born, we live and reproduce (or not in Calista's case), and then we die. If we die young, we have less chance of reproducing and passing on our genetics. If we die old we likely do pass on our genetics and therefor have some chance in the only true form of immortality: procreation. That is pretty much the sum total of the meaning of life. Sorry, that's the basic truth. My truth is that my particular set of genes is now at a dead end; my only offspring has passed without leaving me grandchildren and therefor my genes are done on this earth. I am basically the veritable definition of  evolutionary dead-end.  Pretty cold, but I need to stay clinical here since the other option is to have an emotional melt down.

If I was religious, I would have to hope that the spirit of my girl is merely elsewhere, not gone from this Earth forever.  There would be a heaven and I would see her, hug her and spend the rest of time enjoying her big smile and loud laugh. And there would be lots of laughing. If I extend that thought, there would be a God and he could explain to me exactly the logic of taking Calista when she has had so little life while leaving me who has seen his share of this world and would go happily if given the choice between her and I. Or, being cold again, how about my elderly mother who has been spending more time in hospital lately than anywhere else and frequently begs to be allowed to rest. As far as I am concerned, God, if he exists, has one hell of a lot of explaining to this bitter, unforgiving ageing father. When my time comes I will go happily, but I will be asking questions and taking prisoners.

I have to tell you that the anger stage of mourning is very real. It's not a rage as much as it is a bitter, sarcastic questioning of the extreme injustice at the meaningless death of a loved one.  Right now I see no justice in this world. None at all. People who believe in some sort of "cosmic balance" are just fooling themselves: bad people rarely pay for their sins. good people are rarely properly rewarded and innocent youth die uselessly.

The question is how does one get past this bitterness and find some way back into the light. It is difficult for me to see it now, but I do have a plan and I hope that my plan will somehow balance the world for the loss of my Calista.

The first thing I started immediately was to try to reassure and help the people that were closest to my daughter. There was nothing I could do for my wife and myself. As much as I have always been the grey little man who fixes bad things around my house and family, this time all the fixing in the world was not going to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. On the other hand, my daughter had four good friends who were hurt and crying. One of those girls, Kareen, had been present when Calista died; she had not been back to school since she died. The poor boy, Kevin, had not only watched a new friend die while he struggled to save her, he then had to survive hours of police interrogation.  While I will never fault the police (they did their job superbly), Kevin still had to be injured: he needed to know that Calista's family did not fault him and that he should forgive himself for not saving her. He needed to know that it was alright to continue on enjoying life because that is what young people should do. That is what Calista would want him to do.  I now see it as part of my life mission to make sure that all these young people battle on and perhaps live twice as well because they are now living for Calista.

I am living for Calista now.  I have to work harder, play harder, love better and see more because now I have to cover all the ground that by rights was her ground to cover.  I am living for two.

My second step in that direction is to create a fitting memorial for my girl. Something that makes sense and would please her if she is indeed looking at us from the spirit world. The first thing that came to mind (or was it placed there The Little Princess, a ghost whispering in my ear?) was to ditch any formal funeral or memorial service and have a proper celebration of a short life lived well. I immediately thought that we should have an art and photography show. One night only, during which we could all exchange Calista stories and laugh until the tears run dry.  Calista had such a big personality and so many idiosyncrasies that there are just so many fun stories to exchange. Call her what you want, but boring is something my girl could never be. On the other hand, this memorial is not just about Calista; it is about helping those close to her heal, move on, and succeed because they loved Calista and owe it to her. The memorial is about everybody who made my girl's life great.

I always thought of the girls that made up Calista's close group as "The Musketeers". They seemed to do everything together: learn, work and play.  More often than not we were "texted" or called that she was on her way over to somebodies house for a movie night or the girls were all coming down to her apartment to finish a project or just watch "Mad Men" on DVD. I was not the only one to see that group as tight: her teacher "Boomer" especially considered Jesse, Kareen and Calista as "The Three Caballeros". He could see that they worked together, inspired each other and fed off of each others energy. The first afternoon the girls met with my wife and I they told me of one field trip into the forest where my daughter had played some dance music and they had spontaneously started dancing in the middle of a serious photo shoot. They were an artistic symbiosis; a group that produces  a better, more creative portfolio together than they could individually. When my daughter died, to me at least, it seemed like that the tight ring of friends had been robbed of a keystone and they may fold, losing that symbiotic energy. I see that as yet another tragedy; lesser but still tragic.

Somewhere in my mind the memorial has become more than just a memorial. It has become an effort to heal the symbiosis and let those girls move on, keeping that energy that made them so creative and happy in their future profession. The name that came to mind was "The Fallen Musketeer" Photo and Art Show. It sounded right and it sounded like something that could become bigger than a single night of memorial. Something that could move into the future, stimulating other young photographers and artists to explore and enjoy their art. Something that would keep the memory of my girl alive while giving back to the art world some of the talent that was lost when she died. It seems the least I can do for the love of my life. Allow her to live longer in spirit if not in body.

I have contacted an old karate student of mine that has become a graphic artist (cartoonist is what he calls himself, but indeed his work is art, nothing less). He is designing a "logo" which I will "brand" my art show with and thus hopefully establish permanence.  The logo is showing three musketeers with swords held high and crossed while the fourth is bowed, obviously injured and fallen, sword held to ground. The message, I hope, is one of hope: "comrades I have fallen; take up the good fight for me". Optimism for the future despite tragic loss.  I have seen the proofs; my artist Dakota has the feeling just right.

In the future I will establish a scholarship in memory of my daughter. The idea that her name and some of her energy may not outlive me is intolerable; I will be damned if I am the last person that remembers Calista. I am not sure where the money will come from and I might have bit off more than I can chew when I made the promise to myself and anyone that would listen to establish the scholarship fund and annual photography/ art show.  Unfortunately this is all I have; fate has chosen to strip me of the one thing I really valued in life, so all I am left with is dreaming big for the future. This I can do.

The one thing I really need to pass onto the young people caught up in this mess is that they need to learn from my daughter's death. Learn mortality. Learn mortality now. You have to learn that life is like a thin piece of paper: on one side is written "life" while on the other side is written "death"; one slight breeze can turn that paper over and change everything.  Youth always seems to live as if they are immortal: they waste precious time when time is the only true treasure any of us have. I would do anything, give everything for just a few more moments of time with my Calista.  I say go out there, take risks, see the world, try new jobs, meet new people, get married and have children and love them well. Most of all love your family well.... and stop fussing about the little things in life.

Calista gave my wife a photograph series for Christmas. It shows an hourglass slowly draining its sands of time from full to empty in three pictures. The clear message to me when it was placed on our wall was "Time is running out".  Sadly, we did not get the photos properly framed and hung until after she had died. I wonder now, if we had not procrastinated on the framing and hanging, would we have seen the same message? Would we understand we were wasting time? Learn from my horrible mistake: love your family like this is the only and last time you will ever have with them because sometimes that really is all you will have.

Friday, 25 May 2012

One week, one day: Parts of Calista

The sun is shining today and the Straights are relatively calm and almost Mediterranean blue. You can see the Little River Docks if you know where to look and I can imagine Comox as she saw it every day. She loved it there; she used to look up at the distant glaciers every clear morning and just shake her head that there was anywhere on Earth quite so beautiful. After a lifetime spent in the prairies where the horizon is pretty much the same in any direction, this was a whole new world to Calista.  She was embracing the west coast lifestyle with both arms and I loved her for it.

I have to take a break from wallowing in self-pity. At least for a couple of posts. Calista would have frowned at me and told me to "just suck it up". There will be more; people need to know what to expect when this happens and there is no time like the immediate to get these feelings down. Hemingway said that all writing is great if it is real. I am not sure that is true; not everything Hemingway wrote was great and certainly not everything I write is a pearl. But at least it is real in this case. Too real. I joyfully could go with "completely imaginary" for everything that has happened this last 8 days.  Either way, out with the bad and in with the good. My reader has to know something about my daughter Calista. She was a really worthwhile person. A person of substance.

As long as I remember Calista was described by everyone as "independent".  That would be the one dominant personality trait that best describes that girl: her own woman. Even when she was a wee girl. I once described Calista as the "leader of the pack" and that was patently unfair of me. It was a false description and I am pretty sure Calista would have taken offence to the term "leader". My little princess would never want to lead nor follow anyone; she took great pride in always finding her own unique way of living.

When she was about three we started to see the person she would become. Of course, we did not know what we were seeing, but looking back she was already there. I remember her first experiences with "daycare".  At the time her mother and I lived above our veterinary clinic in Whitehorse and, as a result, we rarely ever left the building.  We started feeling like we were neglecting the development of our daughter, so we enrolled her one morning each week in daycare.  I would receive my surgery patients for the day, see a couple of clients, and then hike over to the day-care three blocks over regardless of how cold it might be outside. Calista never seemed to care about the cold; to the day she died (1 week, 1 day ago) she could tolerate temperatures that had other people running for the parka. Heat she did not really care for (but did love a good suntan; thankfully she inherited my skin that allowed her a golden girl look within minutes of going outside).

I guess I should have seen the independent streak in her back then: her first day at day care was filled with outrage and tears. Outrage that dad was not staying to play in the wonderland of children and toys and tears when it came time to leave.  Home? What home? This is where my friends are!! (pronounced "Fwends", something she still strangely did for people she really loved right to the end. But only for people she truly cared for). We soon had to expand her day care days to three per week as she constantly harassed us by standing on the sofa in front of the windows overlooking the street plaintively crying "Fwends,  my fwends" all the while pointing in the general direction of the day care.

Living in a veterinary clinic was something she just took for granted. We had a strange little pocket door that led from the clinic into my living room. The door had been an old wood pass for stocking the large wood bin in my living room. We had cleaned it out when Calista was born because we were scared of the wood stove in our ancient WWII house and clinic. When an addition was added to the house, we ended up with this peculiar little door about five feet off the ground, right about the height of a client's head when they were sitting on the bench next to the door.  We kept the door unlatched for the most part because it was a nice way for me to quickly get home if Roni needed me. And Roni needed me frequently because her relationship with her daughter was closer to that of sibling sisters than mother and offspring. They were either inseparably in love or had to be separated to spare blood shed. Somehow I was always the peacemaker and mediator.  Calista quickly figured out the pocket door and, when mom was being BAD, Calista would kick open the door with all her strength (which was always respectable) and scream for daddy or for our receptionist Christy.  Christy had learnt early that the way to quell my daughter's rampage was chocolate, therefor she always seemed to have a spare chocolate bar stashed in her drawer.  I had more than a few clients forced to dodge the door as my daughter came screaming to it's opening wanting either a hug or chocolate (or a hug and chocolate if both Christy and I answered the call).

Now, years later, I still see the results of that early childhood training. Calista was always loyal to friends first and parents second (but we never felt unloved. Never), she preferred to be out on her own rather than stuck at home, and her ability to down chocolate was nothing short of legendary. One thing I know Christy taught my daughter: bribery always wins the heart. Her good friends at school were all laughing because Calista would constantly arrive unannounced at their homes with pet treats lining her pockets. She would constantly bribe all their pets, even the immensely fat cat; they were sure she wanted their pets to love her more than them.  I laughed when I found a bag of unopened pet treats in her cupboard the other day. Typical of her to keep a secret stash for pet payola.

Calista came home today across the wide blue straights. Her ashes are now sitting in a bronze urn atop my bedroom armoire. There was some debate between my wife and I about where we will sleep tonight. My wife could not bear the idea that our little girl would spend her first night home alone in our bedroom, but she also cannot bear the idea of leaving Calista's bedroom where all her personality lives.  My feeling is that the ashes are just ashes while that bedroom, filled with my girl's art and mementos is the true Calista. If the essence of Calista still lives, it is in that room with it's three hot pink walls that are countered by the lime green fourth. You heard me: lime green and hot pink. I was not enthralled when I first saw it, but now it is just perfect. That is perfect Calista: do your own wild thing and pull it off with grace and elegance.

I am going to start telling my readers about the future now, how are my wife and I going to get past this. And I am going to cover one heck of a lot more about Calista. She was a big personality and she deserves much better than the self-pity fest I have been giving her. She deserved a memorial and a send off that everyone will call unique and therefor perfectly fitting.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Seven Days, Fourteen hours.: Short and Sad

I had hoped to be beautiful and eloquent today while I described the one great love of my life.  I just can't do that today, sorry. I thought I had healed enough to start remembering Calista (her soul;  physical pictures are easy to paint). I missed one important point: one week. Exactly one week. Thursdays are going to be rough for quite a little while.

I mentioned yesterday that I had travelled over the wide blue straights to Comox to collect some of Calista's treasures. It actually went much better than expected. We retrieved all the photography equipment, her few expensive electronic pieces, her computer with all her outstanding course work (I have submitted at least one assignment  for her post-humously) and I found her iPhone mixed among the "evidence" the RCMP had collected. The iPhone was as dead as a winter-kill fish, which was kind of strange since it had sat dormant in an evidence locker for 6 days. I needed the contacts off it, so I charged it while we cleaned out the apartment. I did not check it otherwise,  just retrieved a few phone numbers off of it. Once it was charged, we took a couple of hours to frame my baby's pictures for the annual college show; her last submission for her college degree. I am going to finish her life for her as best as I can, starting with getting her stuff to that show.

Once we returned home I dumped the iPhone at the head of my bed without much thought. I did not think about everything my girl used that for, especially the fact that it was her only alarm clock. It was the alarm clock that woke her "Oh it's too early" on that final morning.

This morning I had a visit from a ghost. My daughter woke me up at exactly 6:05 am, just the same way she woke a week ago. With the iPhone alarm clock.  I scrambled to grab the phone, just as she likely did last week. My first words were "God, it's too early to get up". So my first words this morning were practically identical to the final words of her life.  Once it that thought occured to me, my sleep was pretty much done for the day and maybe tonight too.  The phone had burned up battery ringing her death knell at 6:05 am each day for the last 6 days.

The rest of my life is going to be filled with milestones on Thursday. First week has passed, then the first month will, then six months and eventually the anniversary. Hopefully, by next year I will have established the annual "Fallen Musketeer" show and it will keep my wife and I distracted for the day. Strange to believe that until now, I had always just considered Thursdays to be "Pub Night" at universities nearly everywhere.

Jesse gave us the most beautiful photo of Calista you can imagine. If she still alive I would absolutely love the photo. In time I will come to love it again, but right now I just see the most beautiful daughter a man could have had and I feel her absence with every breath I take.

If I can, I will try to live two lives now: one for my daughter and one for myself. I can only hope that everyone that knew and loved that girl will think the same thing and somewhere along the way we can make up for her loss. I will never stop missing Calista. I promise.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

6 days, 13.5 hours.: Falling to Pieces

I gave you a bit of a reprieve from the emotional trauma I have been inflicting upon you and I promise, I will come back to my favourite subject, Calista. Unfortunately, this discussion is as much about the trauma you feel after you lose a child as it is about Calista. People need to know how it feels and, truthfully, I need to release some of what I am feeling for my own sanity.

Everybody seems to be sure that first shocking day will be "the worst day of your life", and, in most ways it really is. Unfortunately that is like saying that full thickness burns over 90 percent of your body is just so much worse than full thickness burns over 85 percent of your body. In many ways, that first day is not the worst because you are usually in full shock, feeling very little and perhaps still able to pretend everything is going to be alright. It's the second and third day that are the beginning of the rest of your damned life that take a deep wound into a complete penetration of your soul.

The second day, Friday, was worse. I woke up, hoping that it was just a nightmare, and  but realised that I really did sleep in my dead child's bedroom, on top of the sheets in fear of soiling HER sheets. My  wife and I had stained the pillows with our tears and the nightmare was shared. It was real and it was about to get oh, so much more real. 

Today was the day I had to start making arrangements for my daughter's body to "be dealt with".  Do I choose a casket and bury her? Do I cremate her? Will there be a funeral? A memorial? What was the cause? Have they done an autopsy yet? These are all questions that people find it necessary to ask you and yet you are still trying to pretend that your girl is off in Rome or the Greek Islands (her two favourite places of all time) doing an impromptu photo shoot. (Ignoring the fact that I have her pass-port in my safe and I knew that police officer told you she was dead).

Let's cut to the chase: burial or burning, they both are terrible choices. Re-animation or perhaps vampire conversion will be any parent's first choices, anything to get one more hug and "I love you" from you child. Just one more..and then one more...and then at least one more. In my case, I knew my daughter would want cremation. She thought grave yards were a terrible waste of park land and she hated the idea of a loved one being some sort of preserved mummy, slowly breaking down over decades in the mouldy ground. Besides that, if Roni and I ever decide to move elsewhere, we would be abandoning the one great thing we ever did together, alone and uncared for in some distant grave.  On the other hand, cremation means the absolute destruction of my beautiful little girl. The flames consuming her hair, pealing back her skin, rendering her organs, cracking her bones. I wish I had never looked into the huge crematorium at the veterinary laboratory ever; I know what happens.  I cried uncontrollably as I signed that contract and I will never forgive myself one way or the other.

The autopsy was another traumatic act against my daughter's remains (I flinch at the word corpse). I made the mistake of sitting in on an autopsy many years ago; it's barely more than organised butchery. I appreciated the desperate need to know what killed my little girl, but I just wish I did not know how the autopsy was actually performed and how the pathologists leave the corpse (give credit to funeral homes that they can usually cover the marks of the pathologist well; pathologists are not surgeons and corpses do not heal).  In our case, the autopsy showed NOTHING. My beautiful Calista was perfectly healthy when she died as far as they were concerned. No aneurysm (my secret hope), no sign of meningitis, no sign of gross cardiac pathology. We will likely be left with nothing but a mystery.

The decisions to miss a funeral was easy. My daughter was an outspoken atheist and, after twelve years of Catholic school, practically scoffed at the existence of churches of any kind.  I personally tend to be a non-believer, but now I kind of want to step back from that. It is a conundrum. If there is a "God", what kind of god would take a perfectly healthy 20 year old with her wonderful life ahead of her and leave my decrepit 91 year old mother suffering in hospital for what will likely be months before she passes? On the other hand, if there is a "God", then there is some chance I will see my girl again, hug her and smell that wonderful just washed essence that used to waft off her hair. I am split. BTW: if there is a God, he has some mighty big questions to answer me when my time comes, and I am an unforgiving SOB.

The decision to have a memorial was easy. She should be memorialised by her friends coming together and celebrating her life, laughing at her many idiosyncrasies (some of them endearing, some of them not so much), and sharing the remorse at a good life cut short. We, I actually, decided to have a photography and art show celebrating the photos and art that influenced my daughter's life. We will show the photos of her special friends Jesse, Amanda, Kareen and Hanna. We will show the art of her favourite tattoo artists. We will show the art of her great mentor, the wild-life artist Jack Cowin, who aimed her down the road to professional photography. We will not cry as much as we laugh and we will try to heal, because we all know that Calista would look us in the eye and tell us to "suck it up" and battle on. June 16th, 2012 in Courtenay BC and hopefully for many years after in Courtenay on May 17, the anniversary of her death there will be "The Fallen Musketeer" art show. Be there if you want to pay tribute to a bigger than life personality that was stolen from us way too early.

Its strange, but in the last few days I have run into many people that have lost children, one of them being my uncle.  They all say the same thing: the first year is a bitch. They say that, but I am hearing something very different in their voice.  Poor Harold lost his boy 20 years ago and still cries when he thinks about fishing and hunting with him; how great it was and how much he misses it. My uncle Marshall lost his boy 43 years ago (I remember, I was only 7, my cousin Colin was 21, the same age as my girl). Marshall still hikes into the Rockies every year to a remote lake where he spread Colin's ashes. He still returns to a bench dedicated to Colin that has a great view of the Rockies daily to clean it off and sit for a while. Marshall is almost 90 now. Finally, Mel, a father who lost both his sons in the 80's runs a multi-million dollar foundation in the memory of his lost one's and relishes the fact that he will soon have a permanent site to bury their ashes. Somewhere the entire family can finally rest together. The loss of your child never really heals, it just scars over and tears open periodically.

The last gentleman, Mel,  had an astute observation that already rings true with me: the survivor guilt of a parent is real and immediate.  Even now, just six days after my daughter is gone, I find myself enjoying short moments of my life. Then I catch myself and HATE myself for forgetting she is dead and I am alive. How the hell can that be right? Mel warned me that would never completely go away. He talked about playing golf with his friends and finding himself falling deeper and deeper into a funk as he advanced through his round of golf.  He said that you start thinking that you are somehow betraying your child's trust by enjoying even one moment of life. He also pointed out that nobody but a person that had walked in the shoes of a parent/ survivor can begin to understand the remorse we feel. I know the even at this moment, as I compose this rambling diatribe, I feel I should be closed into a darkened room, sobbing and begging for my baby to come back.  Take me, Take me, just Take me damn it!! (And there it is, the wave, returned to remind me that she is still dead and I am still alive)

I rode across the wide blue straights today to where my baby died and her remains still reside (probably in some cold drawer awaiting her turn in the propane fire). I had to collect her possessions from the police and return to her beloved apartment to collect the few valuables that she had. I could not leave her treasures to some criminal looking to take advantage of a death for an easy B and E, but the collection of those few items was a test of my fortitude. To enter her apartment and look at the dirty dishes left from her last breakfast, to see her unmade bed, with the impression of her body still on the sheets, to pick up her dirty laundry still strewn carelessly when she changed to go to the fateful bar-b-cue. It is still hard to believe she is gone. For good.

The one bright light in this day is that we got to spend more time with her friends fitting out my daughter's photos for her upcoming show. She will present in that show and people will see what a loss this girl was to the world.

In a final note: I still wish I could believe in ghosts. If there was such a thing, Calista can haunt her mother and I as long as she wants. Preferably until we can join her as mischievous spirits and raise hell together.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Five Days, !3 hours. Parts of Calista

Where do I even begin describing my daughter.  Every father believes his girl is beautiful; what kind of father would a person be if he didn't. On the other hand, probably the first thing anyone said about that girl is "Oh my God she's beautiful". She really was physically beautiful. I remember one particular awkward moment when she was maybe 15; a local swim coach was watching her prepare for work-out in the early morning and he approached me and said "Please don't take this the wrong way, but your daughter really should go into acting or something like that, she is so uniquely beautiful".  And that is probably the best way to describe her; not flashy or Hollywood beautiful, but unique. Something in her genetics made her face especially almost flawless (OK, so maybe her nose was fairly, how shall I say, Romanesque).  I know that she caught the eye of many men and photographers over the years.

There is a family legend that one of my ancestors was from the Mic Mac Tribe of Nova Scotia. Certainly that would not be hard to believe; almost all of us have dark features, skin that tans in front of a strong light bulb, and prominent cheek bones. I know that my Cree friend Albert was sure "I was his brother of another mother". I doubt that since Albert was older than Noah and a full Cree elder. Certainly Calista looked very exotic.

There is an amusing story about Calista "on tour".  She visited Rome and Athens during Easter of her Grade 11 year. A young man and her visited the market in Athens and the sales staff all descend on them like the proverbial locust plague.  First they speak Greek to my poor Calista and she replies with the only line of Greek she had mastered: "I don't speak Greek". The staff then decide she must be Italian, so they try Italian, to which Calista replies, in Italian, "I don't speak Italian". She finally finds a pause in the conversation to pull out her passport showing she is Canadian. The sales staff then switch to halting English and for  the next half hour she has to repeatedly re-assure them that none of her ancestors are Greek. As she left the market the old crone at the till told her that she was indeed Greek but that she just did not know it. My girl certainly did have the look of the classical eastern Mediterranean.

On the other hand, I would never describe my girl as small. Perhaps the day she was born; she was three weeks early (a repeated theme throughout her life) and therefor only scored in the 50th percentile for new-born babies. From that moment on, she pretty much made up for that late start. One month out she scored in the 90th percentile and she never looked back.  Calista was best described as an Amazon. She constantly had trouble finding tops that would fit her shoulders and, frankly, brassieres were so hard to fit that she bought three at a time when she finally found something that was not way too small.  One clear memory I have of our last moments together is that I was looking up at her: I may be shrinking with age, but I still stand five foot nine and a bit. My girl had surpassed me.

There is no doubt that Calista was having a few issues with her weight during the last year, but she carried the extra weight beautifully. I would bet that Marilyn Munroe was heavier than my girl at the peak of her beauty reign (and much more generic in appearance). When her friends visited yesterday I had some hint as to why she was battling the bulge a bit. I guess her appetite for sweets and junk food was becoming legendary.  Funny thing, she always ate pretty healthy food when she was in front of me. The secrets our kids try to hide from us. Her friends laughed that they always made sure they ate properly before going over to Calista's apartment: she never had anything healthy to eat there and she was the world's worst cook. That second point I can whole heartedly agree with: the girl had trouble making boiled eggs.

When it came to athletics, Calista was a little peculiar. She never really excelled at anything, but damn could that girl train for everything. Until the last two months before she quit, Calista would train in the pool with her swim team like a fiend; often keeping up with swimmers far more talented than she ever would be. She left swimming and took up boxing (where the heck that came from, I don't have a clue). She selected her boxing club based on the training difficulty, not on the skills level. As far as I know she never actually stepped into the ring for anything but fun, but she loved her boxing. Her  most treaured photos from graduation were of her in her prom dress with competition boxing gloves laced up and in the ring of her last boxing club, Black and Blue Boxing of Regina. Crazy kid.

Once we moved to the west coast she abandoned boxing; the club here in Powell River was not organised enough or demanding enough for her. She turned instead to yoga of all things and crazy fitness routines at a local club "Coast Fitness".

I read a posting on her memorial wall last night from the owner of Coast Fitness. It absolutely brought me to my knees. She talked with glowing terms about how my girl always arrived early, stayed late and trained with zeal and dedication every session.  That it the girl everyone remembers: full on, full out, fully engaged.  The wave swallowed me up after that posting last night and I must have cried for an hour at the injustice of it all.

I will try to describe the most beautiful part of Calista tomorrow: her unique and independent soul. I don't know who gave her that spirit, but to lose that sort of person before they get their chance to shake up the world is a real injustice indeed.

5 Days and 5 Hours: Parts of Calista

Yesterday was a very good day for the most part. Jesse, Hanna, Amanda and Kareen, my daughter's four closest college friends visited for nearly four hours. We cried a little and laughed a lot exchanging stories about Calista. Kareen filled in some blanks for me about Calista's last few hours and that was strangely healing. The wave did not catch me until late last night, but when it did it crested high and hard, leaving my wife and I sobbing in the middle of my daughter's bed. We have slept there every night since she left us.

Kareen was wonderful. She told me that my daughter arrived at the bar-b-cue early (Calista was always early to everything) with a "four-pack" of "Woody's Sasparilla" in hand.  Nobody knows if she actually drank all four; it would be highly unlikely since I had never seen my daughter down more than two in an evening. She ate dinner (my girl actually ate salmon; good for her) and played Bocci ball. She was so excited when she actually scored a point that she saw fit to call Jesse mid-game to boast. She was in her glory. 

At about 11 pm, things were winding down and Kareen, ever the mother-hen, thought that Calista should bunk out for the night, and Calista agreed. Maybe she had just a bit too much to drink to be a safe and legal driver. Calista changed into a borrowed loose T-shirt. I am not so sure how loose it could be: Kareen is tiny and, though I love my girl dearly, I must admit nobody would ever call her petite. Amazon would be a more accurate description. Calista removed her contact lenses (this is an important key here) and joked that she might mistake her water glass for her contact solution if she was thirsty in the night.

Calista spent the next few hours just talking with Kevin, exchanging stories about growing up, one on the coast, the other in the prairies, getting to know each other. As far as everyone knows the relationship was platonic, but I could care less either way now. Calista mentioned she felt ill sometime in the early morning hours and actually had to run for the toilette. Maybe she HAD drank a wee bit more than she should have. Kevin was worried about her and asked if he could stay by her side to watch over her. She agreed and I believe they both fell asleep peacefully.

At 6 am Calista's phone alarm sounded and, now I hear, she actually got up and was apparently normal. She complained bitterly about it being too early to get up. That was my girl; she always was grumpy waking up, even when she was a wee baby). Now, here is where it gets interesting. Until now I was worried about why she had asked anyone to go through her purse to get some Advil. Asking for help is something my girl just never did, no matter how much trouble she was in.

Now I know why: she did not have her contacts in and without glasses or contacts my girl was as blind as the proverbial monkey ("see no evil"). She was not incapacitated when she awoke; she just could not see to help herself.  Kevin gave her the bottle of Advil and continued on taking care of himself. He has no idea if she took the Advil, but the next time he looked she had collapsed. He thought she may have choked on the pills and tried to help her. He put her in a recovery position after checking her respirations and scrambled for help.  Calls to 911, police and ambulance arrive, and all of a sudden we have a potential crime scene established.

The poor boy spent the next few hours being interogated by the RCMP. 

I see all sides of this story; everyone did what they needed to do. I will always consider Kevin, Kareen, and her mother personal heroes. They did everything they could to save my Calista and I will always treasure the fact she was with caring friends at the end.

I spent this morning dealing with the obituary. What a horrible process. How does one encapsulate a loved-one's life and convey how badly they will be missed in one simple paragraph? Anything I could say would be trite and incomplete.  It's no wonder that all obituary entries are the same.  My daughter deserves better than bland and generic and yet that is all I could give her in a few published words.

Todays entry is all about my girl. I am ready to start remembering the girl I raised. Some parts will be painful, but for the most part it will be a pleasant ride.  I have to go out now to start dealing with the details that death leaves behind, but later today I will start painting Calista's portrait.

Monday, 21 May 2012

99 hours, 21 minutes: about "The Wave"

After poor Constable Tim stopped my life, my memory gets pretty mixed up. Somehow I ended up in the kitchen getting a few more details about the end of Calista. They were trivial, inconsequential things such as how the bar-b-cue was just a quiet affair and nobody seemed to be doing drugs or anything.  Its kind of funny how people assume you care at that point; at that point they could have told me my daughter was a raving lunatic waving a gun in a drug crazed frenzy at the end and it would not have changed the vital fact she was never coming home..

And there is the term that always gets me crying: Calista, my baby, my little girl is never coming home again.  All I need to do is think about it and my vision blurs and my stomach rises to my mouth. That is the only thing that matters now. Never is a long time.

I sat at my kitchen table (somehow the venue changed from the darkened front hall floor to the brightly lit kitchen table). The grief councillor and the constable were asking if there was anyone that they should call. The wondered if they should call the office and tell them that I was not coming in.....well who the hell do you call when your life is ending and you live in a small village at the end of the highway with absolutely no family close by?

I stopped them from "just calling" the office; all my employees knew my daughter intimately since she had worked in my office for 6 months last year. Constable Tim was going to have to go, in person, and destroy yet three more lives, albeit short term. I really did not envy that man that day. I suspect that notification did not go much better than ours; my receptionist in particular is a wonderful, emotional woman with a deep motherly instinct. She would be devastated.

I had them call my brother Ivor. For some reason Ivor has always been my rock; the guy I call when my world folds around me. He fixed me when my knee was destroyed playing at karate, he supported me when the doctors diagnosed testicular cancer 7 years ago. He has always been there for me (despite threatening to fly me like a kite in a home-made hang glider when we were stupid teen-agers). The officer called him on his cell phone and, by some miracle, my brother happened to be standing in the middle of Vancouver International Airport waiting for a flight to take him home to Toronto. Instead of being at least a day away from saving me, Ivor was less than an hour away. One short 20 minute flight and he too could share my hell.  Wherever life takes us from here, I will never forget that huge mercy; my wife and I would not have survived that first 48 hours without my brother's "bull in a china shop" approach to grief counselling.

Throughout this mess I could hear my wife uncontrollably sobbing. It carried through the walls and down the halls like some condemned ghost from a dark Victorian novel. I think the grief councillor was a bit taken aback that I did not immediately run to her side, but I am not sure that she completely understood the dynamic between Roni and I.  I have always been "the fixer" who had to keep things moving, while Roni was the common sense who kept my dreams real. Roni does not like to "share the misery" when things go wrong; she prefers to bury the emotion, withdraw and stew on it for a while. Certainly there would be a time for me to crumble and cuddle and re-assure, but until the immediate fire was put out, I needed to stay on point. Now is the time to cut the narrative and tell my readers about "The Wave".

For me, the loss of my daughter was more painful than any physical pain a person can imaging. The primary reaction was a mixture of denial and acceptance. On one hand I continued to make plans about how I would get the rest of the days work done and maybe even get a work-out in that evening (denial) while on the other hand I sat there blubbering uncontrollably and tearing at my hair (acceptance). The primary reaction was like being grabbed by a massive wave ( all you body surfers picture the huge, short break on the north side of Oahu). You are rolled by the wave, gasping for breath as you sob uncontrollably, you come up for air, quell the fear, believe you might be OK, and then the wave grabs you again.  In the first little while, the waves are close, oh so close, together and you start to get scared that between the waves and the undertow you may just not survive. For me I would come up for air, find one cohesive thought to pass to the grief councillor, and then that fateful phrase would pass through my head: "my baby is never coming home again" (ah, there it is, a little breaker just pulled at me and I am having trouble typing now with my eyes filling with tears).  The emotions can only be described as raw and primal; I know I sounded like a ten year old boy wanting his mommy rather than a fifty year old man dealing with his daughter's death.  This is from a guy who smiled when his doctor told him he likely had cancer (I had known for days; it's another one of those easy assumptions when the nurse won't give you lab results over the phone. Its exactly like when a police officer tells you to come home NOW for important news. You don't need to fill in the damn blanks)

Grief is easy to compare to a treacherous ocean. There is always the undertow, pulling at your toes, dragging at your legs. As time passes (99 hour and 54 minutes since she died right now) the under-tow is always there, but slowly receding down your legs, less likely with every passing hour to grab you and pull you under. Unfortunately, the rogue waves are always there, coming out of a relatively placid sea, ready to grab you when you least suspect them. And they can pull you right under, leaving you gasping and wheezing, snotty nosed and blurry eyed. The stupidest things can set you off and, unfortunately, if you are with your wife or close family, the wave can pull you all under.

Some of the most innocuous things can destroy you for long minutes at a time.  On Saturday my brother wanted to do a little shopping and wanted to see the town that I had just moved to. I took him out in my red Mustang, dropped the top and made like it was just a nothing, routine outing. Things went along pretty fine, but I found myself becoming progressively more morose as time passed. I saw buildings that Calista and I had surveyed as photography subjects, I saw parks and trails Calista and I had explored during our first few months in Powell River. I even found the Canadian Tire store upsetting because Calista and I had a humorous episode trying to fit a large canvass punching bag into a ridiculously small trunk of my Mustang (oops, there is that wave again; I remembered her smile and her laugh). By the time we arrived home I had to leave my brother to unload the few groceries we had bought and just crawl into bed and cry for 20 minutes.  Imagine that; a fifty year old man curled in a foetal ball blubbering like a ten year old.  I had the sense to warn my wife about the effect of trips out into the town; she was prepared when the same thing occurred to her yesterday on her first trip out and about.

Last night I realised I was having a pretty good evening. I was taking some interest in reading or watching television. Roni, myself and Sherry, Calista's Godmother (just arrived from Regina to save us from ruin. Yet another person poor Constable Tim had to call. I probably destroyed that man's life for weeks.) were laughing and exchanging Calista stories around the kitchen table. About eleven Sherry stood up and left us to go to bed and Roni and I were left alone for the first time all day.  Suddenly, out of a beautiful, placid sea, came a massive rogue wave. I started to worry that having a relatively "good" evening meant that I was forgetting my girl, letting her go, allowing some part of her to die.  The wave continued to grow and Roni was left cradling my head as I became incoherent. Eventually the wave crested and passed over, but not before I came to secretly despise myself for enjoying some part of my life while my little girl had nothing.

All these years I thought that Hollywood had depictions of the grief process all wrong. Overacted, cliched, formulaic were all terms I had heard bantered around.  Only a fool that had never experienced real loss would even begin to suggest that.  Those scenes where men scream at the Gods and tear at their hair are real. If my hair was not so short right now, I would be bald from all the tearing in the last few day. Loss of appetite? That is better described as permanent nausea; it's not that you are just not hungry; you actually feel sick when you try to eat. Oh, and the need to save and preserve everything associated with your lost loved one? Absolutely.  I found myself staring at her garbage can in her bedroom, checking to see if there was any memento there I needed to save.  My wife was upset when I grabbed a photograph of Calista off her wall to show the grief councillor who we had lost. We cannot change the dirty sheets on her bed and now we are reluctant to sleep in her bedroom for fear of soiling the sheets so badly they will have to be laundered.  I was upset that we had laundered some of her dirty clothes; we had obliterated any scent of my daughter from those hallowed items.  I miss smelling her hair and the fruity perfumes she tended to use. And what the hell are we going to do with her little red Smart car; she picked it out, she protected it like a lioness protects her cubs, and she looked perfect in it. It was a perfect fit for Princess Calista. I know I will not be able to stand the sight of it but my wife will never part with it. What a mess.

Here is a conundrum: neither Roni and I can barely stand to drive out into our small village because it reminds us of just how much we will miss all the things we did here with my girl.  The solution might be a brand new start in a brand new village, far from here and far from the memories. Unfortunately that would mean leaving this house, leaving her room, leaving the last little concrete piece of Calista we actually have. Oops; there it is; the undertow grabbed at me, then a small wave just bumped me to remind me that my life is finished. Obviously we are trapped, for better or worse. 

One word of warning for everyone who has to suffer this sort of loss. It gets worse for the first few days. The first day you can still play the denial game: she's not dead, she's off on vacation taking many very nice photographs. The second day, after you have signed the cremation contract and asked for two copies of death certificates, you cannot deny any more. It is real. The wave comes a little less often, but damn is it big and powerful when it hits you. It will swallow you up and drown you if you don't find some sort of rock to hold onto. Like a blog or grandiose plans for a large memorial.

Here is the last entry for today. Something on a completely different topic. Organ donation. I am not going to get on a soap box about right or wrong here. I am going to point out a reality. If your child dies suddenly and there is some possibility of organ donation, for God's sake take that opportunity. If your child's heart or lungs or kidneys or corneas can go to some other person, some part of your child will continue to live. Somewhere out there there will be some small piece of her beautiful body still existing, still continuing. She (or he) won't be all gone.  My darling Calista could not donate anything; she was the subject of a police investigation, a mysterious death. They could not spare even one part of her magnificent body from death; all of her is going to be consumed by the fires. This is something I can barely live with and I have to tell everyone that if I just had that one small mercy, some of this would be better. I don't know how much, but some of it.

I have to go get ready to meet my daughter's three best friends. One of those girls had to desperately try to revive her 100 hours, 34 minutes ago. I have to try to stay strong and try to give them all the strength they need to return to the land of the living. This I have to do, for them, for my daughter, for my own sanity.