88 hours, 10 minutes since the end of my life
I guess I can bear to fill a few blanks in for my readers about who I am and how I came to where I am now.
I have practiced veterinary medicine throughout Western Canada since I graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in 1987. I have done mostly mixed practice dealing with just about any species that a client chose to push my way, but over the last ten years I have restricted myself to basically cats and dogs. I actually am pretty good at it but I also have the good common sense to know my limitations.
I met my wife Veronica (Roni) in Lethbridge way back in 1987. I still remember the very first time I set eyes on her; I thought that a serious, boring dudd like me could never even hope to date a long-legged beauty like her. It actually took six months and six ounces of whiskey for me to get up the guts to ask her out. (This was back in the days where it was quite acceptable to knock a drink back with the boss at the end of a long day) We have been practically inseperable since, with the exception of two long separations caused by work rather than choice. She has been my sensible rock for 25 years and now I hope to return the favor by keeping my head about me while her world crumbles about her.
Soon after our marriage in 1988, Roni and I took complete leave of our senses and bought a veterinary clinic in Whitehorse, YT. Niether of us had the business sense of a lemming, and we would take advice from anyone who cared to give it to us. The business flurished for the most part, but only because we were constantly working. Believe you me, the test of a good businessman is not what he does when things are busy, its how he survives when things are slow. In the Yukon, things get slow suddenly and frequently. We should have known that, but we were hopelessly naive.
Somewhere around 1990 Roni started having numerous minor health issues which culminated in her having to stop taking birth control tablets. Well, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened next. We were young, relatively wealthy, and it appeared to be the perfect time to start a family. Calista came into and took over my world on November 14, 1991.
I can say that more than anything else in my life, I loved my daughter. There was never any contest between my wife and daughter; Calista won hands down. That was Ok with Roni, because the same was true for her. The two of us were completely in love with Calista from the first blubbering scream to the last hug and good-bye last Sunday at 4:35 pm. There was nothing we enjoyed more than being parents. There was not one part of it that we disliked, including changing diapers, dealing with snotty noses and skinned knees and chasing off ne'er-do-well boyfriends. We loved every moment of Calista's life and being a father was the most important part of my resume. What I am going to do now that I am no longer a father I am not sure.
So here is a little aside for everyone: there is no good time, nor is there a bad time to start a family. If you want children, for God's sake just have children. Decide beforehand how many you plan to have, make a plan and go ahead and have those children. Children are the center of this world; they are the sunrise, the high noon and the sunset of a parent's life. They make the moon glow and the stars shine and they are worth every tear shed. You never see this until they are gone. My wife and I made a fatal error which I will always regret: we had the one perfect child in the Yukon and then waited for "the perfect time" before considering having any other children.
People, my mother especially, always assumed that my wife and I chose to only have one child. In many ways, they are right. As far as I know we were both fully fertile and likely still are. No, we wanted more children, but we made one fatal mistake which I implore everyone reading this to not repeat. We assumed we were immortal. We thought we would have all the time in the world to have more children. First we put it off until Calista was out of diapers, then we put it off because we were no longer financially solvent, then we put it off because we were just on the edge of getting back on our feet, and finally we just stopped trying because Calista was practically a teen-ager and did not want some stupid "kid sister". Everyone has to remember that life is just so damn short and if you wait for the right time to have children you will always be waiting until you are dusty,old and bitter.
We left the Yukon in the dead of winter in 1995. The wife was riding shotgun, I drove and Calista took the navigator's seat between the two of us. The roads were horrendous (almost hit the ditch twice and destroyed one block heater when we forgot we had "plugged in" while overnighting in northern Alberta) and the trip was long. After five days and numerous fights, we reached Regina Saskatchewan. The only person that came through smiling and ready to take on the world was my darling Calista. For many years I refered to her as my "Road Warrior"; throughout her life she could take the longest road trip without a complaint and she apparently had the urinary bladder featured only in queens and camels since she never seemed to need a rest stop (though she did love to stop for DQ ice-cream whenever possible)
We settled in Regina, purchasing a large house with lots of potential for family growth, and I started to look for work. I had originally applied to and been accepted into the RCMP, but between my big mouth and my short temper that little adventure was short lived. I eventually, in desperation, took a job out in BC doing relief work for a maturnity leave, all the while hoping to find that "magical one". You all know the "Magical One": that's the job that you can work at every day and never call work. Thats what photography was to my daughter. (I digress) The magial one never appeared, but I did manage to find a good job in Regina eventually. I ended up at Sherwood Animal Clinic, a mixed practice only about two minutes from my house (still populated by only the wife, the kid and I, with tons of spare rooms for guests that never visited)
Time passed, trees grew, my hair turned grey and Calista kept on growing. Her first school was about a mile away, so she had to take the bus every day, then her next school was just a kilometer away, so I drove her to school as often as she bussed it. No siblings were in the works, and finally it became clear there never would be any "kid sister" or "kid brother".
I eventually moved out of Sherwood Animal Clinic. I was no longer enamoured with farm practice and I wanted to try a different, maybe more lucrative form of practice, small animal medicine. I moved to Airport Animal Hospital and immediately found my niche. I was needed there; the owner was looking to slow down due to health reasons, I was a capable work-horse with little ambitions beyond working hard for a good paycheck and the staff were all pretty professional. I stayed there for many years, to the point that many people assumed I was a partner. Poor assumption.
Senority at any business has it's pros and cons. On one hand you are eventually "the old man" and you pretty much get your own way on just about everything. On the other hand, with that senority comes a rather large paycheck. That big ticket paycheck puts a target right square in the middle of your back: in tough times you become the most expediant liability to let go and getting another job at that pay scale is impossible. In the end, the owner of the clinic had to sell-out for his own sake. The banks would not back an aging warrior like me so finally the clinic ended up being bought out by a capable young woman who had lots of time left in her carreer to repay the business loans. The writing was on the walls and I was the guy with the longest neck to cut.
Seeing the truth of the matter, my wife and I decided to find our "retirement practice": that nice small practice in a nice small town with a nice temperate climate where we could hope to settle down, fund our little girl's college education, and eventually retire peacefully and wait for grand-children. Here we are now in Powell River BC, right across the cold blue Straight of Georgia from Comox, where my Calista eventually left us to go to school.
As I sat composing this in my mind, I stared across those wide blue Straights of Georgia. I could see the distant coast-line and indeed, the ferry that crosses over from the Comox- Little River docks four times daily. That's the ferry that took my daughter away from me last Sunday and that is the ferry that would have brought her home to me next Friday. It might still bring home her ashes now. That will be all that is left of her by ferry time next Friday. Those cold blue Straights look so narrow some days, but today and for the rest of my life they will be an eternity wide. The world will have to end and be reborn again before my dear Calista can ever come home again.
Sorry for the maudlin break. There are times "the wave" (you will see this over an over again in this blog and I hope you will understand it eventually) just overtakes you. Your vision fails, the ringing in your ears blocks all sound, and your mind goes dark. Everyone that ever loses a child needs to understand "the wave".
Lesson learned though: never wait for a convenient time to have another child. Just get busy and live with the consequences. I am not suggesting that losing a child is less traumatic if you have more than one child (there is no such thing as a "spare child"). I am suggesting that if you have two children and one dies, you are FORCED to stay living and keep loving and caring for the survivor. I lost my only child. Where do I go from here?