This was supposed to be a very short entry made from my Blackberry while over in Courtenay yesterday. Needless to say, "blogging" from a Blackberry is not nearly as much fun as it sounds. The tiny keyboard makes my fingers sore and actually uploading the post is practically impossible. After three efforts and much cursing, I gave up. Lots to talk about, all of it about the process of mourning and how the experts do not have it quite right.
The experts suggest that there are progressive stages of mourning: disbelief, denial, anger, acceptance and resolution. Or something like that (I have not bothered looking it up; all the reading and counselling in the world is not going to change much for Roni and I). I believe that they have it more or less right, but they are missing that the stages can occur simultaneously and return in various proportions in waves. Yes, that wave is back, but it is a rogue wave now; coming when you least expect it.
Let me give you a peek into the mind of a father in mourning. Don't expect sane or reasonable; there is very little sanity happening around here right now.
The elusive iPod has now become an obsession with both me and Roni now. I am sure it is either hidden in plane sight or it is gone forever, lost long before Calista's death and she just never told us. One of the first things we did when we arrived in Comox was to rifle her apartment yet again, searching for a purple wind-breaker which had a pocket in which the iPod would ride when she was out for a run. We found the jacket eventually but no iPod. Then we had the idea that she might have left it at her gym and it might have been turned in by a good Samaritan (yes, I know, we are hopelessly naive). We drove by the gym and checked with reception; no iPod in lost and found. I suggested we were at the wrong gym (though I knew we probably were), so I asked if they could check for her membership. The receptionist did so and confirmed that yes indeed Calista was a member and had been in for a work-out on May 16, the afternoon prior to her death. And she had been in on May 25th, eight days after she died. Now that just set me back on my heels; I believe I actually went a little pale and asked her heatedly to confirm that date. Then I informed the poor receptionist why I was so upset and it was her turn to get quiet and pale.
I left the gym with crazy thoughts going through my head (thus the title of today's entry). Someone had my girl's card and thus maybe they had that iPod and maybe there was more to all this than meets the eye. Or.....maybe just maybe... this is all a colossal mistake and my girl is just in hiding (and for some reason she saw the need for a weight lifting work-out). Maybe she was under witness-protection and everyone, including the poor RCMP officer sent to do the notification was involved in a conspiracy. Pretty crazy eh? Well the title of this post was not "Sane and Functioning Well". This is the classic denial stage of mourning that we all get the impression should occur practically right away. Here is a little hint: it will probably be happening periodically for the rest of my life. If I happen to see a young woman who looks like my Calista even just a little bit I will take a second hopeful look.
In the end it turned out that there was a simple and logical explanation. On May 25th the first obituary appeared in the newspaper. A receptionist at the gym who had developed a personal relationship with my daughter (that often happens when a gym rat works out daily) and she was so taken aback by the obituary that she had to double check the membership list on the computer to confirm that it was indeed Calista that died. That simple accessing of my daughter's account information activated the "attendance" record and thus a dead woman walked again. Call it the modern day version of resurrection without any miracles (though I could go for a miracle any time soon)
I realise now my crazy behaviour was the result of lack of closure. The coroner still has no idea of what the cause of death really was; that keeps thing mysterious for me (thus the idea of a witness-protection program came to mind) and leaves my mind time to wander. The other problem is that I never saw her body; it was cremated within days of the autopsy. Now I admit that there is no way in this green earth that I could possibly look upon the remains of my girl. It would have absolutely killed me, but probably not before I committed some act of violence to the closest wall or window. I am alright with not seeing her body, but parents in this same situation might want to re-assess that denial. It leaves you open to all sorts of crazy.
We attended Calista's first and last photography show opening Friday night. It was a real success; her pictures were outstanding and we were allowed to hang her portrait next to her works so she had a presence even in death. The college also allowed an announcement to be placed next to the guest book that we were starting a memorial scholarship in her name through the North Island College Foundation Program (note my shameless plug for her scholarship). It was a good day more or less; until I tried to speak for her when it came time to present her pictures. That did not go nearly as well as I thought it should.
When the head of the professional photography program asked for a person to speak on Calista's behalf, I immediately stepped forward. I just wanted to say how much Calista enjoyed the program, how much she loved photography and how thankful we were that she had found her niche in the world and her true home in the Comox Valley. I just wanted to thank people for making her last eight months on Earth the best of her life. I believe I made it to "She sure loved this program" before I completely broke down and ended just by saying "Thank-you"; I left barely holding my tears in check and visibly shaking I was so upset. I thought I had healed better than that. I guess not. I doubt I will be ready for her memorial service in 15 days. Thankfully we have Boomer, her instructor.
Boomer and Sean were the two instructors she talked about the most. To hear her tell it, Boomer was simply amazing; some sort of photographic Indiana Jones. Sean was the photographer she did her practicum with and I think she actually wanted to follow his footsteps into product photography and advertising. When the idea of an emcee for her memorial came up, I asked her friends in the program if there was any of the instructors who might step up and act as an emcee. I wanted somebody who knew Calista and could speak well. Boomer's name came up immediately; I took it as a good sign that all four girls unanimously suggested him and giggled that Boomer and Calista had some sort of chemistry going on.
I met Boomer this morning and I immediately understood why my daughter bonded with him. He was passionate about his photography and, despite protestation to the contrary, his teaching. He really thought that the professional photography program was more than just another job. He enjoyed introducing students to new ideas and he told them to follow their heart rather than just following the pack. That was exactly the approach that would appeal to Calista: she followed her heart always and never worried what the rest of the world thought.
I felt sorry for Boomer; he was visibly shaken several times throughout our meeting but it is not hard to understand why: he has a twenty year old daughter that is very much like my Calista. It would be impossible for a loving father not to step into my shoes for just a second and not cry. I commend him for caring so much.
The anger at her death is starting to really take hold now. I look around and see just so many people squandering this life; drugs, booze, slothfulness and apathy seem to fill the world, So many people run around making plans for tomorrow and never actually living. Those people just keep on breathing and wasting time, meanwhile Calista raced through her life, living completely and absolutely with every moment, caring, accomplishing and pushing her own boundaries. Then she just died for no apparent reason. The loss to everyone that knew her and everybody that would have known her is more than we can all fathom.
I spent most of the day reviewing her photographs trying, with the help of her close friends Jesse and Amanda, to assemble her final portfolio. I knew my girl had a gift, but when I actually looked at her complete body of work I was floored at the talent she had. I may be her father, but I never fooled myself that she was perfect or special and I am not fooling myself now. Of course Calista had faults. She could be bossy, arrogant, hopelessly lacking in diplomacy and sometimes downright mean (oh, and her sneakers really smelled sometime), but she also had talent and a zest for life that make my accomplishments in life pale and empty. She was so much more than either Roni or I that I am at a loss to explain how she came from us. It just makes no sense to me that she died, no sense at all.
Calista had a tattoo on her arm of a saying from Harry Potter: "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live". She had this tattoo done nearly two years ago and, to her, it meant that one should stop planning to live and just get on with living. It fit her perfectly. Unfortunately, for Roni and I it has taken on a much darker meaning. It is interesting that the quote is from the first Harry Potter book and it is referring to Harry's obsession with a mirror which shows him his dead parents as they were in life. Albus, his mentor, is reminding Harry that as much as he misses and mourns his dead parents, he still has to stay in the real world and live. Both Roni and I are having that exact saying tattooed on us next week as homage to our daughter and a reminder that we both cannot mourn forever; we have to keep living if for no other reason than at assure her memory survives.
This last note for people that might lose a loved one (and that includes everyone eventually because the price of transport on this planet is eventual death): it's the little things that creep up on you in the quiet moments that catch you. As I drove off the ferry today I looked over and saw the foot passengers hiking up the hill on the sidewalk next to the ferry off ramp and suddenly the wave caught me. I remembered how excited I used to be when I would drive down to the ferry docks to pick up Calista when she came home for the weekend. I would race down to the docks and then walk that last 300 yards to the edge of the ferry ramps just so I could meet her as she disembarked and carry her luggage up to my car. I would be just like an expectant father at the maternity ward, peering over heads, scanning left and right, looking for that huge smile and even larger bag full of dirty laundry she always carried home. It just hit me as I drove away that I would never be waiting for her to disembark again. Such a little thing really and there it is, even as I type, the wave causing my eyes to fill and my throat to constrict.
Just a reminder: North Island College, Comox BC, Foundation Program, Calista Jasmine Fleming Memorial Scholarship. It will help future generations of young photographers find their way. Maybe, somewhere there is a young woman with a hundred watt smile, a zest for living and a cheap point and shoot camera getting banged up in her purse that can take my girl's place. In this world but never in my heart.