They Say They'll Bury You Tomorrow ...

My Dad passed away 1 year ago, on March 6, 2014.  He was in Montreal, Canada.  I was in Doha, Qatar.

This piece is a re-take on a post I'd written last May, on the day before they buried my Dad on the North Shore of New Brunswick (almost 3 months later, on May 25, 2014).

For those of you who've been following along, my Dad passed away at the age of 84.  Those who didn't know him might have called him an old man.  To me, he was a beautiful man.  He was a vibrant man.  He was what the French call ''un bon vivant''.  He knew how to sing, how to laugh, how to live, how to love, and he did it all so very well.

I miss him.  Every day.  But I've chosen to honour him by living my life.  By singing corny songs to my Kiddo.  By loving everything and everyone I can every single day.  By laughing as much as I can.  

I love him.  I will always love him.  But I'm trying not to cry for him anymore.  Some days it's hard.  But I tell myself I will LIVE for him, because he would have expected no less.  If you're an expat, and you're grieving, know that you're not alone.  It's hard, and it sucks, but carry on.  LIVE for the person you LOVED.  In the end, nothing else makes sense.

I wrote the poem below on May 24; writing it released me from the black cloud that had hovered above my head for the previous three months.  It was the piece that released me from a lot of the pain and the powerlessness.  

I removed the poem from my blog a few days after initially publishing it because it had caused some confusion; I'd also included a reference to Johnny Cash in the initial post, and readers thought the poem was a Johnny Cash tune.  It's not.

The poem was a result of the following:

  • Because of the extreme cold and frozen ground in Northern New Brunswick, burials cannot take place in the winter.  
  • As a result, coffins are placed in a shed-like structure, or holding vault, until the ground thaws enough to make it possible to dig.  
  • It is a process that extends a family's pain.  
  • My Dad was laid to rest on May 25, 2014.
  • I couldn't be there for the burial.
  • But I knew that no grave would ever hold him down.

This poem is for my Dad, who was there for every shit moment in my life.  Who am I to assume he's not here for the shit moments when I miss him so much?  Just 'cos I can't see him doesn't mean he's not right here.  Right?

They say they'll bury you tomorrow, 

now that snow has finally gone. 

They think the earth will be forgiving, 

as they shovel on the mound.

They've mistaken soul and spirit

as they drop into the ground. 

The flesh that housed your being,

a soul without abound.

They think it makes a difference

that your frame they'll now entomb.

They think that's where you'll lay,

like a child within the womb. 

They've mistaken hallowed earth

for a place that really matters. 

When where you really lie, 

is in our hearts all left in tatters.

Your presence it still lingers, 

and your voice still rings so clear. 

Your body will be buried, 

but You, you are right here. 

I won't be there to say farewell,

over here is where I'll be. 

But you won't be there either. 

You'll be right here next to me. 

Je t'aime Papa.  

Toilet Talk ...

Sometimes I want to use bad words when we fly back into Doha from Canada.  Not because Doha's such a bad place, but because it's at the back end of a 13-hour flight.  Because it's so far from family.  Because it's hot and humid.  Because the traffic's insane.  Because it's crowded.  Because even though it's home, it'll never be HOME.

But a 9-year-old is good enough reason to keep my potty mouth to myself.  At the very least, any toilet talk takes place in my head.  Any expletives that might want to leap off my tongue are drowned out by enthusiastic claims of ''isn't it great to be home?'' and ''can't wait to sleep in my own bed.''  Kiddo's joy at coming back to her kitty cat, friends and toys is always reason enough for me to keep my disenchantment firmly buried.

Our maid is a wonderful woman who always puts up balloons and ''welcome home'' signs for our return home.  I'm slightly ashamed that I can't muster up more enthusiasm when I see those signs as we walk through the front door.  

I wish I weren't so disappointed that it's still so darned hot and humid.  How quickly I've relegated to the back of my mind the 45C heat and 85% humidity of August.  How quickly I've forgotten the frigid winds and 8C temps on that one afternoon in Callabogie, Ontario last week.  34C and 54% humidity isn't good enough for spoiled me today; I was hoping for a perfect 25C, with big white puffy clouds, a gentle dust-free breeze, and no humidity - oh, and maybe a light shower lasting no more than 30 minutes at some point in the afternoon.  I'm nothing if not demanding.

Even the a/c is a major disappointment.  I go to bed just knowing that the frigid forced air will have me clogged up like an old sink come morning.  

After a 14-hour sleep to rid me of jet lag caused by a 7-hour time difference and 13-hour sleepless red-eye flight, I drag my stiff back out of bed, try to brush away the fur in my mouth, wash the grit from my eyes, and set about trying to re-adjust to life in Doha.  Too lazy to go out for groceries, I set about thawing some bread for toast, crack open a few eggs, and sit down to 'breakfast' at 2:00 p.m.  

Then I head up to unpack.  Always my least favourite part of the return home.  And I see that Smilin' Vic has already started undoing his luggage.  And I'm brought to tears.  This is what he's taken out of his suitcase.

Kind of like my memories, I haven't even dusted it off yet.  I was so excited to see this quirky little memento.  Smilin' Vic always manages to do these little things that make my heart sing.

It's a toilet paper holder.  A toilet paper holder made for me by my Dad.  All those years ago, when he first started scavenging for little pieces of discarded wood to indulge his newfound love of woodworking.  I think this is one of the first pieces he carved out successfully.  He made one for each of his kids, and probably for each of his friends.  I wouldn't be surprised if there are dozens of my Dad's little toilets scattered around the world.  I'm sure he's getting a good laugh up there in heaven, knowing that he's catching people at that one moment they're sure to be alone, when he's guaranteed to get their undivided attention.  

This one had been left behind in our little summer cottage over 8 years ago.  Given that the cottage has been rented out to a number of tenants who would have had no idea that a wooden toilet paper holder shaped like a toilet could hold precious memories, I figured it would have been used for firewood ages ago.

But on our very short trip to Canada last week, Smilin' Vic had to fly out to the East Coast to sort out the cottage for some new tenants.  And while there he found the little wooden toilet paper holder hidden away in the damp recesses of a basement closet.  And decided to secretly fly it back to Qatar to surprise me with it on the return 'home'.

And all of a sudden, toilet talk has taken on a positive twist.  Smilin' Vic is upstairs working out, Kiddo's watching a movie on Mac TV, I'm sitting outside blogging, and it's actually cool enough that I'm not sweating.  Our kitty cat is sitting at the screen door, preening as she watches me type.  I'm catching up on pictures my nieces have posted of my nephew's wedding, the one we flew back to Canada for.  I don't feel so groggy, and life doesn't seem so bad at all.  

And in an instant it hits me.  We're back 'home'.  With all our quirky little mementos, our sweet little cat, our comfy couches, our own frames on the walls, a few more memories of another great trip to Canada, and 'us'.  That's all we'd ever need anywhere I guess.  

I guess a little toilet talk was all I really needed to figure that out.

''Oh, a Very Merry Un-birthday to me, to me ...'

Birthday breakfast mini-cake.

Birthday breakfast mini-cake.

I remember desperately wishing my birthday would fall in the summer months.  Summer is definitely the best season for birthdays in Canada.  The very luckiest June/July/August-born Canuck kids get to have pool parties, splash around all afternoon, cool off with cherry and banana popsicles, and finish it off with barbecued hot dogs, ice cream cake and gift openings around a picnic table or under a beach parasol.  

When Kiddo was born in July, I was like ''YES!  I can now live vicariously through my daughter, re-inventing a childhood of dreary-month-of-March birthdays as luau parties!''  (Insert fist pump here!)

Unfortunately, Kiddo only got to enjoy one Canadian summer birthday, because when she was fourteen months we packed up and headed for the ME.  

And so my one chance at redeeming those pool party dreams got quashed because, quite frankly, July birthdays in Qatar suck.  The reasoning behind my disenchantment:

  1. It's 300 C in Doha in July.  It is the hottest month of the year on average.  People have successfully fried an egg on pavement.  (Bacon would probably work too, but public pork roastings would be frowned upon in these parts.)
  2. Humidity in Doha in July sits at about 98%.  Most mornings sunglasses are useless as they fog up the very moment you step out the door.  The hair on your arms starts to frizz, toenails start to sweat, and it's so humid sometimes even cigarettes won't burn.
  3. When it's not humid, it's windy.  And either way, it's still really flipping hot.  When the wind combines with the heat, it's like walking into the blast furnace from Hell.
  4. Last year, this year and next, Kiddo's birthday fall smack dab in Ramadan, which means no drinking, eating or general cavorting during daylight hours.  Which means no trips to the water park, nor to the movies, nor to one of the dozens of indoor amusement parks until 7:00 p.m.
  5. There are about 12 kids left in Doha over the summer months.  June marks the exodus of most stay-at-home expat moms and kids.  I think Kiddo is officially the only 9-year-old in town today.
4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon in July ... it's still daylight, but the dust is blocking the sun.  

4:30 p.m. on a weekday afternoon in July ... it's still daylight, but the dust is blocking the sun.  

So it is that every year we plan an ''un-birthday'' in May, before the sweltering summer exodus.  Two years ago was a beauty salon theme, last year Master Chef, this year Inner Artist.  Although always a resounding success because of our tendency to overcompensate (working parent guilt, only child, and all that), we are still endlessly at a loss come the real deal in July.

Last year the three of us went to Paul's at sunset.  Paul's is a little mall bistro that makes Kiddo's favourite buffalo mozza sandwich.  This year, Kiddo asked if we could order pizza from Fabio's.  Since tomorrow's a working day, we were more than fine with that.  

(Speaking of work, this year, her birthday also gives me a legitimate excuse to skip the work team-building 10:00 p.m. Sohur.  While I'm up for any excuse to enjoy a meal at one of Doha's finest hotel's Ramadan tent, the thought of supper at 11:00 p.m. and bedtime at 2:00 a.m. on a work night makes me shudder.)

So last night I made preps for today, the Big Day, the True Birthday, the 9th Anniversary of Kiddo's birth.  I set about making mega muffins for her to bring to Summer Camp today.  One batch of vanilla and one batch of chocolate.  No nuts, just in case.  I also made a tiny cake in a mini-loaf pan.  For Kiddo's birthday breakfast - a mix of chocolate and vanilla.

Then I set about making home-made icing ... my first time attempt!  And it was delicious, albeit a bit runny ...

Next ... the cake.  Every year, I seem to top the baking atrocity of years past.  As much as I love to cook, I am decidedly NOT a baker.  NOR am I a cake decorator.  Nonetheless, I always give it my best.  This year, I decided I would make a piano cake since Kiddo has been doing so well at piano and all.  Convinced it would be my greatest masterpiece EVER, I proceeded to produce THIS:

It looked so much better on Pinterest ...  still, I admit I'm still smarting somewhat from the gales of laughter this picture evoked when I showed it to the folk at work.

It looked so much better on Pinterest ...  still, I admit I'm still smarting somewhat from the gales of laughter this picture evoked when I showed it to the folk at work.

Chef d'oeuvre complete, I began wrapping gifts.  I always look forward to gift wrapping.  Until I actually sit down and start.  Then I get really grumpy.  So it was last night.  Three paper cuts (on wrapping paper ... how does one DO that?) before even getting started.

The first wrap was fancy indeed!

Comments from the Peanut Gallery on the fact that the folds are crooked NOT WELCOME.

Comments from the Peanut Gallery on the fact that the folds are crooked NOT WELCOME.

I underestimated my paper requirements on the second.

Yes, that is a Sketcher's shoe box peeking out where I ran out of paper.  But in my mind, the box colours complement the wrapping paper quite nicely.

Yes, that is a Sketcher's shoe box peeking out where I ran out of paper.  But in my mind, the box colours complement the wrapping paper quite nicely.

The last one was a pair of roller blades.  WITHOUT A BOX!  

By this time, I've just wrapped an entire roll of paper around the skates and haphazardly plastered Scotch tape around it.

By this time, I've just wrapped an entire roll of paper around the skates and haphazardly plastered Scotch tape around it.

Seriously?

But in the end, it doesn't really matter does it?  Kiddo had cake for breakfast, Happy Birthday was sung at Summer Camp, the house is decorated, the pizza's ordered, the cake and the unwrapping are anxiously anticipated.  Plus we've managed to wrangle a random 11-year-old and 5-year-old wandering the compound to partake in the celebrations.  BONUS!

Silly putty party favours for the kids at Summer Camp.

Silly putty party favours for the kids at Summer Camp.

A duct tape wallet gifted to Kiddo from a little girl at summer camp.  This is serious craftsmanship by a 10-year-old (it even has slots inside for pictures and credit cards, and has Kiddo's name etched out in red and white tape).  I have a feeling someone is spending a lot of quality time with a Doha stay-at-home dad living out every man's duct tape crafting fantasy.

A duct tape wallet gifted to Kiddo from a little girl at summer camp.  This is serious craftsmanship by a 10-year-old (it even has slots inside for pictures and credit cards, and has Kiddo's name etched out in red and white tape).  I have a feeling someone is spending a lot of quality time with a Doha stay-at-home dad living out every man's duct tape crafting fantasy.

And Kiddo still insists that my cakes are the best and most beautiful ever.  She says she would be very unhappy with some fancy shop-bought confection.  Bless her.

The cake was even worse for wear after a night in the fridge ... my black icing keys bled into the homemade cream cheese icing.  

The cake was even worse for wear after a night in the fridge ... my black icing keys bled into the homemade cream cheese icing.  

This is the real day.  It's not about the fluff, or the number of kids around the table, or the pool-side activities or lack thereof that we arrange for the un-birthday.  Un-birthdays can happen any old day.

Today's so much better than all that, despite the sand and the heat and the humidity and the isolation.  Today marks the day that Kiddo entered our lives and changed us forever, nine years ago.

Today's the day that has made every single moment of my life worth living.  Happy Birthday Kiddo!

Do You See Me Now?

You know that game you play when you're little?  The greatest game on Earth, the one that can go on for hours and hours and hours and still be fun?

The 'peek-a-boo' game.  The one where your mom or dad asks:  ''Can you see me now? ... Peek-a-boo!'''

And you erupt into fits of giggles, and there's nothing, absolutely nothing, else going on in the world other than that most enthralling peek-a-boo game ...

I play that game these days.  Not with my Kiddo, she's far too mature and savvy at almost 9 to fall for my face hidden behind my hands.

Nope, not with Kiddo.

I play with my Dad.  In my head.  

Now that I've reached a healthier state of grieving, one where I can actually be sad, and look at old pictures once in a while, and MISS him - I play that game.

Yup.  In my head, I ask:  ''Can you see me now, Daddy?''

My game's a little more serious now though.  I'm really asking.  I'm really hoping.  I'm really wondering if he's looking down and seeing.  

Every once in a while, I'm tempted to say:  ''Peek-a-boo!''

Just in case he sees.

And hopefully it makes him giggle.