Tuesday, August 29, 2023
I sure do write about death a lot lately. I'm sorry. Apparently, I have a lot to say.
I'm writing this one for two reasons.
Number One: I really botched that obituary. I asked Nicole Strickland about one--Westlawn publishs them on their site without cost--but I still needed to write it before she could do that for us. Well, of course. She didn't know Mom's history, why would she? I felt the press of time, and I wrote it in about ten minutes before sending it by email. It wasn't until I saw one for a friend's father that I realized how badly I'd done it. Mine was sterile.
Jody sent the last uninjured picture of Mom, and she searched until she found the sixties hottie picture of Mom in her single years. At least the photos looked good. For the record, the hand on her shoulder in the color photo is my father's. It was taken on an anniversary dinner outside of an Albert's Restaurant. It's the last good photo we got of her.
Number Two: In my awkward defense, I wrote her a Eulogy where I felt that I would say what I needed to say to tell her story and honor her. We have stated that since we planned her Memorial for a Saturday, people may not be able to make it. Poor planning on my part, I'm sorry. It was a work related faux pas. I planned it for that day after making arrangements with my boss that I would not take on any weekend work.
One cousin had a wedding, one had a night shift on Friday, combined with an intense project on the Sunday. More friends and family had work and predetermined plans that I would not ask them to cancel. Mom had little opportunity to make friends in Edmonton, and most of her friends lived out of the city and had health issues of their own.
My Uncle Duane and Aunt Sandra made it, as did cousin Shawna. My cousin from Dad's side, Karen came too. Bestie Melaida was able to show up. Mom's friend Liz made a surprise visit. All were such a comfort. Thank you.
We are so grateful for your love and condolences, EVERYONE.
There is a deer on her urn because mom loved deer. She used to drink her coffee on the deck at the acreage and just watch them graze from afar. Sometimes she could watch them right on her front lawn. I know she missed them when they moved to Barrhead.
But I still wrote her the Eulogy she deserved, and I still want to share it with anyone who couldn't be there. So here goes...
SIDE NOTE: In the interest of security, I deleted the picture of her urn, her full name and her dates.
"Welcome everyone. This day finds us gathered together to say goodbye to Phyllis. She was a wife, mother, gardener and homemaker. She loved Gordon Lightfoot, The Rankin Family, and Keith Urban. She was also well known for her embroidery pieces.
She took her role as a housewife, and Dad’s partner very seriously, and later when our father started Lean Instrument Services, she took care of the all the paperwork and was involved other aspects such as the hiring of employees.
My mother also took a great deal of pride in making sure our home was clean and beautiful and that there was always a hot breakfast, hearty lunches and an appropriately timed supper. She once told me that since Dad worked hard to provide a roof over our heads and food on the table than it was her job to maintain the house and to feed us all. She always said that a man’s home is his castle and it should be a stress free place where he can be himself. She was Ukrainian, and therefore liked feeding those she loved.
Jody (Before she was vegan) and I really loved a breakfast of sausage strips and a grilled cheese sandwich, and anyone who ever worked with my father knew he only ever took toasted bacon and tomato sandwiches in his lunch. I always appreciated that she didn’t send wimpy sandwiches in our lunches either. I don’t like bread, and she tried to ensure that whatever the filling in the sandwich, it rivaled the bread ratio. I can still taste her ‘kabobs’. She would put cubes of spam and cheese, cherry tomatos and pickles on plastic stir sticks. Better than a sandwich any day.
She loved doing things for her family, the little details. In the winter, she timed our hot chocolate to when she knew Jody and I would arrive home. Speaking of little details... (Bring out the Barbie Blanket and talk about it.)
Does anyone know what this is? It's a homemade Barbie blanket. It's more than forty years old and she made one for Jody as well. I don't know why I kept it all these years, I just really loved and appreciated it. (I passed it around and we discussed it a little. It had cross-stitched red roses and blue birds. The letter 'D' was embroidered in the center.)
If you’ve ever been inside our house, you will remember embroidered pictures on the wall, perhaps even the famous peacock. How many versions of it are there in existence? No one knows for sure. She was a perfectionist and each edition was a little bit MORE perfect than the last—-But still not quite perfect enough for her liking.
Her hands are still now. No more arthritis. No more back pain, no more falls. No more illnesses. She’d been such a survivor, beating cancer, battling back from a stroke, a broken hip, and surviving Covid last Christmas, but it got to be too much to bounce back from. It was time to go.
As hard as it is to say goodbye, we can be glad her suffering is done. Mom was a spiritual person, and I know wherever she is, she’s no longer in pain. That’s the important thing. Today we say goodbye to Phyllis. And now she is free."
Now that I have this off my chest, I intend to go back to editing Her True Name: Volume Three, and writing cat blogs. I don't know if I mentioned this but Her True name: Volume One was her absolute favorite book I'd written. To be honest, it hurts a bit to know she won't read Volume Three. She had a copy of Elaina's Fate, but never did get around to reading it.
She didn't taste the tomato relish Jody made just for her. She didn't get to wear the brand new shirt I brought her the last day she fell. I'll never get to give her the wolf family on a bed of amethyst that I bought her for Christmas.
But that's what happens when you don't see death coming. We really did believe that she would come home from the hospital, and we'd discuss nursing homes. Maybe that's why she passed when she did. Her mother died in a nursing home. Maybe it was time for her to go before that happened to her.
Sorry again for the death blog, but if you read my blog often enough, you know why I write them. And doesn't my mother deserve tributes too?
Saturday, August 12, 2023
Do you know what today is? Today would have been my father's birthday. It's also my late friend Kevin's birthday. This is also the day we cremated my mother.
I debated whether or not to write this blog. It feels a bit tacky somehow. Like I'm looking for sympathy. Then again, this is how I process my grief. I've written blogs for my cats, my father and for Kevin, why would I not write one for Mom?
Speaking of sympathy, I'd like to take this time to say THANK YOU to everyone who offered condolences on Facebook and through texts. Thanks for checking in on us, sending flowers, and asking how we are. It means a lot, and I'm overwhelmed but in love with you all. I think that's why I feel like I'm looking for sympathy. We've already received so much, but I'm not looking for more. I just have information to share and thank you's to send out.
Mom was a trooper, a survivor. She'd battled and lived through cancer and recovered from a stroke. She had diabetes and arthritis. She survived Covid last Christmas. This was her fifth, and last fall. She had a massive sinus infection, which we believe affected her balance and caused her to tumble, but it was a perforated bowel that got her. Surgery was suggested, but it was not a viable solution, and she couldn't breathe.
We would like to thank the staff at Stony Plain Hospital for taking good care of her, and thank you to the University of Alberta Hospital for trying to save her. We would like to thank Nicole Strickland and Westlawn for all their thoughtful care.
Mom died on the long weekend, so we didn't know if anyone could help us until maybe Tuesday. I went into Westlawn on Monday anyway, and was able to speak to someone and get started. I gave basic information. The pressing question on my mind was, "How do we pay for this? Do we use a check? Visa? Cash? How does this work?"
The answer is, all of the above in any way that works for you. Here is a piece of information that I feel is extremely important. The first thing he told me is DON'T tell the bank of her passing just yet. No matter which bank you use, they will instantly freeze all accounts with the deceased one's name on it. I remember going through this when Dad passed. I was pissed off back then, but I understand why it's done now.
It's so that someone can't just clear all the money out with no regard to estate planning, taxes or rightful heirs. I actually do know of a man who died and his ex girlfriend cleaned out his account and left nothing but bills for his kids.
We were able to get started quickly after that. Nicole Strickland was sympathetic, kind and a wealth of information. I could go on and on, but I'll point out that everything was no pressure. She didn't try to convince us to buy extras, not even the casket. (We bought the least expensive one.) We were not pressured into a ceremony or luncheon. She went down a list of things we might want or need, and we purchased a kit to help Jody along with executor duties. Westlawn offers a complimentary obituary to post on their site, but I still have to write it. I'll probably do it after this blog.
Important note: She asked if we wanted to print an obituary in the Edmonton Journal. We said yes until she told us it would be a minimum of $700. Thanks for the heads up, Nicole. We decided against it.
Sanja was helpful too. She helped us pick out the urn. It was difficult at first. Nothing suited Mom. We asked for owls. No owls. She listed off options for photos/ornamentation we could have until she listed the magic word. We both looked at each other at the same time and yelled, "DEER!" Mom didn't collect them, (much) but she LOVED watching the deer that visited at the acreage before they moved to Barrhead. It always made her so happy. So the urn with her name, dates and a clay facsimile of a a deer is on order for Mom, in the specific Times New Roman font I requested.
But I want to tell you of the amazing thing they did that apparently not many funeral homes offer. Nicole told us she had never before known of a funeral home that did this, but wow...did we ever appreciate it. We were not offered the same opportunity for our father. I think they call it 'The Identification'. It allowed me and my sister to go and view the body and say our goodbyes before they cremated her. They had stationary, pens, and markers so that if we wished, we could leave notes with Mom and we were permitted to write on the casket itself if that's what worked for us.
Jody and I wrote notes. Jody wrote of a favorite memory, when Mom used to make Kool-aid popsicles, and she made fudgesicles out of chocolate pudding. I wrote what has been weighing on my mind since her death. I told her I was sorry I couldn't help her that day that she fell for the last time.
I couldn't lift her, I couldn't understand what she was trying to say. All I could do was stroke her hair and tell her the ambulance was on its way. Help was coming.
Days ago, my sister expressed guilt that she felt she hadn't done enough. She felt she somehow failed in some way.. I told her, "You did all that you could, everyday. This is not on you. It was just time, and she isn't suffering anymore." Today she gave those words back to me.
So we wrote our notes and tucked them into her cold, bruised hands. I bought her carnations, her favorites, and placed them in the casket beside her. She looked beautiful, her makeup done in such a way, I kept expecting her to open her eyes and sit up. Even her hair was arranged in soft curls without looking odd for her. No fake fussiness, no hairspray, no phony-looking makeup.
We are holding a memorial for Mom on our own. Tea and coffee, snacks. We're having it at Jody's apartment building. The reason for this is so that we can offer some of my mother's MANY collectables to her friends and family, because we can't keep it all and maybe someone would like mementos.
Jody has claimed all the Nutcrackers. Whoo! She can have them all! But Mom collected Coca-Cola and M&M stuff, eagles, owls, wolves, chefs, salt and pepper shakers of all kinds, and her kitchen was red and white gingham specifically. We haven't even touched the Christmas decorations yet.
Jody is in a state of shock, I think. She deals by cleaning and organizing, trying to process my mother's life as she is the executor. Me, I am sad and angry, feeling guilty, feeling like I should have done more to save her, and other things.
Do you know what makes me the angriest? The thing that makes me cry even as I write it? I knew. I had a bad feeling death was coming for her. Last Christmas I felt that we should have a really good Christmas, just the three of us....Just in case it was her last.
Mom and Jody got Covid. I spent Christmas here, on my computer. Jody spent it at the apartment, alone, trying to recover. I brought her her gifts, but I couldn't come in of course. Mom spent it in a windowless room in the hospital struggling to breath, eating tasteless beef stew, surrounded by strangers.
I regret two things. I regret that we could not give her one last good Christmas, and that when she fell, I couldn't do anything to help her.
But the funeral home let us say goodbye.
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Today I learned that a good friend, one I made through the internet, passed away yesterday. It was posted on his Facebook page. I expressed my condolences, chastised myself badly for not writing since last November, and burst into tears. As I often do, I will write about my grief, and tell you why Kevin was so important to me. Kevin was a real friend, and not just someone I met from the internet.
Two things I've noticed today. First is that time is SHORT. Our last message together, he sent me a photo of his rescue kitten. I expressed my adoration, and asked for details that never came. I should have followed up. I just crept his page before blogging. The last post was in May, when he posted a picture of gifts and balloons someone brought him. It looks like it was taken in a hospital room. Why didn't I check in on him?
The second thing I've learned that it's true what they say...Friends you make on the internet ARE real friends, even if you've never met them in person. It doesn't matter. You still love them, and you'll still grieve them when they're gone. I can't stop crying, and I will always love him.
I met Kevin through Farmville on Facebook. I noticed we shared a mutual friend, and as Farmville players commonly do, we 'added' each other. I think he sent the friend request first.
He learned that I was a Meatcutter by trade, and sent me a private message. He was making Beef Stroganoff for company, and wanted my opinion on the best cut of meat to use. I recommended top sirloin or maybe inside round. He asked about tenderloin, which is absolutely the best cut of meat money can buy. It's also tremendously expensive, and I wasn't just worried about cost, but how the texture might hold up in a dish like stroganoff. It was a great conversation. Kevin was interesting and so friendly. I asked him to tell me how it went, whichever cut he chose.
He wrote back, telling me it was excellent and everyone liked it, and he was glad he asked me. It went from there. We'd write back and forth a little, talking about Farmville and our love of cats. He had three Tuxedos if I recall correctly, and I was new to loving cats and we sent pictures back and forth. No, I don't have pictures of his cats, but Amir reminds me very much of of his cat, Bellarinko.
When I started writing and publishing books, he became a HUGE supporter of my work. He was my First Fan. He didn't just buy a copy of my novels for himself. He bought them for friends and gave them as gifts. He bought copies and donated them to his local libraries. He asked bookstores to order Thoeba and Aphrodite's War. He encouraged me every step of the way, even when I doubted my talent.
We began to write regularly, like pen pals. We told each other almost everything, we shared secrets. Kevin was a private person, thus I have no photos of him, nor would I share them without his permission. It's a bit difficult to write a tribute to him without invading the privacy he cherished. But I loved him, and our conversations will remain private.
I can tell you Kevin was a social sweetie. He had many lifelong friends, and obviously made new friends easily. He spent time in the military, and was a hero. He liked to travel and saw countries from all over the world. I never did get the story about Morocco.. He was also a well liked teacher, and still kept in contact with many of his students. They shared their successes with him. You know that means he was an excellent teacher when former students do that kind of thing. He rescued cats, and not just taking in strays. In Florida he and his partner of thirty or so years set up shelters for feral cats and fed them, kept them safe.
He was a sweet and loving person that I'm going to miss for the rest of my life. I already regret that I didn't send him at least a little note telling him I was always thinking of him. I actually was....I kept saying "I should send Kevin a little note, telling him I'm still here, and I still think of him.'" I thought we had more time. Last I talked to him, he'd moved to a great retirement community that had all the amenities and he was enjoying it. I'm angry at my own stupidity and lack of action because I KNEW his health wasn't always the best. He'd done some suffering. Honestly? I thought he was busy. I thought he was living his best life in a gated senior's community and he was having a great time, and that sometime he would get back to me and tell me about it. Now all I can do is write a blog expressing my love and regrets.
Want to know something silly and strange?
Kevin told me that when he died he wanted to come back as one of my spoiled rescue cats. Yesterday evening, before I learned of Kevin's passing, a young man found a kitten underneath our car. I ran to get it some food while the kid coaxed it out. We fed the poor starving baby, and my hubsand and I brought it inside the house. We determined that no matter what, we would figure out what to do with such a small baby. I remember thinking that the little one would match with out other cats, who were black, white or both.
Minutes later, the kid knocked on our door and told us his friend had a car, and they would take the kitten to the Humane Society. We handed the cat over with a little reluctance. But we all agreed to do what was best for the cat. I didn't even get a picture, but it was white with black markings and perhaps four months old.
Now that I've learned of Kevin's passing, I want the kitten back. Silly, huh? But that's a different blog that I'll also write tonight.
I actually don't know Kevin's friends or family, or even his partner well. Do I send this on his page? To his partner? I don't know what to do with this blog, but I do know I wanted to tell you how much I loved and appreciated him.
Let this be a lesson. If you love them, TELL THEM. Often, and whenever possible. Don't wait.
Thursday, March 23, 2023
No...It's not my birthday. That was weeks ago, but I'm behind in a lot of things. Like my contest. I'm even late here. I wrote this post two weeks ago. It occurred to me I NEVER had a contest or giveaway of any kind for 'Elaina's Fate'. I'm sorry. As often happens, my life ran away with me. It wasn't just work, writing or editing, though they played a factor.
I've become very jealous of my time. I treat it like a kind of currency, and I'm picky about how I spend it. I hate wasted time.
That doesn't mean I don't like spending time with my friends and family--quite the opposite. Time spent with people I love has become MORE important. It's to be savored.
I speak often about becoming a hermit. I love my alone time, and honestly the pandemic didn't hit me very hard. Maybe because I'm getting older, I realize that time is short. My friends have been calling, and hey....if they're making time for me, maybe I should make time for them.
And what if my mother falls again? She spent Christmas in the hospital with a broken nose where they discovered she had Covid. My sister then tested positive for Covid as well and spent Christmas in their apartment, sick and alone. I find myself making more plans with them. Life is too damned short. What if they didn't make it?
This has nothing to do with the contest. More like me reflecting on things that have become bigger priorities to me as I age.
For this birthday, I spent it with my best friend, Melaida. Since we're only a day apart in ages, we like to spend at least one whole day together to celebrate. We couldn't do anything last year, because she got COVID for her birthday LAST year. Again...What IF?
This year, we got a hotel room, just to have lots of girl time and hang out. We planned to go for Japanese food, maybe hit the pool. We stopped to get booze and snacks. We ended up not leaving the room. We had a few drinks before dinner, and decided we didn't feel like walking and we had plenty of noms, so...
It was perfect. It was exactly what I needed. It's the best birthday I've had in a very long time.
So that's what my contest--which is in NO WAY involved with Facebook or Meta or any other social media outfit-- is about.
I'm giving away THREE copies of Elaina's Fate away. Here's how to enter:
I need to read stories of your BEST birthday. I don't care if it was a party or just quiet time with those you love. I want to read about the birthday that made you truly happy.I'm going to make the deadline two weeks from today. You have until midnight, Mountain Time on April 6th, 2023 to submit your stories in the comment section of this post on my author page. (Sorry about that..I just want to be sure I can see them all and they can be properly voted on.) The one that gets the most votes by readers will be the winners. My author page is at: https://www.facebook.com/DonnaMilwardAuthor/
By the way....That is an old photo of another birthday I had, but it's my second favorite. I had several friends over, and Melaida bought me that cake, and it was personalized just for me with book stuff and Greek mythology aspects. It says, "Best Writer in the World" She's awesome.
Friday, February 3, 2023
I actually hate self publishing. I'm not very computer savvy, and everything I do here is a result of frustrated determination and help from friends. Believe it or not, I used to excel at computers. I had a 95% average in my computer class, but after I left high school, I didn't have access to personal computers for years. By the time I got myself a computer, everything I'd learned was obsolete and I had to start from scratch without any help.
But eventually I learned, and muddled through. Dealing with Windows did make things easier, but there was the Internet to get through. Still not bad. Learning to blog? Got personal, step by step help from former critique partner Dawn Dalton.
Then came self-publishing. Hoo-boy. There were a lot of tears and some screaming. Some of you may remember when Her True Name: Volume Two arrived in the format of a big coloring book, except with BIG letters. I'd ordered 18 of them, and decided to market them as collectors items because there was no way in Hell the rest of them were coming out that way. What a mess...but believe it or not, they all went.
My editor and friend Heather Savage Fransen recommended Draft2Digital and what a blessing! Thanks, Heather! I couldn't believe how easy it was to use! But here comes the glitch.
I had to figure out how to get PAID. This is not a computer struggle, but a banking one. I sent out an SOS about it on my author page, and no one touched it. So this is why I'm sharing it with you.
I went to my Credit Union first. They were lovely, and gave me a print out of all the numbers I needed since I didn't have a checking account with them. It included my account number, transit and route numbers, SWIFT number...It wasn't until I got home, I realized there was no IBAN number. What is it? I don't know. Neither did the woman I spoke to on the phone.
So I called D2D. They didn't know what an IBAN number was either. I'm almost in tears at the frustration and the wonderful woman I spoke to says, "Let me ask my supervisor." and she put me on hold. I still don't know what an IBAN number is, but as a Canadian--I don't need one. I can ignore that part of the application. That was a load off my mind. I thanked her, and told her I'd try again.
Still didn't work. Certain numbers were just plain rejected, including the SWIFT number. I lay awake for two days, frustrated to the point of angry rage tears. Then it occurred to me...
They said BANK numbers. I was using a Credit Union. Are they different? YES, they are.
I went to my bank this time. I got a teller in training, and the amazing Indian woman training her--I wish I'd gotten her name--because she saved my sanity. The trainee had no idea what I needed, but her trainer did. She immediately went to the printer and printed out a sheet that looked much like the one I got from the Credit Union, BUT...
She walked me through it. This is your account number, this is your transit number, etcetera. I was surprised to learn that the SWIFT number isn't a number but letters. For Scotiabank, it's NOSCATT. That was a surprise, but it went through just fine.
Here's the super important part that I never would have known if she hadn't told me. I can't remember what the name of the number they wanted was, but it's nine digits. (Sorry...I'm NOT going back in there to look.) She wrote over the first five digits of my account number and marked them 'transit' then she told me I would need those digits, not just for transit, but for the nine digit number....THEN she underlined three digits in the Canadian Clearing Code. Those three numbers were the ones needed in front of the transit numbers, which were the first five digits of my account number.
I left, feeling a lot better, even though I can count, and that was eight numbers, not nine. It had better work!
Nope. Rejected. How could this not work again? So f#%ing frustrating, but....What if I put a space? Or a hyphen...?
IT WORKED!! As far as I know. I filled out the tax interview with the promise that if anything isn't right, I will fix it within 30 days. So far, so good. I can't believe the release I felt. Like I had purged my lungs and run a marathon. I slept well that night. It's been over a week, and I've heard nothing from D2D. Feels like a win. I hope.
I want to hug that woman. Next time I go to that bank, I'm going to tell her how STELLAR she is. I'm going to put her name in the acknowledgements for Her True Name: Volume Three. In my books, She was doing her job, but for me, it was a life saver.