Looking Back: 2015

I'm going to go out on a sturdy limb and say 2015 wasn't one of my best years. It wasn't an unqualified disaster, though. Let's start at the beginning.

The year started off phone-free, because I dropped my phone down a drain in December 2013. I stubbornly tried to manage without buying a new iPhone, but I finally gave up and blew the $600 or whatever on an unlocked replacement. I'm much more careful with my phone outside, now, so I guess I grew as a person.

Delphine was really miserable at the beginning of 2015. Her classmates were great and she made some lasting friendships, but she didn't get on with her teacher and eventually started missing school with stomachaches. We did lots of testing to figure out what was causing the stomachaches (nothing) and, after missing weeks of school, finally decided she should transfer to a different school. She made the move in late March and has been happy ever since. (The stomachaches didn't go away, but they're more manageable now.)

In April I went to visit my Mum for a week, just to see her. Now that the girls are older it's easier for me to get away for a few days, and Mum had offered to help pay for trips so I could see her more often. We had a nice week together, just chilling out, watching TV.

I was starting to feel overwhelmed, though. I was working at a job which didn't suit me (administration and co-ordination, which makes me anxious — so many people to disappoint!) and working on the school website, as well as trying to do editing work. I had to give some stuff up, so I gladly passed the website on to a very competent team, and eventually passed the admin job to a good friend who is better at it than I ever was.

When I left my Mum in April, she was feeling a bit off, but we thought nothing of it. She had been in good (enough) health for her whole life; she was iron-clad and would live forever, my Mum. In May I got a call that she was in hospital and going in for emergency surgery. I flew out to Saskatchewan on May 5.

Mum was in the ICU for a few days, and at first she was right out of it. The surgery was major, and she had some infection in her abdomen. They removed the respirator too soon, and she ended up with pneumonia or something. (It's kind of a blur now that I try to remember the details.) She was in the ICU for a week, and I was there every day. I got to know the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert very well.

After a week at the ICU, Mum moved up to surgical recovery where she seized the task of getting the hell out of there. The team had a list of things she needed to be able to do, and she tackled them with stubborn tenacity: lung capacity, getting out of bed, going to the washroom, climbing stairs. Finally, each hurdle cleared, she was allowed to go home two weeks after the surgery.

While I was in Prince Albert I stayed with a high-school friend. Her hospitality was amazing; I wasn't very good company and I overstayed my welcome, but the family was kind and gentle and good-humoured.

I spent a few more days in Saskatchewan getting Mum settled at home, then headed back home. My brother managed to get some time off to visit Mum, so I knew she was in good hands.

That got us to June, the last month of the school year, the first month of summer. I spent it getting caught up on work, book club, ballet recitals, and the Editors' Association of Canada annual conference, which (luckily) was held in Toronto this year. The conference was a high point this year.

The girls and I went back to Saskatchewan for the first couple of weeks of July. When we got there, the air was thick with yellow smoke from forest fires, and the sloughs were low and weedy from lack of rain. The drive from Saskatoon to Big River was creepy and dispiriting.

After an inauspicious start, our stay with Mum was nice. We did the usual stuff: watched TV, went to the lake, went to the nice cafe, went to the beach. Mum was still housebound — she didn't go out except for a trip we took to Prince Albert to see her surgeon — but she never went out much anyway, so that was no different. We picked up lots of groceries for her, I made her a chili, and we tried to set up the house so she could be independent after we left, with a little help from home care and the goodwill of friends and neighbours.

We left on July 15 with a promise that I would come back soon. I expected my Mum to gradually get better and be back to her usual routines in a few months time.

I don't know why I expected that.

I got a call from Mum's friend a week later to say that she was in the hospital again. I didn't know whether I should stay or go, but I decided to fly back to Saskatchewan the following Friday, July 31.

On Thursday morning I got a call from the hospital to say that I should come sooner. I flew out on Thursday afternoon and arrived at the hospital at 8:00 pm. She died at 4:00 am on Friday morning, the day before my 40th birthday.

The next sixteen days were all tears and hard work. I arranged for the cremation of Mum's remains, had to exchange rental cars because the one they gave me initially was terrible, broke down sobbing in the lobby of the hotel when the cook asked me “Do you have family around here?”

I picked up Blake and the girls at the airport the day after Mum died (my birthday). They had been upgraded to first class. We picked up Mum's remains at the crematorium (turns out it's right outside Saskatoon on the way home to Big River) and stopped for A&W.

For the next two weeks we cleared out Mum's house. She had a lot of things; she was never good at getting rid of things, and in her later years she didn't have the energy anyway. There was a lot of junk and a lot of treasure, and sometimes the hardest thing was figuring out which was which. We did a good job of cleaning, separated off some precious things to send back home and to my brother and cousin, and sold the rest to a local thrift shop. Mum was friends with the owners so I knew her things were in good hands and would be taken care of. I expect it will take them months or years to sell it all; I like the idea that we could go back there now and visit Mum's things at the Bargain Hut in Big River.

The cleaning out process was not fun; we were all miserable. But the misery helped motivate us to get through it, and we managed (thanks to the Bargain Hut folks and their unbelieveable ability to clear out everything without hesitation) to get it all done in two weeks. By August 17 we were back in Toronto.

The last three weeks of summer were so normal. We rented canoes on Centre Island, we went to Centreville with friends, we went to the farmer's market and saw friends. We sold Girl Guide cookies at Bay and Bloor, we did some desperate gardening in a garden which had been neglected since May. Cordelia went to Canada's Wonderland with a friend, and we all went to FanExpo, our first con.

School started in September and with it renewed emphasis on work and structure. I developed a routine which helped me do more focussed work for more hours. (I also neglected housework harder, but since I hired a cleaner that has been working out okay.)

Cordelia moved to a new school, which seems to be suiting her, so far. She has an extremely good teacher, and her classmates seem decent. Delphine stayed on at the school she moved to in April, and seems to have found a niche there. She is content, and learning things.

The last four months have been the usual whirlwind of piano lessons, taekwondo, choir practice, drama classes, work, book club, lice checks, outings with friends. We celebrated Cordelia's 10th birthday with a trip to the AGO with friends. (Delphine's birthday party, in May, was an epic day of park visits and picnicing, but I missed it because I was in Saskatchewan.) The girls skipped school and Blake and I skipped work to go look at the sheep at the Royal Winter Fair.

We have been talking about redecorating the girls rooms for months, but we finally finished over the Christmas break: both rooms are freshly painted, both girls have new beds, there are artfully placed mirrors and shelves everywhere. They're starting the new year with beautiful and functional rooms which suit them — what could be better?

As for me, I got a call the other day that the basement in my mother's house (which has been on the market since August) flooded. There is a pile of repair work to do, and the basement (which wasn't finished anyway) is basically unusable. Pray to the insurance gods for me.

I feel like I've left so much unsaid, but I guess that's what happens when you only post once a year. Christmas was great, my choir concerts were fantastic, I turned forty, I went to parties, Blake and I go out on regular dinner dates now, my mum's cats are settling in, … life is so rich, and we are so blessed.

It's New Year's Day. The house is quiet. There are jobs to be done. On it goes, day by day, moments of crisis and moments of grace.

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