My Life – Family

This will be the hardest blog to write because what has happened with my kids is the biggest regret of my life. Those who knew me way back when, when the kids were young, know I was a “family man”. Nothing was more important to me.  I struggled with the fact that my own birth family had packed up and moved out West without me, but my priority was my own family and I accepted that without question. I lived for my kids. In those early years of marriage I regretted that I couldn’t share the joys of my children with my parents. Janice’s parents, Ray and Marion, and her family, brothers Gord and Doug were our extended family but they never were very close as a family. Gord was married for a time and had a daughter, Michelle and Doug married Karen and they had kids, but there weren’t a lot of get togethers, even at times like Christmas and so on. I missed my family being involved.

The kids growing up was all about sports. Chris was an amazing hockey player and would have made the NHL if he hadn’t quit when he was playing Junior B. He also played soccer as did Heather. At one point Chris was on three different hockey teams and Heather was playing soccer, so life was a whirlwind of driving to arenas and soccer fields. They were good years and I was proud of both kids. I hope that they appreciated everything we did for them, especially the hoops we had to jump through for Chris with his hockey. I still can’t believe that we went through a pretend divorce so he could play hockey in Toronto.

We did visit my parents a couple of times over the years, once when Heather was just a baby. We rented a camper van and drove all around BC and Alberta for about ten days. It was a wonderful holiday. We would wake up in the morning in gorgeous country; have our coffee, then head off to find the perfect spot to cook our breakfast, then travel through the day and find a spot to stop for the night. The best for me was doing the Columbia Ice Fields then up to Jasper and back down through the park. Gorgeous country!

Our second trip was for Expo 86. We all flew out, including Janice’s Mum. I remember it was a charter and I think was just under $600 for all of us! We had a camper and drove to Vancouver to stay with Don and Karen, friends of Mum and Dad’s and we went to Expo every day. We had fantastic weather with not a drop of rain the entire week and had a ball at Expo. We headed back to Westbank for the two weeks we had left. The weather was unbelievably bad! I had so wanted to convince Janice how great it was out West to see if she would move, but it rained all day, every day. We had seventeen people in a small mobile home and I thought we would kill each other. I remember going out to sit on the picnic table on the beach and being determined to sit there until the damned sun came out. It was horrible. We did end up at the Legion in Peachland where my Mum got on the piano and got everybody singing. My sister got them playing this stupid horse race game using horses’ heads on broomsticks and the black and white linoleum squares. Had fun that day anyway.

I went out in May a few years later. I hadn’t planned to, but GlassVision, where I had worked my butt off, went down and I had to get away. I just started driving and, before I knew it, I was in Dryden. I bought a map and realized I was almost half way to Westbank. I thought what a great surprise it would be to drop in on my parents, so off I went. I had no idea at the time that it would be the first of many trips back and forth across the country. I made it to Westbank in about forty-four hours and, yes, Mum and Dad were very surprised! Chris and Heather came out for three weeks and it was the best time of my life. We did everything and had a ball. No stress. No arguing. No Janice. It was heaven. I still remember Heather on the back of my dirt bike, riding through the mountains. There was never a better father/daughter time in our lives.

Chris and I also drove out one year, straight through from picking him up at work on Thursday night and pulling into Revelstoke Saturday night. That was an adventure for sure. First we got stopped speeding somewhere in North Dakota, I think. I was worried because we had a radar unit sitting on the dash in a Kleenix box, with a power cord showing. We had the big custom van though with a TV and a Nintendo, which the cop was fascinated by and he didn’t notice the radar unit. When he saw what time we crossed at Detroit he realized just how fast we had been going. He let us off with a warning to slow down.

The funniest part of the trip, although not funny at the time, was when we got to the border at Sweetgrass, Montana. Chris was driving, which was my mistake. I told him we had bought our booze and cigs just the day before when we crossed at Detroit. Back then you had to be in the country forty-eight hours to bring stuff in duty free. They had a record of when we entered so I told him to say we had nothing to declare. He always was a lousy lier, so we got pulled over right away. We dealt with this little sort sh*thead who obviously was pissed that he couldn’t be a cop, so he harassed the hell out of us, threatening to impound the van at one point. It was all that Chris could do not to blow up at him and pop him. I was terrified we were going to be arrested and thrown in jail and lose the van. The little prick confiscated our booze and four cartons of cigarettes, but he let us go. The hardest part other than losing all that was driving all the way to Lethbridge with no smokes. lol

The trip back was pretty eventful too. Just outside Jackson, Michigan we hit a full grown deer and just about totaled the van. Chris was sleeping when I hit her and the cop said that if I had swerved to miss her, as would be only natural, I would have flipped the van and the fibreglass roof would have collapsed and Chris would have been killed. I hit her dead on and it was like running into a brick wall. The front of the truck was destroyed. Even back then it was $2,400 to fix. We had to rent a car and come back in three weeks to get the truck. Not a great end to our dirt-biking trip. We did have a hoot biking every day in Revy and back in Kelowna though. Great memories. My best moment was when we had all stopped by a raging river up in the mountains above Revelstoke. It was a beautiful day and, as we sipped our beer, Chris said to me, “Dad, it doesn’t get any better than this!” He was so right!

In 1993, after I had been out of the house for almost a year and I found myself making appointments to see the kids, I knew I had to make some big changes. It was time to start looking after me, after all the years of sacrificing for everyone else. My Mum had had the cancer scare in 1991 and I felt very strongly that I needed to spend some quality time with her before she died. After years of working ridiculously long hours with the consulting I was also at the point where I could make the decision to not take on any more clients. For months I had been paying for a place for me to live, plus paying all the bills for the house in Brampton, plus giving Janice money when she had sat on her butt and not worked for two years. It was all too much, so I drove out West. My parents and I drove back after the h0use was sold. Dad ran the never ending garage sale to get rid of everything I had. I said good-bye for now to Heather and moved to Westbank. At the time I never for a second thought that it would be the last time I saw Heather or I would not have gone. She was the one, after seeing how I was during the three week vacation we had had, told me to leave Janice and move. She said she had never seen me happier. I figured the kids would come out for holidays as they had done before and that the quality time we spent together would be better than just not seeing each other in Ontario. In fact, at one point I asked Chris something about Janice and he said he hadn’t seen her for six months! They lived a few blocks from each other! I couldn’t believe it.

As much as I missed the kids it was good to be back with my Mum and Dad, and my sister and her family. We spent a lot of weekends together, either us going to Revelstoke or them coming down to Westbank. I got a chance to go to the horse races and bingo with Mum and it was good to be with her. Dad and I always had a stormy relationship and we were no different throughout the years I was there, before he died. We did have a ball going dirt-biking all the times together. That was our thing.

My brother, who had been in Red Deer, eventually came back to Kelowna, so we were all together. My brother was an idiot who had done a lot of wrong to me over the years, so we were never close. During the years I lived out West he continued to be an asshole to me, ripping me off again and again. I still believe he had a part in breaking Tracy and I up after I had worked for him for six months on the daycare I had helped him buy, and then he offered to sell it to Tracy and cut me out. He burned me so many times I ended up hating him for who he was. He had a lot of enemies. The last I heard of him he was shacked up with a pregnant 21 year old somewhere in Thailand.

My purpose in writing this blog was to remember family things, most of which were awesome, like all of us together that time during Expo, but, like all families, there are some troubles. My brother was always an asshole, to everyone, so I take no blame for what happened with him. All I ever tried to do was help him, but he never appreciated it and only took more and more advantage of me. I kept him out of prison for smuggling cocaine, but he never got it. He’s one of those people who figure that life owes them something and he uses people to get what he wants. If he has ended up living in poverty as he claims, then he got what he deserved.

With my sister it runs much deeper and hurts so much worse. I never expected anything good from my brother, so it was no surprise when he screwed me. I thought things were better with my sister. I helped her many times, like working around the clock helping her with her business. When Dad died in my arms and Mum needed full-time care there was no question that I was going to be the one who gave up his life to care for her. At the time their place was up for sale and Dad was going to get Mum into a home when they sold. We all agreed that losing Dad was hard enough on her and moving her would be devastating, so I would move in and Kevin and Wendy would help as much as they could. In all the time I cared for Mum Kevin looked after her ONE night and that was a disaster. He forgot to give her her medications (he’s a nurse) and he called first thing in the morning to tell me to get home right away because he “couldn’t take it”. One night, most of which she was asleep, and he couldn’t handle it? Some help.

My sister and brother had been coming down most weekends for years, so not much changed for them. I know it was hard for them to accept her condition because as soon as they got there Mum would go into a kind of time warp. She would have a couple of drinks and go off to the casino and be her normal self, until they left and she would be back as the crazy person, yelling and screaming at me to get out. My sister finally saw it when they found her wandering around the casino, crying because she couldn’t remember how she got there or how she was going to get home. My sister was in permanent denial that my Mum had Alzheimer’s, until it was too late.

The first deplorable thing she did was the first Christmas. I had been looking after Mum 24/7 and my only relief was twice a week when the nurses came to bath her and on the weekends when my sister would come down for one day. I had to pack my friends and anything I wanted to do into these few hours. For Christmas I had made arrangements to stay with a friend, Sylvie, for a few days, starting on Boxing Day. Wendy was going to come down and stay with Mum for the days I was away. I cannot express how much I was looking forward to those few days in a row when I could stop worrying about Mum.

A few days before Christmas my sister informed me that they were coming down a few days early and we would have to have Christmas two days before Christmas. I knew Mum had no clue what day was what so I agreed. I figured this had something to do with work, but when she arrived and we had opened our gifts, she informed me that they were getting up early to go to Las Vegas for a week! I asked what happened to looking after Mum so I could have a holiday and she just said they were going anyway. I literally could have killed her! She had destroyed my only time off and not given a damn about the sacrifice I was making caring for Mum. It hurt so bad. I was furious.

It gets worse.

After eight months of being on the phone most of the day, harassing anyone and everyone in the healthcare system to get Mum into a home, I finally got a response to her being placed on the “emergency” list.  They had a spot at Winterhaven. I had to lie to Mum and tell her she had a doctor’s appointment there to get her to go. I had to get her into the lock-up, then turn and leave her there without a word. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Over the course of the next couple of days there were thirteen messages with her crying and telling me how sorry she was and to come and get her. It nearly broke me. I cried all the time. I knew it was the best place for her because she was too far gone for me to care for her. She was soiling the bed. She couldn’t dress herself. She was found wandering around the park in the dead of winter without a coat on while I was getting groceries. It was time.

When my sister came down to see her, she freaked at me at what a horrible place it was. Yes, it was like a jail because they couldn’t have anyone just wander off, but I explained that the Director said they had found a shared room for her and she would be moving in a couple of days. In  fact, after the move, the Director called me to tell me Mum  had made a few friends and she was starting to eat again and was settling in. She has stopped asking to call me to take her home. I was so relieved that she was finally going to get the professional care she needed.

My sister called to say that they had found a place for Mum in Revelstoke and they were coming down to take her out of Winterhaven. I knew my sister had no clue how bad Mum was, so I pleaded with her to just tell the care centre that they were taking her to Revelstoke for a short visit, but she didn’t listen to me. When they got to there to take Mum out, the Director phoned me and warned me that Mum would go to the bottom of the list if they took her out, but my sister would not listen. I had researched the place she said they had found in Revelstoke and it was an assisted living place, not what Mum needed. It was also up for sale, which my sister obviously didn’t know about. The listing said that the seniors could easily be relocated. Yeah, right! When I confronted my sister about this she said they would find another place for her or she could stay at their place. I pleaded with her that she didn’t have a clue how bad Mum was now, but it fell on deaf ears.

Just how little my sister understood my Mum’s condition soon became obvious. She was dumb enough to give my Mum the phone number for her store, so, of course, Mum phoned her over and over, not remembering she had just called. The staff at the facility started calling Wendy over and over because they couldn’t deal with Mum. She would bellow at them that she couldn’t change the channels on her TV and they would find her using the phone. She would holler that she couldn’t make a call, but she was using the TV remote. At one point a friend of Wendy’s brought Mum into her store, saying that she had found her wandering around crying because she had no idea where she was. My sister learned, far too late, that my Mum needed the kind of care that Winterhaven had provided. Mum ended up in the hospital and it was the beginning of the end.

With me, Mum had often joked that she couldn’t remember sh*t, but she was “fat and happy”, which she was, well, most of the time. With Wendy she went straight downhill. The last time I saw her she was so frail. She had probably lost eighty pounds. She just shuffled along and needed help to keep her from falling over. She had no clue who anyone was anymore. Her quality of life was zero. The cancer had returned and the doctors said she was too old for any surgery. Thankfully, in my mind, she died a merciful death, but I blame my sister. If she had left her in Winterhaven my mother may well have had more quality years with us. It was only because of ignorance that my sister ended her life. At one point my brother-in-law took me aside and told me how sorry he was that they had not understood what I had been going through. He knew Wendy had screwed up big time, but it was classy of him to apologize.  I never saw either of them again and don’t regret it one bit. There are some things you just can’t forgive people for and what she did is one of them.

So, after all this, the time had come when I had no family in my life. My parents were both gone and I had chosen not to have anything to do with my brother or sister. I moved to Panama, then returned to Toronto and now to London. As much as my life had totally fallen apart I at least hoped to reconnect with my kids. I had never understood why they cut me off, particularly Chris who had reconnected with me in 2007, but then cut me off again, along with my granddaughters.

Out of the blue I got an email from Tina, his lady and the mother of his children, telling me that they had split up and that the guy my wife had married after me had died. She gave me some information on Chris and Heather, such as where they lived. I was thrilled and hoped that we were going to reconnect now after all these years. I had found my daughter’s Facebook page and copied her photo to my page, but she reported me to Facebook and I had to remove it. That hurt. Last February I sat down and wrote them both heart-felt letters explaining how I never understood why they had cut me out of their lives and how much I wanted to know all my grandkids. I could not believe that they would not want their kids to know they had a grandfather, but I never heard a word from them. I don’t even know if they ever received my letters. They didn’t come back, but they probably just threw them out. Sad that anyone can treat someone like that, particularly when they are family. So much for blood is thicker than water. It is the regret of my life that my kids have chosen to have nothing to do with me. I have never done anything to deserve this. I am just as upset at them for cutting my Mum and Dad out of their lives too. My parents loved them and never understood how anyone could be so cruel. No matter what the kids believed I had done, how do you justify cutting your grandparents out of your lives? I never raised them with these values, or lack of them. Sad.

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