Lest We Forget

poppy fields

Last year on Remembrance Day my daughter asked me if we had anybody in our family who had fought in the war.  My response?

“Ummmmm ya sure.  Quiet, the ceremony is starting.”

Truth be told I felt really ashamed that I didn’t know what to tell her.  I knew that both of my grandfathers had served but that was about it.  No details, no dates, no stories of bravery.  I made a promise to myself to be better educated this year.

World War I lasted just over four years.  From July 1914 to November 1918.  Both of my grandfathers were in their late teens.  About the same age that my son is now.  I can’t even imagine.

I can’t say that I really knew either or my grandfathers.  My parents moved to Canada when they were in their twenties and eventually chose to settle in British Columbia.  As a result, I didn’t have a chance to get to know any of my grandparents as I would have liked to.

Arthur Hamilton, my dad’s father, was called Pop.  I met him maybe three or four times for very short periods when I was young.  What I do remember about him was his energy.  Much like my dad’s, it was boundless.  He and Mop, my grandmother, spent many years living in India (where my father was born) and he was a forester who loved hiking, fishing and trapping small animals.  Don’t ask.

pop

Pop was nineteen when had been in the Territorial Army for about a year.  He was injured for the first time while riding dispatch for the 8th Battalion.  The bullet that ended up in his thigh was still there when he passed away.  After he recovered he served a year in Suez and then volunteered for a tank corps. In 1918 he was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in leading his tank battalion to a battle by walking ahead of them on a foggy dark night.

Edward Brockman, my mom’s dad, was called Poppa.  He never came to Canada and I only visited England twice while he was alive. I don’t even remember talking to him.  From what my mom has told me he was very much a “children should be seen and not heard” kind of guy.  He was a well-respected orthopedic surgeon who was, to put it lightly, quite stern.  Oh, how am I kidding, he scared the crap out of me as he stood by the fireplace in the library and looked over his spectacles at us.

poppa

My Poppa was at Cambridge studying medicine when the war broke out.  He was drafted into the Royal Navy as a midshipman as he hadn’t competed his studies to be a licensed doctor in the service.  My mom’s not clear on what type of ship he was in or where it was but she knows that at some point a shop close to them was hit and he witnessed people struggling in the burning water.

I asked my mom if she had any more details about her father’s service and she said that many servicemen didn’t want to talk about their experiences.

“We just have to imagine what hell they went through and remember what they did for our country to make it what it is today”

So now I have something to tell my daughter on Wednesday as we thank the men and women who served.

The Best Thing in Life is learning YOUR history.  Talk to your parents or your grand parents.  Go to the library.  Do whatever you need to do to learn what your ancestors did to ensure your freedom.

LEST WE FORGET

There is No Upside to Brain Damage

brain

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody could experience The Best Things in Life all the time? In a world of unicorns, rainbows and free wine that might be true. But the reality is that we don’t live in that world. Our world is much harsher than that. In fact, the best things in life can be taken away from us in the blink of an eye.

I first met Jane at the local rec centre when our girls were babies. I knew I would always remember her name because my mom’s name is Jane and my daughter’s middle name is Jane. Also Jane is from England. Ipswich to be more specific. Another reason to remember her is that my granny lived near Ipswich. We stayed in touch through mutual friends, sports and eventually school as our girls grew up. Our daughters both love soccer and ended up on the same team and in the same Kindergarten class. Jane was active and I often ran into her with her kids on the local trails or at the park. Then her life changed.

Three years ago this month Jane was experiencing the life of a normal mother, wife and Software Program Director. It wasn’t a particularly stressful day and things were pretty quiet at the office, but she just couldn’t shake the feeling of being a bit “off”. Sitting at her desk, she remembers wheeling over to a co-worker in her desk chair and telling her that she didn’t feel right and wasn’t sure what to do. “You don’t look very good. You should lie down” they told her. That’s the last thing she remembers. She had a massive seizure and lost consciousness. The EMTs came and she was taken to the hospital in and out of consciousness. After eight hours they couldn’t tell her anything about her condition so her husband came to pick her up. All she can remember is thinking that they were driving home from the hospital with their newborn son who was in fact, already two years old.

Eight months went by as doctor after doctor tried to figure out what had happened. She was told not to work and her days were spent at hospitals and doctors offices hooked up to machines as they flashed light in her eyes, taped her eyes shut and tracked her brain activity. One doctor even told her that it was a just a tension headache and she should try Tylenol. “Really? I lost the feeling in my left arm. I think it’s a bit more than a headache” She endured rounds of heavy duty drugs. One round she discovered was LSD based and caused an alarmingly bad trip. At least she can tick that of her list of things never to do again. After that, they put her on amphetamines to improve her brain function. The drugs left her hazy, tired and well, drugged.

After a recommendation from somebody on-line, Jane requested neuropsychological testing. The result. A diagnosis of encephalitis. Because a spinal tap was not done when her first seizure happened, they can not say of it was viral or bacterial. Regardless, the prognosis was not good. Permanent brain damage showed up in an MRI. The list of things she can no longer (ever) do is long. When the doctor told her she would never work again she was shocked, but what really hit her hard was when he told her that she would never snowboard or ski again. For an active, outdoorsy person this was devastating.

As the question came out of my mouth I realized how stupid it was.  But I asked it anyway.  “Has there been any upside?” No, there is no upside to brain damage. She often has to check a book out of the library multiple times as she forgets she’s read it or even what it is about. If she stay up late to bake for her kids school carnival she needs to take it easy for a few days afterwards to ward off more seizures. She dreams in German. She hasn’t given up gluten because it’s trendy. She’s done it because gluten is a known neurotoxin and increases the probability of seizures. She is judged. She doesn’t look sick but it is often a struggle to walk the few blocks to school to pick up her kids. She can’t count backwards.

She tries not to think about the future because she just doesn’t know what it holds and that in itself is very scary. She does feel that she is a better mother and wife than before. She literally can only focus on one thing at a time so if she is with her kids they have her complete attention. How many if us can always say that? Her husband has been so helpful and patient with her and for that she is eternally grateful. Their relationship is probably even stronger now that they can spend more time together. She has discovered pottery can be very therapeutic and has produced some beautiful pieces.

Janes Pottery

What struck me the most as I walked home from our chat at the local juice bar was Jane’s sense of empathy for anybody else experiencing difficulty in their life. She’s not bitter, or angry or resentful at all. I can’t say that I would be the same given her condition. I can’t help but admire her ability to go on with life on a day to day basis. “I don’t have an option”. She says as I tell her I think she’s doing great. And she’s right. She is making the best of a really crappy situation. I know it’s cliché, but if our chat reinforced anything it is to enjoy The Best Things in Life every day because you just can’t predict what may happen tomorrow.