The Anniversary of Dad’s Passing and The Year that Disappeared

One year ago today I got the call from a resident at the hospital saying that dad had had a restless night, his oxygen was low, they had moved him to a private room and I should get there as soon as possible. I notified my children, my brother and my partner. I got in the car and the tears streamed down my face the whole drive to the hospital. This was the moment we had anticipated, literally for years. I have written before that dad tiptoed up to the edge of death many times, looked over, shook his head and said, “No, not yet.”

This time, there was no going back. He (and I) could not envision how he was going to continue to live at home with any semblance of satisfaction. He couldn’t go to his workshop in the garage. He couldn’t go down the stairs to where he worked on his Bluefin Model. He had so many health issues over the decades. His pacemaker and many medications were keeping him alive as long as his will to live prevailed.

It’s been a strange year. The year of the pandemic and shut down where time disappeared in a vortex. I carry the memory of clearing out his house during the months of March and April, of feeling that his guidance was in every part of what happened. The stories of people and connections that have carried on beyond those days, new life long relationships forged.

My dad comes to me in dreams every week, often several times a week. My mother often comes with him, which was not so much the case before he died. I think perhaps she was with him more often then and they are together now.

I feel his absence during the storms when we would check in with each other to see how things were and what was being taken care of. I could imagine how difficult this pandemic and US politics would be for him to comprehend. When I have traveled, I imagine his concerns for my travel and his relief when I am back home.

There are moments when grief overwhelms me, the tears flow just as they did that morning, a year ago, when I drove to the hospital. Not because I wish he was here now but because of the great, unexpected love that was between us. I was his person. The time I spent with him has been filled in other ways. His and mom’s presence are in my house along with the few items of theirs I have incorporated into my home. I carry them everywhere in heart and soul.

This morning, I lit dad’s candle in front of Mother Mary with a candle and matches from his house. I lit another candle for my mom. I put out coffee with Bailley’s in cups from dad’s house for them both and Jerry and I drank a toast to the two of them. In my mind’s eye, I see them as they might have been when they met in the late 50s – young, beautiful, slim, in love; wearing the clothes of the era. With spiked coffee and mom smoking a cigarette. Dad was an avid smoker until he quit in the 70s to save his life. In my vision, he is not smoking even though it is from a time when he would have been smoking. My mother was a social smoker. She would have a cigarette with her coffee, when a friend dropped by for tea or with a drink, at a party. She pretty much quit when dad did but in this vision she is smoking a cigarette, laughing and joyful. Trust the symbols that appear.

Their impact on me and my life is indelibly imprinted on my heart and soul. I will forever cherish all my relationships in my lineage and it will always influence the relationships I want to nurture with my children, their partners and extended families, my own grandchildren and my partner.

Smiling this morning, along with the tears.

“Hector the Corrector”

So, my dad, Raoul Hector Jourdain, died recently at the age of 86 and 3/4, as he liked to say. His goal was 90 and another more important goal was to live out his days in his own home. I had the good fortune and grace to be there when he passed on January 16, 2020.

He went into the hospital – again – just after Christmas – for an issue with his bladder, which was going to be a forever reoccurring issue due to damage from prostate cancer and radiation therapy a decade ago. He also had congestive heart failure and diseased lungs. He was on home oxygen, had a permanent catheter and walked with a cane. Managing a cane, oxygen tank and urine bag all at the same time when your mobility is increasingly limited is not for the feint of heart.

He had already walked up to the edge of death many times in his life, looked over and said, “Nah, not yet.” More of those stories to come. Three years ago when I was sure he was not going to live after two stints in hospital for bleeding, I started a blog post about him. A couple of days ago, I took it out and brushed it off, because, well, this time he decided to fly over the edge.

I had a good laugh when I read about boiling eggs. He had been in the hospital just before Christmas and I sprung him loose in time for the holidays. The first morning home, he wanted boiled eggs. So, he instructed me on how to boil them. Then he instructed me on how to peel them after he tried but didn’t have the strength to stand and do it himself. I did what he asked and at some point he shook his head and acknowledged that I probably did know how to boil eggs and had probably done it many times. Yup. And, he had also instructed me in this task just three years before. He was particular in his ways and his approach.

When we drove around Lunenburg, he often gave me directions. For those who don’t know, Lunenburg is a small town, emphasis on small. I grew up there. Pretty easy to find your way around. But it made him happy to give directions.

My dad had his ways of doing things. He had two workshops – one for woodworking and one for metal working or machining. Each workshop had a place for everything and everything was in its place. He was a gifted diesel mechanic and machinist. When he left National Sea Products in the early 1990s he set up shop in his garage, calling his company Lunenburg Marine Diesel. He was in demand because his skill in engine repair and rebuilding was unsurpassed. If he couldn’t find a part or didn’t want to pay the price for it, he made it.

Dad with an engine

Raoul Hector Jourdain doing what he was extraordinarily gifted at.

It is only very recently that I became aware that my dad had a nickname: Hector the Corrector. I think he was kind of proud of that. I totally get where it comes from although I hadn’t heard it before. Dad’s specificity of instruction made me believe he was not such a good teacher or coach. He never taught me how to Captain the Bluefin for instance, but that could be as much about my own desire to just be a passenger as his to have it done in a certain way.

Receiving this story from dad’s friend and one time neighbour, John Pollack, expanded my own worldview about my dad in a beautiful and generous way.

“When word got out that we were planning to spend a year on our boat (1996) and to sail towards the Caribbean, your dad became worried about our safety and ability to look after ourselves.  He didn’t say anything, but I guess he gave it some thought.  One day there was knock on our back door.  It was Hector.  He had a plan.  I was to attend his garage every morning at 9:00am for the foreseeable future to watch and learn as he rebuilt one of many diesel engines.

“Hector’s ‘College of Diesel Knowledge” was born.

“We had a pretty good time.  He teased me about having “school-teacher” fingers.  (His thumbs looked like spatulas!)  He taught me how to take engines apart and mostly put them back together — I usually wound up with a few extra bits.  He was patient and funny.  I suspect we made a pretty odd pair to anyone observing, but we became good friends.

“When we were finally ready to leave for the boat trip, Hector delivered a few small boxes of parts and spares he knew we’d need.  This was all stuff he had made.  Everything was machined and custom ready for our needs. He had made spare zinc anodes for all the places he knew I’d need replacement parts.”

I knew the friendship between John and Cathy Pollack and my dad had been enduring and this story gave me insight into why as well as making me smile. Maybe he was Hector the Corrector. But he wanted things done right and he cared deeply for quality and for friends. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth arguing with him.