On Friday May 8th 2015, I took a nervous skytrain ride out to Surrey after work. My boyfriend of about three weeks picked me up from the station and drove me to his house where I met his parents for the first time.
I remember a few details from that dinner. I can vividly recall kicking myself for not bringing anything, even though Colin told me not to. I remember meeting his pets for the first time and deciding that two cute dogs and a sunbathing cat were a pretty good perk of this relationship. I remember stepping out onto the back porch and thinking I had stepped into one of those House & Garden magazines.
We all sat out at the back table; me, Colin, his mom and his dad. Of course, the dogs joined us too hoping for table scraps. Before dinner, Colin’s dad, Randy, gave me a bit of a family history explaining that the Marriott clan had started as wealthy land-owners in England. I don’t remember all the details but I think he was eluding to some royal lineage.
But I do remember feeling very welcomed. I was even invited to join them for a Mother’s Day lunch that weekend, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend. And that feeling of being welcomed and very quickly loved by the Marriotts is one that has stuck for the last year and a half. I walk into their house and I feel like I’m coming home. I’m always being invited to grab a plate of food or attend another family event. I don’t hesitate to unload the dishwasher, put my own clothing into the washing machine or bake with ingredients I’ve decided they have in excess. Heck, even the cat is comfortable sleeping on my stomach all night long. In short, the Marriotts are my family.
And I don’t have the words to explain what it is to lose a member of my family.
Colin’s dad, Randy, passed away this Thursday. It doesn’t even feel real to type that. He arrived at the hospital on August 28th with severe back pain which turned out to be a very aggressive and advanced cancer. 11 days later, he was gone.
It felt – still feels – like we’re living in some kind of a movie. Who has cancer for 11 days? Who arrives at Emergency hoping for some pain killers and never leaves? It was like they made a mistake. We didn’t get enough time. No one was prepared. No one got to process any of it.
There wasn’t even time to step back and try to comprehend what was happening. There were tests to do, family and friends to inform, pain to monitor and prognoses to hear. Everyday brought slightly different news with depleting levels of hope. Goals changed from managing the pain and bringing him home to making him as comfortable as possible. Timelines varied from two years to a couple of days.
Time seemed to blur while we sat by his bedside at the hospital. No one could ever recall what day it was or what time something happened. When did he say that? What day was that test? Stories of his alert moments and words of wisdom from the doctor were told and retold to the point where I couldn’t remember if I had heard it firsthand or not. Everything was present. We couldn’t think back to the past when the past was only a short 10 days behind us.
To their credit, the staff, and in particular the nurses, at Surrey Memorial Hospital were the most kind and concerned people. They held our hand through every blood test, pain killer administration and call button we would press when something just didn’t seem right. They kept us informed, kept us calm and kept us cared for. And, above all, they kept Randy comfortable, which was all we had left to wish for at that point.
Wishing someone comfort and nothing more is one of the most selfless things I can think of. To hope for someone to simply be pain-free with no expectation of recovery, a final goodbye or prolonged life is, what I have witnessed to be, the ultimate sacrifice. It’s putting aside your own needs, accepting the hole in your life and treading into waters you never thought you would have to learn how to swim – without a life jacket.
I was amazed by how Colin and his mom, Margie, jumped headfirst into those waters. They were the biggest proponents for lessening Randy’s suffering as soon as possible, even if it meant elongating their own. Colin was his dad’s greatest advocate; he defended him and pushed for his rights and wishes when Randy no longer could. I believe that these convictions and how powerfully they were followed through are the true definition of strength.
I don’t believe that tears make you weak – tears are a sign of compassion. And I don’t believe that fear makes you weak – fear means you have something to lose. You can be strong when you are trembling with fear and tears are rushing down your face. The strength was in saying goodbye and knowing you wouldn’t get one back. The strength was in saying, “We’ll be okay,” and understanding you would have to work everyday for that to be true. The strength was in saying, “Let go,” and truly meaning it.
I only knew Randy for 1 year and 4 months – 489 days. Google tells me there were 140 weekend days during this time and I would reckon that I spent most of those under Randy’s roof. It wasn’t a long time of knowing him, but it was a rich time. I spent more time with Randy in the last year and a half than I have with my own parents in the last five years. Arriving Friday after work to Randy, lying on the couch watching Pawn Stars or a baseball game with a glass of red wine in one hand and a furry animal under the other, was a common sight. I knew I was home. When the TV blared from the other room or the smell of a “good breakfast” seeped under our door, I knew it was time to wake up. Every weekend brought new DIY projects from spray painting the back fence to moving couches, including bringing one all the way to my place in Kitsilano.
I’m sure people who knew Randy a lot longer than 489 days have countless memories and stories. But even in my short time I have many to treasure. Like the time Randy decided to join the 20-something year old rugby players at his niece’s wedding in taking off his shirt and hitting the dance floor topless. Or our big night out with Randy, his brother and his two sons where we hit the Cactus Club and the first Canucks game of 2016 – a night with Randy’s favourite guys. Opening Christmas gifts together on my first ever Christmas away from home, introducing my mom to Randy and Margie, enjoying the evening campfire at Pender Harbour and playing boardgames after a few rounds of drinks are just a few happy memories that come to mind.
Being a lover of words (as evidenced by the 1200+ words I have typed for this post thus far), it’s the words Randy said to me that most stick with me. I remember giving him and Margie a card for Christmas and Randy going on about how sweet it was and that it brought a tear to his eye. He also spent the next few hours of Christmas day eagerly reading the book I had just gifted him. After meeting my mom, Randy and I were chatting and he said that I must get my sweetness from her. In fact, he often complimented my mom, despite only meeting her once. And when he found out my dad was running for councillor in Toronto, Randy would tell me that he was going to call up one of the local radio stations and endorse my dad, even though they had never met. The Marriotts even had a Canning for Councillor magnet on their fridge.
At the hospital, I got some special words as well. On one of our first days visiting, one of Randy’s sisters told me that Randy had called her after Father’s Day and mentioned how touched he was that I had given him a card as well. She told me that he really loved me. On another day (I couldn’t say which), I came back into the room where Margie and Colin were holding Randy’s hands. Margie told Randy that I was there and he asked me to come over to him. I was kind of shocked that he was asking for me personally. He pulled me in close in a big hug and whispered, “God bless you, thank you for taking care of my son.” All I could do was nod through the tears. But I think he knew that my nod meant, “Your son takes such good care of me, his mom and everyone else in this family. The least I can do is try my best to take care of him.”
Eventually, I did get in some of my own words at the hospital. They say that hearing is the last of the senses to go and the nurses encouraged us to talk to Randy, even when he was in a sleepy state. So I got to speak with him and say everything that was left in my heart. While 11 days isn’t a long time, it was enough for everyone to say their goodbyes and know that Randy heard them.
I don’t really know where to go from here. There is a numbness that clouds our daily life. Colin and I decided it’s kind of like a wall that is blocking us from feeling everything because it was all too much and too fast. Cracks of reality and grief have already started to chip away at the wall. I noticed the mantle in Colin’s house the other day that still has sympathy cards from his aunt’s passing in June. How cruel is it that their mantle is about to be covered in sympathy again only 2 months later?
I’m not sure when it will all hit. It still doesn’t feel real. My brain knows what happened but my heart hasn’t fully felt it yet. I’m worried about how it will hit. And I’m worried for Colin and his mom, who I think still have their walls up pretty strong. I keep saying there is no right or wrong way to feel but at the moment it’s as if there isn’t even a feeling.
I titled this post, “On love and loss.” Fairly self explanatory: we lost a loved one. But now I’m realizing that there is more to that title. Love also speaks to the emotion du jour over the last two weeks. Every person who visited Randy, who held his hand and sat by his bedside, told stories of how much he meant to them. Every person gave his hand a squeeze or kissed his head and told him how much they loved him. I honestly don’t believe that room had ever known more love than the ever-present family and friends of Randy Marriott. And it reminds us how important love is. I’m pretty sure Colin and I have said, “I love you” to each other more in the last two weeks than we have all year. With meaning and intention, it’s something that can’t be said enough. It’s a comfort, a promise, a support and a bond.
Loss is also taking on a secondary meaning. We lost someone and now I feel lost. I feel like I am just going through the motions. I feel like I’m stuck in certain parts of my life and want to make a change. I still feel helpless and heartbroken – feelings I have kept since those first few days in the hospital. I feel at a loss for the right emotion; I’m clouded over and can’t find an emotion to cling to. I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.
So literally, this post has been on love and loss. I’m sure in time, there will be other feelings. I don’t know when and I don’t know which ones. I don’t know if I will write about them. But writing has always been my love and how I find my way out when I am lost. So for now, thank you for allowing me to share. To share the experience, my struggles and a small glimpse of the extremely loved and too-soon lost, Randy Marriott.