3rd May, 2020
En route to Killington, Vermont on Friday, March 13, we were going to visit Matt’s mom in Montreal; she had been hospitalized for surgery on her broken femur that week. We arrived in the evening only to find that everything was being shut down due to COVID and hospital visits had just been completely prohibited. We left the hospital singing REM’s fitting anthem “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine,” only to jump right back in the car to return to London and begin the quarantine that we’re all still in now.
In the meantime, Vincent had taken a month-long leave of absence from his McDonald’s job to detox from his cannabis addiction, a leave that turned into two months and which brought the realization that he couldn’t continue to live like this. Either he would go back to school in September or stay on this road of depression and spiritual and mental death that he had begun the minute he found out his brother was terminal.
Vincent has been living with my incredibly generous and accommodating brother Andre since the beginning of January when he got kicked out by his friend, roommate and fellow musician, Peter, who could no longer cope with Vincent’s debilitating sadness. In fact, Peter will only let Vinnie return on condition that he manifest happiness all the time. Although Peter has been very tolerant of Vincent for so long, he doesn’t understand why Vincent is still so down. Vincent had once asked him, “How would you feel if your brother died?” His response, “Well, it would suck, but life goes on.” Although Vinnie and Peter have had much in common, Nick’s death put their mutual values to the test. Whereas Peter and his family prize material possessions and see making money as one of the main goals in life, Vinnie has been raised in a household where all that matters is living life with exuberance and joy, mainly through relationships. For Vincent, family is what gives life meaning, but he doesn’t have many friends who understand this.
Indeed, we are now coming on 20 months since Nick passed and Vinnie, Matthew and myself increasingly feel like aliens in this culture for a multitude of reasons. When the pandemic hit, I will admit I was actually happy in some way, happy because I thought that now the world can join us in our suffering. They will suffer, I “reasoned”, and I won’t have to witness people experiencing joy and happiness when this no longer exists for us. However, this isn’t how I feel anymore. For one thing, unless you are a frontline worker, someone who is dying from this virus, have lost income and/or potentially permanently lost your job from this situation, are deprived of funerary rites for a loved one, have had life-saving surgery cancelled – anyway, something genuinely serious - you aren’t really suffering. For the most part, all that is required of people is to stay home, watch Netflix, eat and drink vast quantities of food and alcohol and keep two metres apart. The miracle of modern technology allows people to keep in contact with those they love. Heck, no one’s stopping you from chatting with your neighbour in your driveway, so long as you remain two metres apart. Even more to the point, most people will reunite with their families again when this is all said and done. This is not true of us, nor is it true of any bereaved parent. Listening to the whinging of folks over trivial matters, irritating enough in ‘normal’ circumstances, becomes downright toxic during lockdown. I would give anything to have to teach my LIVING kids on-line, or deal with their tantrums etc. I read one post from an FB friend who was weeping because she had to Facetime while doing on-line maternity shopping with her daughter, one of five children. “This is not how I imagined this moment to be,” she sobbed. I wanted to jump into the computer screen, grab the woman by the throat and tell her to wake the fuck up. All these people who complain about anxiety and fear during this time, at least those who moan about what to us is utter trivia, have no idea what real anxiety, fear and suffering are.
We have gone from six years of shitty cancer treatment, tons of self-isolation (as the wretched treatment leaves cancer patients immunocompromised), the isolation of being off work for months at a time, through the total derailment of watching our kid die, and now we’re in this pandemic. It is incredibly grating to see that many people can’t handle even three months of this, being healthy at that, when Nick had to go through it again and again for years while also being incredibly sick, without complaint. A life constantly postponed with constant platitudes and reassurances that “This too shall pass”, something that never happened. We are now living in the aftermath of his death, but the suffering continues and it will for the rest of our lives. THIS IS NOT TRUE of most people dealing with this pandemic. “This too shall pass” for them and they will pick up where they left off. For most, this is the worst thing they have dealt with and might be the worst thing they ever have to deal with. And yet, these same people who seem to think their so-called “suffering” now is so awful, are the same people who also wonder why we can’t move on, why we can’t ‘get over it’, why we can’t be happy again. These are the same people whose worst problem has been just sitting at home. I have been so disappointed in the vast majority of humanity. They are so lacking in imagination, in true empathy, in true depth. This pandemic has just reinforced those feelings. It has served to divide us even more from much of the population whose lives have been so easy for so long. To all of you out there, my family and most other bereaved families will NEVER be free. Our suffering and pain will haunt us ‘til the day we die. Since the loss of our child, we have been living a half-life. Our lives will never be whole again. It is a curse, a burden, a noose around our necks, a squirrel at our throats. Your chains will be broken when these government restrictions will eventually end, ours will forever be tied tightly around our wrists.
Despite COVID, people are still dying of cancer, cystic fibrosis, etc etc., but in the face of this virus, these issues are being ignored. Whenever I post about raising money for cancer-related causes, I get little to no response. Ironic when cancer kills way more people than COVID (as do car accidents, for that matter) and even more ironic considering that cancer, left untreated is 100% fatal at all ages to people who get it, not something that can be said about the coronavirus. Not only do such people have to deal with COVID, they have to deal with all the other obstacles that face them as a result of their pre-existing illness – depression, alienation, financial deprivation, job loss, the looming awareness of their own mortality.
None of this means I lack compassion for those in genuine need during this time. In fact, I joined a group called United Sikhs and am delivering groceries to those in need. For some reason, my image was chosen to ‘grace’ (hah!) their Facebook page a couple of weeks ago.
Here is the link to the United Sikhs if you care to donate. They are an incredibly worthwhile organization. They take the money to buy groceries for those who are currently suffering economic hardship. https://unitedsikhs.org/
I am also helping a 30 year old woman who is dying of ALS deliver baby items to pregnant teenage girls. I am humbled by this young woman who, even while dying and living in poverty and barely afloat herself, is trying to help others.
If you have any baby items (especially strollers) that you can donate, these will be greatly appreciated.
(Picture of me, Kait and Vin delivering baby clothes)
I haven’t given up my own fundraising efforts for cancer-related causes. Vinnie will be shaving his head in honour of his brother’s birthday on May 6 in the hope of raising money for Young Adult Cancer Canada. Here is the link. Shave For The Brave
Here are some pictures of Vincent when he had longer locks, at about age 11. LINK
Note the resemblance to Seed of Chucky:
Here’s a little video we created for our S.F.T.B. event. Link
You can do the same thing. All you have to do is announce that you are shaving your head on a particular date and then give people the link to donate to the Great Balls of Fire event. All money will go to Young Adult Cancer Canada.
Also, I’m still raising money for Act Now for Cancer. Here is the link if you care to donate. LINK. My annual Great Balls of Fire event is still set for October 3rd. I’m not sure if it will actually run this year, in light of the current circumstances. I will re-evaluate the situation after Doug Ford’s announcement on May 12th and let you know.
Nick would have been 25 this Wednesday, May 6. We can’t have a big party, but we will mark the occasion with just myself, Matthew and Vincent – and anyone who calls us that day.