Transformation and Change

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Old Tombstone, St. James Cemetery

Old Tombstone, St. James Cemetery

It has been eight very sad weeks for me since Loris died and I’m only just beginning to get used to the fact of him not being here. Actually that’s a lie. In fact a physical part of him is still here. His ashes, in my closet. All that is left of him, a man of 6′ 2″, is 6 lbs of ashes.

Crematorium, St. James Cemetery

Crematorium, St. James Cemetery

Since Loris wanted to be cremated, I found myself reading more than I ever wanted to know about the process. The furnace temperature goes up to around 900C and everything is vaporised except for the bones which are then pulverized into a fine whitish ash. Loris wanted his ashes taken back to Italy which I shall be doing next week. However, I wanted to have some memory of him here in Toronto so I picked two spots that have meaning for me.

The cremation took place at St. James cemetery, one of the oldest cemeteries in Toronto in which many of the founding families of Toronto are buried. The cemetery is large with some fine mausoleums and tombstones and backs onto a ravine. 1461076779898A month after Loris died, I went to the cemetery, picked a large tree towards the top of a slope, dug a small hole at the base, put in a small amount of ashes and planted some daffodil bulbs over the top. I also put a few ashes in the rose garden as Loris loved roses. All this had to be done with secrecy and speed as I don’t think one can randomly go digging in the cemetery so my friend Lindan kept watch while I dug. I like the idea that some of Loris’ ashes will be contributing to flowers blooming in the spring and summer.

Tibetan buddhists believe that the spirit is reincarnated within 49 days following death. I am not a Tibetan buddhist but since I’m not able to read fiction at the moment and can only focus on books or accounts about dying or grief, I had been reading a book about Tibetan beliefs surrounding death. Anyhow, with this idea of 49 days in my head, I took a notion to go down to the Harbourfront on the 49th day, to the building where we had been renting an apartment last year. 1461076950693Loris loved the view of Lake Ontario that we used to look out on and so I threw a few ashes in there in the company of a friend and my nephew Michael who lives in the same building. Afterwards, Mike made us Negroni cocktails (gin, vermouth and bitters) and we had dinner in an Italian restaurant in honour of Loris. For me, it was a nice way to commemorate him as he always said that although he was ill and in bed, he was happy being in that apartment looking out over the lake.

In the last two months, I’ve not only been coping with Loris’ death but I also moved into a new apartment. I’m on the 40th floor of a downtown building with a spectacular view of the eastern part of the city including the lake. I would include a photo but the balcony is still sealed off as it needs more work. New home, no Loris and no idea of what lies ahead. The times for me are indeed a-changing.

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Kensington Hospice Month’s Mind

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1459821154092Many Catholic cultures have a requiem Mass in memory of the deceased about a month after they have died. After the Mass, family and close friends gather for a meal together. We did this for my mum, dad and for my brother who all believed in the Catholic tradition. However, since Loris was not religious, it did not seem appropriate so instead, I went back to the hospice where he died and made a donation in his memory.

Kensington Hospice

Kensington Hospice

Kensington Hospice was once an Anglican chapel called St. John the Divine. Built in 1888, it was associated with an adjacent hospital, St. John’s Surgical Hospital for Women which provided care to impoverished and destitute women in Toronto. After several transformations, it was converted into a 10 bed palliative care hospice in 2011. When Loris was admitted there at the end of January, we were told very clearly that their goal was to neither prolong nor to shorten life but to provide comfort up to the end in whatever way a person might need.

For us, it was the next best thing to being at home which was not possible given Loris’ condition. His room didn’t have much of a view but was nicely furnished and we brought in flowering plants to make it cheerful. In addition to having a TV, Netflix and an I-pod dock, there was also a small fridge where we could keep things he might have liked to eat.

Great Room

Great Room

The nave of the chapel has been converted into a common lounge area where residents and family can sit or eat. Two nurses are on the premises round the clock and a doctor does rounds every day. There is a social worker who deals with concerns not only of the residents but also of family members. The kitchen staff are pretty much all volunteers and are happy to make specific things that the residents might like at any time of day. Family members are welcomed if they want to stay overnight and the staff didn’t bat an eyelid when I would stroll into the lounge in my pyjamas in the morning for coffee when I slept there. Every single member of staff was caring, cheerful and patient. I just don’t know how they sustain their ability to care when they have to face the death of one or more people every single week.

1459820276049Apart from caring for Loris in a warm and personal way, I was struck by how they dealt with his death. After he died, they gave me as much time as I wanted with him, then the nurse came, washed him with tremendous respect and changed his clothes. When the funeral home came to pick up his body, the hospice covered the stretcher with a ceremonial patchwork quilt, and the entire staff who were present at that time formed a procession and had a few moments of silence and prayer before his body was moved into the van. Then they lit a candle and left it burning in the window all night. It was truly an unforgettable and moving ritual and left me with a memory of beauty in death. When I went back to visit, Loris’ name and date of death had been put in an album with a pressed flower next to it as you can see above. For me visiting the hospice was a personal Month’s Mind and a fitting way to commemorate his death. To all the staff and volunteers at Kensington Hospice, words are not enough to thank you. Thank you also to my readers for your messages of condolence, forgive me for not replying to each individually.

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Journey’s End

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April 17, 2015

April 17, 2015

I am very sad to write that Loris’ journey on earth has come to an end. Three weeks ago today on February 24th, I was with him when he took his last breath. After all the suffering he had endured during the past year, he went peacefully and without pain. Towards the end, he lost his voice and the night before he died, he lost the ability to swallow which was pitiful to see in someone who so loved good food. Much as I wanted him to be here with me, it was a relief that he was spared any further decline.

He had once said that he wished he could die outdoors which in his condition and in this climate would have been a cruel end. When he died, I opened the window to let the fresh air in and to allow his spirit to leave and join the universe. Then I sat with him quietly and watched his body fade. Loris’ had beautiful hands with long shapely fingers. I used to joke with him that he should have been the piano player instead of me. 1458141270385One of the images that is imprinted on my mind is seeing his hands going white as the blood drained from them after he died. For me, that was the most vivid impression that he was gone. However, I am comforted knowing that there is a physical part of him that will continue. He had excellent vision, better than mine even with my glasses, and he donated his eyes to the Trillium Foundation for cornea transplant. It makes me happy that he left a gift of vision for someone and is particularly meaningful to our family as I have a sister who is blind.

For someone who was not a patient person, he bore his pain with courage and fortitude without ever once complaining about his misfortune and it seemed that the weaker he got, the more beautiful his spirit and smile became. The photo above was the last photo I took of him in Rome last year when he was just diagnosed. We knew his prognosis was bad but I didn’t think it would be less than a year. All I can say is that we should cherish the moments with our loved ones for we don’t know what life will bring to them or to each one of us.

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What’s in a Name

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1454468154852Thank you to everyone who has sent me messages of concern and caring. It means a lot and sorry if I don’t respond to each one individually.

1454469790973And now I have a confession to make (my sister who is a teacher of English as a second language will cringe when she sees a sentence beginning with ‘and’, never mind a paragraph!). Anyhow, without further ado, I must tell you that Fidz’s real name is Loris. When I started this blog, I didn’t want to give any personal details so I referred to him as Fidz for reasons which become clear if you read the (now out of date) ‘About Me’ section. About a year later, my blog was listed on a website called Italian Reflections, an online daily newspaper for expats and lovers of Italy. I had to give a brief bio which included my name so that was the end of keeping personal details off the internet. By this time, it was simpler to just continue calling Loris ‘Fidz’. Loris is an unusual name in Italy and is not gender specific which is even more unusual for an Italian name. So, now you know. The photo on the left shows him perhaps around the age of 6 or 7 judging by the lack of front teeth. The one above shows him at the age of around 10 or so with his younger brother and only sibling. They grew up in the Appenine mountains just below Parma and as kids would ski and toboggan down the hills close to their house. I love the homemade toboggan and Loris wearing short pants in the snow.

1454468315937Last week, his brother and nephew were here for a week. Loris was in a lot of pain and not doing well so it was an emotional and sad time. However, he did have some good periods when they were able to reminisce and talk about old times. His nephew had scanned some old family photographs onto his phone and it was nice to see Loris and his brother when they were children. That is how I came to see the photos here.

While they were here, Loris was put on a drug called ketamine which is often used as a veterinary anesthetic or as a recreational drug sometimes referred to as the ‘date rape’ drug. However, in this context and at low doses, it has the capacity to reset pain receptors that become desensitized to opiod drugs. Treatment is carried out for about 5 days and has to be closely monitored. It is not effective in all people but it worked for Loris and his pain has decreased to tolerable levels. He was discharged from hospital but sadly, he has become very weak and I am not able to give him the care he needs at home. He was transferred from the hospital to a hospice which is the next best thing to being at home in this situation.

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The Start of 2016

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1453091129348Its a bit late to be wishing you a happy 2016 but I hope that it has started out well for all of you. Sadly, it did not start out well for us. Fidz managed to make it to a family Christmas dinner which made me very happy but he wasn’t able for very much more as his pain became increasingly out of control and he felt weak and very tired all the time.

1453091370591He made one short excursion to the Allen Gardens greenhouse where there was a wonderful display of flowering plants. It  turned out to be his last outing for a few days later, he was admitted to the palliative care wing of Princess Margaret Hospital, the cancer hospital in Toronto. Initially, it was for pain management and the idea was that they would stabilize his pain with the appropriate medications and send him home. This proved to be a challenge as nothing seemed to work well so they did a CT scan to try and figure out what was going on. It showed that the cancer has spread to the bowel and the adrenal tumour has grown to the point where it is pressing on surrounding organs causing severe pain. There is no chance that he can come home now as he is very weak and can barely get out of bed. A sad and tragic turn of affairs.

On that note, all I can say is that life can change in an instant so find something to enjoy every single day. The window in the bedroom of our apartment faces east over the lake. Luckily for me since I am not an early riser, the sun rises around 7.30am and I’m actually awake at ths time most days. I find it very uplifting to see it rise and it brings me a few moments of joy in these difficult times.

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Happy Christmas From Balmy Toronto

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1450842525180Santa doesn’t bring joy to everyone as you can see above. He certainly isn’t making Fidz smile much right now. After waiting weeks to get a coeliac plexus nerve block done, in a hope to reduce pain, we were very happy that he finally got an appointment last week. Unfortunately, it didn’t have any effect so he’s still in pain and is now trying out a different drug to add to the pain medications he’s already on. His bedside table is beggining to resemble a pharmacy counter! Lets hope something works and that he can at least enjoy his Christmas dinner.

This is the warmest Christmas season I ever remember in Toronto with temperatures in the double digits. It feels like spring and the ski resorts and firewood vendors are moaning about how bad business is. It is a bit disturbing to see climate change taking place in such a major way but since I left most of my winter clothes in Rome, I’m glad that I don’t have to rush out and buy an entire winter wardrobe. It doesn’t feel at all like Christmas in Toronto but nobody is complaining. Wishing all my readers a happy one and I hope Santa brings a smile to your face.

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Tis The Season To Be Jolly But…………!

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1449838469291We had hoped to go back to Italy for Christmas but Fidz’s illness is not giving him a respite. The tumour on his adrenal gland is growing again and he’s in serious pain as it seems to be pressing on a nerve in his back. 1449836263014He’s on a slew of pain medications which have horrible side effects, ranging from feeling woozy and wobbly to severe constipation. We were very amused by this Christmas card we received yesterday which captures the picture perfectly!

Since the Santa Claus parade at the end of November, the centre of Toronto has become more and more festive with elegant Christmas trees and decorative lights in almost every lobby of the office towers in the downtown core. Some of the Christmas trees are quite creative. The one above was made entirely of pots of poinsettias and was about 15′ tall, truly a remarkable sight.

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Poinsettias are not seen in Rome much which is not surprising since they are native to Central America and first became associated with Christmas in Mexico. Legend has it that a poor Mexican girl had no money to bring the baby Jesus a present on Christmas day so she gathered a bunch of weeds and placed them near the altar in church upon which they burst into a bunch of red flowers. The botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima (beautiful Eurphobia). They get their common name from Joel Roberts Poinsett who was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1825 and who brought them back to North America. Apparently, Franciscan monks in Mexico have used poinsettias in their Christmas nativity celebrations since the 17th century as the flower is thought to resemble the star of Bethlehem.

1449835070135Speaking of stars, the tradition among Catholics in Goa where my family is originally from, is to hang a lantern resembling a lighted star in the veranda of the house just before Christmas. Traditionally, they are made from thin coloured paper on a very light wooden frame and people used to vye with each other to make the most beautiful one. I doubt that people still make them at home anymore as now there are paper stars easily available in the market though not the same type as the ones made at home. I love to see a lighted star and I got my wish as my sister has a beautiful one hanging in the front window of their house and it stands out in the dark as you’re walking down the street. There’s plenty to enjoy at Christmas time in Toronto and with the weather at 14C yesterday, we might as well have been in Rome!

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Santa Mitigates the Horror


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1447699019786The events of Friday in Paris really shocked me. I have a good friend who lives in the 10th arrondisment close to where the cafes and concert hall, which came under attack, are located. Her children frequent these establishments but luckily, they weren’t there that evening. Sadly, some of their friends were injured in the attacks. An anti-Moslem backlash is unfortunately inevitable even though the majority of Moslems are just trying to live normal lives like the rest of us.

1447699401601The media have been talking about little else all weekend but the Santa Claus parade was a happy diversion. Yesterday saw a record high of 14C and was sunny so it felt more like spring than winter. People came out with their children and lined the route. There weren’t the usual wooly hats and and scarves but many of the children as well as some adults were wearing Santa and elf hats and reindeer antlers made of felt. The marching bands played, the clowns entertained and Santa must have been sweltering in his warm clothing. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such nice weather for the Santa Claus parade. It feels weird to see Christmas lights up and the shop windows already displaying Christmas decorations. A big change from Rome where the start of the Christmas season is on December 8th and it’s not Santa but the Pope who parades through the city. Unfortunately, Fidz’s condition is not stable so I don’t think we’ll be able to return to Rome to experience the event this year.

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Halloween Pumpkin Display

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1446582339469Last Friday was the day before Halloween and lots of adults were walking around all dressed up both during the day as well as in the evening. The receptionist at the desk in the hospital where Fidz had an appointment with his pain doctor, was sporting a very elegant black and green spider costume and her coworker was wearing large rabbit ears. It certainly changed the atmosphere in the waiting room. Incidentally, Fidz’s pain is apparently partially neuropathic and an appropriate medication has helped to reduce it, so life is easier than it was.

1446607537690Traditionally, on the evening of Halloween, a lighted pumpkin (Jack o’ Lantern) is set out by the front door and children know that they are welcome in that house to go trick and treating. Its always nice to walk around a neighbourhood and see the pumpkins but we didn’t have this pleasure. Living in an apartment building, close to many other apartment buildings, there wasn’t a pumpkin to be seen on Halloween night in our neighbourhood.

Some years ago, the vendors and people living on Harbord St. in Toronto started a pumpkin display on the day after Halloween. Trestle tables are set up along the street and people from the surrounding area bring their pumpkins. At nightfall, the pumpkins are lit up and some of the restaurants and cafes give out free samples of food. Although I had lived in this area for many years, the practice only started after I moved to Italy and I had never actually seen it so when my sister invited me for afternoon tea at a cafe called Dessert Trends on Harbord St., I was looking forward to seeing this spectacle later in the evening.

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Sunday was warm and sunny and on the way to the cafe, people were gathering the pumpkins. One woman had collected all the pumpkins on her street and brought them to to Harbord in her car.

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Decorating Halloween pumpkins has turned into an art form. Not satisfied with carving out a space for eyes, nose and mouth and sticking a candle inside, some people use electric drills and the like to create intricate designs. The owner of Dessert Trends is a master cake maker and his creations, like these on the right, resemble pieces of sculpture.1446602006084

It was fascinating to see how creative some of the faces and designs were and quite a sight at nightfall when they were all lit up. 1446607406642

 

 

 

 

1446604836897The ritual of putting out a Jack o’ Lantern originates in Ireland where a turnip would be carved, lit and placed outside the house on October 31st, All Souls Day, to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Immigrants to north America brought the practice here but used pumpkins since these are native to north America and much easier to carve. One doesn’t see Halloween celebrated in the same way anywhere else, not even in Ireland, and I was glad to be here at this time of year.

 

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Give Him Chicken Soup

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1442883508091Fidz’s pain continues and nobody can figure out what’s causing it though the latest diagnosis is that its a nerve pain. When the pain is out of control, he has no appetite and doesn’t even want to think about food. What I’ve found to be a real boon when he can’t eat is chicken soup.

soupsoupsoup1443659443808Almost every mother, Jewish or otherwise, advocates chicken soup when you’re sick and for most of us it’s a great comfort food. Fidz being Italian, likes chicken broth with either egg pasta or rice and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. Sometimes, he likes an egg stirred in so that it separates and cooks in the hot broth. This is called stracciatella which comes from the word straccia meaning little shred.

Obviously, chicken soup is nutritious but some years ago, an article in a peer-reviewed scientific journal ‘Chest’ showed that it reduces inflammation as well as congestion in the respiratory tract, so it really is good for a cold! The bones release calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and trace minerals, all of which are good for your bones. The glucosamine and chondroitin released from the tendons are good for your joints. The gelatin is apparently good for your digestive tract. This together with the fact that you’re getting liquid into your system and preventing dehydration makes chicken broth a super food not only for a sick person but for all of us.

1444091394665Needless to say, I make a large pot of broth and freeze it in small containers so it’s always available when we need it. I make it with raw chicken carcasses (which are cheaply available from many butchers), onion, a couple of carrots, one or two sticks of celery, bayleaf, peppercorns and parsley. All are put in a large pot, filled with water and simmered for about 3 hours. The foam which gathers on top must be skimmed off as soon as it forms. The same can be done with beef bones. In Italy, stewing beef on the bone or tongue is often used and the meat eaten with olive oil and capers after the broth is done. This is called lesso and is popular in northern Italy. My niece’s mother-in-law who is Jewish says that the best chicken broth comes from using a whole Kosher chicken and of course the chicken can be eaten hot or cold afterwards. She even told me where to get Kosher chicken so this is going to be my next attempt in the broth department.

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