Walking and Eating With Friends

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Via Appia Antica

Via Appia Antica

Last weekend, I was down to using just one crutch which made it easier to hop on the bus and go a little farther afield. My increasing ability to walk happily coincided with the arrival of friends from Ireland. Two of them had been here previously and were content to take it easy and do little excursions off the beaten track.

Original Section of Via Appia Antica

Original Section of Via Appia Antica

One of our excursions was to go to the Via Appia Antica by bus. The Via Appia starts in the Foro Romano where it is called the Via Sacra and goes all the way to Brindisi in southeast Italy. Named after the Roman, Appius Claudius Caecus, who started it in 312 BC, it still contains sections of the original road. It is amazing to me that a dirt road covered over with gravel and a form of lime mortar and topped with large flat stones could survive for over 2,000 years. There is a spiritual feeling walking on stones that so many people have passed over through the centuries. Not that I walked much I must admit and we soon retired to a nearby garden cafe for refreshments. Still, when my foot is healed, I intend to do a long walk along the Via Appia and report on the sites along the way of which there are many including catacombs and churches.

Cheese/Prosciutto Tasting Plate at Secondo Tradizione

Cheese/Prosciutto Tasting Plate at Secondo Tradizione

A few days ago, I was given the ok to walk without crutches. The joy of having my hands free at last! That evening, one of my friends booked us on a sunset walking food tour (The Roman Food Tour) in the Prati neighbourhood which is next to mine. There were 11 of us in the group and the tour involved visiting local gourmet food shops, and sampling various types of antipasti, different types of pizza, Roman pasta dishes (amatriciana, carbonara, cacio e pepe), gelato and cannoli (Sicilian pastry). Living in Rome, I was a bit dubious about the tour to begin with. First of all, I already know where to go to buy high quality ingredients and since Loris was a wonderful cook as are friends of ours in Rome, I have eaten excellent Roman food. However, I have to say that I enjoyed the tour. Our guide, Raluca, was vivacious and knowledgeable. She not only gave us little  chunks of information on the history of some foods in Italy but also talked about how to order coffee (confusing for some people who are not used to the way coffee is served here), how to pick wine, cheese, ice cream and also how to recognize restaurants serving good food. After a glass or two of wine, our group became quite chatty and convivial and it was also interesting talking to them as we walked from place to place. I discovered a couple of shops that I didn’t know about and tasted some cheeses that I hadn’t previously heard of.

1466246182981One of the highlights for me was being able to taste almost all the pizzas in a pizzeria called Pizzarium where pizza is sold by the slice. The chef, Gabriele Bonci, invents creative toppings which you don’t find in standard pizzerias and he changes his toppings according to the season. Normally, if you go there, it is difficult to choose as there are many unusual combinations and you can’t eat more than one or two without bursting at the seams. What we did was to each choose a different slice which was then cut up into enough pieces to serve everyone in the group. So we got to taste 11 different types of pizza.

This evening of serious ‘grazing’ lasted over 4 hours, perhaps longer than usual as Raluca kindly ordered a bottle of Prosecco after our pasta dinner in order to toast a couple on their honeymoon. After this, we proceeded to the gelateria. It was past 10pm by the time we staggered home across St Peter’s Square. I was able to manage all the walking which felt like a small miracle and it felt really great to walk, eat and enjoy with good friends.

 

 

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Cast Off!

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Complesso Santo Spirito in Sassia

Complesso Santo Spirito in Sassia

My cast was removed on Friday after close to a month but I have to continue using crutches for another two weeks to keep the weight off my injured foot. I can’t describe how wonderful it is being able to take a shower without arranging chairs to prop up my leg and to sit on, or being able to go out by myself. We take all these things for granted but now I’m reminded that being able to walk is in itself something to be grateful for.

Foundling Wheel

Foundling Wheel

My local hospital, Ospedale Santo Spirito in Sassia on the Lungotevere, where I had my cast put on, is the oldest in Rome. It was originally a stopping place for Anglo-Saxon pilgrims visiting the Vatican. In 1198, Pope Innocent III turned it into a hospital in particular for the poor, for women and for orphans. Abandoned babies at that time would often be thrown into the Tiber. Pope Innocent III had a foundling wheel, constructed such that mothers could anonymously leave their children inside a drum which could then be rotated and received on the inside by caregivers. The wheel is still there and is the first of its kind in Rome though thankfully, no longer in use.

1465140606700The Santo Spirito complex is large, spanning a whole block. The old part is very beautiful with a couple of courtyards lined with frescoes and with mosaic floors. The clock in one of the courtyards is also very unusual with only six numbers on its face and a lizard (symbol of death and resurrection, I’m told) for a hand. I think the six numbers represent the times of prayer, matins, vespers etc. It wasn’t until the Napoleonic wars that Italian time was replaced by French time of 12 hours with the day starting at midnight.

1465140722762Anyhow, there is also a modern hospital within the complex and the Orthopedic Dept. has a good reputation which was lucky for me as I just went to the nearest Pronto Soccorso (ER) when I realized that there was something seriously wrong with my foot. The health system here, though public, is more complicated than we are used to in Canada and basic payments have to be made for tests and visits. The payments can be claimed upon filing of taxes and reimbursements are income based. When I was in ER, several people who appeared to have broken bones arrived by ambulance or escorted by police. I subsequently found out that if one falls as a result of a pothole, the city is responsible and shoulders the bill. However, the police or ambulance have to be called by way of establishing proof. Between, tests, treatment and mobility aids, I’ve spent around 300 EUR. I do have an Italian health card but I didn’t know to call the police when I fell and even if I had, it would likely take years and mountains of paperwork to recover the cost. Since last Friday was the day after Republic Day,  a public holiday, many staff had taken the day off in order to have a long weekend. Waiting time was unusually long and as you can see in the photo (with my foot in the foreground), people were falling asleep with boredom as the waiting rooms are very basic and there are no magazines or newspapers on offer. I took the opportunity to read about Santo Spirito on Google. It also houses a historic and very interesting medical museum which will be the subject of another post when I’m mobile enough to visit museums again.

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A Momentous May 21st

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1464102630943May 21st has always been a special day for me as it is Loris’ birthday. He would have been 68 this year.

River Enza from Vetto

River Enza from Vetto

The only request he had made regarding his funeral arrangements was that the majority of his ashes be brought back to Italy and thrown in the River Enza at Vetto close to where he was born and grew up in the province of Emilia Romagna. I thought May 21st would be a fitting day to do this. I didn’t know when I suggested this date that being the day of the full moon in May, it was also Buddha Day this year. This day commemorates the birth, day of enlightenment, and death of Gautama Buddha. Propitious as a day of remembrance indeed.

 Loris’ brother Roberto, had already arranged for the family to get together on this day, way before I fell and broke the bone in my foot. I was determined not to cancel the arrangement since family members were coming from various places. So on Saturday morning, we set out for the family home in San Polo, a 5h drive with my wheelchair strapped on the roof of the car! We got there in time for a quick lunch at the house and then rushed off to meet the extended family in the Piazza.

Bridge at Vetto

Bridge at Vetto

We all set off for Vetto which is quite high up in the mountains and where a tall bridge crosses the river. Loris used to do competitive whitewater kayaking in his youth and the races would either start or end at this bridge. As you can see, it is very high above the river so at first, because of me being in a cast, an aunt who had just had a knee operation, and a few people who couldn’t make the climb down to the river, the consensus was that we should throw the ashes over the side of the bridge. However, although it was a gorgeous, sunny day, there was a breeze blowing and it quickly became apparent that this was not a good idea.

Roberto decided that he would go down to the river, and we could watch from the top. His son Nicola is very fit and strong and he proposed carrying me down as well. 1464102090842I was worried that this would be a Herculean task for him but he hoisted me up into his arms and assured me that I was not heavy which may be true in general but I’m not so light that it didn’t require much effort. His little daughter was actually wearing a T-shirt saying ‘Too much to ask’ and indeed it was a lot to ask.

 We set off down the bank and made our way to the river. Everyone else, except for those who really couldn’t, followed suit. I’m sure Loris was laughing his head off, wherever he is, to see this procession winding its way down to the river in his honour. There are laws called Mortuary Police Regulations regarding scattering of ashes in Italy which vary from province to province. I believe scattering them in water is permitted though I could be wrong. The idea that we might be doing something illegal would have appealed to Loris even more!

1464102324693When we got to the bottom (Nicola wasn’t even short of breath, what a trooper!), Roberto threw in the ashes, the others threw in roses and we stood on the bank and watched the river flow and the roses float by. It was a moving, spiritual and memorable moment and I have to say that Loris was laid to rest in one of the most beautiful final resting places you could imagine. It makes me happy to think that he’s back home in the countryside that he loved.

1464268663296Afterwards, we proceeded to his other brother Athos’ house overlooking San Polo and raised a toast (brindisi) to Loris. In the evening, we all had dinner together with many more brindisi. It couldn’t have been more fitting that there was a full moon which Loris always loved. For me, it was  meaningful final farewell with all his family there and also my sister Florinda.

 

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Distressed and Disabled

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1463688977817I was practically helpless with my foot in a cast being unable to take care of most of the activities of daily living. My sister Florinda, kindly dropped all her commitments and flew here from Toronto to help me out but I was trapped at home for almost a whole week before she got here. My neighbours were absolutely wonderful even though I didn’t know them well before this happened. The lady across the landing would come every day to ask if I needed any groceries. Friends and acquaintances also rallied around. One friend dropped by every evening to give me a heparin injection to prevent blood clots forming in the leg in a cast. Another friend would come during the day to be here when I took a shower in case I should need help. When Florinda arrived, another friend went out and rented me a wheel chair so that we could go out.

1463673717048Last Sunday was my first foray out of the apt in my wheelchair. We live on a hill and although we have an elevator in the building, there is a fairly long flight of stairs to get from the front door to the gate so it’s not an easy feat getting to the street. When I finally made it down the stairs, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my camera so I sent Florinda back up to get it. Well, she got a bit discombobulated while closing the door and did the same thing I had done when I arrived so there we were, locked out of the apt again. I had left my phone inside so I couldn’t call any friends or the locksmith who had come the first time though he likely wouldn’t have agreed to come out on a Sunday anyway. The building we live in is small with only about nine apartments. All are owned by members of the same family as the building was once a single house that was divided up into apartments which were bequeathed to the children. A couple of them are rented out which is how we have ours. Anyway, as soon as one neighbour came by and saw us locked out, the whole house was alerted to figure out what could be done. Finally, two of the fitter occupants scaled the balcony from the adjoining apartment (I still can’t figure out how they managed to do this!) and got onto our balcony. It was a nice day and luckily, we had left our balcony door open so they were able to enter our apartment and open the door. Whew! After this episode, we know everyone in the building personally. I think they think of me as ‘that unlucky widow on the third floor’ and any time I see them they tell me to just call on them if I have any problem or need anything at all.

1463673249647Since Florinda came, we have made a few excursions, not without difficulty as Rome is not a city for the disabled with its hills, stairs and uneven cobbled streets. Yesterday, my cast was changed to a lighter one made of acrylic and now I have a canvas boot which enables me to put my foot on the ground. Only for balance though as I’m not yet allowed to put any weight on it so I’m still hopping around on my bastoni canadese. However, its a real pleasure to be able to go out and enjoy the sunshine and the smell of jasmine in the air. Poor Florinda is getting a good workout pushing me around as well as hefting bags of groceries up the hill.

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A Rough Return to Rome

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View of St Peter's Basilica From Our Street

View of St Peter’s Basilica From Our Street

I returned to Rome with a mixture of dread, fear and longing. Dread, because I knew I would be surrounded by memories of Loris and that I would miss him terribly……..I did and still do! Fear, because there were so many bureaucratic things to sort out which I would have to deal with in Italian……..there were and still are! Longing, because I found myself missing the eternal city with its beautiful weather, historic buildings, and delicious produce……..I wasn’t disappointed!

1462958055074It was a stressful return for the obvious reasons but things happened which I hadn’t accounted for. It never occurred either to me or to Loris’ brother to get the apt cleaned before I arrived so there was dirt and dust everywhere after a year of not being used. Beats me where it came from with all the windows and shutters tightly closed. The water heater wouldn’t work so a plumber had to be called just after I put my bags down. The lock on the front door is an old-fashioned one and had to be replaced in our absence. When I stepped out to get my phone activated, I turned the key once to lock the door and when I returned, I couldn’t unlock it no matter what I did. I found out after being locked out that the key has to be turned either twice or four times, never once or three times or the tumblers fall out of place. Only in Italy! So there I was locked out of the apt, feeling jet lagged, waiting for both the plumber and a locksmith to arrive. It wasn’t unpleasant sitting on the steps in the sun and both the plumber and locksmith came and soon set things right but it wasn’t a start I would care to repeat.

1462959293215I was just beginning to start getting things in place when a disaster occurred. I went for a walk a couple of days ago and as I stepped off the kerb to cross the road, my foot got stuck in a pothole and I fell. Well what do you know but I’ve broken a metatarsal bone in my foot, one of those long bones that go from your toes to your ankles. I’m in a hard plaster cast that goes from just under my knee to the tips of my toes. I have what they call ‘bastoni canadese’ here, not sure why they’re called that. They’re just regular forearm crutches and the ones I have are made in Italy. I can’t go too far in them and definitely can’t leave the apt as I can’t go up or down stairs. We have an elevator in the building but since we live on a hill, there’s a fairly long flight of stairs to get from the front door to the gate. So here I am sitting in an armchair with my leg propped up. However, the sun is shining, the sky is cloudless, the birds are singing and I can go out on the balcony. It could be worse, I could be in hospital with a broken hip or some such thing. At least that’s what I keep telling myself!

 

 

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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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