By the time you read this, I will have fled the country. I know a lot of people have threatened to fly the coop and head to Canada during the political shit storm we’ve been experiencing since 2016, but I’m actually doing it. I mean, I’m not staying or anything, (my apologies to anyone who just did the happy dance and a few fist pumps). I’ll be back next week.
But I really am in Canada at the moment. And I’m not really sure how I feel about it. Because this trip is my dad’s last hurrah.
This was my dad in his heyday. When he was young, tan and fit, an adventure seeker who loved to backpack, hike and fish. A true nature boy. That was before he became a college professor, before he earned his doctorate, before he became a bestselling novelist, and before he was blessed with a handful of spirited, independent daughters.
Now, my dad is 88, and an old man. He’s been married for 60 years to my mom, written dozens of books, and passed as much of his knowledge on to the world as he can. And if you’ll give him just 5 minutes an hour and a half, he’ll lecture you on a variety of topics from sustainable gardening to global economics.
But dad’s not doing so well. After my mom was hit by a car two years ago this week, dad had the chance to live all by himself for the first time in six decades, and do whatever he wanted. There was no wife around to nag him about his dietary choices or other risky behaviors, like his penchant for a tobacco pipe and a horrifyingly bad salt habit. He even got a cat, which my mother is allergic to
The way he tells it, it was glorious.
But by the time my mother came home from the rehab center to finish healing at home, dad’s health was deteriorating quickly. I’m pretty sure the situation was helped along because he was left to his own devices for so long.
One day his hip broke. He was just sitting in a chair on the deck, wasn’t even monkeying about on a jungle gym (which is how he ended up in the hospital when he was in his late 40’s), and his hip just gave out. He’d already had a hip replacement twenty years prior, and wasn’t a candidate for another. So he just had to deal. Since that day he’s been hobbling about with one crutch and a walker (which is a dangerous combination when you’re trying to use both of them together, but that’s my dad). Not long after that things started to get much worse.
On my birthday, dad waited until I had driven two hours up to Ashland, ate a meal of escargot, fried onion rings and filet mignon, and then asked to be driven to the emergency room. The doctor had bad news. End stage congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease with limited prognosis.
She told him there was nothing more she could do for him medically (although HE could do a few things for himself, like stop drinking canned chicken broth for breakfast and put his feet up after taking his diuretic in the morning to help the edema). She referred him to a home hospice program, to make sure his various wounds and meds were being tended to, and that’s how things have been since that day in December.
He has persevered since that day nine months ago. He’s not getting better, but the setting of his sun has been long and slow, reminding me of a Southeast Alaska summer evening. Dusk can go on and on for what seems like forever until it finally dips below the horizon.
So dad has decided that he wants to make one last adventure, one last jaunt into the wild before he fades into the night, and that’s why I’m in Canada at this very moment.
Dad has made it clear exactly what he wants to do on this end-of-life bucket list trip, and my sister Dana and I are going to do our level best to make sure he has that experience. We will fly to Vancouver, BC, hop into a big yellow taxi, and spend the night in Vancouver. The next day we’ll board the Rocky Mountaineer for a two day train trip through the Canadian Rockies that ends in Banff.
This is the exact train car he wants to ride in. Minus the commentary from the tour guide. I pity the poor tour guide that I know will be on board attempting to regale passengers with speeches about Canadian natural history, because I know my dad, and I used to be a tour guide. I think it will be difficult for him not to try to take over the lecture, or at the very least turn it into a dialogue dual between the two of them. I’m thinking of bringing along some classical music and a pair of headphones, and try to get those in my dad’s ears before the tour guide begins. Stravinsky. Rachmaninov. Dvorak. That should keep his ears occupied while he takes in the scenery. Because that’s what he says he wants to do.
And while he’s taking in that breaktaking scenery of the Canadian mountains, valleys and lakes, he says he wants to sit in the domed train car with a whiskey sour in his hand. Just like the one below. I might even take up drinking whiskey sours myself on this trip, since my dad, sister and myself will be sharing one hotel room between the three of us in Vancouver, Kamloops and Banff before flying home on Sunday.
We’ll take along his walker, oxygen, meds, and all of the other various things that one might need to attend to the needs of a person in his medical situation, including a flask of whiskey. My sister and I will prepare as much as we can for the expected as well as the unexpected, and then we’ll just cross our fingers. And maybe drink a couple of whiskey sours.
Besides majestic mountains, pristine lakes, and gravy with their french fries, Canada has a rich legacy of great music. To keep your ears (and mine) occupied for the next little bit of time, the Oh Canada streaming playlist is below. It’s stocked with some of my favorite Canadian musicians, like Diana Krall, kd Lang and Feist, although I’m sure there’s a few I’ve forgotten. Feel free to comment below if you don’t see your favorite Canuck in the mix!