In remembrance of my Dad
In this week’s post, I indulge in a remembering of my father, Douglas Laite, who passed away on November 13, 2020.
I dive into the cool waters of the small lake — or pond, as we call it — in front of my parents’ cabin and head for the island just 75 metres or so away from the dock. There’s nothing quite like the softness of this water and the quiet of the pond that I currently share only with the loons that I see floating in the distance.
Having swum in this pond most of my life, I share these small sweet joys with five generations of my family; three generations having enjoyed this pond before me, and now I have ensured my daughters also enjoy these waters and the simple life of life “in the country” every summer when we return.
We always look forward to and love these glorious weeks in the summer that we spend at our cabin in Newfoundland each year.
But… this summer is different.
Ordinarily, I hear sounds from other cabins, the laughter of children playing off a dock, and the sound of jet skis zooming by, but not this year. This year, due to COVID restrictions, people aren’t travelling as they ordinarily do.
Yet here we are. We had jumped through every possible hoop to receive approval to be in Newfoundland this summer so that we could spend time with my parents — to help my Mom who is caring for my Dad, and to spend time with my Dad, as life — and time — are precious.
We are currently in isolation, waiting the required 14 days before we can see them.
I pause from my swim and turn around, as I always do, to look at the shoreline and I find myself looking to the top of the hill, searching for a glimpse of my Dad who would inevitably be there to wave at me as I swim, watching over me — ensuring I’m safe. And even though my brain knows Dad isn’t there, I find a sense of sadness sweep over me as my heart realizes he really isn’t, and may never be again, in fact.
I suddenly realize that I may have already had my last summer at the cabin with my Dad.
I turn back towards the island and keep swimming… with less energy than when I had started out, as my body is catching up with the emotion of what I’m processing.
I may have already had my last summer at the cabin with my Dad.
These summers have been eternally precious — even before I started to really notice the passage of time. When we’d return each summer, we’d often find ourselves spending most of our time here, even before we had built our own sweet getaway next door to my parents. And Dad would say to Mom, “Well if Susan is out there, we should be too.”
And so they’d come, committed to also spending as much time with us and their grandchildren as they could.
As they — perhaps more than us — also knew time was precious, as we live on the other side of the country and spend time with them just a few weeks a year.
A series of “lasts” of course, had already started before this realization. “Lasts” that I didn’t want to acknowledge or accept.
The decision to not return last Christmas was accompanied by the realization that I may have already had my last Christmas with my Dad.
Each summer when I returned, seeing him increasingly slip away from the Dad I had known for many years was a series of slow moments — and potentially last ones — that gradually disappeared, making the father I knew increasingly out of reach. Such is the terrible sadness of a family member with Dementia.
What remained to his last breath, however, was a spirit that was very much alive. No matter the details of the memories that were gone from his mind, there were windows of recognition that I’d see in his eyes as they lit up when I came in the room, always greeted with a smile and a hug and a “where have you been? It’s been so long since you’ve been here.” His was a warm acceptance that comes from a man being fully present with you, no matter where you’ve been or how long you’ve been gone… because the present is all he has.
Regardless of where his mind might really have been, my Dad’s gentle spirit was always with us, right to his last waking moments.
When someone you love is drifting away, in body or in spirit, there is that sense of loss that comes in many small ways, repeatedly, over the many years — in this case 10 — that your loved one is slowly slipping away and losing his many memories.
And yet, somehow it was as though as my Dad “lost” his memories, they were my gain. As my Dad’s memory failed we all strove to hold onto his memories for him so he didn’t have to.
It was my job — our job — to be the caretaker of my Dad’s memories now.
And so, as my Dad’s memories disappeared, it was as though my memory banks filled up. My mind is now flooded with more memories of my Dad than I can count.
Memories of growing up: The singing in the car on the way home from visiting family and friends on Christmas Eve; the learning to dance in the living room on the tops of his much bigger feet; the pride that came with some of his public recognition from his career on television and radio; of dedicating a song to me on the radio when I was a young girl, or the delighted surprise that he was in the local Santa Claus Parade.
And then, as a young adult, I’d bump into him about town — out walking on the quiet city streets in the early morning or having a coffee at his favourite coffee shop after his morning shift on the radio.
And then more recently, the visiting of some of his favourite places, the trips to Cape St. Mary’s, walks around Cape Spear and Bowring Park, and views of the St. John’s Narrows — places and views and the smell of the ocean that had filled his life all the days of his 81-year-old life. Having grown up and spent his entire life in Newfoundland, this was a man who loved the province he was born in.
Now, with the finality of my father breathing his last living breath, I find his memory not only lives on in my mind but in the minds of countless others who I have not even had the privilege of knowing.
As the tributes pour in, and the delight at seeing his obituary put to video and photography unearthed by the archives of the CBC, I take great solace in knowing my Dad has touched so many lives and particularly those of his family and closest friends.
And yet, the greatest joys I have are the more quiet moments I shared with my Dad; the loving smiles and patient knowing from him as he observed me going about my busy days. His knowledge that I had my own life to live. And yet, he’d always be there, ready for me to return.
I’ll never forget the time I called him from my workplace after I had moved out and was living on my own. I told him that I was going home for dinner and then I’d be over to visit. “This is your home,” my father said to me. “That is the place where you live. This will always be your home.”
And yes, in more ways than one, Newfoundland will always be my home. And I’m sure there will never be a time that I don’t turn around on my swim in front of my parents’ cabin, and look up to see his smiling face waving at me from the top of the hill. Always watching over me. Forever there. Always ready to welcome me home.
In dedication to my Dad,