It was one hell of a good run while it lasted. It is with a huge void, big hole in my heart and ultimately resigned acceptance that I finally got it together to organize a celebration of life for my husband Don. Just short of three months after he passed, and on Remembrance Day no less.
He didn’t want a service, big hoopla or anything pretentious. Just a gathering of people closest to him at home with food, music and memories. He never mentioned a slideshow although with help from a friend we managed to put together a lovely showing of images from past travels and our life together and some heartfelt words from those who treasured him. Hooked up by computer to TV, it continued to loop around while people mingled. My dear friend Ryoko, who is responsible for us meeting was here and gave an unrehearsed funny speech and managed to sum up in a few short minutes what Don was all about. It was perfect in it’s simplicity, warmth and endearment. Just like Don himself.
Donald James Wilson (June 19, 1943 – August 15, 2017)
The beginning, the middle and the end.
I believe in the laws of attraction. I believe that people, places and things come into your life when you need or manifest them, or to teach you a lesson. I’m not sure about the ending. That’s a big question mark that I’ll never understand. But my husband, like my dog, just showed up at my door one day and changed my life forever and for better.
When I first met Don he was wearing a pale yellow shirt with a front button missing and carrying a paperback novel. His demeanor was the exact opposite of the crazy whirlwind relationship I ended months prior with an extroverted, creative, complicated guy with a gambling problem from NYC. At first glance Don was more down to earth, reserved, relaxed but solid. I was immediately attracted. Of course he turned out to be a lot more than that. A disciplined hard working, well-traveled, intelligent, caring, kind and philosophical man with utmost integrity. A man of his word as well as someone you could trust. On the down side, quite stubborn, but I was always happy when I could change his mind about something he was very set on not changing.
At the time we met, before Don started his own company as a consultant engineer for telecommunications, he was managing an office in Toronto. He kept a condo in Vancouver, always with the intention of moving back here. A mutual friend from Toronto asked him to deliver photos from another friend’s wedding we had just attended in San Francisco instead of putting them in the mail. I forgot to bring my camera to San Francisco and I often wonder what my life would have been like had I taken it. So he brought them to me, and right after he left I called my mom and said this “I just met someone who showed up at my door and don’t know why but I’m pretty sure this is the man I’m going to spend my life with.” Crazy, right?
But true. That was 27 short years ago and we were married for 25 of them.
In between we created a life well lived.
A life filled with travel, adventure, a few rocky patches but overall, more good times than bad, up until the very end. He was my advisor and my best friend. That’s why I decided to do whatever in my power to try to make him well when he got sick with kidney cancer. He was re-diagnosed a little over two years ago and it was starting to spread.
Even during that time filled with uncertainty he managed to surprise me with his strong will several times. We were able to make a few memorable trips even though his health was not good. He would not give up easily. The past several months were the hardest. The last two were the worst. I borrowed a hospital bed from the Red Cross with the most comfortable inflatable mattress cover for Don so he could be downstairs at home on one level because it would be easier. But it was not. I was his nurse until I had to get weekly, then daily help. My life was not my own. He gave me the biggest compliment by saying that there was nothing a nurse could do that I could not do. But I don’t believe that. I was just trying to cope as well as make nutritious meals before deciding to just make whatever he craved be it macaroni & cheese to ceviche. And believe me, it was all over the map. He was craving food from his childhood to when he worked in the desert in Saudi. A meal from a can to Sablefish. Never a dull moment or at least, meal.
Then I found out about Vancouver Hospice Society with their incredible staff and volunteers. A place in a reconverted house in Shaugnessey with only 8 beds and a wait list. I went there, and after meeting the director and looking around at the home like atmosphere, decided it would be the best place for care and to free up quality time for me to spend with Don. Luckily a bed became available within a few days. The private room was lovely overlooking an outdoor patio with plants, a flat screen TV and a pull-out sofa bed which my dog and I slept on every night. Don was only there for 10 days.
The night before he went into Vancouver Hospice he told me he wanted to give me something personal. I won’t say what it was but it was meaningful and very moving. At that stage I knew that he knew he was dying. Before that, he was always optimistic and full of hope. Nobody mentioned the actual dying part, so it was extremely sad and I could not stop crying. He then said “there is a beginning, a middle and an end to everything. My end is coming and now you can have a new beginning.” He was very thankful to me for all I had done to try and help him. He said all this in a matter of fact way and I could feel that he now wanted the humility and discomfort to finally come to a finish. His mind was good right up until the very end.
I will forever be grateful for having Don in my life. No other person has done so much for me in so many areas. I am a much better person for having known him. He was also a true friend to my sister and they had become very close. He was a mentor to many people. Well respected and trusted. It was important for my brother to spend a few minutes explaining how he felt near the end. He shared something special and I have to say that since my mom passed away, I have never seen my brother cry so hard. He was close to his brother George who lives in Toronto, and who gave him a much needed surprise visit in July. I had no idea the influence Don had on so many, although I’m not surprised.
I was by his side holding his left hand when he took his very last breath. Lisa (my sister) was holding his right hand. He looked peaceful. Lisa didn’t leave my side for three days following. My dear friend Margeaux left her business and drove eight hours to spend the next four days/nights with me. I’m forever grateful.