Feb 2019 22

Shinrei

Posted In Blog,The world

It means ‘ghost’ in Japanese. My father continues to heal in the hospital and I have been understandably consumed by him this week. But today on a break from his bedside, the other half of who I am decided to show up.

At end of a week where I expected to lose my father but he ended up living, the strangest thing happened.

I ran into my mother. And she has been dead for nine years.

Reader, this is not a ghost story. And yet it is a ghost story. It is a story that truly makes me wonder what the universe is telling me, and how I will answer it.

Travelling west on the Bloor line of the Toronto subway this afternoon just after 5pm, the train was packed with people shedding their weekday masks to reclaim their actual guises. I was wedged in with this herd.

I am anxious in crowds. I never know how to stand, or where. I think it’s because of my smaller stature. In rush hour, I’m usually in someone’s armpit. So when I see an area with a bit of space, some breathing room, I move to it. And so I did.

And there she was. My mother. There was Yuki.

Sitting in the first seat next to one of the doors. Small Japanese woman. Grey hair with streaks of black. Late 70s or early 80s. Pale skin with a hint of freckled brown aging spots on her upper cheeks. Dark eyes, and stoic expression on her face. Proud. Not harsh. But certainly not someone to be trifled with.

I felt my legs buckle and it had nothing to do with the moving train.

Was I seeing a ghost?

Yes, of course I am, I thought. How else do you top the week I had? A parent who was supposed to die, but didn’t. Deep talks with my sister about who we are, and our future as a family. I went to another man’s funeral yesterday. And today, dealing with professional and personal issues coming at me like, well, a tsunami as I try to re-enter into my life after a week away. How does the universe cap it? You run into the ghost of your dead mother, that’s how. In Friday rush hour on the subway. Yes. Makes perfect sense.

Okay. I’ll go with it, universe. Fuck you. So I shuffled closer to get a better look.

She was clutching a cane identical to one my mother used, and even caressing the handle slightly like her. Her black purse was the same style my mom carried and it was firmly on her lap in the same way my mom kept hers close cause she was worried about muggers.

I eased closer. I was now standing a few feet away.

And then the ghost of my mother, feeling someone approaching her undead space, looked up at me and right into my eyes.

I was expecting “Go away”, annoyed I was bothering her as a ghost. Or “Children should be seen and not heard” (that was a favourite of cantankerous Yuki when I was a kid). But no. She said nothing.

This was not a ghost. This woman was real, and just happened to look like her. Exactly like her. But this was not my mother.

I quickly looked away, totally embarassed, and moved off to the side a bit as if I was just moving closer to the door.

I broke out in a sweat. My heart was beating faster.

And this is how I stood for the next two subway stops. Right next to her, examining her every move. Studying her. Her hands. Her foot size. I wanted to smell her – I know, right?! I felt like a creep and that this was why she clutched her purse in public. Cause of weirdos like me.

And then something even more unexpected happened, as if this could get more strange. Of course it can, I’m me.

The fear and embarassment melted away. And I found I was awash in feeling what it was like to be around my mother again. Nine years ago I watched her casket clutched by flames at the crematorium. The flowers placed on top hissing and curling in as they began to burn. And then a door slid shut, separating me from her forever.

And now, here she was again. Physical body restored. I felt pulled towards this woman. And so I just let myself feel it. I shockingly felt love. I can’t believe it but I miss my mother. Fuck. But she was such a fucking witch. What a waste of all that money I spent on therapy the last nine years! But it seems I wanted to connect with her. With this stranger. And because I know so little about my mother’s family, and what happned to them after the Japanese-Canadian Internment in 1942, it was entirely possible this was at least a relative. Right next to me.

And I thought about my week, and what is going on in my life, and if this is what the universe is presenting me with, I should go with it. I held a door for someone ten minutes ago. I doubled back to pick something up left on the street. These two things delayed me just a bit – maybe 20 seconds total – to help deliver me to this subway car, to this person. Have you ever wondered about those things? I do. There had to be a reason. If I didn’t answer the universe in this moment, maybe would I always wonder?

Fine. You win, universe. You dick.

“Um, I’m really sorry to bother you.”

Words were coming out of my mouth. She looked up at me again.

“But you look exactly like my mother. She’s been dead for nine years. But I have to ask – are you Japanese? She was Japanese.”

Please leave me alone. Stranger danger! Expletives in Japanese. I’m Korean, asshole. One of these options is what I was waiting for.

“Yes. Yes, I am Japanese. I’m [her name]. What was your mother’s name?”

Oh my god. The ghost was talking back. And even smiling at me.

“Shimamori. She was Yuki Shimamori. You look exactly like her.”

“Hmmm, Shimamori. Yuki Shimamori. I don’t believe I know her…”

“Uh. Wow, you’re basically her twin. I’m really freaked out a bit, to be honest. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Thank you.”

And with that I was going back to my planet. Or so I thought.

“But you never know,” said my mom’s decidedly non-undead twin, pulling me back from reality. “I might have known your family. Was she involved in the Internment?”

We started a conversation. An actual conversation. It was pleasant. This was clearly not my mother.

We chit-chatted for a few subway stops, her seated and me looking down at her all pie-eyed and amazed. I purposely missed my subway stop to keep talking with her about the war, she was two years younger than my mom would’ve been, what BC Japanese-Canadian camp she was at, and a bit about my mother’s family history which was lost, but I continue to piece together.

“Oh, this is my stop,” she suddenly said, remembering we are in the now. “Where are you getting off?”

And she stood up and was almost the exact height of my mom as well. Yuki was a very tiny woman and I felt like a giant again. Protective. Like a son.

I told her I had missed my stop aways back, but no big deal, I’d get off to cross over the tracks to go back.

“Would you like to go for a coffee and keep talking?” she asked. Holy shit, this was definitely not my mother. I’d never sat and had coffee with her, ever.

I will keep most of our conversation between us for her privacy but over the course of the next hour, we sat in a coffee shop and talked about things I never got to talk to my mother about. She shared her experience of being in an internment camp, and told me about her family and life since. A lost husband, and child. Her grandkids. And I told her of my mom’s experience and her shame that was passed on to me. We joked around. We showed each other family pictures. She showed me her art – she’s a Japanese sculptor and artist, and does amazing modern work, BTW. I told her about my writing career and showed her my arm sleeve tattoo that reclaimed my Japanese heritage for me (“I don’t like tattoos but that’s a work of art”).

I basically was telling my mother about my life since her death. Look mom, I have grown.

But this woman only looked liked her. She swore a bit. She radiated warmth. She had laugh lines around her eyes, even. This was not my mother.

But still, it was like having a conversation with my mom, if all that bad stuff had never happened to her. If she didn’t become so bitter and angry. If she didn’t withhold so much. If her life hadn’t been filled with so much pain that she didn’t know what to do with it all so she held it in and it consumed her.

And then this woman said this.

“It wasn’t her fault, Andrew. It wasn’t your fault. I wish I had known her. I would have talked to her and tried to help. She didn’t know how to be Japanese cause it was taken from her and she wasn’t around it. She was afraid.”

This woman was not my mother.

I walked her to the bus stop where she was going an hour ago, her hobbling along with her cane like my mother did, and me slowing down to be with her just like I would with Yuki. I was going to duck back into the subway to where I was going originally. And yet, it seemed that nothing would ever be the same. There was no going back to any ‘originally’.

We both said how much we enjoyed the talk and we would like to meet again and talk more. And I will.

“Do you have a Presto card to get on the subway, Andrew?”

She was not my mother. But she was a mother.

“Yes. And will you be okay sitting in here until the bus comes?”

I was not her son. But I was a son.

The universe, and ghosts, work in strange ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feb 2019 21

This morning, the same doctor that on Sunday told my sister and I to prepare for my dad’s death, looked at us and smiled and shook her head, saying “Your dad is quite impressive”. He’s improving. “Out of the woods”, but still a long way to go. Reasons for optimism. Expecting my dad’s funeral this week, I instead took time off the hospital deathwatch this aft and attended someone else’s service. 

I went to a funeral today.

And to my surprise, I learned more about living then dwelling on the end of life.

Bill Coffman lived in my dad’s senior’s building. He died a week and a bit ago, and you may recall I wrote that my father spoke of his death on our own drive to the Emergency Ward. He said he would be missed. My father never says this about someone who died in his building. It’s not that he’s cold, but let’s be honest – people die all the time in in a senior’s building (no one ‘moves somewhere else’ as my dad says) and I think this is how they all cope. But this one seemed to hit him.

I enjoyed talking to Bill. Although I got the feeling he could speak about many topics, he knew how to listen. This is a lost art, everyone. When Bill asked me about my life, he really wanted to know. What did you do for a living? What were you passionate about? What interest did you have that he could learn more about?

There was a reason he was like this.

It turns out, this was a person who, yes, was in a senior’s building, where he would die, but he was not yet done ‘living’, as long as he still was.

Too often we look at seniors as either being past their usefulness, or even worse, not seeing them and the contributions they made before they committed the sin of simply getting old. I have been guilty of this. You might do it too. The way you talk to an elderly person like a child. Patronize. Condescend. I do it. Ugh.

I learned that Bill had actually been in my life everyday for the last 20 years. He was an industrial designer who made the first sketches (on a bar napkin!) that led to the City of Toronto’s bike post-and-ring structures you find all over the city. A cyclist.

A racecar enthusiast. An airplane afficionado who built and designed his own scale models that actually flew. A man who continued to work on, and suggest, better industrial design to the City of Toronto right up until his death last week. He never really retired. He just stopped getting paid.

Everyone that spoke at his service held at the senior’s building’s adjoined Baptist Church at Dufferin & Bloor – from young to old – talked about how he remained active in their life and the interests that they met through and shared right up until his death. His calendar was still full.

And unexpectedly, Bill found love again.

A fellow resident got up and spoke of their special relationship. A vibrant woman with that same spritely look in her eye that Bill had. My dad had mentioned Bill met a girlfriend in their building. She described Bill as her ‘soul friend and companion’. In the short time they knew each other, they took streetcar trips through the city, him pointing out the sights since she was new to the city. They went on dates to the art gallery. They talked design.

It turns out – he didn’t die alone as I was told. He died in her arms. It was clear they were in love.

Bill was certainly not done living. He wasn’t there waiting for death.

He stayed curious. And I think you are never truly old until you stop being curious.

Part of the reason I attended Bill’s service was to give everyone hope. My dad, Albert, is not dead, as rumoured. He may actually walk back into their lives in a few weeks.

I thought they might need some good news, on a sad day.

But it turns out, Bill’s life was the most life-affirming and hopeful story any of us could hear today.

I hope my father, if he continues to recover and returns to this community, stays curious.

Today, Bill certainly reminded me to do that.

 

 

 

Feb 2019 21

Throwing it way back to circa 1900, British Honduras (now Belize). That’s my Great-Grandfather, seated, the original ‘Andrew Francis Bradley’, who I am named after. My dad, born about 30 years after this pic to the man on the left, continues to hang in at a Toronto hospital. Last night, we had a talk about why he gave me this moustachioed man’s name. I’d never thought to ask before. Link to the tale is in my bio if you’re interested. Thanks for your well-wishes, everyone. #tbt #Belize #roots #BritishHonduras
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Feb 2019 21

My 90 year-old dad continues to stay one step ahead of death. In his 7th day in the hospital, still no definitive answers on what is trying to kill him other than old age. It’s possible the pneumonia has just alerted doctors to some other issue. Like taking your car in for the alternator and finding out the alternator is only fucked because of a bigger thing going on. More tests. But in the meantime, making the most of this time. Tonight’s topic – why they named me ‘Andrew’. Do you know the story of your own name? Mine is a tale of the ocean, bliss, and wanderlust.

Recently, a friend asked me if I identified with my name, ‘Andrew’.

Did I feel I am an Andrew? In a time where we can change or renounce anything we were assigned at birth – your gender, sexual identity, male pattern baldness, nose, lips, or flat buttock cheeks – did I identify with something as basic as my name?

I’d never really thought about it. I’ve always just been that. Andrew. I was never called ‘Andy’ or ‘Drew’. My sister calls me ‘Ange’, but that’s yet another short form of ‘Andrew’. And one friend has always thought I should go by something more exotic-sounding to reflect my diverse background, like ‘Andreas’.

My name was neither something that shaped me, nor misrepresented me. Rather, I’ve always thought I give meaning to my name.

My parents named me ‘Andrew’. It means ‘Strong and manly’, hilariously. For those who know me, I’m all of 5’3″ on a good day.

But there’s more. I’m Andrew Francis Bradley, to be precise. And someone in the family had this name before me. It was my great-grandfather’s full name. I was named after him.

Why? Frankly, I’ve never asked. But tonight, I did.

My dad is lying in a hospital bed for the seventh straight night. Two days ago, I didn’t think he would still be here among the living. But he is. Although there are some positive signs about his chances, now is certainly the time to talk about anything I might want to know. Besides, he has no TV in his room and there is nothing to do but talk, when he has the breath and strength, and we have finished talking about the food, weather, Trump (“that asshole”), baseball, or the Liberals SNC-Lavalin unravelling.

“Dad. Why did you name me after your Grandfather?”

“What, ‘Andrew’?”

“Yes, but you gave me his full name. His middle name, too.”

“Well, we all just loved him. All of us boys (my dad grew up with 4 brothers) did.”

I have heard a few stories about him, second-hand from cousins. Born around 1870. Lived into his mid 90s. Nicknamed ‘The Old Buck’. Widowed before my dad was born.

“So, what was he like?”

My dad closed his eyes and smiled, remembering. He looked happy. Or as happy as someone can look when they’re lit by a flourescent light at the head of their hospital bed that they’ve been in for six days.

“He was so much fun. As a boy, every night in Belize City, I knew exactly where to find him and I’d go see him. There he would be, standing at the waterfront by the Baron Bliss monument.”

For those of you who have never been to Belize City, it is a port city. My dad was born in 1928, and grew up in a house on Regent Street near the mouth of the river point of entry on the waterfront. We could get into a long history of Belize (previously British Honduras) here going back to the 1700s about mahogany wood to England, slaves, and rum. But for now, let’s keep it about the waterfront.

The Baron Bliss monument he is talking about was erected in 1885. It is still there today. It is a lighthouse on the waterfront built to honour Baron Henry Bliss, a British traveller who never actually set foot on Belize soil, but spent his last days sick, on his anchored boat just offshore, and gazing at the beauty of the mainland. He left a tidy sum of money for the citizens of Belize, in trust, which even today provides educational and health programs. March 9th, the day of his demise, is a National Holiday in Belize.

So, back to my great-grandfather and my dad as a boy. And how he would find that era’s Andrew Francis Bradley every night at the monument.

My dad paused, remembering a little more, and the sound of oxygen whispered through the tubes in his nostrils.

“He was always standing there alone, just watching the ocean and the boats. I’d walk down there to spend some time with him and talk, and then he’d walk me back home.”

My dad continued.

“Everybody loved him. And he tried everything in life. He was a Minister at one time. He was a gambler. He owned a piece of land that he farmed on. He lived in Honduras for years on all kinds of schemes and adventures and when he came back, I was a teenager. His best friend his whole life was Karl Heusner, the Doctor whom the main hospital in Belize is named after.”

“Did he sail?”

Sailing is big in my family’s history. I have let everyone down as someone who can barely swim.

“Oh gosh, yes. He had a boat called ‘The Spook’. Fast boat.”

I have never heard my father talk about his own father (this Andrew Francis Bradley’s son) with such admiration. He has never said anything bad about him either. Instead, through family stories I have pieced together from cousins, I have learned my dad’s own dad was actually maybe not such a great guy at all, but my father didn’t want to poison me with that information. It’s not his style. He likes people to form their own opinions.

I now see how it is possible that all the reverential feelings I’ve had for my own Grandfather my whole life are actually the result of the residual love my dad has felt for his own Grandfather, this Andrew Francis Bradley.

When I was a boy and he talked about how great Grandads are – he actually meant his own.

It turns out my father named me after his favourite man.

This is the story of my name.

I am Andrew Francis Bradley.

It is my name, but it comes with a responsibility. An echo.

It is my name, but also belongs to something bigger that I’m only starting to understand. A connection across generations telling me who I am, and where I came from.

Yes, maybe finally, I identify with it.

 

PICTURED: The original Andrew Francis Bradley, seated. Circa 1900, Belize City.

Feb 2019 20

I respect his vibe, but without the cross behind him he really does just look like someone I wouldn’t share a brownie with at a music festival. #Jesus #statue #hadeshereIcome #redpills
~ for those wondering, my dad is stable with lots of drugs but docs are still unsure what is determined to take him out of this world right now. More tests. Thanks to the staff of this hospital, and healthcare workers in general. You do a tough job, with grace.

 

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