In late December of 2013, there was an ice storm that wrecked a lot of Toronto. My father was pretty sick and it was my feeling that it would be our last Christmas together. I think he sensed it too because he invited me, my wife, my brother (who he hadn’t really spent much time with in a while) and my mother (who he hadn’t really been married to for over forty years) to a Christmas dinner. It was to be a gentle and likely last family gathering.
Around the twentieth of December or so, my father’s house lost power because of an ice storm and in Ottawa, we watched the weather hourly, wondering when things would be back to normal. We wondered if the Christmas meal would happen. We wondered how my dad was surviving.
You see, he had kidney failure and needed dialysis three times a week. And he was immobilized and needed a wheel chair at times and a walker always. He needed a stair lift to go to bed.
All of that was gone. No electricity, dying batteries, no heat. My father and his wife didn’t anticipate how bad it would be and by the time they did, all the hotels were filled. Neighbours who had restaurants brought food. But it was really winter camping for a seventy-two your old man who needed dialysis and couldn’t walk.
We cancelled the family Christmas dinner. My wife and I were going to Toronto anyway to see her parents and we loaded our car with fire wood, flashlights, batteries, blankets…
On Christmas Eve, as I had dinner with my wife and her parents, I didn’t drink because I had to go to my dad’s house to help him up his back stairs after his dialysis. I drove up Avenue Road in the dark. On Christmas Eve. It felt a little post-apocalyptic. I got there around eight, lit a fire as roaring as I could get it and waited. When he arrived around ten, I tried to help him up the five steps of his back door stair case.
I didn’t think we were going to make it. I could have carried him but he was so riddled with cancer that every thing on his body hurt and little touches were painful. He used to say, when he was being brave, that there’s a difference between pain and discomfort. That he knew discomfort all of his life. But now I knew he was in pain.
I thought he would die on those five stairs.
I eventually got him in and the next day, on Christmas Day, around noon, the power came back. And the heat came back. And the stair lift came back.
I felt relieved and grateful but I’ll never forget how vulnerable I felt when confronted with nature. How helpless so many of us can be. It practically killed my father before his time. Some frigging ice.
And so I send out my thoughts to my fellow Ottawa/Gatineau brothers and sisters. I know how hard it is right now. But the power will come back and the heat will come on and the roof can be replaced. And your family is still with you, the only ones who are genuinely irreplaceable. Hang in there.
We eventually had our Christmas dinner in February. And my dad died in April.