Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Happy would-be birthday

Today would be Kol's 15th birthday. He would probably be at LCBI this month. He would be old enough for a learner's license, and I would be waiting for him to soon add his own dent or scrape to our battle-scarred van. I would be wondering when I would stumble across something questionable in his web browsing history and have a slightly uncomfortable chat with him about it. I would be starting to ask him those "so, what do you think you'll do after high school" questions that kids start getting around his age. I would be watching him with his friends, goofing around and joking, probably playing video games together. I would be watching him with girls, wondering who he likes and who likes him, but trying not to get too nosy or obvious about it. We would probably be talking about music, movies, stuff on Netflix, books, comics, phones and apps.

I wonder what would be different about him. Would he still be into Nintendo, or would he think that it's too childish and be into Xbox instead? Would he still be a voracious reader? Would he be into something unusual (well, unusual for our family) like playing sports, woodworking, auto mechanics? Would he still be playing piano? Would he still be singing? Would he have been in the Anne of Green Gables production earlier this year? Would he be fighting with his sisters? (His sisters laughed and said “probably!”) Would he be into Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook? Would he be playing drums? Would he have gone to the Saskatoon Fan Expo a couple weekends ago? Would he be interested in computer programming at all? Would he be begging us to get the new Millennium Falcon LEGO set (even though it costs as much as a cheap used car) or would he be "too old" for LEGO or Star Wars? Would he have been as interested as his sisters were in "Frankie K", the salamander we found in the front yard tonight?

Would he be waiting for or have already had cataract surgery (one of the so-called “late effects” from radiation treatments)? Would he be on hormone therapy to compensate for the radiation damage to his thyroid and pituitary? How tall (or short) would he be after the radiation damage to his spinal column? Would we be watching for other late effects from chemo and radiation? Would we be waiting anxiously for the results of his latest MRI? Would he be back in treatment for a recurrence or a secondary cancer, or would all these possibilities just be the “background noise” of our lives like it was six years ago?

Today I've been feeling the weight of all those "would be" moments and questions, but at the same time today I've also enjoyed spending time together with Kristen and the girls to celebrate and remember him. As much as the loss still hurts, memories of him and the love of our family still brings a smile to my face, even through the tears.

Happy 15th birthday, Kol. We all miss you, and we love you.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Sneak Preview!

First of all, thank-you to everyone who has sent me their stories and pictures of Kol for the book. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out my last post below, called 'Stories'. I'm working as hard as I can (when I'm not busy with school) to write. I'm still looking for more stories, so if you haven't already, please send them to me at I've set a deadline of February 28, so that I have enough time to incorporate them and have the book printed before the anniversary in May. As well, if you know anyone who might have stories but may not have seen this post, please tell them!

I've included the first chapter of the book below for you to preview. In it, I talk about why I'm chose to write this book. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1
Behind the Image

They say picture is worth a thousand words. The story behind it, the emotions felt by both the subject and the photographer, all captured in a still image of that single moment. Sometimes, the story is hard to read. Other times, it’s painfully obvious. Still other times, the story is told through several different images, all put together.
The last kind of the story is the one told by my grandparent’s stairwell. In 1972, shortly after the birth of their first child, my grandparents moved into a three storey house in Saskatoon, overlooking the South Saskatchewan river. The year after, they started taking annual family portraits, a tradition that our family still donors to this day. These portraits now line the walls of the staircase, beginning on the main floor and going all the way up to the attic. There are photos there of my grandparents at the high school where they met, from the year they were engaged, from their wedding. The story continues with the addition of three more children, and of them growing up. There are four more wedding photos, one of each child. The photos document the growth of the family as the grandchildren are born, until finally, in the 2010 photo, there are 21 of us all smiling for the camera.
But the photos also show hints of sadness, such as the one taken with the whole family dressed in black and holding roses, taken a few hours after my great-grandfather’s funeral. Another photo shows everyone gathered around the headstone of the grandchild who died shortly after birth. Or the series of photos from 2009 to 2012.
In the 2009 photo, my little brother is smiling big, his almost-white blond hair shining in the sun. The next year, the hair is gone and replaced with a black toque, with the words ‘Little Bald Angels’ (although the words are hidden in that picture). The hat is gone in the next picture, and his hair is back, darker this time. Then, in 2012, my brother is gone.
Other photos of him stick out in my mind. In one, he’s about 4 years old, and his face is covered in chocolate ice cream. That one was taken by my grandpa on a trip to the ice cream shop a few minutes away from their summer cabin. In another, he’s fast asleep facedown in a pile of picture books. My mom took that one after finding him on the floor in our family room, where he had been reading. He was younger than five. A picture taken on a trip to California when he was nine, standing in the ocean, clothes soaked, staring at the horizon. One with his smooth bald head and his leather aviator jacket, a LEGO model of a Star Wars ship on the table in front of him. That was taken by a professional photographer during a family session when he was eight. A closeup of his head, resting on his crossed arms, his bulky beige winter jacket surrounding him, his face lit up with a giant smile. Taken by a reporter to go with an article in our local newspaper.
Those photos mean all the more to me now. They are like windows into the past, retelling the story of my brother’s life, and my life with him. Each one reminds me of his unending energy, his wild-eyed excitement, his intense love for books and LEGO, his stubborn perseverance when it came to seemingly impossible video game levels. I remember how he laughed, either sounding like a machine gun or like Woody Woodpecker. I remember how passionately he would tell his stories to anyone who would listen. I remember how his smile would light up the room.
But the story isn’t always happy. The photographs also tell about the hospital stays, the long hours in treatment, the adverse side effects. The loss of his hair, his damaged immune system, the chemo-induced nausea. The weekly ritual of changing the dressing around the PICC line in his arm, the nightly ritual of flushing that line with saline and heparin. The sulphuric smell of the drugs he was on. The month that he spent in his room, to weak and tired to get out of bed.
The night he died.
But as much as pictures tell a story, they often need help. They need a voice to speak the words. And that’s what I want to do. I want to tell the story of my little brother, the battle that he bravely fought, and the people whose lives he touched.
       I want to tell the story behind the image.