Care Partnering, Life & Living, Memories

yesterday if not sooner would have been better


Flashback November 8, 2011: “I don’t really want to have all those bags in there,” Mom says for the hundredth time as she walks into the den where I sit on the sofa with my laptop.

“I know.” I answer. My mostly unpacked suitcases are still on the living room floor across the hall in various states of disarray. Socks and shirts and skirts and shawls attempt to escape with mixed success. It’s been a little over a week, and it’s a bit of a mess I must admit.

“We’ll have to take them upstairs. The two of us. I don’t think I can carry them myself,” Mom astutely observes.

“I can’t carry them either,” I agree.

“We’ll have to get Lorne to do it then!” She says, clearly frustrated. Lorne is a local house painter, contractor, jack-of-all-trades and second son to Mom; he’s her go-to guy if my brother is not available to do this-that-or-the-other-thing. “Poor Lorne,” Mom says. Poor Lorne indeed.

“I’ll unpack them and gradually bring the stuff upstairs. I’ll do it as fast as I can.” I have a plan, but its execution is too slow for Mom who likes things done in Mom time, which is pretty much as soon as she notices it needs to be done regardless of what you might be doing when her priority pops onto the radar screen. Mom’s tasks trump all others. It’s been like that for, well, as long as I can remember.

“What will we do with the suitcases?” she asks.

“I don’t know. We’ll put them in the…I don’t know. We’ll find a place for them.” I continue to tap tap tap on my laptop and only partly pay attention. It’s tough to actively participate in the same conversation you’ve had five, ten, fifteen and twenty minutes ago and at least thirty-nine times yesterday. Meanwhile, Mom bounces back and forth between the den and living room.

“’Cause you don’t want to ruin the suitcases by putting them somewhere where it’s too damp or something. We’re going to have to put them somewhere where it’s…where they’re going to stay good.”

“Yes,” I agree. She leaves my side and crosses the hall again.

“And there are only so many places in the house. So we’re going to have to think about where we’re going to put them. They maybe could go in a cupboard somewhere. Because you see there’s one, two, three, four, five, six, bags,” she counts. I tap, tap, tap, fingers flying.

“I know.”

“And they’re all full!”

“I know.”

“No. There are seven! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven. There are seven. Because there is one big box here…” her voice trails off.

“Yes,” I sigh. She doesn’t hear because she’s in the other room and even if she were right beside me she wouldn’t hear anyway despite the fact that her hearing is perfect. It’s the bit that goes from the ear to the brain that’s not one hundred per cent. Or maybe information gets lost in the brain itself. Somebody somewhere may have the physiological answer but it doesn’t matter because they’re not here in this house with my mother right now and I am and what would I do with the information anyway even if I had it?

“I don’t know what’s in there. Because something, something, something’s gone wrong, I don’t know what’s happened to it. I don’t know what’s in it, because there are two big holes in the back.”

“Yup.” She’s talking about the box the spinning contraption for my bike is in; the box has holes in it and part of the equipment, which weighs a ton, is sticking out. It’s an odd looking thing that has her bamboozled.

“It’s torn you see. It’s gone squeegee.” Squeegee is one of Mom’s favourite words. It means broken, screwed up, messed up, not right, not as it should be. She and I and the box are all a bit squeegee. And we’re going to get squeegier and squeegier in the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that follow. Oh my yes. I can see it coming. Like a whole host of tornadoes skipping across Kansas in storm season. Hold on to your hat Toto!

“I don’t know what’s in there. So tomorrow we’re going to have to sort out these things because I can’t have all that stuff sitting in the living room.”

“I know.”

“Because people come in and where am I going to put them? So we’re going to have to take those boxes up, or open them up, and put them wherever you want them upstairs. We’ll have to clear out some of the cupboards upstairs.”

“I know. That’s what I’ve been trying to do Mom the last couple of days, Mom. Clear out the cupboards so there’s room for my stuff, but I haven’t been able to do it as quickly as I would’ve liked.”

“Well then I can help you, because I  don’t want them all sitting in my living room. So we’ll have to take them upstairs, and maybe you can unpack some of them, I don’t know. And I don’t know if I have enough cupboard space to put them all in like that. I’m not sure, we’ll have to look at the cupboards first.”


“We’ll have to see what we’ve got up there.” She goes back into the living room. “Because you see you’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven–you’ve got at least seven things and one of them is this huge…there are two huge…huge… Well there’s one really big one. I couldn’t possibly–”

“I can’t lift them either.”

“Eh?” She comes back into the den.

“I can’t lift any of them either,” I repeat.

“Well that’s why were going to have to get Lorne. You’re going to have to phone him.”

“I’m going to unpack them down here Mom, and take the stuff up in stages.”


“I’m not going to carry the suitcases up.”

“Okay, but where are we going to put the suitcases?”

“I don’t know Mom, we’ll have to figure that out when they’re empty.”

“‘Cause you don’t want to ruin the suitcases.”

“I know, but I’m not thinking about that right now. The first task is to empty them.”

“And then you’re going to have to have them in a place where you’re sure they’re going to stay firm and good,” she says as if they are so many pieces of fruit instead of suitcases.

“I agree.”

“Because they’re expensive bags!”

“I know.”

“You’ve got to have them in a place where there’s not too much…umm….hmm…ummm…What do you call it when it’s in a house? It’s ummm. Well, I mean I can think about what the word is. But it’s…it’s…You don’t want to ruin all your suitcases.” Mold, Mom, the word you want is mold.

“I agree,” I say.

“Just because you have to take all your clothes out of them.”

“I know.”

“We’ve got to find a good place to put the suitcases.”


She’s back in the living room now. “Because you’ve got one, two, three, four, five, six suitcases and none of them is small. Well there’s one pink one that’s kind of small, and a black one and there’s the cat sleeping beside one of them.” She comes back into the den.“You’re going to have to make arrangements for all this stuff, depending on how long you’re going to stay,” she says.

“I’m staying forever,” I reply.

“Oh,” she says. That stops her dead. For about three minutes. And then we begin again.

“When are you going to get these boxes and bags out of here?”

It takes me another week. Yesterday if not sooner would have been better.

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Care Partnering, Life & Living, Memories

yes mom, yes mom, three bags full


baa baa black sheep,
have you any wool?
yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.

one for the master,
one for the dame,
one for the little boy who lives down the lane.

baa baa black sheep
have you any wool?
yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.

English nursery rhyme


October 26 – November 5, 2011: One, two, three bags and a carry on accompany me from Dubai to Montreal via Frankfurt. I purchased the three-case set when my ex and I split up in 2005; it made it easier to manage my luggage alone on trips back and forth to Canada. The HUGE-, medium- and small-sized cases in the set attach together to form a “train” I can tilt and tow despite their substantial collective weight when they’re all full, which they most certainly are on this final trip “home.”

I treat myself to a two-night layover at the Kempinski Gravenbruch, my favourite place to pit-stop in Europe to reduce the effects of jet lag. I’ve stayed at the Kempinski many times as I to-ed and fro-ed between the United Arab Emirates and Canada over a period of eighteen years. This is likely be my last visit. Four super-stuffed and much heavier bags and my specially boxed road bike are following by FedEx, which surprisingly prove to be the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to get them from the Middle East to Mom’s.

Lynn, my long-suffering part-time personal assistant, is mopping up the rest of my Dubai life. Before I left I got rid of seemingly endless boxes full of books and papers as well as the unwanted and/or unneeded detritus I had accumulated in my two-bedroom flat during the previous eighteen months. We labeled things I couldn’t bear not to have back with me someday with orange sticky dots, and decided which pieces of furniture would be stored and later shipped to wherever I might choose to settle in some distant future. Whatever wasn’t thrown out, given away or orange-dotted Lynn will sell. Besides stuff, I shed several buckets of tears. Lynn sniffled occasionally; she’s more stoic than I.

The trip itself is uneventful: a six-and-half-hour overnight flight from Dubai to Frankfurt, two nights at the Kempinski, an eight-hour day flight onward to Montreal, and a two-hour drive from the airport to Mom’s place in Quebec’s rural Eastern Townships. I move relatively easily from one side of the world to another as I have done so many times before. But this time I’ve also ripped myself out of a life I loved, scrunched myself into a ball as a writer might an unwanted page in a difficult manuscript and tossed myself into the wastepaper basket of a destiny I hadn’t bargained for.

Some things in my new life are utterly familiar. As usual, Mom wants me to unpack, “get organized” and toe the line before I even have the chance to take off my proverbial coat. The FedEx-ed bags arrive the day after I do, and five days later all my luggage except for my carry on, which I had quickly emptied, and my bike, which is being reassembled at a local sports store, remain mostly intact in the living room because the suitcases are too bulky and heavy to maneuver up Mom’s steep stairs.

I have begun to unpack in fits and starts and carry bits and pieces up to my bedroom, but I’m more focused on doing what I have come to do (i.e. care for Mom) than I am on doing what Mom wants me to do (i.e. get those damn suitcases out of the living room!). Having lived with her for three months each of the previous six years, I know how little time I will have to do anything that doesn’t center on her. The semi-unpacked rag tag bags are the first sign of how much I have underestimated the enormity of my task.

Whenever Mom walks by the door to the living room, which is thirty-nine times a day if not more, we have a version of the same conversation. Again. And again. And again. And my answer is always something like “yes, Mom, yes Mom, three bags full.”

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