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Category Archives: death

Sharon at the doorway (part one)

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When I think of her, of that last week when all of us swept the path clear before her, when we cradled her and Mike as best we could and walked to the doorway all together–I think of trying to tell an epic story. I think of Ereshkigal, “the fearsome woman under the earth”, and how when Sharon meets her, well, there’ll be some conflagration goin’ on in the underworld, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’d get along like a house afire. it was really something, you know, hanging out with someone as they’re dying, all that past, all that emotion, all the the weight of  love and sorrow and anger in the room–I thought i’d always remember, every detail of that week. But I don’t. I remember bits.

Sharon’s wheezy chuckle, getting fainter and fainter as the days ticked on, as she herself slipped away, got smaller and smaller. She was so big, I remember her as a big round vital woman–loud, kinda obnoxious and know-it-all sometimes. Generous as anything.

One night in the ward, Laura was there, too, Mike’s sister, and we were talking with Sharon, well, more with each other, Sharon was in and out of the conversation as wakefulness came and went like clouds scudding across a sky– I told Sharon, I said, “We’re gonna get a bench for you at Trout Lake. The plaque’s gonna say: In loving memory of Sharon Molloy: heart as big as the prairie sky–and farts as windy.” she practically snorted the oxygen tube out of her nose at that one.

And the day her brothers came to visit. Molly and Pat. Molly’s name is something regal like John Alexander or something, but everyone has called him Molly for most of his life. He was in the Armed Forces. they have nicknames for everyone there. These big men, they were so uncomfortable in the face of their big sisters’ mortality. They stood at the foot of the bed, looking at Sharon, not knowing what to say. What do you say to the sister who babysat you and kept your secrets from the old man and gave you scrambled eggs and kisses in the morning when you were all little, but she was bigger than all of you? When you see her there, as if she were shedding her skin, the final transformation taking place before your very eyes? it’s almost obscene, the intimacy of dying. Sharon had nothing to hide, everything that mattered to her was in our hands now. The brothers stood. hands awkward at their sides. Then they backed out of the room and looked kind of shocked-like at one another.

“Sure makes ya think about what’s important” said Pat. He’s younger than Molly.

“Sure does,” agreed Molly. He nodded, stuck his hands in his pockets. Lifted his shoulders to his ears.

“Gotta take time for the important things” said Pat, “while ya can. While ya can.” He looked up, kinda sideways at his big brother, “I got an idea,” he said, and touched Molly on the shoulder, laid his big hand on Molly’s shoulder, “Let’s you and me this summer, let’s go out to the lake in my boat. You come over for a couple of days, we’ll do some fishing.”

and Molly, he barely looked at Pat and then, it was almost as if it was reflex, he just said it, without hardly thinking, “Ah. I can’t. Gotta work.”

Molly retired from the Forces a long time ago. I can’t remember if he told Pat before that little talk or during or when, but now he works at a Home Depot in the city where he lives–

Ah, c’mon, Molly. Why didn’t I say anything then? Why didn’t I say, “Are ya paying attention? your sister is in there dying, and your brother here, he’s offering you something life-affirming! Take it, Molly, take it–you may never get another chance–”

But I didn’t. i watched that whole thing go down, and I didn’t say a word. I made a note, “i have to remember this”. I did not act.

there was a little portable tape player in Sharon’s room, where we played as much of her favourite music as we could. Stuff that we listened to when we were College girls right outta high school (but twenty years apart)–The Police and Supertramp and the Stones and Blondie and the Parachute Club (but they were later) and music that she and Mike loved, like U2, and Bob Marley, and hippie stuff from when she was a young mom in Edmonton, working at the Bank of Montreal, trying to be all urban and sophisticated.

She was always sophisticated. Always yearning to learn, always asking and thinking and talking and teaching. She had a baby and was married at 15, and before that, she was the oldest of six, so she never really had a childhood, or a youth to mis-spend. No one expected girls who “got themselves pregnant”  in the late 1950s in small Prairie mining towns to finish high school. Those girls, they were supposed to lie in the bed they’d made. Not Sharon, though. Oh no. She brought her baby to school with her and she got her Grade 12 diploma, and damn them all, she was smart and determined–she wanted to learn. She wanted to go through the doors that an education would open for her.

But those doors were difficult for her to find, even at that. Her husband was a brute, turned out. And there wasn’t much money, and the kids to raise (a girl, Sheryl, born in 1957 and a boy, David, born in 1962-same year as me) — until she went to College in 1981 at the age of 38. That’s where we met, she and I, Red Deer College. I was 18. She was my first grown-up friend.  I was all freaked out about the age difference, i had to call her “Mom” for at least the first year of our friendship, ’cause every other grown-up woman in my life up till then i had to call “Mrs.” or “Auntie”. In fact, a couple of years ago, I called Mrs. Munro, “Mrs. Munro” and she said, “Oh for heaven’s sake, Erin, you’ve lived in Vancouver for 20 years now, you can call me Colleen.”

That was a bit of a digression. sometimes my stories do that. zip around. I don’t think that Sharon ever met Colleen. anyhow it doesn’t matter. Sharon and I smoked each others’ cigarettes (I’m sure I smoked more of hers than she did of mine) and took classes together and talked about boys we liked–she had a big crush on a kinda rugged, troubled Newfie named, oh what was his name? Gerard? and I was all hung up on a beautiful young man (who smoked a lot of dope and knew all too well how handsome he was), named Phil. Sharon had a thing for the depressive, reclusive types. She was so gregarious and hopeful herself. I wonder what that was about?

Sharon’s daughter had a daughter and they were both at her side that last week, too. I hadn’t seen Carrie-Lynn since she was a little girl who would rush into my arms, ‘cept for once just after Shari moved to Van in ’91, and Carrie-Lynn was living at her dad’s , I think, in Surrey. By the time Sharon was on her way out, Carrie-Lynn had two children of her own. She showed us all pictures. Sharon was sewing pyjamas for them when she died. I guess Carrie-Lynn took them with her and finished them.

It’s late now. I have to sleep. this will have to do for now…part two will be soon, I expect…

memorial mementos

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I said i’d write about the memorials the past week. Two Gitksan women died within a week or so of each other, both well-known and well-loved of a certain neighbourhood in Vancouver–the notorious Downtown Eastside. you know it. it was “skid row” before it became  a place on the margins of the direction from which the sun rises.

down.

east.

side.

town.

it’s its own town, that place, for sure. sometimes it might just as well be a different planet. But Phillipa Ryan was an intergalactic warrior, and you could find her at demonstrations for Palestine, Chiapas, at Take Back the Night (when there was TBTN in Vancouver–it’s been a few years now), the February 14 Women’s Memorial March–all over the down town; all over the up town. She was in the face of The Man.

She worked at The Dugout, a drop-in centre in that marginal downtown town, and organized with Grassroots Women and the Downtown Eastside Women’s Center Power of Women group and she wrote for The Dominion and she hollered at cops and she was filled with righteous rage, and not a shred of hatred. She said, “I will die undefeated” (according to someone’s facebook page, I don’t know that person, but she knew Phillipa, and it sounds like something Phillipa would say)–and she did. She died undefeated, the revolution not yet accomplished, but her belief in its aims and its eventual success undimmed. She was not everywhere, she did not protest for the sake of protesting.

She worked for freedom. She believed we could accomplish an end to racist imperialism–she knew women did not want to leave their homelands, she didn’t want to leave her homeland, but poverty brought her to the city, as it does many people from the reserves.

She believed we could accomplish an end to pimping and trafficking of women’s bodies. She knew we could end the flesh trade on the streets, in hotel rooms, in the sweat shops, from the docks–she knew that all women suffer when one of us is bought or sold; when one of us is beaten or raped. She knew we could do better. Knew it.

She believed we could accomplish an end to wealth, and equitable redistribution of resources. She herself lived redistribution. When the Dugout got more of something than they could use, she would walk it over to the Women’s Centre. When she came to a meeting, or a conference, or a roundtable discussion, she brought something to share with everyone–candy, or cookies or some sweet things. She was a participant in the Flesh Mapping Conversations (see http://www.rapereliefshelter.bc.ca click on “events” go to Flesh Mapping) in 2008. For 16 days she came, every afternoon, and brought a bag of candies to share. Not only that, she shared her prodigious knowledge of the history of colonization, and the traffick since contact with Europeans, of Indigenous women, and the links between the oppressed people of the Americas.

I was there, too, most of the days. A little intimidated by the women around me, not always confident that i deserved to be among them. But finally, little by little, I realized that full participation was not just a privilege (though it was certainly that) it was my responsibility to speak with authority. After all those years of answering phones and going on raids and writing speeches and going to court with women and opening the house at one a.m. for another woman and her kids and talking with women through pelvic exams and memories of incest and cooking meals with women from a half-dozen different nations and — there was a lot I had learned that it was (is) important to share with other women…

Anyhow. so I finally stepped up, and offered some serious and important contributions to the conversations. At the celebratory dinner on the final day of the conversations, near the end of the night, Phillipa and I were at the coat rack at the same time, and she grinned at me and said, “Well, looks like you grew up, eh?” I can’t remember if she said, “finally”, but if she did, it was kind, because she was, as Lee said of her, “kind and disciplined”.

She looked at everyone, and she saw them. She had regard for everyone, and treated everyone with respect–but she did not suffer bullies or fools. She was filled with rage. righteous anger. knowledge, understanding and unshakable faith that what she had to offer mattered. And so did her comrades in the glorious struggle. All of us–from the West Coast to the Nass Valley; from BC to Pakistan to Mexico to Palestine. At her memorial, women and men from all of those places spoke about her ferocious love, her bright humour, her anger, her discipline–all of what she meant to them. And weaving through all of those stories was her belief in the freedom we will make together.

That’s how she could do it, all those meetings, all those demos, all that talking and writing and hollering at the cops–she knew we will win. so now we’d better use what she taught us, the gifts that she offered.Continue to make freedom together.

And Marlene. Marlene’s memorial also featured The Women’s Warrior Song…sung by women, to lay the cedar boughs along the path for the deceased to follow to the next leg of their journey. Our voices quavered more singing Phillipa home, but for both women, our upraised fists were joyous, determined. Marlene had some trouble all along. her health was poor–lupus, arthritis–she died, apparently, of an aneurysm. Sneaky sudden devastating.

Marlene’s mother had also died young, when Marlene was still a child. She graduated high school, came to the big city, nearly got lost–found work (she always worked)–saw her kids on holidays and some weekends–fell to drinking for periods of time. The despair of poverty, the weight of her potential, the rage she could not acknowledge–class race sex inequality all of it squished her–

but she rose. Her colleagues and employers knew we could depend on her. Knew she would be level and fair. Knew she would do her best to lead and to follow with integrity. She worked and she went to school and she loved children and old people and she threw herself into learning and walked miles and miles to serve her elders, make a difference, love her children–she had a grandchild, too, a little boy named Thunder–her quiet son Chuck’s little boy. both of them were at the memorial, and her stricken daughter-in-law, Lisa.

We were there. the women she worked with, and the women she grew up with, and the women she drank with, and the women she learned with, and the women who supported her and the women who fought with her–all of us also women who loved her. Men too. Cousins and friends and colleagues and men who were of the Gitksan nation, too. Not her boyfriend, though. Nor her ex, the one I met. She deserved ever so much better than she got from men.

We all do. All that suffering? it can all be traced back to male domination of women. all of it. no surprise there, eh.

A week before she died, Marlene went on a kayak trip with some people from her work. She had never been in a kayak before, a little afraid of them, she was. There are pictures of her that day. She is shining joy. A fear faced–an adventure. The company of women. Sunshine, water, some space to breathe clean air.

Those were two women. Two well-loved and honoured women. Two of too many gone. I have the service folder from Marlene’s memorial. I have a scarf from Phillipa. I have these mementos. And the memories and the challenge to rise on their behalf, in their memory. To rise and make room. To make freedom together.

man troubles

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so, I was working in the drop-in when this guy came in. now, this is a place that’s for women–but it’s this weird kind of parallel universe where you don’t really have to actually have been raised female, look female, act female or talk female in order to be considered female. never mind that the gender training you received well into adulthood was to be a man–you can just sashay in there and say, “yea. i’m a woman. I got a piece of paper from this doctor who says i’m female.” or not. whatever. makes me wanna set my fuckin’ hair on fire. So…here we are, a big man with a goatee, track pants, big belly, deep voice, “I was born female”, he says, “i don’t understand what your issue is, I’m a woman and I should be here.”

yea, I think, I’m a fucking dolphin and they still make me pay to go to the aquarium, and then i never get to swim with my people…suck it up, princess…

My co-worker says, “i can’t even talk to him, i’m so angry–that’s not a woman’s beard, that’s landscaped.”

another co-worker came in at the same time as upon our man, and was the first to speak to him. whew. i don’t like it when it’s me, ’cause there’s been a ‘draft’ policy for years that kinda changes all the time, and I’m the most outspoken proponent of having the place be “women only”, so i fear that people think I hate trannies, which is not the case, I just…dammit, I just want there to be some place around that’s for women only. please?

Anyhow…so my co-worker, you know, we’ve all been in these fights about being essentialist and exclusionary and bigoted and oh my god transphobic , and she doesn’t want to do the wrong thing, and she wants to be inclusive and good–so she does the wrong thing. lets him walk through the women’s centre to get a coffee, the crowded women’s centre–and promises that we will bring him lunch outside.

give ’em an inch…

As he walks, there’s a ripple of murmur and grumble in his wake. I hear women say, “they shouldn’t let it in here”. Which, you know, is true–except for the “it” part. He’s human, he deserves dignity, respect–even if he does not offer it. He’s damaged, he can’t–letting him walk through the centre was no favour to him or to the women who are there. he gets his coffee, ambles back to the door, leaves. but hangs out close to the door, looking in whenever a woman opens the door to come in or go out.

i go out to ask him to please move to the back door, where my co-worker will give him a lunch. he asks why he can’t come in. I say because your right to self-identify does not trump the womens right to a safe place. i wanted to say, ‘if you are, as you claim, a woman, you would understand immediately what the problem is, and take care of the women around you’. If he were a butch woman, he would not have behaved with such entitlement and belligerence. No way. Even the women who become constructed men, ‘transmen’, and want to still use women’s spaces–they (because, hey, they’re women) will ask in advance if they can come in. They will call a meeting or something–and they’ll back off if told ‘no’. They won’t shout and holler and call in the lawyers. Not in my experience, anyhow.

I suspect, too, that transmen don’t have any trouble getting into all-male space because men don’t gather together to protect each other, to figure out what it is to be male in a world dominated by women–they do it to protect unearned privilege and power–they are not under siege. Unless they are Aboriginal men or refugees or African-Canadian or in some category of “other”. And I don’t know about the intent or structures of those groups. I suspect they need women in them, though, to help them be human.Plus, men don’t really see women, unless they’re, you know, ‘girl from ipanema-ish’. So women can ‘pass’ for the most part, seems to me.

anyhow. so. buddy ate his lunch outside. He pouted. We ignored him. He left. i have no doubt he’ll be back. There are more and more men who come in there. They do not all live “as women” outside, they say they are women when it suits them. Some are consistent, they go around claiming to be women and accessing women’s spaces and we make room for them because, oh, you know, it’s so hard for them (and perhaps we are afraid of them…as we are afraid of men, as a class–isn’t that so? hell hath no fury, I tell ya…). Yea. they do have it hard, but maybe they feel bad because they know, whatever it was that drove them to get all hacked off and tucked in and implanted is still there, they’re still not who they want to be, but there they are now, among women, and they still don’t fit, and how uncomfortable is that? and because they’re men, they get all weird and entitled and defensive.

and dangerous, as well. nothing worse than a damaged man powerless in the world and cornered. yikes. And the women in the women’s center, they know all about the harm that damaged and angry men can do. Even here, in a place that’s supposed to be for women, they are not safe from the rage of men. good lord. The centre has had to ban some of these guys because they’ve harassed women outside, gained access to them inside…not all of them, for sure, but c’mon. Not ONE woman has been found to be a danger to the rest of the women as a whole like some of the men (trannies) have been. What does that tell ya?

ach. apparently there are ongoing discussions in staff meetings about what to do about the men. this is a divisive and troubled discussion here at the drop-in, as these discussions are at every space that women have carved out. once again, men getting in between women’s relationships with each other, sucking up resources we could be directing toward women’s liberation (or at the very least, a little solace in captivity).

argh. see? all this energy on a post about men. i’m gonna write a paper about prostitution and harm reduction now. and go to the gym. Squats, Deadlifts–Core strengthening for the glorious revolution. I’ll tell ya about the two memorials i went to this week, too–some time, i promise. later.

i will

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…soon post about Phillipa’s memorial/wake/ceremony/feast

She was a wealthy woman, was Phillipa. you could tell because she was always giving. always. sweets. presents. food. heart, her big heart. laughter. rage. love. righteous angry tenderness. all at once. she knew, she taught us so that we know, that we will win. i’ll tell ya about it later. i’m full and sleepy.

My Dad’s friend…

died this Monday morning. Mom just called to tell me.

Dad and Dennis used to go out for lunch once a week. Before Dad became all parkinsonian and disabled, they would go play golf. Sometimes when i was home visiting, i would have coffee with Dad and Dennis. We would sit in the dining room of the condo complex where Mom and Dad lived, and Dennis and Dad would trade monosyllables, but mostly just sit quiet for about an hour. Seemed longer.  Then Dennis would pick up his cell phone and call someone. “yea” he’d say, “You gonna be there?” and he’d grunt and say, “see ya in half an hour”. Then he would get up and say “Okay John, I’ll see you later”.

Dad would respond, “Yep, Dennis. We’ll see you”.

Dennis took Dad to his store in Stettler. Dad loved to drive, then when he could no longer drive, he loved to go for drives. Dennis took Dad out for lunch long after it was easy to get Dad out and about.

Dad died in June, 2005. Dennis didn’t go to his funeral. Dennis doesn’t do funerals. He’s not even gonna go to his own. But the next day, he came to the door of Mom and Dad’s apartment, and when Mom opened the door, Dennis just opened his arms to her. When they separated from that uncharacteristic embrace, Mom asked Dennis if he’d like coffee and we all sat at the table together.

“Goddammit!” said Dennis, crying, “I miss him so much. I could talk to John about anything!”

I thought, “how?” I guess men are like that. Men of a certain age, perhaps. And class. They stare at each other, and smile and sip coffee, and tug on the brims of their ball caps. As they get older, they become tender with one another. Like Dennis, helping Dad up into his truck, fastening the seatbelt and closing the door for him. Small intimacies.

When Dennis died on Monday, his daughter said, “he loved John” and Mom said, “oh, yes. I know. John loved your dad, too.” Neither man would EVER, in a MILLION YEARS say to his old, tender friend, “I love you.” But we knew. We knew because that love between you spilled over to us.And of course the women in their lives are always willing to find the scraps of caring between men, and translate for them. That act of witnessing that women do, that translation service we provide, is part of the emotional work we are always doing for men.

It’s beautiful and frustrating, watching men like that, who love each other. That kind of love, it’s not grudging, it’s more than respect, it’s not competitive and it’s not spoken, (cause it’s a bit scary for them, poor little muffins). That kind of love frightens them because it’s powerful, in a way they are not used to having power. So they develop a callus of masculinity over it. As they aged, my father and his friend, they gradually relaxed and showed their friendship a little easier. They didn’t have to explain their time together as ‘business meetings’, or ‘a Kiwanis function’. They just were together. and the space between them cluttered with all that unspoken intimacy, care, fear, curiosity, love. Somehow, I guess, they ‘talked about anything’ as Dennis said.

Once, when I was in Junior High School, I was in a speech contest. I had to write a five-minute speech and learn it, and then say it to an audience of teachers and students and judges. My dad asked his Kiwanis group if I could practice on them, and they agreed. Tough crowd. Dennis was the only one who had a comment, a suggestion for me. He loved my dad, so he listened to me.

He was a tough guy, smiled rarely, held himself tall and square. I liked Dennis. I liked his face. Clean-shaven, a firm chin, deep-set eyes, something kind about him. He had a warm way, even if he was kind of growly. He suffered. Men do, I think, because they have too much power and not the social skills to re-distribute it, or awareness at least, of how to carry it. years ago, he and his wife broke up, and one of his daughters stopped talking to him. She was by his side nearly every day as he was dying, though. Trying to know him again, trying to … make it right.

I guess he talked to Dad about that. his marriage, his worrisome grandson, (Dad had a worrisome grandson, too), his sorrow and regret. Some of that was silent, that communication. Most of it, i think. and a lot of it was on the way to Stettler in Dennis’ truck.

Anyway. Both of them are gone now. I think my brother has friends like Dennis. Men who will always know one another, and grow into old tender friends,  but never say “i love you”. It’s complicated, that tenderness between old men.

Goodbye, Dennis. We miss you. If I believed in a life after this, I would ask you to give Dad a hug and a kiss for me, and tell him I love and miss him, too. But I don’t. so I won’t. Anyway, you might have trouble with the kiss part.