Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Tomorrow, the first Sunday of Advent, will be one year from the last time my husband and I were out with friends. Arnie was the last person from our social circle that Brent had a serious conversation with and laughed with. Five days later Brent was gone.

Tomorrow, I will be with these dear friends again - Arnie and Cheryl, Cindy, Ruth and Larry and their extended family, enjoying a lovely Christmas brunch at Heritage Park, just like one year ago. We all spent time this morning celebrating Arnie's birthday and then I took a drive to remember Brent.

Brent loved the Calgary Zoo. For Christmas one year, I purchased an annual pass for the family and he said it was the best gift he ever received. He went so often, even our son declined to go with him after a while. The zoo has just fully reopened after $50 million damage and devastation by Calgary's historic June flood. It was too late for me to go into the grounds, so I walked along the river south of St. George's Island as the sun was entering its golden hour, shining against the skylights on Destination Africa where the intelligent Western Lowland Gorillas live. Before they moved to this beautiful enclosure, Brent had a close encounter with the troop in their previous digs. He loved to stare down the patriarch of the pack, even thumping on the glass to get his attention (a behaviour that is now banned by the keepers). Brent got his attention, all right. The large male stood up and took a run at the glass, hitting it with his shoulder like a football linebacker with a loud crash that reverberated through the building. I could just picture him breaking through the glass and ... well, I try not to think about that.

I look left and see the sun glinting off the glass enclosed Conservatory that houses the botanical and butterfly gardens, a place we spent many happy moments watching the beautiful creatures flitter and thrill. No risk of attack here, although I did see one quiet man sitting so still, there were 3-4 butterflies who comfortably settled on his hat. He just beamed. Brent said he could never sit still long enough for that.

As I watched the sun slide down and the shadows rise up, I turned my eyes to the river and the broken ice floating like sheets of styrofoam in the eddies along the shore. The river runs fast here, making rapids due to submerged rocks. Ducks and Canada Geese dot the water and sky. The snow is slushy and I skip a few rocks across the calm section. Brent could make them skip 7-8 times.

He would have been so moved by the June flood, exploring the river and how its course has changed, commenting on the devastation and the altered channels and how many people were displaced, reading every news story and absorbing the documentaries of repairs and rebuild to Stampede, the Saddledome, downtown and the many residences. He may have even been on call with the emergency team for his company.

As it begins to cool down, I think about one Christmas break when we toured the zoo with our dear friends, Vern and Janet and their family, bundled up against the cold, being swarmed by ducks as we buy seed to scatter for them. Knowing how curious Brent would have been to see the damage and repairs inside the zoo, I'll have to go visit soon, in his honour, and I think it will be easy to imagine him walking ahead of me as he often did - anxious to get to the next enclosure - always a faster walker than I ("Can't you walk a little faster?"), talking constantly about this change and that, and which animal is next and why aren't more of them in their enclosures where we can see them? His excitement extended to every city we visited in our travels. If there was a zoo, it was on our agenda to see it while we were there.

I return to the car and take St. George's drive around the zoo island and, of course, must drive the short distance north to Peter's Drive In. How many times did we go for burgers and milkshakes at this famous joint? Even when I didn't care for the food, the drive and his delight at the taste of the popular drive through food was enough to make the trip worth taking. It was an event in itself some days and we frequently combined the zoo and Peter's when we entertained out of town visitors.

I ordered a plain burger and a double marshmallow shake. Brent would order grape! I head east on Highway 1 to the new ring road, Stoney Trail, knowing if Brent were here, he would insist we have to drive the newly opened section and I would gladly go along for the ride. We did love our road trips, exploring the city and the mountains. In fact, he would have taken this drive the first day it opened. He was so looking forward to having this road completed and would again have been delighted. It reminds me of when we lived in Riverbend and the city finally built an overpass at the intersection of 18th Street and Glenmore Trail. For the entire time it was being built and for almost a year afterward, he would exclaim frequently, "This is just the best thing they could have ever done, building this overpass. Have I told you how much I love that they built this?!" Of course he had (how many times?!) and it became a regular joke between us.

He loved any improvements to the city roadways that removed barriers and stop lights. He hated stopping at stop signs and red lights. He was always about getting where he was going as fast as he possibly could. I asked him once, as he expressed disgust at having to stop at a red light, "Do you expect you should be able to go through life without ever having a red light?" He paused, and then with a twinkle in his eye and a laugh, said, "Yes!'

He would have been delighted to know the lights were all green for me as I finished my maiden voyage around the SE leg of the ring road and exited for home. A sweet road trip, remembering what delighted him.

But lest you think it was always happy, I must say that some of his delight and joking was tempered by my response. If you're married, or hope to be, can I share one thing I've learned that might help you avoid making the same mistake I did? It's really easy, after 31 years with the same person, to lose interest in the things that delight your spouse because they aren't really your "cup of tea". I have been witness to wives who actually mock their husbands for some of their hobbies simply because they don't share the same interests. And vice versa.

As I have been reflecting today, I realize the times that Brent was happiest were the times he was out and about, seeing the animals in the zoo, exploring new roads and places in our city. He had an adventurer's heart, and though his interests and mine were often very different, it took so little for me to encourage him by going along. This is a gift we can give our spouses: our willing presence and participation with them in what feeds their soul and delights them. I didn't always go with Brent but I readily encouraged him to take visitors. Nothing delighted him more than to do that except when I would join him - he always thanked me for coming and would say, "Now wasn't that worth it?" It always was.

Oh, how I wish now I had gone every time he asked!

On the July long weekend in 2012, we went camping. This is my favourite thing to do. Brent? Not so much. He preferred the comforts of home and would have owned a full sized motor home if he'd had his druthers. But I was fine with the little 17' trailer we had, small and cosy. We met up with friends, although we were in different campgrounds. The weather was drizzly and overcast.

Brent loved looking for grizzly bears in their known hangout spots, but the rain really put a damper on things, including our hiking, "bear hunting" and beloved campfire time. At the end of the weekend, he said, "I really wasn't enjoying myself and the weather made things miserable. I just wanted to pack up and go home. But when I see how being in the mountains feeds your soul, I decided to stay, because I wanted you to have that experience." I was deeply touched. That is loving sacrifice, setting aside his own preferences so that I could enjoy my happy place.

Another happy place for Brent was at the Flames game. He taught me to love hockey. He loved having season tickets and his bucket list included "Seeing an NHL game in every arena in the league." He visited 17 out of 30. Four of them were on our last vacation. I even gave up going to see a Broadway show so we could all go to game 7 of round 2 of the playoffs for the New York Rangers in Madison Square Gardens. This is a big deal and it was the experience of a lifetime. I'm glad I didn't insist on my own way that day. It was the last hockey game we saw together.

How did stress and depression crowd out all that fun? These are the dark memories where I dare not dwell.

Encourage the things that make your spouse smile. It costs you nothing to be generous. Set aside your agenda for just a short time to engage with theirs. Not that you have to spend every waking moment together, or always do the same things. Their hobbies don't have to be yours, but the one-flesh union is strengthened by supporting each other's interests. Of course, there is a balance to strike, and each of us must attune ourselves to how much time we indulge ourselves vs. how much time with share with others. It is a loving thing we do when we take an interest in what fascinates them and in the process, our lives are expanded. You expect your spouse to take an interest in what interests you, don't you? The paint colour or the current day's challenge of your career, or what cute/frustrating thing the children did or the success you've had in your workout or diet or the latest, greatest shopping bargain you found or artistic/craft item you've completed?

Or in my case, it was sharing with Brent the memorable experience of seeing grizzly bear #64 with her twins one year and her triplets the next. Or the eight moose, the two grizzlies and the black bear we saw with my nephew Tommy and Amy. Or wolf in our yard in Rainbow Lake. Or the anniversary night at Mt. Engadine Lodge where the moose came to graze in the meadow at twilight. Or the walk through the zoo when we laughed over the heads of the three young Gowing girls we were babysitting for the weekend as they asked curious questions about the elephants mating. So many memories, so many stories to tell and re-tell and so many laughs we shared.

I will cherish every memory of Brent at the zoo and on the road. The ones where we laughed the most are the ones where I was a willing, supportive participant in helping him find his happy place. I think I can maybe hear him chortling now, as he recalls these memories from heaven and discusses God's design choices on all those big animals at the Calgary Zoo.


  1. What a beautiful post, Joyce! I hope it was as much of a delight to write as it was to read. Bless you today.

    1. I must be a "true writer" because it sure took me a lot of time to write that! It's hard work, like mining a jewel, but yes, there is satisfaction when I hit "publish". :-) Thank you for your kind remarks.

  2. How lovely! You were such an amazing partner for Brent. These memories bare witness to this. You can feel comfort and reassurance in this. Lenora

    1. Lenora, you are very gracious, however, I don't know that the term "amazing" applies to anything except God's grace. Brent and I were very different and we were fairly typical with those differences resulting in inevitable conflict. What I share is in 20/20 hindsight, how I hope I would be different now, knowing what I know. My prayer is that my hard-learned lessons could give perspective to other couples who might have similar conflicts. - Joyce

  3. Joyce, sharing these memories of Brent was such a courageous and loving thing to do. Not only does it help you find solace in your loss, but it gives the rest of us a little glimpse into the person Brent was. We miss him too, in our own ways. God bless you and Andrew as you look back on the life you shared with Brent. Gwen and Ed Rempel

    1. Thanks, Gwen. I'm trying to declutter my memories and keep the jewels of the great times...

  4. Makes me think of our adventure to the Calgary Zoo. Makes me :) Thanks for sharing all the wonderful memories! Love ya!

    1. Love you too, Jill. You can always reprise your visit! That would make me :)

  5. Thanks for sharing this, Joyce. For all of our involvement with you over the years we never did get to know Brent as well as we would have liked, and I am looking forward to discussing with him some of these experiences you have described. Donna is the camper in our family and would have loved to have done far more of it, but her grump of a husband likes his nice mattress and home comforts too much. Thanks for the encouragement to share more. I am trying to go on walks with her, which delights her, and her delight makes the walk worthwhile. Your post has been a very good reminder to keep growing together.