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A Rite That Doesn’t Feel Right

First day of school, first kiss, first job, first sexual encounter, first car, first place of one’s own, first child… so many milestones in life. Unfortunately, not all are as happy as that or things which will be cherished memories down the road, but that doesn’t make them any the less important or impactful. I hit another milestone this year that fits that category – my first parent died.

My Mom passed away quietly last month after a couple of years of slowly fading into the void. Dementia had made it necessary for her to be somewhere where she could be looked after 24/7 three or four years ago. The path from there was uneven but always pointing in the same direction. Downwards. Stomach problems that had plagued her for much of her adult life were getting fiercer while the medical personnel could do increasingly little for her with her growing frailty. Many a phone conversation took place this past winter between concerned doctors and I that always revolved around the same things – if she were younger, stronger, more could be done , but at her advanced age with her numerous health issues, even comparatively minor procedures could end up costing her the life it was supposed to extend. Having to decide whether one’s own parent should be resucitated if unconscious, or given any medication aiming to do more than keep them comfortable, what they ultimately would want while far away are not the types of call that anyone would have to take in a perfect world.

But this isn’t a perfect world (it is however, the only one we’ve got as I point out as much as I can) and there’s a reason the phrase “circle of life” exists. I grieved of course, but knew as well that it was a part of life. A rite of passage I’ve been lucky to have been able to avoid into middle-age. My wonderful Dad and loving stepmom are still in the here and now, something a number of my counterparts haven’t been able to have for a long time.  A good fifteen years back I was a pallbearer for my friend Russ, who was burying his own Mom a decade or more after his Dad had gone on. And of course, I take comfort in realizing that she’s not suffering any more; the quality of life for her in the final few months, bed-ridden, weak and in pain more often than not isn’t much of a life after all. I take comfort in the hope/belief that she’s somewhere else now, reunited with two sisters who left this world long before her.

Being, fortunately, the first person close to me that I’ve had to be in charge of putting to rest, I’ve been lucky to have had a number of good people, kind souls, helping me through the process. To make sense of the paperwork, arrange the funeral preparations, design the marker for the cemetery. Which brings me to the point, in a long way round.

I was stuck with the question of what to put on her gravestone, to remember her to the world with. Obviously, like everyone else, I had her name front and center, and the dates when she entered and departed this existence. What was left was what more to say. What few words could tell the world who she was?

Wife/Mother/Educator/Gardener” .came to mind, before settling on a simple line I think would mean a lot to her : “Cymru am byth.”

I didn’t know that one either, but it is the motto of her homeland, Wales, and roughly means “Long Live Wales.” For although her time growing up there was only a small percentage of her life – she went to college in England and came to Canada soon afterwards – it shaped her ways, her thoughts and beliefs. She was proud of her adopted land, but never entirely left behind her homeland. Before I was school age, she’d already become a Canadian citizen. She made sure she voted and would be quick to put in her two cents worth about any politician or policy in the news. At varous times she was an ardent fan of both Toronto’s Maple Leafs and Blue Jays. But there was always Wales at her core; fond memories and a mindset that were integral to her. Few things she traveled with, from suitcases to cars, were missing a Welsh flag; the local supermarket probably stocked leeks (their national symbol) largely because of the volume she consumed in soups, stews, steamed… if there were Flakes of Leek in the cereal aisle, it would’ve been her breakfast. Cymru am byth.

It reminds me of an important lesson she taught. Always remember where it is you come from but be always be proud of where you are now. Of how far you’ve come. Or to quote Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” Which might not be the quote for her tombstone, but might be a very good one for all of us in the here and now.

Looking backwards, but moving ahead. RIP, Mom.

Let’s Hear It For Commercials…Just Not Too Loudly!

My sister-in-law hates commercials. She has the remote close by when watching TV so she can mute them, often while commenting on how much she hates the intrusion into her show. I think she’s not alone in that.

Somehow though, I’m an odd duck. I actually like commercials. I think I probably prefer watching a movie on a TV station with commercials than one of the premium ones lacking them (DVDs are another story, I’ll get to that…)

Now, don’t get me wrong. It annoys me just like everyone else when advertisers manage to suddenly increase the volume level by about 20 decibels to scream at you … I’m Canadian of course, and we’re polite. We don’t like a lot of screaming. The Canadian government actually passed laws designed to prevent the overly loud ads. Likewise, some ads are just plain annoying – those that aim to be serious but portray adults as incompetent simpletons and the endless pharmaceutical ones in the States which inevitably list possible complications far worse than the disease they’re trying to cure. My favorites of those are ones for asthma meds which may increase incidents of asthma, possibly resulting in death! Well, i suppose a dead person won’t be suffering asthma attacks anymore, so one way or the other, the product does its job!

But that said, I like commercials. Maybe it’s my background. Growing up, my uncle was in charge of a large advertising agency and he talked with pride about his commercials and the jingles he created, the most indelible of which is doubtlessly still ingrained in every Canadian over the age of 30’s head. Alas, he passed away before I got to the age where I could have taken advantage of the time-honored practice of nepotism to use in making my ability to be annoying and repetitive to good use.

Really though, commercials are a plus to me for three reasons. They can be informative, they’re fun and when they’re not, they give us needed breaks.

It goes without saying that the job of commercials is to sell their product and service, and as often as not the product they’re selling isn’t one I need. However, on the rare occasion something new comes out that I might have use for, chances are good that I’ll find out about it through a commercial somewhere. And for those which don’t tell me anything useful … what’s a good TV show without a drink to sip on? At least on a DVD, you can pause. Live TV though, not so much. Without those Lipitor or ladies’ shapewear ads, when would I make that run to the fridge, or percolator…or to the bathroom to, umm, make room for that next drink?

My real love of ads though, is the ones that entertain me. Wendy’s old ads with the red-haired girl who was obsessed with their food (Morgan Smith for the record, more recently Candi on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Veep. No word on whether she convinced President Meyer to serve burgers in the Oval Office like the real-life one does these days!) were always humorous. Much more so than their rival Burger King’s with the creepy, also red-haired “King” who as I remember it used to do things like look in girls’ bedroom windows at night to let them know about the latest Whopper offering.

Probably no industry has been better at making fun commercials though than one which is about as far removed from fun as we can get – insurance. Let’s face it – everyone hates having to have insurance and generally aren’t fans of the providers. If you’re not using it, it seems like money down the drain (which is going to clog that drain… good thing there are Drano commercials to let you know what to do about that) , and if you do have to use it, it’s always a bad time… often made worse by paperwork hassles and delays. For all that though, what other industry has given us so many 30-second invitations to laugh out loud?

From Progressive’s “Flo” to Farmers’ guy who’s seen it all to the Allstate’s hapless “Mayhem” (Dean Winters, who’ll forever be remembered for playing a raccoon in a 30-second bit much more than his John McFadden character in Sex and the City or the Battle Creek show he starred in), the ads for the annoying necessity are reasons to stay in the room and run to the fridge when the main program returns. The kings of that though are another insurance company. From the friendly traveling gecko to Eddie Money in a travel agency to squirrels – lots of squirrels – no one has made more great commercials of late than Geico. So much so they self-deprecatingly mocked themselves in a recent series of ads for non-existent DVDs of their ads, while having a real online poll for people’s favorite one. Last time I checked in the Hump Day camel was in the lead. My personal favorite was the action hero whose mom called to fill him in on the squirrel situation at her house.

They can be loud and annoying, or they can be fun and informative. A reason to walk away, or to stay in the room. And a few make you want to reach for the mute button. Which, come to think of it, makes commercials a lot like people.