Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father by Murray Howe

I will not rate this book. It is not a book a chose to read for myself and one that I didn’t get to finish as it should have.

Unrated.
Paperback, 240 pages.
Read from August 2019 to December 2019.

I will not rate this book. It is not a book a chose to read for myself and one that I didn’t get to finish as it should have. This book means far too much to me now to rate it. I bought this book almost a year to the day for my dad on Father’s Day 2019. It was a day that I couldn’t physically be present for since I live halfway across the globe from my family currently. It had also just been, at the time, just over a month since my dad was given 6 months to live.

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My dad with the book I sent him on Father’s Day 2019 eating his favourite cereal and wearing his old-timer team’s shirt. We would often get this cereal for him on father’s day as a treat because he would always share with us and it wasn’t something we were regularly allowed to eat.

My dad was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in August 2018. His cancer had spread to his bones despite him doing all the right things like getting regular doctor’s check-ups. Even with the late-stage diagnosis, we all thought my dad would breeze through treatment and we would have a good and solid two or three years with him, especially considering how young and healthy he was, it’s what all the doctor’s told us too. Unfortunately, after a variety of failed treatments that nearly killed him, twice, he opted to enjoy the remaining time that he had left. Sadly, that time was short, a mere 6 months.

Anyone that has lived with someone who has cancer or has had cancer knows the difficulties. It’s something that can’t be explained if you’ve never experienced it. The utter exhaustion, the despair of not being able to do more or relieve the loved one’s pain or take their cancer away, the frustration of unfairness, the denial of how bad things will be or are going to get to shelter yourself and the cancer sufferer, and for myself, the guilt of living so far away. I lost count how many times I flew home to support my family between August 2018 and November 2019. Some of those times were terrifying, having almost lost my dad then, while others were wonderful, albeit still difficult as my dad declined. I planned my wedding in two weeks so that my dad could be a part of it in the spring of 2019 and spent a month and a half over that same summer with my family.

It was during that summer I spent with my family that I started to read this book aloud to my dad. He rested while I read and sometimes my sister would come and sit and listen too. I had never read aloud to anyone, I can’t even remember what gave me the idea to do it. As I read this great story of Murray Howe recapping his childhood and talking about what a legendary man his father was, I couldn’t help but make associations with the qualities of Gordie and my dad.

My dad loved hockey and most team sports. He played football growing up, was even a quarterback despite his small stature. For most of his adult life he played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, he was also a runner. We ran our first marathon together. My dad was a leader who had a sense of justice and fairness that couldn’t be taught. He was passionate and caring about people so it was no surprise that he was a leader in nearly everything that he did. He was a manager of a credit union for nearly 40 years, he was the president of my swim team when I was a kid, he coached my sister and I baseball and soccer, and he would eventually come to run the old-timers hockey team that he played on for more than 20 years. Past his professionalism, he also had an endearing and absolutely goofy sense of humour that followed with a kindness that is hard to come by. My dad would help anyone.

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My dad and I at the Kelowna Marathon, October 2012.

Gordie Howe wasn’t only a good hockey player, he was a man of honour and he lived his life by his own code. Each chapter in this book is an example of a lesson that Gordie taught his son as he exemplified it in his own life. As I read the remarkable story of Gordie Howe’s life to my dad and the impact Gordie had on so many people, I couldn’t help but think of the lives that my dad also touched throughout his life and how my own dad lived honourably. Some passages were beautiful and really struck me, to the point where I had to swallow tears to continue reading. Sadly, I only made it to page 98 before my dad passed away, a page that will forever be bookmarked.

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My dad at The Heritage Classic in 2011.

My dad passed away at the age of 58 in November 2019. All the people he loved most in the world were present in the room when he passed. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. We were lucky. Murray Howe wrote an amazing tribute to his father. Murray may not have been the hockey player his dad or brothers were but he is a fabulous storyteller. This book came to be while Murray was writing his father’s eulogy and it was a source of inspiration for me when I also wrote my own father’s.

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My dad; happy, handsome, and healthy. As he should be remembered.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to but in December 2019, I decided to finish this book. Not only did it help remind me of happier times with my dad but it also helped to remind me of the lessons that my own dad taught me and process some of my own grief. It’s only been seven months and this is my first Father’s Day without him. I saved this review just for Father’s Day in hopes it would help bring me back to better times when he was still here and to make the day a bit more bearable for me.  

My dad was too young to pass. I am too young to be without my father. However, I am still thankful as many are not as blessed to have what I did or that I was able to be loved and love so deeply. No one deserves to die from cancer or to be taken before their time. I feel robbed in so many ways. For myself, for the children I may yet have, for my mom, my sister, and especially for my dad. Grief is ridiculously complicated, and in this instance, also prolonged. Grieving started from the moment of my dad’s diagnosis. Reading has often provided me answers and so it was one of the things that I turned to. While I received no answers this time, it was books like this one that has helped to ease the sorrow.

You don’t have to love hockey to appreciate and enjoy this book. Despite the circumstances that made start reading this book I’m glad that I did. The story is light, full of love, and really about the man that Gordie Howe was both on and off the ice. Even for those of us who know little of hockey, this book is still an enthralling read as it’s a story that is showcased in such a concise and loving manner while also breaching the topics of life, love, death, dying, old age, and grief. Gordie Howe was one hell of a character and it was a pleasure to read his story. Especially with someone who mattered so much to me.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

“It was up to him to pay back to the world in beauty and caring what Leslie had loaned him in vision and strength. ”

4/5 stars.
197ebook, 208 pages.
Read from January 24, 2020 to Janaury 29, 2020

I had never even heard of this book until a few years ago. It kept coming up in a few blogs in lists as one of those life-changing novels that you read in your youth. You know the ones, books like Harry Potter, The OutsidersThe GiverSpeak, Tuck Everlasting, and Where The Red Fern Grows. Perhaps this book was read more in the US than it was in Canada as it didn’t reach my repertoire as a kid. I wish, however, it had.

Bridge to Terabithia was originally published in 1977 and follows the story of Jess Aarons. Jess and his family don’t have much but he has been training all summer to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. What he doesn’t expect is that a new kid, a girl named Leslie, while absolutely whoop him and all the other fifth graders on day one. While Jess was initially annoyed at losing, especially after he trained to so hard, he comes to form a formidable bond with this fearless new girl who has come from the city. The two of them create a magical place called Terabithia at tree past a stream behind Jess’ house. It’s a magical place that the two of them rule over in which they can dream and imagine. The two, despite coming from very different homes become inseparable. However, a tragedy occurs that changes Jess and their story forever.

“Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

I’ve read reviews of people who have never forgotten how this book made them feel when they read it as a kid and their utter devastation at the loss of one of the characters, however, I still didn’t expect the outcome and was shook when I came to the tragic point in the story. I can see now how devastating a story like this would have been for a kid reading this for the first time as even I was taken back. The story manages to breach the topic of death, loss, and grief in a way that is tangible for a young mind. Unless tragedy touched you in your own youth, chances are you never gave a second thought to death even if you watched or read about it in other mediums. There is something special about this book with the way that death is approached and how the characters cope afterwards that really drives the point home. I could see this book being helpful for a youth dealing with tragedy themselves as it depicts well someone with minimal understanding or experience of death might cope or approach a tragedy. The story encourages deep compassion for people of different circumstances that may not seem to need it at first.

The writing is inviting and the characters enjoyable and relatable, another reason this book is so timeless. We’re looking at 40+ years on and this book is still being read and discussed and that is because death and grief are universal. Despite this, we’re poor at dealing with death as a society and it’s novels like this one provide a useful way for youth to broach and deal with the topic. I would highly recommend this novel if you’ve not read it before or are looking for a middle-grade appropriate read that discusses, love, friendship, death, and grieving.

A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

“Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  334 pages.
Read from November 26, 2019 to December 4, 2019.

This is the second book I decided to read on grief, not really for myself but with the aims that I would recommend it to a loved one dealing with their own grief. This book has been touted as one of the best books on grief, specifically about spousal grief, of which I hope I never have to experience soon. The first book I picked up on spousal grief was Loon Litt Woon’s The Way Through the Woods: Of Mushrooms and Mourning which ended up being one of my favourite books of 2019. While I didn’t read either of these books for me, they both gave me something invaluable and have helped, even if a little, with my own grief.

Joan and her husband John are experiencing a very difficult time. It’s shortly after Christmas and their only daughter Quintana has fallen deathly ill, from what at first appeared to be the common flu but later turned into septic shock. No one is certain if she is going to make it. After a long day at the hospital, the couple comes home. Joan starts a fire and begins to cook them a meal. John gets up from the couch and, just like that, in an instant, he collapses and dies from a massive coronary thrombosis.

“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”

Joan walks us through her all the disbelief and disillusions she has in trying to cope with the sudden and traumatic passing of her husband in a way that will be all too familiar if you are or have ever dealt with death herself. She calls it the year of magical thinking because it truly took her a year to fully comprehend that her husband was never coming back. Grief is strange and it seems that you’re only able to feel so much at a time for a while because it’s too overwhelming. You logically know that person has passed but you cling to things that don’t make sense anyway. Joan does extensive research about death and grieving to get an idea of what to expect. The information she finds is highly analytical and is an attempt to help make sense of the tragedy she has experienced. This book is not a self-help book that will explain what your feeling or the five stages of grief, but rather a personal story that validates grief along with some analytical research to back it up.

“Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.”

There were however, some aspects I didn’t connect with while reading this book. Joan and her husband were both writers, successful ones at that too, so there are a variety of specific generational and academic references that I didn’t connect with, so I ended up skimming past them. There is also usually large financial stress that often comes with the passing of a spouse that can compound grief further that either wasn’t discussed in this story or wasn’t an issue for Joan and her family. Perhaps it was a topic that didn’t suit the overall tone of this story.

I took a lot from Joan’s story and I appreciate the efforts she took to explain and detail her grief so that others in her position can feel a little less alone. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone grieving, no matter what the loss.