It’s taken few weeks to find the words to write this. I debated whether to publish this, or keep it private. Obviously, you’re reading this because I decided to share this part of my world with you. Writing about this experience has been therapeutic. It has helped me come to terms with our loss and accept our new reality. To be clear, this post was written by Cameron.
You always think you have time, until you don’t.
My father passed away unexpectedly.
Needless to say, it’s been a very difficult few weeks.
About 1 minute after I published this post, my cell phone started ringing. The call display showed my brother’s name.
That’s not a good sign, I thought to myself. We rarely call each other, unless it’s serious.
“Dad’s gone”, he said. He was barely able to voice the words.
Time stood still. I had no words. My brain was not able to process what I was hearing. It felt like 10 minutes had passed before we spoke again, but in reality is was probably 10 seconds.
“What do mean, Dad’s gone?” I replied in disbelief.
My brother explained that he had gone to pick up Dad that afternoon to take him back to his house for Sunday dinner. What he found at Dad’s apartment has changed our lives forever.
I can’t imagine what my brother went through at that moment. He was the one who found my father. He was the one who called 911. He was the one who had to call each of us to tell us the unfortunate news.
My dad lived alone. His health had been declining over the last few years, ever since his early retirement at 64 years old.
Last year, we moved him closer to my brother so that he would have more social time with family. He looked forward to those Sunday dinners with my brother and his family. He enjoyed sitting outside in the backyard, having a few beers and telling his stories to his grand-children.
My brother was my Dad’s best friend. He took care of him and made sure he felt safe and loved. I am so grateful that my brother lived close to him and that someone was checking on him every few days. My life is somewhere far away, so it gives me comfort knowing that he was not alone and that my brother was there for him.
Our summer visit to Lake Simcoe
The photo above has become one of my favourite photos. It was taken a few months ago, in late August of this year (2017). This was the last photo captured of my father. Of course, we had no way of knowing that when we took the photo, but we knew this photo was going to be special.
This was the first time all of the Wears boys were together at one time.
Sadly, it will also be the last.
We live in different parts of the country, so it’s difficult to get everyone together. There are also a couple of little ones who have joined the family in recent years.
My dad was an only child. There are now 7 boys who will carry on his name. That is what he is (was) most proud of; his children and grand-children.
That is his greatest legacy.
We decided to visit my family in Ontario this past summer because we wanted to bring everyone together. We wanted our young boys to get to know my Dad and my brother and his children. It felt very important.
I remember saying to Nicole, “I don’t know how much time we have with Dad, so we should rent a cottage this summer and spend time together, doing nothing but BBQ’ing and sitting in front of a campfire.”
So we booked a trip to Ontario instead of traveling to Europe, which was our original plan for the summer.
It was the right decision.
While the experience of visiting a new foreign country is important to us, so is spending time with family. Our boys need to know their cousins. They need to create childhood memories that include their family members.
My Dad’s passing has solidified the importance of not putting life on hold.
We considered putting this trip on hold. We contemplated visiting him another time. Maybe next summer. We have time, right? Wrong.
I am so grateful for the experience we had this summer. I will now carry those memories with me forever.
I would have been devastated if I had put that trip on hold and did not see him.
The importance of family
When I received the sad news from my brother, I booked the next available flight to Toronto. My brother lives in Jackson Point on Lake Simcoe, which is about 1.5 hours north of Toronto. Fortunately, Vancouver to Toronto is a hot route so there are flights virtually every 30 minutes.
I had an epic meltdown in the security line at the airport. The overwhelming emotion was uncontrollable.
My sister was on the flight before me, so she arrived at the Toronto airport one hour before my arrival. She had stayed at the airport hotel the night before and was able to find a cottage rental that was located two blocks from my brother’s house. This was a very lucky find.
We drove to my brother’s house and had a tearful reunion. It was an intense 24 hours.
It still doesn’t seem real, almost one month later. But what has become very clear is the importance of family. It’s a statement we’ve all heard before, but it now has a much deeper meaning.
Aside from my grand-mother’s death a few years ago, I’ve been fortunate that most of my immediate family is alive and well. It was so nice to have them with me, to share the weight of this heavy experience.
We spent the evening together, trying to make sense of the overwhelming situation.
When we finally made it to the cottage it was late and dark.
“Is that water I hear?” said my sister. “I think we’re pretty close to the lake.”
That was an understatement.
When we woke up the next morning we couldn’t believe the location of this cottage. Look at the photo below. That’s the deck and the view of the lake. It was perfect.
Dad would have loved it there. We felt like he made this happen for us. He knew exactly what we needed at that moment – a place to be together, surrounded by nature.
Do you believe?
Let me start by saying that I am not a religious person. I’m not spiritual but I do believe there’s more to this universe than what we can see and touch. Death has an ironic way of revealing one’s belief (or disbelief) in the after life.
On the first morning at the cottage, I went down to the dock to be alone.
I sat on the edge of the dock with my feet dangling over the edge. The water was calm that morning. The sun was shining. It was quite warm – unusual for that time of year.
I looked up to the sky and asked my Dad to give me a sign. Something. Anything.
I needed to know he was okay. I needed to know he was still with me.
A few moments passed, but nothing came to me.
I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I knew that I would know – does that even make sense?
Just then, a beautiful monarch butterfly came into view. It was fluttering above the trees to my right. I focused on that butterfly and watched it’s movements intensely.
Doubtful thoughts came to mind. “That’s not it, keep looking”, I said to myself.
The butterfly came closer. When it was about 20 feet in front of me it turned slightly and the sun reflected off it’s wings. The light hit me right in the eyes. It was like a bright light flickering in front of me.
This has to be him?
I broke down in tears. A strange sense of calm washed over me. I wiped my eyes and opened them again. But the butterfly was gone. It had disappeared. I questioned whether that was actually him reaching out to me. Was I just looking for anything that appeared unusual?
Almost on queue, the butterfly reappeared and fluttered right in front of me.
Okay, Dad! Message received.
I walked back up to the cottage and helped prepare lunch for the kids. About 2o minutes had passed since my butterfly encounter. I had not shared the story with any one yet. I was still trying to process the experience.
“Uncle Cam, come look. There’s an injured butterfly on the dock. I think it’s hurt”, yelled my nephew.
I went down to the dock to see what he was talking about. I am pretty sure this was the same butterfly. At least, I think it was. Who knows, really?
The butterfly rested on the plate of food beside the kids. It did not move. It flapped it’s wings occasionally, but it just wanted to rest. The kids talked to the butterfly and tried to help it by giving it food and water. It was not afraid. In fact, it wanted to be there, with the kids.
The butterfly must have been there for over 30 minutes. We thought it was hurt and unable to fly. Why else would it just sit there, for 30 minutes. That is a long time for a butterfly to sit still. Then, without warning, it jumped off the plate and fluttered away.
I believe it was him. He was saying goodbye. He was sending a signal to all of us.
Later that day, I jumped on my phone and googled ‘what do butterflies symbolize’.
The first result read: ‘In early Christianity, the butterfly was a symbol of the soul. In China, it was used as a symbol of conjugal bliss and joy. … The exquisite butterfly was considered a miracle of transformation and resurrection. In the Old World, the connotation was negative; the butterfly was thought to be the spirit of the dead. … Its attraction to flame and light symbolize purification by fire.
Wait. There’s more.
We decided to do an intimate celebration for Dad at the cottage. He did not want a formal funeral and the cottage had everything he would have wanted – a dock on the lake, a campfire, a big yard.
We had a campfire the night before. Right before going to bed, at around 11:00 PM, I poured a bucket of water over the amber coals.
The next morning I was outside cleaning the deck and getting the yard ready for our guests. I cleaned the fire pit and pushed some of the black-burned wood to the middle of the pit. I stacked the wood and kindling around the fire pit and got it ready. That way there would be one less thing to do when people arrived.
That was at 9:00 AM.
We expected our guests to arrive at 2:00 PM.
I remember looking at my watch around 2:00 PM and thinking, ‘everyone should be arriving soon’.
At 2:20 PM I looked at the fire pit and couldn’t believe what I witnessed. On the corner of the wood pile was a single flame, about 2 inches tall.
“Did you light the fire?” I asked my sister.
“No. Why?” she replied.
“Because there’s a flame on the side of the fire!”
I called everyone over to the fire pit and asked if they lit the fire.
Nobody had touched it.
I took the above photo because I didn’t think anyone would believe this story. Heck, I’m still not sure I believe it. Look at the bottom of the stacked wood – do you see that small flame on the black wood?
We looked at each other with suspicion. How did the flame start?
Was it the old coals re-igniting? Probable. But it had been over 5 hours since I set up the wood pile. Why did it start at that exact moment?
I’ll tell you why.
Because Dad wanted the party to get started at it was already after 2:00 – so let’s get going already!
We laughed and then went back to doing what we were doing. I looked back at the fire about a minute later and the flame was gone. It disappeared. I put my hand over the wood to see if it was still hot. It was not. I touched the log where the flame was – it was cold and dry, just like the other pieces of wood.
Spooky? You bet!
I’ve got one more for you.
Nicole and the boys joined us in Ontario a few days after I arrived. She had to travel with the boys by herself and it was a VERY early morning flight from Vancouver to Toronto (3:00 AM wake up time – not fun).
I called her the night before and asked if she was okay.
“I’m a little nervous”, she said.
Totally understandable. Flying with two young boys is not easy.
The next morning, while at the airport waiting at the gate to board the plane, Nicole ran into one of our close friends. He’s one of my old friends from Ontario. We both live in Vancouver now, but we met back in high school when I lived in Ontario with my Dad.
Not only was he on the SAME flight, he was seated DIRECTLY beside Nicole!
What are the odds?
We’ve been on hundreds of flights and we’ve never ran into close friends on the same flight. The fact that he was seated right beside Nicole is highly unusual. She had seat C and he was seat D – same row. Is that not unbelievable?!
This meant that she had another pair of hands to help during the flight. It also gave her company to help the time pass. I’m thankful he was there to support her.
I’m convinced this was my Dad’s doing. What do you think?
You always think you have time, until you don’t.
When big life changes happen it’s natural to reflect on your life.
For some, the life changing event sparks the motivation to chase their dreams and stop putting life on hold. We had a similar experience when we decided to quit our jobs and travel the world for a year, back in 2009.
We embraced the reverse retirement plan – travel while you’re young and physically able, instead of waiting until retirement or when you have more money. Those days may never come. My Dad was only 3 years into his retirement before his untimely passing.
This experience has had the opposite effect on me.
I have no desire to travel right now. I don’t feel the need to climb mountains or take over the world. We canceled our trip to China (we would actually be on the long flight to Shanghai right now, as I type these words).
Instead, I want to be with our family and friends right now. I want to take our boys swimming at the local wave pool and go hiking in the forest near our house. I want to pick them up from school and day care. I want to watch Saturday morning cartoons in bed and play board games. I want to watch movies and eat popcorn in our living room.
I guess what I’m really saying is that I want to be a great father, husband, brother, son and friend. And that’s really hard to do if I’m always somewhere else.
I’m sure these feelings of being overly domesticated will pass in a few months. It won’t be long before I’m dreaming of traveling somewhere exotic. But, in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the life we’ve created here in Vancouver.
I suppose the underlying message is – don’t let fear or a busy schedule or lack of money stop you from achieving your goals. AND, it’s okay if those goals are simple, like spending quality time with your family or going hiking with friends who you haven’t seen in a long time. Do what feels right.
You only have one life to live – so live it!
Is there something you’ve been thinking about doing for a long time, but you’ve continued to put it on hold?
Maybe it’s a trip to Europe or an epic adventure in the mountains?
Maybe it’s a personal goal, like running a marathon or losing weight or learning a new sport?
What is preventing you from taking action? What can you do TODAY to put things in motion?
Don’t forget about those who are most important to you.
When was the last time you called your parents?
Call them. Right now.
When was the last time you spent time with your close friends?
Plan something with them. Right now.
When was the last time you hugged your loved ones and told them how important they are to you?
Do that. Right now.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking there will always be more time.
To those of you who have lost a parent – I now understand.
I thought I understood before, but I really had no idea. Unfortunately, you must go through this awful experience to truly understand it. I empathize with you. I share your pain.
I feel like I’ve joined a club that nobody wants to join – but it’s a club filled with compassionate, caring, understanding and supportive people. I am forever grateful and thankful for the kind words you have shared during this difficult time.
It has helped me in ways I cannot express.
I miss you every day. I think of you every hour.
I promise to honour your legacy by being the best father I can be.
I promise to make sure that my boys always feel safe and loved, as you did with us.
I promise to keep your stories alive by sharing them with your grand-children.
I’m still trying to comprehend a world without you, but I feel your presence with me every day. You will always be with me, forever and ever.
I love you, Dad.