Ross Gordon MacKenzie Hume
April 5, 1932 – November 24, 2013
The day was warm and sunny with a slight breeze as we set up the tables and chairs along with the displays of Dad’s work and accomplishments. Mom (Gerri), my sister (Karen) and I were getting ready to welcome friends to the house for an afternoon of sharing stories and remembering Dad. Our brother Gord was notably absent. He was supposed to be coming from his home down east but at the last minute decided not to grace us with his presence. He had gotten upset over things that were Dad’s that he thought were his by right. There were miscommunications and assumptions made and although he swears to have been so close to Dad and missed him so much he chose not to come and honor the man that was our father.
We ignored Gord’s absence, choosing to celebrate Dad. To that end, only the food and beverages Dad loved were provided to our guests. Known to one and all as a man who scorned salads as rabbit food and who ran from the house at the smell of pizza, no one was surprised when the dining room table held only ham sandwiches, sausage rolls, butter tarts, and candies; the drink cart only tea, coffee, flat Coke, rye and Drambuie. An iPod of his favorite songs played gently in the background; Nana Mouskouri, Kris Kristofferson, several favorite Scottish tunes done by various artists to name a few.
We had lost Dad to vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s on November 24th, 2013 but we were only now gathering to honor him on June 1st, 2014. My mother, Gerri, did not want us all traveling in the bad weather and so close to Christmas for such a sad occasion. I think my Dad would have felt the same way. Still, it had been a long hard road for me from the phone call telling me he had passed away in his sleep back in November just three days after my birthday to early June. No funeral, no ceremony to mark his passing, no closure. Dad had been cremated and there was no formal funeral planned as he would not have liked that either. Mom had planted a mature blue spruce tree on the property with a view to the pond and house. Here, Mom, Karen and I spread Dad’s ashes in a private ceremony the night before the celebration, just the three Hume women saying goodbye. Here I found the closure I so desperately needed and a closer bond with my mother and sister. Dad said that the property was the most beautiful place on earth; it’s rolling hills reminded him of Scotland where he spent his childhood. It is only fitting then that he be part of that beauty for eternity.
June was not so much a memorial as a celebration of his life. That would have made Dad happy – people gathering to talk about his storytelling abilities, wicked sense of humor, and most especially his brilliance and his gritty determination. Dad invented and patented his two-wheeled solar powered car, struggling mightily although unsuccessfully to get it to market before dementia took over. Dad was a smart man, he thrived on complex projects and finding the correct and perfect solution for each one. This man was not afraid of hard work or of using his brain to figure things out, learn new things and master them. In his lifetime he was a master electrician; a Vice President of Engineering even though he’d been too poor to go to university and become an engineer; a millwright, real estate salesman, owner of several small businesses and, above all, an inventor. I remember the wall in his den being covered with plaques and certificates. That is why it hit me so hard when Mom called to tell me that Dad had dementia.
Dad had battled many health problems over the years. A heart attack when he was 51 then many years later blockages in his arteries that resulted in a triple bypass operation. Although bypass surgery is known to give the patient a new lease on life, for my dad it was too late. A number of mini-strokes had already caused vascular dementia that only worsened after surgery. For a man who spent literally thousands of hours at the computer perfecting his inventions, the dementia was particularly cruel, taking away his vision not because he couldn’t see clearly but because his brain no longer knew how to interpret the signals it was receiving. Dad simply bought more powerful magnifying glasses and worked harder. He let nothing hold him back from doing what he wanted to do.
I wasn’t there for some of what I’ve reported. I missed a lot of years with my family that I will never get back but life takes you places that you don’t expect and sometimes there are lessons to be learned before you can reconnect and actually form a stronger connection than would have been possible otherwise. You see, I live about five hours away in a northern Ontario city and could not make it home often to visit. Special occasions like Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary and a family reunion were the exceptions and I had found a way to be there to reconnect with relatives and friends and to celebrate my parents. I am thankful that before Dad descended into the foggy abyss that is dementia, I was able to repair my relationship with him and enjoy many phone conversations.
Then the phone calls ended. Dad no longer knew who I was and became harder to look after at home. He became paranoid and aggressive; he would wander down the road or out by the pond. Finally, a spot was found at a local extended care home where caring and trained staff could look after Dad 24/7 and relieve the stress and weariness that had become my Mom and sister’s existence. For two years and nine months, to the day, Mom and Karen would visit him in the home. I kept in contact through phone calls and was told of the falls he took, the flu he was exposed to; the laughter and sadness inspired by their visits. My parents were married for 57 years; an achievement I’d long admired and hoped to emulate. How heartbreaking it must have been for my mother to see Dad become a shell of his former self. I am told I should be thankful I don’t remember him in that state, and I am.
I remember a strong, smart man from whom I always sought validation and acceptance…all little girls do that with their fathers, right? I remember a man who could not say the words, “I love you.” The only boy in his family, Dad became an adult at an early age when his father died and he took care of his mother and sisters. I don’t think he heard “I love you” enough when he was growing up, but by his actions Mom and the three of us kids knew that we had his love. He proved it daily by working hard to provide for us, by being there for us when there were problems, by giving his best to us in ways other than those three words. There was a rough patch in my life where I battled with depression and a suicide attempt all while being married to an abusive man. My dad was there for me through it all. He came to the hospital and visited me in the psychiatric hospital and took me for a weekend pass.
As an adult, I repeatedly told my father that I loved him. He would look at me silently and then tell me, “Look, you know I can’t say that Sue.” I would tell him that I know but that doesn’t stop me from saying it. I am so glad Dad knew how I felt about him. It was so important to me that he know.
What a complicated and intricate man my father was but, I would not change a thing. It was all part of who he was and I miss him. Dad’s attitude to life was “Que Sera Sera….what will be, will be.” He said that right before his bypass surgery when I asked him how he could not be scared about what was going to happen. Dad said he believed in taking life as it comes; that there is no sense being scared or struggling against what is; your job is to handle what life hands you as best you can.
I do worry about the future. Is there a gene that was passed on to me, to my sons? Will I eventually lose my mind to dementia? Scary prospects to be sure but all I can focus on right now is to stay as healthy as possible and watch for signs. Ah, the future, I think of all Dad will miss now that my son James and his wife Crystal are about to welcome their first child into the world. It saddens me to think that Dad will never meet his first great grandson, that Mom will have that honor all by herself. But Mom won’t be alone in keeping Dad’s memory alive. We will all be telling the new baby stories about his great grandfather in the years to come. Dad will not be forgotten.
I wrote this article for a chance to have it printed in Chatelaine magazine but it was never published, until now on my blog. I want to acknowledge and thank my sister, Karen, for proofreading my writing and offering suggestions on the wording as well as clarifying some details for me.