Second Chances

25 years ago on this day, the impact two special friends had on my life was solidified. I send my love to all who knew them and felt the same. This is a reprise of something I published a few years ago…

————————————————————————————

There was an article in 1998 that warned young reporters were getting their careers turned around by getting too involved with their stories, sometimes even making up details.  I know it seems like a simple case of common sense to just not do either, but if you’re in touch with emotions and recording certain events, that’s not always do-able.

When I wrote as a correspondent in the wilds of northwestern Ontario 25 yrs ago, I experienced something similar. Despite the seemingly tranquil setting of an aurora borealis framed mini mecca of 600, called Pickle Lake, I actually wrote quite a variety of stories around events that would rival any city. To be fair, there were another 600 or so around the town.

My ‘beat’ covered a collection of assaults, robberies, and murder, and my community profiles provided just as much color.  All of this belies the fact that despite that record, most people in the area couldn’t be a stronger, kinder, and more generous humankind sample.

I want to recount one story that I wrote then, that I wish I could re-write now.

One of my favorite “P.L.” adventures, which took even me by surprise, was joining the town’s volunteer ambulance service.  I studied the necessary courses until I qualified, completed by also getting the license to drive the ambulance aka the ‘bus, which incidentally also qualifies you to drive an actual bus.

One of the senior attendants was a fellow by the name of Dave Halteman.  Dave was one of those friendly folksy type that make a name for themselves by being ready to help anyone, any time. He owned the local auto repair and service station, which also served as the base for all kind of local rescue.  I think one of his favorites was pulling my car out of a few snowbanks and ditches on those bitter winter roads, and for the record, local jeer-ers, I was not the only one.

Dave was up for anything, which he was called to do often, but most of his town volunteering was devoted to the fire and ambulance departments. He did a fantastic job assisting the oversight of those critical services.  Of course, it goes without saying those jobs take some bravery, and it turned out his personal bar was set at -quite high-.

He willingly took on the job to train a skinny, completely citified, 115 lb. greenhorn. Think about what it would take to teach that winning combo how to hoist a 95 lb. stretcher holding a 200 lb. patient into the back of an ambulance and then drive back to the clinic without skidding off the icy roads, and without breaking a nail.  Yeah, he was cool with priorities like that.

Dave’s easygoing nature didn’t mean easy; he made for darn sure I knew we were working for lives, for real.  Luckily, his patience level was set at -infinite-, because I definitely tested that bar too.  When I bungled, I got a stare that I would answer with my own mortified gape. Then this laugh would ring out.  Anyone who ever heard it, would agree – one of a kind.  Infectious. Unforgettable.

Whoever was treated to that laugh was also served by his decency.  He made a friend out of pretty much everyone who crossed his path because of his honest belief in ‘do unto others’.  Despite all the heroics of his emergency work, this was probably what earned him the most and deepest regard overall.  To say he was beloved to many is not an overstatement, his personality filled a town.

So on that December day, when the news came that his plane went down on the way home from a hunting trip, shock reverberated throughout the region.  No one could believe it and no one wanted to. Many of us held hope that there’d been a mistake. We would learn that the crash took not only Dave, but also his endearing and respected son-in-law, Everett Moore.  Ev was soft-spoken, tall, handsome, filled with kindness, and so young.

The town became still in the days that lead up to the funeral service. As everyone struggled to comprehend that what happened was real, the two caskets at the front of the community hall laid down all hope for good.

Those of us who served with Dave were privileged to stand in observance as his Honour Guard. The hall seats filled quickly, and everyone else stood outside on a bright, but frigid day listening through speakers.  There were several hundred who stood in that biting cold for the entire service and the interment.  I’m sure desire for relief from that cold was strong, but it couldn’t overcome the desire to pay those deeply felt respects.

The town took a while to rev back to some kind of normal. We learned there was a lot of navigating to figure out how to carry on without the steady assurances and answers of Dave.  We did though, because in many ways, the footprints he laid down were clear enough for us to follow, and so he still shaped worthwhile aspects of our own capabilities.

I wish I could have written all this in that memoriam story years ago, but I was too involved in my own grief. I couldn’t get myself to the place that does justice to the role of reporting, and in service to people who knew he deserved so much more.

I hope what I can put down now, this little bit more, will add to the legacy of how well Dave and Ev impacted people.

One last thing still bears saying too.  For a long time, many of us would often say how we’d give anything to hear that Dave laugh again.  The truth is, when I think of him I still do, and I believe that whenever we think of him, most of us still do.

RL

PostScript: I also owe a debt of gratitude to former Managing Editor, Thunder Bay Chronicle, Nick Hirst, for helping me cobble together the part of the story I did then.

Hello to my old friends in Pickle Lake and Mishkeegogamang First Nation who stood out in the cold with us that day.

Dejah, The Warrior

This is a re-post for my dear friend, Glo, in tribute to the amazing life and soul of her baby, and their loved ones. It’s hard to believe it’s been 5 years. Already. I can’t say exactly how it feels for Gloria, Robert & Rayne, but I would like them to know we remember with them. We share in their heartrending memories and in support of their amazing capacity to move forward in strength, purpose and love for each other and for life. They couldn’t live a better legacy for their son and brother… 

I hardly know this young boy who impacted my life and so many others so profoundly. What kid is all that interested in their mother’s friends anyway? And so, I came to know him mostly through her, our Glo.

She is that quintessential statement of strength and courage, which can almost sound like a cliché, but it isn’t when it’s applied to a parent facing one of our worst fears.  Which is what happened to her and she, true to character, faced that nightmare fully and head-on.

He was only three years old when they were told he had cancer.  It was horribly bad news.  Most kids who get this kind of cancer have a pretty good outlook, but for some the challenge will push  to the limit.  This was to be the case for him.

I can’t imagine having to look at my baby’s sweet innocent face, and into his trusting eyes, knowing what they knew was to come for their son, and try to prepare for that.  How unbearable could it have felt to know the awful truth of what was in store in some ways, and not have any idea or certainty about anything else?

The only thing that turned out to be absolutely certain is that this kid had something else too – a hell of a fighting spirit. Those innocent eyes masked a strength that could rival a grown man’s, and that was good because he used it fully. It was what carried him beyond the lines of expectation.

As it turned out, his backup arsenal was also beyond outstanding.  His shield of steel was the love and faith of his mother, and his dad and sister were the center of his phalanx.

Phalanx is a perfect word for his story.  I’d stumbled around for a while looking for a way to describe all the people who joined the power of this boy’s circle. My son said, “That sounds like you’re talking about a phalanx, mom”.  I asked what that was exactly. After he explained, I thought yes, that’s exactly what they are.

A phalanx is defined as a compact or close-knit body of people, a formation of infantry carrying overlapping shields and long spears.  Perfect.  That’s what they were – overlapping shields of love and spears of hope. The rest of that foundation was formidably filled out by all the family and friends who rallied around them.

No matter their role as those weapons of love and hope, every one of them, including the calvary of determined medical personnel was there in common spirit.  All were there to throw everything they could at that God-damned tumour.

They did it well for ten amazing years.  It wasn’t a smooth trip for sure, but they fought those ups and downs with purpose. He and his family were also determined to instill something meaningful into what would seem to be a senseless, painful ordeal.

He moved to the center of an organized effort to finally stop cancer in children.  He and his family charged alongside an organization called Kick For A Cure, whose role is to fund the research that will finally “kick cancer where it hurts”.

Part of the fight for a full life was trying to be just a boy who could play and learn like everyone else. Why should any child have to fight to be just a 5 year old or an 8 year old? The balancing act to just be and to be a helper in the bigger picture becomes another unexpected fact of life, a new normal.

The day came when balance was made impossible, and it became an effort to just hold on – to a few more hours spent wrapped in the bond of fighters who’ve survived together for so long.  To a few more minutes of saying I love you, and for that one more heartbreaking second to look into each other’s eyes.

When children get so sick, when they die, we are all devastated.  We cry and feel deeply because for those moments, born to us or not, they all become our babies.

Maybe we ask God or the Universe, why or how?  Maybe one day we’ll have all the answers, but for now, at this moment, I need to believe that the Universe said these things to him:

Thank you, Dejah.

Thank you for enduring the pain of the fight for so long.

Thank you doing for so much work in such a short period of time to inform and teach about childhood cancer.

Thank you for all that you’ve given and taught to your mom, dad, and sister.

Thank you for all that you’ve given and shown to your family and friends.

Thank you for the sacrifice you gave to medicine that will one day make this illness less devastating for another child.

Thank you for the way you brought your community together over and over again, and got them all thinking about love, and for reminding them that, it is the only true purpose.

Your work is done Dejah, and it was done in superhero excellence.

You’re finally pain free; dance wildly in joy.  You’ve earned it, kid.

You will always, always, be a kick ass hero.

Dejah Milne
February 4, 2000 – October 5, 2013

dejah

Photo by Cher Milne Gennaro‎, Memories with Dejah

 

RL

_______________________________________________________

The story of how Dejah affected his community and the people around the world was captured during his beautiful service tribute and in how his story was shared around the globe.

 

The White Poppy Campaign is Only an Attempt to White-Out History

Red PoppyYou’ve no doubt heard about the plentiful angry reactions to efforts to begin a white poppy campaign in contrast to the standard red poppy in support of veterans on Remembrance Day.  This actually started in the UK about 1926 in response to the red poppy. This has been in our news recently because of the Rideau Institute group, Ceasefire.ca, working to bring it to fruition in Canada.

I applaud the efforts of the white poppy campaign to make a statement in support of peace, I admire the passion for their anti-war beliefs, and I support them in their peaceful ideals.  What I don’t understand is their lack of imagination and respect.

I’ve read that the white poppy was created for sale about a decade after the red poppy was introduced in 1921 in the hopes that pacifists could have a symbol that they felt more truly represented peace.  Somewhere in that impassioned thinking, from back then and all the way to today, a big point seems to have been missed – create your own symbol.

 Do not usurp a symbol of great significance that was not created in favor of war, nor was ever symbolic of the glorification of war.

The red poppy was not the creation of some faceless war-mongering government.  It grew from a heart-rending poem, In Flanders Fields, written by a soldier mourning the death of a fellow soldier and friend.  The poem reflected the red poppies that covered the fields where the lost lay buried.  That symbol resonated with millions because it came from the voice and heart of a soldier who spoke first-hand of the sorrows of war, and a desire to not have lain down in vain.

However this came to be, today the red poppy reflects the larger feeling of sacrifice and desire for peace.  “Lest we forget” asks us to remember the horrors in the hopes that we don’t have to endure them again.  That’s all it is – a hope, for some a prayer, for all a plea to remember so that wars are not entered into lightly.  It doesn’t promise that war will never happen; it is not a symbol for why all the wars happened since it’s observance.

If there is value for the white poppy campaign to be addressed on the same day that the rest of us commemorate the end of a world war, then why can’t they find a way to respectfully co-exist with those of us who remember ours in the way we do.

Instead of attempting to take over a long recognized symbol that many feel already says what they say they want, maybe they could ask people if they would like to add something to their lapels.  With all the creativity available in the world, surely they could come up with a peace symbol that isn’t about being against one already in existence.

The outraged cries being raised are not based in some simplified street idea that ‘haters gonna hate’ so poor pacifists or anti-war folk are victims of a crass anti-peace public.  The outrage is rightfully based in a crass lack of due understanding and, intended or not, disrespect.  Think about what might happen if you tried to alter a corporate logo?

White poppy campaign people, you are daring to charge over what is already in place because you believe your beliefs are better.  What’s so peaceful about that?

By the way, do you really think changing the color to white will somehow change the thought behind it’s original intention?  I have to wonder, as a symbol associated with war, how long might it take before even white poppies would be seen as a symbol of aggression by upcoming thinkers?

Whether you  believe the red represents standing up for war and white is better, or that no poppies are warranted at all, the fact that you have those choices is only because of the people that those red poppies represent – whether you want to believe that or not.

RL

Dejah is Soaring

The bagpipes were playing and the Red Serge of two RCMP officers were present when we arrived for the service.

Hundreds of us gathered to say goodbye for now to Dejah; our hearts heavy as we looked at each other knowing this made it more real.  It was time to acknowledge that one of our babies had moved on.  He came to us through Glo and Bob, but we all saw how he was family to many more, some he hadn’t even met, but to whom he became beloved nonetheless.  Such was, or rather, is, his beautiful spirit.

The air was a mix of warm expectancy and wistful anticipation, the kind where we needed to say to ourselves – hold it together here.  Just hold it together at least until you can take a seat.  We pinned on little yellow ribbons in support of beating childhood cancer as we lined up to sign the guest book on our way in.

There was so much love gathered today through Dejah that at times it was overwhelming.  They were not tears of grief, it was the fullness of hearts spilling over.  All got lifted up with all the messages of love spoken by those who took turns to share their feelings and experiences with him. His sister Rayne couldn’t have had a better letter of sibling love to share with us.  His Uncle Dwayne spoke to that part of us that loves with a parental heart.  Family friends shared how their lives have been impacted by him and his family.

We watched a video that displayed how much life that young spirit lived in between the bouts of inconvenience caused by cancer invasions.  It was astonishing to realize how much life he packed into the short thirteen years he was to be here.  It seems miraculous actually. Through those pictures we saw how much he loved to laugh, and he showed what really living was about, even with insurmountable challenges.

One of his best friends, Tre, stood up and told us, in the way only a kid can, what it was to be Dejah’s friend.  He told how Dejah was a video game king that regularly brought his opponents to their knees.   Tre made us laugh as he admitted he was one of those friends who felt like crying when Dejah wanted to play a video game because he knew he was going to get wiped out within minutes.  He reminded us of what it means to be a kid when he described how they would put Dejah into a baby cart at the grocery store and run until it fell over, and then they would fall over laughing.  We were overcome by Tre’s beautiful recounting of his friendship, and from the wisdom, far beyond his years, that he gained from it.

Dejah was the typical hockey-obsessed Canadian kid – one happy to throw a dig at his soccer loving friend, Nuvin, in good-humored contempt.   This is especially funny because Dejah was the inspiration for the start of a fantastic organization, started by that friend, called Kick for a Cure.  They work to raise awareness and funding for research of childhood cancer treatments – mainly through annual soccer tournaments.

He was an inclusive caring boy who lit up the hearts of so many with a remarkably warm smile.  That was an often mentioned point.  He laughed, and loved, and played the hell out of life.

He showed, even today, that to really live is about grabbing the moment we have, this one right here and now, and making it as worthwhile as we can.

Grab the opportunity to smile and laugh at anything you can. Do whatever it takes, even something as crazy as recording yourself elaborately eating your last bite of a sandwich.  Just. Do. It.  You have no idea how funny that will be some day.

It wasn’t an easy life for Dejah, and just like the rest of us, he had some days that made it too hard to smile.  His lesson isn’t that life will always be easy, it’s make the most of it when you can.  Strive to make the most out of what you do have, while you have it.

All too soon, the celebration was nearing the end.  We were all given tree saplings to plant in his honor and then we were given blue helium-filled balloons.  It was time to symbolically release our fears and pain and send out instead, our love for Dejah and for each other.

We cheered as the balloons rose and we watched as they drifted up into the sky, up and up, and then somebody realized a distinctive shape to them.  Look, Caroline said, they’ve gone into the shape of a heart, and they had.  Somehow that didn’t really seem all that surprising.   It was just another addition to the moments that display the power of Dejah’s spirit.

An earlier post I wrote about Dejah has, so far, been read over 1,100 times on seven continents.  Those are the reads that I can track, the ones that I can’t probably drive that number into the thousands.

It’s astounding to realize that a seemingly average young boy from Eagle Ridge in Coquitlam has touched so many people around the world.  It boggles my mind to try to comprehend that his spirit has literally surrounded the planet.

Glo and Bob, that spirit that was to be such a gift to so many came through you, and you nurtured it until it became whole in its perfection, until it was time to be released.  You are to know that you did well.  You did very, very well.

Dejah's second last Facebook post

Dejah’s second last Facebook post

RL

The family requests in lieu of flowers that you consider making a donation in Dejah’s memory to (your choice):

Canuck Place Children’s Hospice:
https://payment.csfm.com/donations/canuck_place/donate/
or
Kick For A Cure:  http://www.kickforacure.ca/donate-to-kfac/