Death anniversaries

We don’t need a big, red circle around certain days on the calendar. These are the dates that are etched in our memories. We remember where we were, who we were with, and what time of year it was.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of my grandfather. In those 30 years there have been innumerable family milestones: births, weddings, graduations, and holiday gatherings.

The late Dewar Swan. He enjoyed playing his harmonica, while cuddling grandchildren.

A diagnosis

My grandfather was diagnosed with a brain tumour early in 1988. At that time, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital did not have a CT machine for diagnostic imaging, so he traveled off Island. I remember my father receiving the call with word that the tumour was malignant. He quickly packed a bag, caught the ferry and headed to the Moncton Hospital. My grandfather spent over a month in their neurosurgical unit.

We visited him at the hospital, after he regained consciousness. It was almost overwhelming, walking into an open ward with people suffering various neurological traumas. My grandfather’s head was shaved on one side, with the dye markings visible for the radiation treatments he would receive. He knew who we were and was quick to share with the nurses our latest accomplishments in school.

I accompanied my grandmother downstairs to the basement of the hospital, where they had quarters for families to stay. As we were walking back to his room, she pointed to a door in the basement and said, “That’s the morgue. I know that wouldn’t bother you.”

When my grandfather returned to the QEH, we made efforts to brighten his room by designing a poster board full of pictures of all his grandchildren. Eventually, he was able to return home to York and experience his last Island summer. He no doubt perched himself in one of the handmade lawn chairs and watched the cars traveling to the North Shore.

Enjoying the lawn chair on the front lawn at the homestead in York.

As the weeks progressed, his condition worsened. He and my grandmother made the move to town to be closer to the hospital, if he required care. He spent his final two weeks receiving hospice palliative care at the Dr. Eric Found Centre.

Gathering together

Snow had come early that year as well. I would make the trek down Spring Park Road and turn right on McGill, heading to the centre on my way home from school. Those visits are something I now treasure, especially when my grandmother would let me go and clean off the car and start it for her. I was year away from receiving my license and any chance to even start the car was a big deal!

I remember the snow falling the evening he died and watching the car come around the corner, bringing my parents and grandmother home.

The next day was spent finalizing plans for visitation and the funeral, but Mother Nature wanted to be involved and a blizzard arrived the next day. The snow made for an interesting walk into York Cemetery!

Honouring a life lived

His hard hat on display in the line room at Maritime Electric.

My grandfather has been honoured countless times since that day. The monument at the front of York Cemetery, was placed there in his memory. There are items at the church in York that bear his name. His hardhat still hangs in the line room at Maritime Electric, where he spent most of his working life. (We cared for a family who had a member who worked at Maritime Electric and the young man told me that there was a helmet in the line room that read “D.K. Swan”. He was kind enough to send me a picture.)

This experience contributed to my desire to volunteer with Hospice PEI. I try to attend the “Hike the Hospice” each year.

A Hike for Hospice sticker, acknowledging why I was hiking.

Every year on this date, I’m taken back to memories of my grandfather in his work overalls, his pipe and package of Sail tobacco tucked into the pocket. I remember his large, dark hands and even the time his finger was bandaged much like E.T.’s. I remember the countless quarters that I would be given, if I happened to encounter him and the Maritime Electric truck on my walk to school. I remember him performing his crossing guard duties to channel Vacation Bible School students back and forth across York Road, between the school and the hall. I also recall the day, that I was advised to turn off the movie “Footloose” as he had heard a swear word and young ladies weren’t going to watch such a show!

On these anniversaries, I choose to remember the good, to know I’ve done something to honour his journey on earth and if I focus hard enough, I can almost smell his pipe.

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