Tag Archives: family and friends

Journey–Part 2

24 Feb

On Wednesday I started chronicling my recent trip to South Africa. I intended to put everything in one post, but as it turned out, a lot of activity was packed into my ten days there. This is an account of my last few days.

2012-02-15 14.27.52Wednesday: I have been looking forward to this day ever since I arrived. My friend Jenny picks me up and we spend the day together. Why am I so excited about this? Because Jenny and I have been friends since we were ten. We live far away from each other now, but something as paltry as distance isn’t going to change the fact that she is my best friend and always will be. We go out for coffee, then take a walk around the bird park. We watch a live bird show – part of it, anyway, before the rest of it is cancelled due to rain. After that we head indoors and have lunch together. It is a great day, one that concludes with us resolving to have a joint 50th birthday celebration in some exotic location. We have a few years to nail down the details.

Thursday: Mom and I head out early to do the shopping we were going to do on Tuesday. We buy presents for my boys and food for the memorial that is planned for tomorrow. Then Mom drops me off at a shopping mall, where I have arranged to meet up with my friends Faye and Njabulo. I used to work with Faye and I was in Toastmasters with both of them. We spend hours drinking coffee and talking. Eventually we go our own reluctant ways. I do a bit of shopping before meeting up with my cousin Philippa, who is visiting for a few days from the coastal town of Knysna that is now home to her. We have coffee, do more shopping, and then head home to have dinner with Mom.

2012-02-17 15.11.45Friday: My brother arrives at a prearranged time, and the three of us drive out to my aunt’s house. We have a small private memorial planned – just a few us of us, all family. With my brother protectively carrying the ashes, we go up the hill behind her house. My brother says a few words that bring smiles and tears to the rest of us, and then we scatter the ashes under a tree – the same tree where both of my grandparents were scattered many years ago. My aunt’s final resting place is absolutely gorgeous, and the rain has held off for this occasion. We go back to the house and share memories. This is just the kind of final farewell that my aunt would have wanted.

Saturday: My friend Caroline picks me up and we go out for brunch. I haven’t seen Caroline for about twelve years and she looks just the same. We have a great time catching up, and then she comes back to the house to have tea with me and Mom. After she leaves, Mom and I go out for lunch with my brother. It will be a long time before I see him again, so I am glad of this opportunity. When Mom and I get back to the house, my aunt and cousins come for tea. I finish my packing, and then Mom and I tearfully say goodbye to each other before my cousins drop me off at the train that will take me to the airport.

I returned to Toronto on Sunday afternoon, feeling jetlagged, exhausted, and filled with the sadness that comes from leaving behind a grieving mother. I wish I could split myself in half. I am so happy to be back here, with my husband and children. But I wish I could have spent more time with Mom. I feel like she still needs me, and I hope she knows that even though I am far away, I am always at her side.

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Journey–Part 1

22 Feb

This time two weeks ago I was sitting at Heathrow Airport waiting for my connecting flight to Johannesburg. I was bored out of my skull, having spent seven hours drifting aimlessly around the Internet and walking around the duty free shops looking at stuff I didn’t want and couldn’t afford to buy.

Eventually my flight left, and I arrived in South Africa early the following morning. The next ten days or so were a whirlwind of activity. I spent time with my mom and my brother, went out with people I haven’t seen for an inordinately long time, and said goodbye to my aunt as we laid her ashes to rest.

It is worth recording what I did during this trip, because I am not getting any younger and I do not want these memories to get lost in the busy-ness and noise of my regular day-to-day life.

2012-02-08 22.57.18

Thursday: I arrive in South Africa. My brother picks me up and feeds me non-airline food. It feels odd to drink a cup of coffee without air turbulence making it splash all over my face. I absently wonder whether pilots plan to hit turbulence right around the time coffee is being served. My mom picks me up from my brother’s place and takes me to the house that was home to me for many years. I meet the current instalment of dogs and cats, and have a glass of wine with my mom before going to bed and failing to sleep.

Friday: Today is a sad day. My mom and I go to the funeral home where we meet up with my aunt Mary and my cousins Alison and Ivan. We go in to pay respects to my aunt. Little do I know that the image of her bruised and damaged face will come to haunt me after a few days. She was so beautiful in life, and that is how I want to remember her. In the evening, my brother comes for dinner. He is working too hard, and he looks too stressed. We all relax together for the evening, the three of us. I feel the absence of my dad. I feel like he should be there with us. Maybe he is.

Saturday: My brother takes Mom and I out for the best cappuccino in town, and then Mom and I head back home because we’re expecting a visitor, Pieter. I have known him since I was about ten, when his late wife Tanya became friends with Mom. In the afternoon, my brother picks me up and we go out for a movie. After the movie we go to a rooftop bar to have a drink and chat. We have a great time. It has been far too long since we went out, just the two of us.

2012-02-12 07.16.16Sunday: I go for a trail run by the river. The altitude makes it tough, but I love the sunshine and the beauty, and I deem the run to be a success. When I get back, I go out for breakfast with Mom and my cousin Alison. Later in the day, my friend Wayne picks me up and we go for lunch. It is great to see him. I met him when I went to Israel twenty years ago and we have been firm friends ever since.

Monday: My birth father Ron takes me out for brunch. I saw him seven years ago at my dad’s funeral, but I have not had much contact with him since. We have a good time and a lovely chat. In the afternoon, two of Mom’s friends come over for tea. One of them I have known all my life; the other I am meeting for the first time. A good time is had by all.

Tuesday: I have a day with Mom today. The plan is to go to her hairdresser salon – run by her long-time friends Willie and Martinus – and then to go shopping. I am delighted to see them. They have been true friends to my mom for many years, and Willie cut my hair last time I was here seven years ago. Willie takes one look at me, and telling me that I’m far too young to be walking around with grey hair (God bless him), he makes an executive decision to colour my hair for me. Mom and I end up spending most of the afternoon there, talking, laughing, and getting our hair done. There is no time for shopping at the end of it, but we do stop on the way home to make sure we have wine. It’s all about priorities.

Continued on Friday…

A Runner Is Born

7 Mar

When I was sixteen, I started smoking due to peer pressure. Although I was not quite a pariah in high school, I was not exactly popular either. I was one of a handful of girls who who kind of hung around on the fringes while the pretty, popular, sociable ones traveled in packs. All my life I have suffered from social anxiety, and high school was, for me, a time filled with awkward social angst.

Many of the popular girls would go to parties and smoke. They made it look cool, like the thing cool kids do. And so, in a misguided attempt to fit in with this crowd, I started smoking too. Throughout the next decade, I made the occasional token attempt to quit, but these attempts were never really sincere. They were driven more by guilt than anything else.

It was a lot easier to be a smoker in those days. You could legally smoke just about anywhere: in bars and restaurants, in airports, in shopping malls. You could even smoke in the workplace, although out of respect for my non-smoking friend Gary, who sat in the workstation beside mine at the office, I refrained from smoking at my desk. If I wanted to light up, I went to the communal coffee area and smoked there.

Shortly after I turned 26, however, something in me changed. It was a something that would prompt me to try quitting for real. It was not a concern for my health, even though – as my parents pointed out to me many times as they desperately tried to get me to quit – several family members had died from smoking-related illnesses. It was not the cost, which even back then was astronomical. It was not the nagging to quit that my family and friends subjected me to (in fact, because I can be stubborn and perversely bloody-minded, the nagging was probably my biggest deterrent to quitting).

I simply woke up one morning and realized that I was tired of being a smoker.

That was all it took.

I knew that I was not the kind of person who would just be able to go cold turkey. And if I was going to quit, I wanted to do it properly, in a way that would ensure that I would never smoke again.

Common sense told me that in order to break the habit, I would need to replace it with something else. Instead of having a cigarette with my morning coffee, or after my meals, or during my work breaks, I would have to do something else. I also realized that my endeavours would be a lot more effective if I took steps to ensure that I wouldn’t actually want to smoke.

So instead of quitting there and then, I picked a date six months in advance and decided that I would quit then. I used the six months to prepare myself, mentally and physically.

I took up crossword puzzles, to get into the habit of doing something else with my hands, and also, quite frankly, with my mind.

I told everyone I knew that I was quitting and when, to ensure that I would be mortified by embarrassment if I didn’t follow through. This also had the advantage of securing support from friends and family.

I recruited a friend to quit on the same day as me, just so that I wouldn’t be doing it alone. I have since lost contact with that particular friend, but I have heard through the grapevine that he has quit several times since then.

Most importantly, I made changes to my general lifestyle. I tend to be an all-or-nothing kind of gal: if I was going to improve my lifestyle in one area, I might as well go all-out. So I cut back on the junk food and started eating fruit. I kicked the Coca Cola habit and switched to water. I couldn’t bring myself to give up coffee entirely, but I did go from eight cups a day to about three.

It was at this time of my life, while I was preparing myself to quit smoking, that I started running for the first time. To be fair, the term “running” is a little grand for what I was doing. Bear in mind that I hadn’t exercised in years. I was overweight and unhealthy, and the smoking had put ten years’ worth of crap in my lungs. When I started running, I was really putting in about thirty seconds of wheezy plodding for every ten minutes of walking.

My friend Gary (the same Gary for whom I had given up smoking at my desk), who happens to be a marathoner, said to me, “Some day you will be running races.” Gary was unbelievably supportive of my venture to quit and be healthy. While other people at the office were telling me that I would never quit, Gary had complete confidence that I would succeed. He gave me tips on improving my lifestyle, and he provided me with beginner training programs that would help me make the metamorphosis from “plodder who can barely put one foot in front of the other” to “runner”.

At the same time, I was drinking in advice from my Dad, who had been a marathon runner in his youth. He showed me how to pace myself, how to breathe while running, how to handle hills.

I gave up smoking on the day I had scheduled, almost fifteen years ago. I have not picked up a cigarette, or even had a craving since then.

One day, about four months after I had quit, I woke up and went for a run. By that time I was walking and running in more or less equal proportions. I would walk for five minutes and run for five minutes. I felt myself making progress, but I still didn’t really feel like a real runner.

Anyway, on this particular morning, I set out on my usual route, and I found myself focusing a lot more on how I was running. I set myself little targets: just get to that traffic light. Just run as far as that tree. You can make it past those apartment buildings. I gradually became aware that my breathing, which had always been a little jagged from all the years of smoking, was now regular and strong. I took stock of how my legs were feeling and realized that the gradual build-up of exercise had made me stronger.

Eventually, I looked at my watch, thinking that my first five minutes of running must have elapsed by now. I was stunned – for the first time ever, I had run for ten consecutive minutes without stopping, without even slowing down. I took a one-minute walking break, even though I didn’t feel as if I needed it, and then ran my second set of ten minutes just as effortlessly as the first.

That day, for the first time ever, I felt that I had earned the right to call myself a runner.