Maple Syrple, A Cold War


Still floating from my honeymoon, I come home to an urgent message from Dad’s tax accountant and a carbon copy of an email exchange between Nicol and Mum.

katie and joan

Hi Joan,

The bottle of syrup you bought Sandy 4 days ago is gone, and the 4 litres of ice cream is almost finished.

Joan, while money is involved in the cost of the maple syrup, I don’t really think it’s the critical consideration.

One of the things I try to do is have Sandy on as much balanced a diet as possible. This is difficult because he loves large amounts of sugar everyday – maple syrup, honey in his tea, sometimes four or five bowls of ice cream in a day. I buy him Tunnocks caramel wafers, cookies, chocolate, ju jubes and assorted candy, halva, as well as his sugared ginger.

Personally, I think he consumes too much sugar, and it could be a health risk because he is sedentary and doesn’t burn it off. My recommendation for health reasons would be to control it a little.

Then, again, I am not a dietitian…just my two cents worth.



Some scientific studies link sugar to Alzheimer’s.


Hi Nicol,

I absolutely agree with you, the sugar is not good for him, but, he is 84 and I think he should have whatever makes him happy. When I think of the amount of alcohol he used to drink, the sugar is a great improvement and he is quite ready to die. I am a great believer in dying happy! The food you give him is wonderful, and he is so lucky to have you to take care of him, but he seems to have no control over his need for the sugary stuff. I guess it is what he craves instead of the booze. Strange change of taste.

I know you are right Nicol, but I want him to be happy.



My father is a very lucky man.

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Until Death Do Us Part

“I appreciate that dear,” said Dad when I told him we were getting married at St. Stephen’s, down the road from the farm where I was baptized and my brother is buried.

It was a small wedding, sixteen people all told: our parents, Lynn’s children, my sister and her children, and the Oatmeal Savage, our stand-in photographer.


“This has never happened before,” laughed the vicar when we asked to start the ceremony twenty minutes early.

katie and lynn and the pastor

The sun set, the candles lit, it was a pantomime wedding; we each played a part.

It began with Lynn’s family standing in a half circle at the front of the church. My eldest nephew, Seth, began the procession down the candlelit aisle past the empty benches strumming his guitar with my sister and his siblings behind him. Arm in arm with my parents, my father with his cane, we made our way down the aisle until we formed a circle with Lynn’s family, where my sister and her children sang back up harmonies while I sang my love song to Lynn.

Watch here: Be My Valentine

joan marilyn candles

Our mothers lit the unity candles and everyone but Lynn and I sat down, my family on the right and Lynn’s on the left. The vicar read his opening statements and Lynn and I sang our duet. I played guitar and he harmonica.

Watch here: Still Falling

“Now, for the actual wedding,” laughed the vicar.

katie and lynn's wedding-kids

We said our vows and prayers. Lynn’s son, Joel, gave us the rings we put on our fingers. His daughter, Zoe, read from Corinthian’s, his eldest daughter, Anya and her fiancé, Brad, signed as our witnesses, and his father ended the ceremony with a prayer.

lynns dad

“I pronounce you man and wife and that’ll be 2 dollars,” said Dad, leaning in to whisper in my ear.

With candles in hand, Lynn and I led our family out of the church and down into the cemetery to my brother’s grave, more candles in the grass lighting our way. There, we cracked champagne, drank from silver goblets and lit sparklers to celebrate in the night. My sister’s toast as much a long awaited eulogy to John as a wedding toast to us. Goblets tipped bubbly with laughter onto the grass surrounding his grave.

katie and lynn's wedding- John

“My testicles are in my throat,” said Dad in the beautifully clear but bitterly cold night.

katie and lynn's wedding-dad

Dinner took place at a nearby family restaurant on the local reserve, the owner I knew from high school. A private room in the back, we all held hands as Dad started his prayer, but he forgot the words halfway through.

Shaking his head and instead, he sang the song he brought us all up to sing, and sing loud we did.

Johnny Appleseed wasn’t the only song he led that night. Twice, he spontaneously sang Lord, I’m coming home, once at the church and again at the restaurant. We sang with him both times.

Amongst the cocktails, poached pear and Cambozola salad, butter chicken and more wine, speeches were given and bonds were declared.

“We’re real cousins now,” said a niece to a stepchild.




My speech was in the form of a song, predictable I know.

The Proudest

Don’t mind me while I get personal, always been this way

I learned life can be unusual and I like it that way

Because you’re the most beautiful, kind and generous

Gentle, crazy, wild and shy

And you make me the proudest stepmum in the sky

You were born with bonds of loyalty, torn apart in a home at war

So in your eyes I was Lucifer invading your front door

I can’t say that I’ve raised you, I wouldn’t call me your Mom

But we are family and I love you, and I’ll protect you from harm

Because you’re the most beautiful, kind and generous

Gentle, crazy, strong and wise

You make me the proudest stepmum in the skies

So if your golden heart breaks, lost love or inexplicable aches

Or if you strive for first place but pretty knees buckle and you fall on your face

Or if you turn 74 and your muscles crack and your bones are sore

Or if we’re long gone and dead, remember the words in this song I said

You make me the proudest stepmum in the land

So honey, please take a stand

And then there was cake. My mother-in-law is an artist, painter, muralist, art therapist. She flew to BC from Ontario and baked and painted the most beautiful cake ever made. Icelandic love and marriage poetry circling the base of the top layer and other symbols of our life and ancestry scattered around the bottom: a lion for England, a springbok for South Africa, a candelabra for Judaism, and a Coast Salish whale for the west coast. It hurt to cut.

katie and lynn's wedding-cake

By the time cake was eaten and coffee was poured, the busy dinner rush had passed; the restaurant, then empty, made room for a dance floor that was all ours.




And then the wedding ended just as it should, with the bride on her back with her kitten heels in the air of the trunk of a hatchback taxi and the groom squished into the front seat with his future son-in-law.



It couldn’t have been more perfect.



“What’s happening now?” asked Dad when he saw me on Monday morning after the Friday night rehearsal dinner, the Saturday wedding, and the Sunday brunch.


everyone on the steps

Sunday Brunch

It’s over and done. The ceremony is complete. We’re married.


Though there are many dear friends and family that I would have loved to have invited to our wedding, I do not regret our choice. Blended families are complicated and this weekend was not only the marriage of a couple, it was the marriage of two families. We needed this time for us.

katie and lynn's wedding-parents

Thank you dear ones: Sandy, Joan, Peter, Marillyn, Anya, Brad, Zoe, Joel, Kristin, Delean, Seth, Taeja, Kai and Nicol.

the kiss

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“What’s exciting?” asks Dad.

On February 8th, Lynn and I are getting married. We’ve been together for seven years and have decided not to wait any longer. It’s a private family ceremony, a weekend event that my sister is flying in for from Japan.


“Oh right. You’re getting ready for all that nonsense,” says Dad, “What else is exciting?”

Where Mum is all about my wedding and me, Dad never really cares about things that don’t involve him directly. A factor in why he’s so terribly difficult to impress.

“Isn’t your daughter beautiful?” said a kind woman at church the day I spoke at Uncle Mike’s funeral.

“I have four beautiful daughters!” replied Dad, referring to Kristin and Barbara’s two girls.

“Well,” she said disconcerted, “but isn’t she talented?”

“I have four talented daughters!” he replied, as though singling me out for a compliment would be some kind of betrayal to the others, even in their absence.

Lynn Folkfest2

“Is your mother going to be there?” he asks, “She’ll have to fly fast on her broom to get here on time.”

“She’s back from Mexico,” I say, “She’ll be walking me down the aisle with you.”

He grumbles.

“Unless I’ve got three dogs on leashes, I won’t do it!” he replies.


I tell him I’m wearing a black dress for the ceremony.

“You are getting married in the church, right?” he asks with his chin down looking up at me.

“Yes, Dad,” I say, “Not in the graveyard.”

“So who’s invited?” he asks.

“Just immediate family,” I reply.

He grumbles.

“I may have invited some people,” he says, “Word gets around. I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole congregation’s there.”

I laugh.


“What happens if I say no?” he asks.

“You already said yes,” I say.

“I’ll drop dead two days before the wedding,” he says.

“You bloody well better not!” I say.

“Well, Rita and I have decided to get married the next day at St. Elizabeth’s,” he says.

“I thought it was going to be at St. Mary’s?” I say.

“We changed our minds,” he says.


At my late-to-wed age, I’m not bothered about the wedding going according to any preconceived expectations of a childhood Disney fantasy. The black cocktail dress over the puffy white gown is an economic choice with a promising frequent use practicality, but I admit vulnerability to Bridezilla’s disappointment in one way.

“Why can’t we all just love each other?” Mum used to cry out in her British accent when we were kids and not getting along.


My pre-wedding anxiety isn’t about flowers and cake, but rather a fear of someone I love getting hurt, sick, dead or melting down into a family crisis of drama. My wedding dream is a weekend of laughter, joy and love with the people I care most about in the world.

I pray it comes true and that even if it doesn’t, that I will cherish the moments, no matter how they unfold. This ceremony is a lifelong commitment to Lynn, his family and my own. With rings, vows and songs, promising to accept all the good and the bad that goes with it, we are coming together to form a new family, a family of our own.

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A New Day

Boxing Day, Dad sits down beside me on the couch in front of the fire.

“Well, Christmas dinner was a great success,” I say, making conversation.


Delean cooked the turkey. Mum made the trifle. Taeja brought baked goods from our favourite local bakery. And Seth brought his beautiful daughter, Alyssa.


We opened gifts, drank wine, ate way too much and played four rounds of Apples to Apples.


Dad came and went between the kitchen with us and his chair with the TV and dogs. Lynn showed him his hand from time to time to include him in the game.


Have I mentioned I won three out of the four games?


And at quarter to eleven, Mum was the last resident home to her senior’s building that night.


It was a wonderful night.


“Christmas? When was that?” Dad asks.

“Last night,” I say.


I guess every day is a new day.

Happy New Year!


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“What’s your date of birth?” the ER nurse asked.

“December 6, 1966. Anti-Christ,” John replied, psychotic.

December 6, 2013, John would have turned forty-seven if he were still here.

I plan to spend my morning listening to his favourite records: Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen to start. Joey recommends The Clash, but I don’t make it past side one of Born in the USA. The nostalgia in the music is too much; it hurts.

I send Kristin a message.

“Being his sister was a hard gig,” she replies.

A hard gig, but I miss it. I miss him.

I call Mum on her cell phone to see how she’s holding up today. Mum is driving, so Dad answers. They’re on their way back from ordering a tombstone for John.

“On his birthday?” I laugh.

“It’s his birthday today?” asks Dad, “I didn’t know that.”

“I told you earlier,” I hear Mum say in the background.

“Too many wardens barking at me. I can’t hear you,” says Dad.

“Yeah,” I laugh, “It’s the hearing that’s the problem.”

A tombstone birthday gift.







The John Lennon quote is my sister’s idea.

“She sure does get around,” Dad said when I told him Mum was coming home, “Where’s she going next?”

“Well, I was thinking India,” Mum said before her suitcase reached her apartment.

“Don’t you dare cremate me,” says Dad stopping to turn and wag his finger at me while walking away from John’s grave.

“And make sure to spread your mother’s ashes. Don’t bury them,” he says, “She never stays in one place.”

He walks a few paces with his cane helping him along.

“Good thing she’s getting cremated,’ Dad says, “Otherwise, we’d have to put wheels on her coffin.”

Christmas approaches, someone else’s birthday; it’s our first without John, our fourth without Ian.


Delean, Seth and Taeja are in charge of helping Granny in the kitchen this year while Lynn and I go for Chinese with his children on Christmas Eve and take the ferry over to the island on Christmas Day. My youngest nephew now living in Alberta with his father, Kristin in Japan, our numbers have grown fewer.

Merry Christmas.

The death of loved ones has changed my idea of Christmas for good. I know now that the one true gift, too holy to fit under a tree, is my Mum and Dad, sister and brother, stepfather, step-children, in-laws, nieces and nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins and dearest of friends, both here and gone. My gift is the love we share, and the blessing of knowing and having known them all.

Merry Christmas.


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‘Tis the season for …’ (by Me, Myself, and I)

‘…oh my … oh my …look at it!’

Everything else in the room is blurry, superfluous, irrelevant…

I am transfixed by its beauty.

My eyes are slowly enlarging trance-like as the thought of its sweetness causes the concave walls of my mouth to seep saliva uncontrollably, moistening the receptive surface of my anticipating tongue.

I don’t even bother sipping back the drool emerging from the corner of my mouth as I am alone in the kitchen and no one’s around to witness the embarrassment.

Yes, it’s the last piece, and you know how good that bit is – even more delicious and desirable because you’re getting it and others aren’t.

It’s mine.

More saliva.

Look at it, right there before me – the last delectable piece of halva.

And what a sweet oasis this treasure is for a mind and body ravaged by the torture of two years abstinence from the cocoa bean (oh the agony of perpetual chocolate withdrawals), making the halva so much more sweeter.

Suddenly, as my fingers are about to caress the sweetness, a horrific pang ruthlessly accosts my consciousness, effectively halting and suspending my hand in mid grab.

‘Sure he’d like it,’ I rationalize to myself, ‘but it’s far too small to share, isn’t it! And he doesn’t even know it’s there, does he! So he wont know what he’s missing – ignorance is bliss and all that.’ as  I reach again for the halva only to be thwarted by another cruel pang.

The torture of it all.

Then – Eureka!

An alternative!

Yes, an Oreo – it always works!

‘… emm… Sandy, ’ I call confidently from the kitchen in an effort to usurp a self righteous conscience, eyes still transfixed on the last piece of halva, ‘if you had your choice of an oreo or halva which one would you chose?’


‘Damn it!’ I curse as the reaching is rudely stopped in its track once again.

I’m not so easily defeated, though. ‘Sandy, whattabouta …”

‘She’s bloody back!!! announces Sandy loudly interrupting another alternative.

‘Who?’ I ask impatiently, quite irritated by the change of topic.

‘The Warden!’

Yes, she’s back on our shores again, returned from across the seas.

Who, dear reader, you ask?

Why, Sandy’s ex, Joan, of course!’

Throughout history men have murdered, slaughtered and tortured each other because of their differences. However, since the Garden of Eden, there’s one universal bond between all men – even the fiercest of enemies.

Yes, – the ex!

Joan is responsible, according to Sandy, for the loss of hearing in his right ear, and just about every other problem in his life.

(Now, being an oatmeal savage, there’s precious little I do or can do to ever impress Sandy; however, there’s one exception. I always see a glint of admiration in his eyes whenever he mentions how remarkable it is that my hearing and all my other senses remain intact, considering the number of exes I have).

Excuse me for a moment, dear reader, I’ll get back to exes in a sec…

‘…emm… Sandy,  wouldn’t you rather have Rocky Road ice cream than halva?’

‘Don’t you see how cold it is out there! I’m shivering at the very thought of ice cream…’

Ok, back to Sandy’s ex.

While there’s absolutely no doubt Joan’s responsible for his hearing loss and at least 96% of all impediments in his life – as are all exes (any thoughts to the contrary are grounds for immediate expulsion from the brotherhood of men), I must confess that Joan certainly hides her evil ways rather well.

 In fact, to the casual observer or every woman, it looks like she’s actually doing good things for Sandy (but us dudes know better, this couldn’t possibly be the case – coz she’s an ex, isn’t she!)

Joan just camouflages her vindictiveness better. She is clearly an artist in the field.

(Take all my exes (please), they ain’t bothered ‘bout any camouflage – they’re right out front and centre with their evil ways).


Joan comes to the house regularly to do Sandy’s washing, change his sheets, clean his bedroom (which, if you know Sandy’s bedroom, is a particularly remarkable feat), clean and organize his living room, often cooking his dinner and lunch; she takes him to the doctor for check ups; she’s in clinics and hospitals for every blood and other test imaginable, waiting for hours on end; takes him for groceries and his lottery tickets; keeps him company when he’s alone, listening patiently to repeated stories she’s heard more than anyone else….

I know, Sandy, I know!

You poor guy  - having to put up with all that abuse hiding behind such caring.

She’s a bad one, alright.

Yes, Joan’s way more devious than my exes.

Hold it, I’m so unfair to them.

One time, one of them actually made me a cup of tea (on second thoughts, I think I just dreamed it ).

And you can be sure my exes will be fighting each other to be the one who looks after me when I’m in my 80’s and suffering with Alzheimer’s – cleaning my room, doing my laundry, and making dinner for me…

And the meals will be  just as good as the meals Joan makes for Sandy – ‘cept for the lil arsenic flavouring.

And what a lazy and selfish person Joan is, taking off to England like she did.

But I didn’t let her get away with it, did I!

 Oh, no, I sent her an email making her feel real guilty about the trip.

Of course, she tried to get out of the embarrassment.

But I just laughed off the fact that she was there helping her oldest friend who she had known since they were together at boarding school at the age of 8. Her husband just had a triple bi pass and Joan was over there helping her friend who was having difficulty coping physically and emotionally.

And if she’s not doing all this nasty stuff across the ocean she’s over here caring for Sandy or wasting her time downtown volunteering at Cool Aid, helping the less fortunate.

Talk about a misspent time.

You know the kind – never outta pool halls when she was younger!

Oh, just a minute…

‘Sandy, you’d love a coupla double chocolate chip cookies, wouldn’t you!…’

‘Nope, I’d rather have the halva!

She’s a devious one alright.

And I’ve personally experienced it.

A few years ago, I directed ‘Lighthouse Skies’ – written and performed by Steve and Kristin. The problem about dealing with brilliant writing and actors is that such gifted individuals are usually …  how shall we say… umm… temperamental? :)

Well, without exposing titillating production details ( to avoid slander suits) suffice it to say that if it were not for Joan, a rock of dependability in a sea of creative chaos, the play would have been known in the tabloids for its sensational production volatility rather than, as it was in the media – for its excellent acting and writing.

And, of course, Joan hid in the background after the play, leaving others to endure the hardships of success and plaudits.

There’s no end to her selfishness, is there!

And she’s always inconveniencing me. Like one time, when she was going out of her way to give me one of many rides, there she was apologizing for taking a detour to drop off some things, as she did weekly, to a Sidney couple in need.

When a new tenant in her building was diagnosed with cancer, who was the one there for her when her family was far away, and she had no one to care for her?

Yes, Joan.

And when the stranger died shortly afterward, who looked after things and made funeral arrangements in the absence of her family? And, then, when the son arrived in town, who welcomed him, and took the time to find him a job in Victoria?

Yes, you’re right, it wasn’t me.

It’s one thing to help a stranger and her family with funeral arrangements but in light of the circumstances that preceded these events, her selfish altruism and fortitude is, to say the least, particularly remarkable.

Just a sec, though.

This one never fails.

‘Sandy, how about some ginger…?’

‘Nope. The Warden brought me a box of ginger chocolates this morning.’



Shortly before the stranger’s arrival in the building, Joan had just endured the most painful of all tragedies for a parent – the passing of a child.

Of all things in life, this is the most difficult experience for human beings to cope with. We are just not hardwired to deal with it. It goes against the natural order of things – children are supposed to die after a parent.

But this most tragic of events was compounded in Joan’s case.

For it was she who discovered the tragedy.

Did this mother have a complete breakdown, and become an emotional helpless wreck as most would?


Rather than burden others with her unbearable pain, anguish and heartache or crying on other’s shoulders, there was Joan helping with funeral arrangements and consoling family members and friends in their hour of grief.

Then, right after going through all of this, there she was – helping a virtual stranger and her family deal with death.

And why did it have to be Joan who was the one to find her own son?

Because week in week out it was Joan who visited her 40 year old schizophrenic son to help him through the extreme trials in his life.\The lady never thinks of burdening others with her emotional traumas but is always there for others in their time of need.

And why is this so?

Well, she’s English, isn’t she! And that kind of thing just isn’t done, is it. Just wouldn’t be proper, would it. … ‘nuff said.

Yaaay, Word of the Year for 2013 has been officially announced by the Oxford Dictionary – Selfie.

Joan, Sandy and folks like my mum – this older generation, are just a wee bit behind the times, y’know. Poor souls have no concept of the word.

They’ve no concept of being a ’selfie’ because they’re too busy sacrificing themselves for others – it’s not in their lexicon. A generation gap, if you will.

Hey!! Wait a minute!

What a load of bull!

That’s not fair to the Selfie generations!

For we’re always doing things for others (as long as there’s something in it for us, eh!


Ok, if this doesn’t work nothing will.

‘Sandy, surely you’d like a Tunnock’s caramel wafer biscuit? You love them!

‘Caramel wafer biscuit, eh? Should have said so in the first place! Ok, of course I do … ’


‘It’ll go great with the halva… if you can spare it!’

‘Awww … no… no … no…pleez Sandy, no… !

It’s ok … it’s ok … breathe … don’t worry, if I wait a few minutes he’ll probably forget what halva is – the joy of alzheimer’s, eh!

Ahha!… there is a Santa after all, woohooo!

 Merry Christmas to me…

Merry Christmas to me…

Merry Christmas to me, myself and I.

(Now, Santa, about that other present I asked for Christmas …you know, the one about the exes?)


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The Bodyguard (by Delean Ellerbeck)

“I swear you wake up every morning in bed and think of ways to piss me off!”  Grandpa chuckles as I sweep away the debris from around his ‘throne’.

“How did you know?” I ask as loud as I can, “How did you know that my sole purpose in life is to make yours hell?”

He replies with laughter that feels like machine gun fire in my eardrums.  I think he laughs that loud because he’s pretty much deaf.  He lost his hearing aid ages ago.

“I don’t need the bloody thing. I can make out just fine.”

I guess I respect that.  Seems crazy to me, but then again, he’s always done crazy things.  And who am I to argue with the king on the mountain?

I’m leaving Thrifty Foods, balancing a carton of eggs and enough homogenized milk to fill a bathtub when a woman I’ve never met says,

“Well, isn’t your grandfather the most popular guy?”

I laugh because I’ve left him in the store surrounded by people waiting patiently for their turn to say their hellos and shake his hand.  It happened again in the parking lot at the post office.  To say my grandfather is a “popular guy” is a massive understatement.  Sometimes, when I’m driving him around to wherever he wants to go, I feel like I’m a celebrity bodyguard.  Every stop we make has at least a friend or the son of somebody that worked for him at one time waiting for him.  The level of respect that people show him is something from the past, a symbol of the power he once had.

When my parents told me we were moving from Alberta to BC to live with my grandfather, it was as if they had just told me we were moving to Disneyland, permanently. Grandpa’s house was like a castle to me, tucked away in an enchanted forest by the sea.  The man himself was a 365 day a year Santa Claus, showering his grandchildren with gifts and spending money for sweets and records. My favourite memories on Mount Newton were the weekly and rather eccentric dinner parties that ended in crescendos of laughter, wine soaked table cloths and leftovers for days.  When my parents told me we were moving to Grandpa’s, I marked down the days on the calendar like it was Christmas, in June.

At nearly 27 years of age, I am proud of my role as one of Sandy Ormiston’s caregivers.  I never thought cleaning shit off a toilet seat could be so rewarding. And if someone had told me three years ago that this is where I would find joy, I would have thrown my Pabst in their face. You see, until recently, my grandfather and I have never really seen eye to eye. I am a free thinking artist with a disdain for authority while Grandpa is a right wing conservative who commands the respect of many people I dislike. As a young adult, I would come home to Mount Newton for a visit and he would start the greetings with “Well, have you applied to nursing school yet?” and “What the hell are you wearing?” He had little tolerance for “pot smoking hippies” and to say the very least, I was flying by the seat of my bell bottoms. I was often the butt of his jokes.

It became very clear during one visit that Grandpa was changing. He was in constant circles of verbal repetition.  He wasn’t cooking.  He had given up driving.  I began to fear that if I was not present for the remaining years, I would miss the opportunity to repay him for everything he had done for my family and I.  The decision to leave Vancouver after 6 years and come home to the farm was surprisingly easy.  In fact, after discussing it with my aunt, it took only seconds.

The relationship I hold with Grandpa today is one of COMPLETE comedy and adoration.  He knows he depends on me for things he can no longer provide for himself and he rewards me with compliments and jokes at his own expense.  He tells me daily that I am growing more and more beautiful every moment.  He jokes of his demise and how he might need my help to do it.  He tells me secrets and makes me feel like I’m the only one who knows them (this of course being false, he has Alzheimers, he tells everybody secrets).

I am bound to him for he has shown me a generosity unmatched by anyone I have ever known. I proudly take on the challenges of a caregiver because without him, I would not be who I am today.  I stand by this declining king on the mountain, to lovingly fold his laundry, to drive him wherever his memories wish to take him, to wait in hospitals while doctors track his deterioration.  I am blessed beyond measure to be his confidant and trusted ally.

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