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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Letter For Dano

Hello Debi.

I live in Invermere and we just returned after a two week vacation. We were

shocked to read of Dano's death. My spouse and I knew him as long-time

residents of any small town know each other. Dave had a motorcycle seat

re-upholstered about two years ago and we always enjoyed bumping into him

here and there and having interesting, thoughtful conversations. Even

though we weren't close, it was reassuring to see his old truck and old dog

at the shop and we lived with the naive hope that our neighbours are living

happily ever after.

A few years ago, Zach and his pals, the Logan boys (who live across from

us), rescued a cat from under a shed at the school board shop. We are cat

lovers and were heartened that the boys had been feeding and watering the

scared, homeless puss for days before we even realized it was living there.

Then we learned that Zach's family had given it a home! I've long admired

Dano's love for the community and willingness to organize - like the coat

drive and the hang gliding event. And I admired his dedication and

involvement as a father. Year after year, I watched him arrive across the

street in the green-blue truck to pick up kids and drop off kids.

I'm grateful you've written a little in your blog about the sad and tragic

circumstances of his death and also about your raw feelings. People in

this valley loved and respected and we are reluctant to ask questions. I'll

be thinking of you, his Invermere family and your family (especially your

dad) as you all carry on the best you are able. When I read your

wonderful description of his love for life and family and friends; of course

that is what you will do in his memory and as his kid sister.


Karen Brown

Thanks Karen. Every little bit helps, and you have helped on a day that was pretty low.xo

Monday, June 27, 2011

Share Your Stories of Dano

I write this while homeward bound from my brother’s final tragedy. Almost running from the mess he left behind.

I need to get home, to lose myself in familiarity.
That means getting back to the computer desk and writing things that inform, enlighten or entertain. Not bring you down. I am hoping this is the third tragedy meaning the rein of horror is over.
Long Live the days of laughter and good health, of births, weddings, joy and bliss.

And long live our memories of Daniel( Dano) Robert Harold Saunders:

The day was sunny, hot...the type of day that would bring my brother out of his upholstery shop, this time single-handedly dragging a couch to set on the edge of his parking lot. Across the street is Invermere's Rona building and the traffic to and from its premises was steady.

The cold beer in his hand suggested Dano was ready to quit for the day and was open for company. Having recently moved out of his house and into the bus parked beside his shop, we figure he preferred this to sitting in the bus by himself. We think this because Dan Saunders defined the word “socialite.”

No-one knows how long he sat there, but two men told us after Dano's funeral service that they had both, separately seen him seated there and stopped to join him on that couch. A few beers amalgamated into 2 cases.

They stayed there, enjoying the afternoon, laughing, joking.

Cars drove by, a few with Alberta plates looking at these crazy BC'ers as if to say, “Is that legal here?”, the look quickly changing to belie a “and can we join them?”

Yes, you could always join him. The more, truly the merrier. But while in his company, you may have been shocked to find all rules often ceased to apply. Dano wouldn't be contained by normal constraints

A pick-up truck with a bench seat bolted in the box, complete with seat belts. Yes, every cop in the world pulled him over, only to discover it was compliant.

An ardent champion of under dogs, he nursed a pet crow back from near-death. He hitchhiked across Canada twice.

He wrote left and right on his mitts forty years ago, long before it became a fad.

When his wife and teenaged daughter declared war, he moved into an apartment with the teen, trying to keep the peace. Who does that?

There was no box to think outside of. He was outside of the box himself.

Funny that thought would come to me. He made boxes inside of boxes for an art university entry project. It was fascinating. He was fascinating.

And he ends his journey in a box his daughter made, yes, the same teen, placed on a little side table at the front of a church.

My brother. So well known and loved that he took top billing over the grads of 2011 and graced the front page of the local paper, the headline saying “Goodbye Dano.” He wasn't a celebrity or public figure, but he was somebody everyone wanted to be a bit more like. Casual. Hakuna Matata. What will be, will be. No rain, no rainbows.

One man, the first born child of Bob and Dorothy's. Two children of his own. Born the third month and third day and died in hospital room number three. Four blood-relatives arriving from out-of-town, five months of being single again, six days between flying off a roof and landing inside a wooden box your daughter made for your ashes. Seven days at the Copper Point Resort for your grieving father. Eight, nine, ten times more I should have called him.

Fifty-three years old. Fifty-three hundred pictures, at least.

You may be gone but you are with us even more in death. You are over our shoulder, you're in our ear, you're in our sleep, our dreams, our nightmares. You influence our goals, our future plans, our resolve to be even more like you, more un-like you.

If you have a story about my brother that you would like to share, please send it and I will put it on this website, plus forward it to his children. His legacy of the legend he deserves to become is all they have left.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Waves of Grief Keep Crashing Overhead

The past has become a vortex sucking me downward until I am drowning in it. Memories keep playing in my mind, there are just so many. Fifty-one years of them. And the hardest part is that there won't be any more memories made. I am left with what there is and that will never be enough.
My grief for my brother has moved to a stage of anger. I am mad at the entire world, at my brother, at his wife, at the hospital, the doctors, the guy in the next bed that heard Dan had chest pains. I am mad at me for only leaving a message for him to call me back when I knew he was floundering.I wish I could put my fist through a wall. I wish I could physically hurt as much as my soul is hurting.

So I take it out on my husband. Everything he does is wrong. I snap at him for complaining about the computer, about his reaching for a bottle to console himself, for being overweight. None of it makes sense and I don't feel any better but I can't seem to stop myself. I'm like a lion with a spike in my side.
He doesn't say a word.
And to top it off there is a woman in my head still screaming her head off. She's like a constant siren, in so much pain that I can barely hear anything else. I am shaking constantly like I am freezing. I have a sweater and pants on even though it is over 20C outside. And I just can't seem to stop crying.

I understand death, how necessary it is in the circle of life. Nobody lasts forever and Dano was with us on borrowed time since his twenties. He lived life on the edge and we all know this is where you can end up. On a slab in a morgue days before we celebrate all fathers. I grieve double time for his children and for my Dad who is there trying to make sense of it all while I write this.

Our nephew's wife is expecting a child. She is five weeks pregnant and this gives me a ray of light inside all of this darkness. But it's not enough to cling to yet as the waves of  sorrow keep crashing on top of my head and under I go again.

Losing someone you love is so hard. It's at times like this that I have to believe that this is Hell. Right here on earth. That's why life isn't fair, isn't easy and isn't anything the way you think it should be.

I know I have to keep busy. I found some relief this morning when I went for a run. Feeling the air coming into my lungs, filling them, exhaling. I am alive and life is good. It was my mother's favourite saying and was on the t-shirts she wore in Palliative Care. Life is good. And it is for the living. And I will get over this and move on to the next stage of grief which is Bargaining. If I had only. I'm part way there.
Thankfully the stage after that will only be Depression before we get to Acceptance. It's going to be a while yet. That's the only thing I am sure about these days.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Good-Bye To My Brother

Yesterday I got the call that I had to say good-bye to someone I have been on this earth with for 51 years. My older brother,Daniel Robert Harold Saunders, born on March 3, 1957 fell from the roof of his house and crashed onto his fence. But that isn't what killed him. He spent the next forty hours in a room at the Invermere hospital and on the third day, after getting out of his bed for physio, he had pains in his chest. He returned to his bed and went into cardiac arrest. An autopsy will have to tell us if it was from a massive coronary or a blood clot from the damage his legs sustained.
Either way, he is gone.
While he was in hospital, the family luckily had a chance to talk to him. My Dad and sister and I called. My Dad from as far as Fredericton, New Brunswick, my sister from Ottawa, myself from 14 hours away in northern British Columbia. Dan's recently- estranged wife and two teen aged children were able to see him as well and express, as we did, their feelings and love. That is more than most people get when a loved one dies from an accident. At least we have that to cling to in this darkest hour.
There is a movie playing in my head ,its the earliest memory I have and it begins with myself standing at the big picture window in our livingroom. I am 4 years old and I am waiting for my big brother to return from Kindergarten. He has only just left. Mom tries to distract me, wants me to play with my baby sister, but I won't be swayed. I stay by that window until he comes home hours later. I want to go to school too. In fact, I want to do anything and everything my brother does. I want to ski like him, to party like him, to get to know all of his friends.And I do.It takes me years but I catch up, never having been more than a heel behind his every step.
 He used to hate that.
As the oldest of three siblings, he would rule the roost quite firmly, chasing my sister and I throughout the hallways of our house when the parents were out, forcing us to lock ourselves into the bathroom or our bedrooms so he couldn't get at us. If he did catch us, we would suffer an Indian burn on our wrists, or other just "punishments"  that he deemed fit for annoying him.
 I used to hate that.
Then we both graduated from high school and within a year of each other, moved from Fredericton NB out west, him to Calgary and myself to Vernon BC. In June 1984 I called Dan, now nicknamed Dano, when I went into labour with Karly, my first born. He showed up at the hospital two days later, shirt unbuttoned, sandals on and a pot of geraniums only to discover I was still in labour and all by myself. He stayed beside me and watched my daughter being born. He professed to be messed up for three days after, telling everyone "I would never ask a woman to go through that for me." And indeed it took eleven years before his wife Julie went through that and Dano's daughter Jayme was born. Two years later Zachery arrived, both children near- spitting images of their father.
My brother settled into life as an upholsterer, being a master at the helm of an Industrial sewing machine. He was a hang glider pilot even after having trashed his body in a near-fatal ski accident while in his twenties. People used to turn their heads so not to see his launches, they were that scary. As were the landings, but he loved being up in the air. All that sense of freedom.
He also loved doing things for other people. He was quick to open a door, to lend a hand, to invite you over, pour you a drink. He would make a car load of family wait in a sweltering truck while he helped someone with groceries, probably someone he didn't even know.
He did everything he could for his family and they wanted for nothing. His daughter became a champion goalie, his son a champion at any sport he attempted like bicycling and snowboarding.
Dan was always there for everyone. Not usually on time, but he was there.
We got together when we could. A Christmas or two, a reunion, lately at our Mother's ash spreading last July and then when I was having my radiation treatments. He drove to Kelowna and made us dinner.The best guacamole appy I have ever tasted. He was so happy. After thirty years, he was finally pain-free from a new gadget he had found and bought with inheritance money from our mother. Sadly, he informed us he  had moved out of his home and into his camperized bus, because something needed to change and he decided nothing would unless he made the move. He was trying to move forward with his life.
Between raising a family and flying to and from New Brunswick twice for our mother's passing in 2009,  Dano was quite strapped financially and felt the world was crashing in on him. He never knew how to say "no." He would, no, no...and then he would give in and say "okay." His biggest downfall was his big heart, a heart that killed him in the end. I imagine he would laugh at how ironic that is.
Everything demanded more from him and he would give. And give. And give until it became too much. He was put onto anti-depressants and seemed to be keeping his head above water.

Unfortunately, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident a few weeks ago and got himself a DUI.  He then crashed his bicycle and received three broken ribs. Things just continued to spiral downward. "Everything is such a mess," he told me. "I don't know what I'm doing anymore."
He ended up on the roof of his house. There was an audience, the neighbours, the police, the ambulance attendants. The rest you know.

At least now my brother doesn't have any more cares or problems. His head is high, his body unbroken, and he is on to the next phase in life after death. I have no doubt my mother and grandmother, both whom adored him his entire life, were there to greet him with open arms. As they will be there for my sister and I one day as well.
It makes death seem a little more friendly, when you have someone you loved so much, being there waiting. You almost look forward to it.
So  once again I am at the picture window waiting for when I will see Danny again. Wanting to be where he is.
Life has a funny way of coming around full circle.

I miss you already Big Brother. May you rest in peace...until I get there!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pardon-ing My Period

It suddenly dawned on me yesterday that it has been six months since I've had to use any feminine hygiene products. Thanks to the Chemo and Tamoxifen, I have been completely period free for the first time since my pregnancies, which was almost thirty years ago. This is the moment I have wished for since the very day it started on August 10, 1972. I know the exact date because my mother did everything but advertise it in the local paper. Worse, she put the details in the back of my baby book for anyone to read over the next multiple of decades.
I should be celebrating, but for some reason there is a touch of regret in acknowledging the end of something I absolutely loathed for the major part of my past life.
I was the pig-tailed girl that raised her hand during Sex Ed in Grade Six to earnestly ask “but how does the sperm get to the egg.” Amidst a room full of tittering,I was sent home to ask my mother who handed me a booklet on “becoming a woman.” It talked about bleeding between the legs. It told me I had to start avoiding extreme hot and cold conditions because I might faint. It said I could now have a baby. A baby! I didn't even like to play with dolls. What would I do with a baby?
I was thirteen and a half when I finally got to learn first hand what all the whispering had been about. I was staying at my friend's lake cottage when I got that “baseball bat in the stomach” feeling. Some call it butterflies so they must be on a whole separate level from what I went through every 28 days. Butterflies are sweet and light and fluttery. These were huge tsunamis of pain that rolled through me from the back of my teeth to my toes. I would get sent home from school, not able to run from the nurse's station to mom's waiting car without soaking through the two-inch thick pads we used to have to wear back then. Pads that were held in place with a re-useable elastic belt you wore around your hips. I begged for someone to shoot me. To run me over. It was almost more than my mind could handle. It was disgusting and humiliating. It was gross and obscene and an impediment on my tree climbing and wrestling matches with the guys. Once a month. For 39.5 years. Times twelve. That is 474 cycles. Less two pregnancies, so 456. Okay, it also didn't return right after my daughter was born, while I breast-fed. My son was the result of that. So let's say 450 months. Times seven days for each slot and we are looking at being miserable for 3,150 days out of my life.
Let's not forget the 200 plus Double Fun Days when it wasn't marked on the calendar from the month before and so I was caught unprepared. It's not like it was rocket science but I just somehow refused to give my period the attention it deserved. Even at fifty I forgot and had to bum something from a friend. The “just ignore it, maybe it will go away” philosophy?
And now it has.
No more ugly tell-tale stains on my white jeans, white underwear, white dresses. No more worrying that I'm pregnant even though I told the surgeon I would sue him if it ever happened post-tubal ligation. No more having to call for spare supplies using my friend's CB radio from a remote location.

I'm still getting the cramping, the chocolate binging urges, the two days of snapping at my other half. But the worst, that smelly mess, is finally over. I made it out the other side with some spare money in my pocket. Farewell to “that” aisle in the drugstore and having to double wrap some of my purchases.

But as much as I hated the well-named curse, the “friend” who's arrival meant I wasn't pregnant after finding my diaphragm stuck to my husband's leg in the morning, I have to admit it gave me the greatest two gifts in my life. Karly and Lorne. It was something I hated, but understood. Something I had to work with so that I could be a woman and a mother. It was an ultimate trade off. Four hundred and fifty months of anti-inflammatories, chocolate bars and zits in exchange for two amazing lives that I will cherish until I die and then some.
It's not that bad of a deal when you look at it that way.
I guess the slight melancholy comes from understanding that I am officially what a friend used to call his wife, “an old spawner.”I'm now and forever on the backside of life, never again to reproduce another human being.” It's a blessing,” I tell myself. I can't find my slippers in the morning. How the heck would I look after another child?
No, it's bucket list time. Time to get done what I want to leave behind. Like this book of blogs, may it ever see the light of day in a library somewhere. So, here's to the next five, ten, twenty, who-knows-maybe thirty years ahead of being able to wear white clothes any day of the week.
A parting note to my period: I forgive you for everything you put me through.