Abetted by the oblivious humour in a huckster’s failed pitch, the silence of deep forest trails, and the unfailing companionability of her rugged old motorcycle, Nancy Irwin finds the courage to say goodbye to her beloved father.
It takes a lot to ride a motorcycle. Sometimes I forget that. Riding is such a common thing for me, at times I forget not everyone can swing their leg up over a big bike, balance at a stop light on uneven pavement or in strong wind, or deal with an exposed state that’s so different from being emotionally protected by glass, metal and door locks that keep one safe from interaction with others. I was recently reminded.
Dad had been ill. At 94, it was no surprise that his hold on life became tenuous. What happened for me was that his rapid decline coincided with the change of weather that makes riding much less pleasant, and a warm car strangely appealing. On days that were grey but not raining, rain appeared imminent and I’d decide not to ride. Days that were raining were no brainers, especially when coupled with single digit temperatures. And it seemed there were no full sun days. All this hit right after Halloween.
Each of us owes the world one death. There’s no escape. The happy end to this story is I’m back riding again, in 3C temperature and sun, feeling great joy in the simple pleasure. Suddenly 3C is well within my range. I’m bopping around town meeting friends for tea, buying bananas, stopping at the library, all by motorcycle. It feels so good to be riding again! I can’t believe I stopped. But I did.
Casper sat parked for weeks. I began to wonder if I might as well put her away for the winter because I just couldn’t muster the energy to ride. Things happened to make this change. None of them were fun but one in particular was very funny.
Arthur Irwin lived in Chester Village, a lovely nursing home in Toronto for nine and a half years. His first day there he tried to go for a walk but was stopped. I was called to ask if I was going to let him out. He could get hurt, fall on the sidewalk, get run over while crossing the Danforth. I said he had to die of something—“Of course, let him out!” I don’t think I was the average daughter visiting there, especially when they saw the motorcycle. They came to learn my father wasn’t average either. He was the happiest resident there.
I would ride Casper to Broadview and Danforth, park, and Dad and I would go for walks. But that was before the home moved to Scarberia. Then I would drive, feeling silly on hot summer days. But it was the only way to get my Father to the beach where we could wander the boardwalk together, or go downtown to walk about his old Cabbagetown neighbourhood.
We had Halloween night and Winter Wonderland drives, spring blossoms and fall foliage tours in the car I inherited from my mother. Casper popped by every now and then to visit or drop something off. I only ever saw a couple other motorcycles in the parking lot and never met their riders. Everyone knew I rode a motorcycle. It was a distinguishing feature. In cold weather I arrived dressed in full leather. Residents and staff would smile.
After realizing there would be no more emergency room visits, I sat with Dad, who was happy to be in his own room, in his own bed. He was down for the count with pneumonia, “the old people’s friend.” PSWs, nurses, kitchen staff, reception, all came by to see the socialite of the place. He remembered all their birthdays, cheered them up with jokes, and you wouldn’t believe how many women he promised to take to Hawaii when he won the lottery!
I laughed that women half his age were never jealous, but there sure was love in the room. The steady stream of visitors made the experience more wonderful than I could have imagined.
I chose to walk to the funeral home. My parents had long since made arrangements, but there were still forms to fill out. I had to return on Monday to identify, and when I did I found myself dealing with the proverbial used car sales people who tried to get me to buy my own funeral package! I can’t stop laughing every time I think of it!
Of course in my grief stricken state I’d want nothing more than to sign on the dotted line and agree to pay $25 a month for the next 15 years on a contract for which I’d owe some undisclosed amount that would secure my burial. I looked at the two men tag teaming me, towering over me after I, seated, had signed the necessary papers for the big oven and government death benefits. This is the time to strike! I’m still chuckling.
Don’t know why, but all I could think of was seeing my bank statement for the next 15 years, with a withdrawal of 25 bucks reminding me of my impending doom every single month. I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop. Are you kidding? They weren’t selling a “biker” funeral either. I said I don’t mind seeing a charity of my choice, but my funeral? Every month? For 15 years? It would be the name of an insurance company I would see. Right. I had the two of them laughing along with me, and one admitted his sales pitch had clearly failed. I must have laughed all the way home.
The day after Dad died the sun came out and the rain stopped. I got back on my bike, feeling lighter with every ride. It really does clear the head. Dressed for the cold, I rode around Toronto to spots that would be in full sun. I parked, and then hiked forests along the Don River. Another day I rode to my childhood home and walked the rocks of the tributary that feeds the Humber River. I love rock walking, the sound of the river flowing, and forest on either side. It was there I formulated a plan. You see I got terribly out of shape from sitting for two weeks, with walking hospital halls as my only form of exercise. Strangely, when I wasn’t doing that, I found myself at home watching HBO, BBC or the ceiling— not my usual exercise routine. So the hedonist in me decided on a new anti-depression program that involves being outdoors and hiking. And my motorcycle will take me there.