Monday 26 December 2022

A Boxing Day Forever Seared into My Memory

    The 26th of December is a holiday in Canada called “Boxing Day”.  It has its roots in England where the day after Christmas, noblemen would box up small presents for their servants.  Now in Canada Boxing Day has become a day of shopping, with stores offering big sales.  

    For me, whenever Boxing Day comes around, I can’t help but think of Boxing Day in 1997, when we lost John Bird, one of our closest friends.  John was such an active guy, hiking, jogging, eating right, and  what happened on that Boxing Day was an unbelievable shock.

    This is the entry from my diary on Dec. 26, 1997:

Our lives were changed forever at about 5:20 this afternoon.  We had just sat down to eat our way through our pizza, when the phone rang.  We looked at each other and frowned the way we always do when we get a phone call during our meal.  My wife got up and answered the phone.  As she talked ,I knew something bad had happened.  I figured it had something to do with her mother, who is alone at xmas in Honolulu.

    When she got off the phone.  She looked stunned and said,  “John Bird  is dead and we have to go to the hospital to help Margaret.” 

    This was just unbelievable, and I asked “What happened?”  My wife had been given a few details but she mentioned skiing, something which John had spoken about doing when we saw him at Margaret’s last night.  I imagined that maybe he had been caught in an avalanche or something.

We immediately drove to the hospital.  I walked right by Margaret, who was sitting huddled on a bench with Ann.   Her face was turned away from us and I hadn’t recognized her.  She seemed so small I thought it was a little girl.   When we did finally recognized her, we went to her.   It was pretty bad.

    She kept wailing “ I don’t want him to be dead.” 

    We still didn’t know what had happened.   But slowly, over time, she told us that John hadn’t been feeling to well this morning and was experiencing a shortness of breath and wanted to go for a ski and get some fresh air.  He came back home and was taking a bath and started to get pains and a tightness in his chest.  He called Margaret to pick him up and take him to the hospital, thinking he was having an asthma attack.   She came over,  he walked to her car by himself and she drove toward town.  (The hospital is only 5 miles away,)

As they got close to the Fraser River bridge, John started saying “Oh Shit, oh shit” and had a violent seizure.   When Margaret got to the hospital, the staff tried to resuscitate him, but they couldn’t.      

        Crystal, a nurse came over to us as we sat there on the bench and asked us if we wanted to see Johns body, and after a bit, Margaret said she wanted to, and asked us to come with her,  so we accompanied her into the room where John was laid out.

    There was John, still in his hiking pants and jacket.   He looked natural except for a green plastic airway vent still in his mouth.  Then I noticed that his right eye lid was not totally closed and his eye was dull and lifeless.  That is when it really hit me that he was gone.

We all broke into tears again and ended up in a sobbing group hug.

        We had told Margaret to spend the night with us and so my wife drove Margaret to our house and I drove her 4-runner.  We talked and cried, and tried to figure out what to do.  I drove up to John’s house and got his address book so we could call and tell people.  While I was gone Margaret called Gary,  John’s brother.

    I was going to call Linda, John’s ex-wife, who had moved away, but her number wasn’t in the book, so I called Trevor and Norma and told them what had happened to John and got Linda’s phone number from them.

    I hadn’t been in contact with Linda for a long time and I knew it would be a difficult phone call.  When I told her who it was, she excitedly said, “David!” and was really happy and surprised that I had called.  This was disturbing to me, because I was about to crush her happiness with the news about John’s death.  When I managed to choke out the news about John, and Linda was just stopped dead. 

    She finally managed to say she would have to phone me back.

    Bob, who is a councilor came over to help Margaret and we were able to contact Allison, one of Margarets’s close friends, who we had thought was going to go to Smithers today, but luckily, she had put it off a day, so she came over.   Allison also didn’t want to be alone that night, so in the end, Margaret went to stay with her.

     Eventually, everyone left and we were alone in our grief.  After such a harrowing day, neither of us got very much sleep; my mind was just racing the whole night.

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