Sunday, August 21, 2016

Anyone Can Die

As I drank my coffee and scrolled through Facebook this morning, my newsfeed was full of tributes for Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip following last night's final concert in Kingston. Lovely, eloquent, heart felt tributes. So many who were genuinely overcome with emotion; a mixture of sadness, loss, pride. Love.

When Gord Downie announced in May that he had terminal brain cancer, Canadians were left reeling. How could this happen to a beloved rock icon? He's only fifty-two. But of course, cancer doesn't care how famous you are, or how young you are, or how much you are loved. It is cruel, and random and unfair.

Gord's decison to go public with his diagnosis has moved and inspired many. When he could have easily been defeated, he made the choice to continue doing what he loves most, touring and performing.

Cancer may decide when his life ends, but he will decide how it ends.

Anyone can die, but it takes a lot of courage to really live, especially in the face of a terminal illness.

Truth be told (and as it's Sunday morning, it seems as good of a time as any for a confession), I was never actually a big Tragically Hip fan. I almost feel like I need to apologize for that (how very Canadian of me.) I was more of a Rush, Great Big Sea, Spirit of the West kind of gal (and incidentally, speaking of inspiring, if you haven't seen it, you really should watch Spirit Unforgettable, a documentary about Spirit of the West's lead singer John Mann's battle with early onset Alzheimer's.)

You don't have to be a fan of The Tragically Hip though, to recognize the impact that Gord Downie and the Hip have had on Canadians. They are after all, "Canada's Band." They provided the sound track for many in our generation. And though I can honestly say I never danced to them in university, nor have they ever been on my running play list, I've listened to their music many times over the last twenty seven years.

Dan was a huge Hip fan. He owned every one of their cds. In fact, I'm pretty sure that stack of cds is still packed away in my basement somewhere. He used to love playing them when we were driving home from Petawawa, usually as we were coming out of Quebec and into northern New Brunswick, my least favourite part of the drive. He would belt out their songs at the top of his lungs, while I would sit in the passenger seat fuming. The madder I got, the louder he would sing (so unlike him). If you ever had the misfortune of hearing him sing, you will appreciate just how painful an experience that was. I'm not sure how many arguments we had over the years about the Hip but I know there were a lot.

The one and only time Dan saw them in concert was when he was in Kingston on a course. I'll never forget how excited he was, he talked about it for days afterwards. And as sick as I was of hearing about it at the time, I'm so glad now that he got to go to that concert. It's funny how sometimes the things you think don't matter that much actually matter the most.

Up until a few months ago, if you had asked me who the lead singer of The Tragically Hip was, I wouldn't have had a freaking clue. Me and a whole lot of others, I'd say. Now every Canadian knows Gord Downie's name (unless they've been living under a rock). And now they know what the word glioblastoma means.

Glioblastoma. The most common and aggressive cancer that starts in the brain. It's just one of over 120 different types of brain tumors. Twenty seven Canadians are diagnosed with brain tumors every single day. Approximately 55,000 Canadians are living with a brain tumor. Like Gord Downie, most of them are seemingly perfectly healthy, until one day out of the blue, they are not.

I spent Canada Day with two of my closest friends and their daughter Carolyn and her husband who were visiting Nova Scotia. It was a beautiful, sunny day. We spent the afternoon touring the vineyards and wineries of the valley; sampling the various local wines, beers and ciders. We had so much fun, you couldn't have asked for a more perfect way to spend the day. The next day, as they were driving home from another day of site seeing, Carolyn had a seizure in the back seat of the car. And then another. And then three more after they arrived at the hospital. Three days later they received the diagnosis, a diagnosis that no one ever wants to hear: she has a brain tumor. She's twenty seven. Twenty seven. She was perfectly healthy and then she wasn't.

I've known Carolyn since she was a spunky six year old lecturing any one who would listen on the dangers of smoking (she wasn't wrong there). I wasn't surprised when her mom told she me was going to become a nurse. I've lost count of the number of babies she's helped usher into the world. And now she's the one who needs care. But when she could easily become angry and bitter, she's not. She's positive and upbeat. Last week she baked cookies and brownies and took them to her co-workers, just because. Maybe we should all take the time to stop and bake cookies for someone. Just because.

Life is too god damn short (to not eat cookies, especially chocolate chip ones).

Anyone can die but it takes courage to really live.

Carolyn amazes me with her courage, strength, and positivity. She never chose to have a brain tumor but she chose not to let it define her. Just like Gord Downie.

Gord Downie has brought the subjects of grief and loss to the forefront of our collective consciousness. He has shown us that we while we don't always get to choose what happens to us, we absolutely get to choose how we respond to it. Tragedy doesn't have the final say. We do.

I may never consider myself a Tragically Hip fan, but I am a Gord Downie fan. Because of his very selfless decision to go public with his illness, he has helped raise awareness of a very devastating disease. He has brought hope to many who were hopeless. And money raised from his charity will go to finance research that could lead to a "series of potentially game-changing breakthroughs in the treatment of neurological disorders including tumors, cancer, dementia and stroke." Treatments that will, of course, come too late to save Gord himself, but that may, just may, come in time to make a difference to someone like Carolyn.

And that will be his most important legacy of all.

"No dress rehearsal, this is our life."~ The Tragically Hip



  1. Thank you for this. A friend of mine shared your blog and I clicked on it as she said it was one of the best Gord Downie tributes she had read. I agree. Carolyn's mother is my cousin. Our fathers are brothers and they are once again going through a health scare. As I read along I got goose bumps as I realized who you were talking about and who you were. My condolences on your loss. Thank you for sharing. Wendy

  2. Monica you touched my heart. What a wonderful tribute to Gord Downie and all those battling with such a terrible illness. We are so proud of you and we love you. ❤ ❤ ❤


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