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2020: The Year in Review

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Forty-five years ago today, Heather and I were married.  Even though today is both a major anniversary and New Year’s Eve, there will be no gathering, feasts, or parties.  We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and thus are spending the day alone together, quietly, and peacefully.  Our celebratory meal is a roast beef dinner for two.

Many people have filled their year-end letters with complaint and lament.  But not Heather.  Despite being in a profession in which one sees people at their worst, she has penned a remarkable Christmas letter, and it is that with which I begin my own synopsis of the year, 2020:

Christmas 2020

This year, because of COVID, we will not be with our family or our friends.  We will celebrate the holiday in our own home, just the two of us.  And we are okay with that.

We are so blessed.  We have a roof over our heads and a comfy bed to sleep on, with warm cozy blankets and lots of pillows.  We have a kitchen with running water (hot and cold) and a stove and fridge and freezer that work!  We have food to cook, on that stove, and so much food that some has to be stored in that fridge and freezer, and they are still always full. We have a dining table where we can eat that food and chairs to sit on while we eat it.  In the middle of the table we have a wreath with 5 candles on it, and we light a candle each of 4 Sundays before Christmas.  And, we will light the centre candle on Christmas Eve, to celebrate the arrival of Christmas.

We have a clean bathroom and take showers or baths at will.  We have clean clothes – lots of them – and probably too many of them – and warm clothes (lots of them) for when we have to brave the elements outside. We have boots to keep our feet warm, to say nothing of our slippers and several choices of shoes when indoors.

We have four children and they all have partners and all eight of them are well.  We have seven grandchildren and two step-grandchildren between the ages of 29 and 1 year and they are all well.  We have numerous friends, and lots of extended family, and all are well.  We have money in our pockets and money in the bank and every month we get more money.

This is a wonderful world, and we are blessed indeed.

A very Merry Christmas to you and yours.  And I am hoping that you feel as blessed as we do.

Heather and Tony

This beautifully thankful letter needs to be top of mind, as we move into 2021, and as you read what follows, because the story of this past year is not one in which Heather and Tony just sat around grinning at one another.  Stuff heppened.

Here’s how 2020 went:

A Baptism
Having spent Christmas 2019 with our family in Vernon, BC, we drove back to Winnipeg, and a week later, Rachael flew in from California with Michael, Annabelle Jane (their three-year old daughter), and Weston (their four-month old son).  On January 12, Weston was baptized at St. Margaret’s church, along with several other people, both adults and children.  Interestingly, the water for the baptism had been brought to Winnipeg from the River Jordan, so prominently featured in the Bible.  I loved that.

Rachael’s dear friend, Denisa, had flown in for the occasion, and our friends, Werner and Mary, having just returned from their daughters’ homes in Calgary, were there.  It seems a bit surreal to write this now, at the end of 2020, when the pandemic has made all travel problematic or even prohibited – because, back then in January, we thought nothing of having people from Eastern Canada, Western Canada and California all present at our grandson’s baptism!

Then the pandemic hit.

A Sermon
Our bishop sent out a directive, saying that all church services were to be cancelled – or put online.  On March 15, the Sunday before this came into effect, I was filling in for a colleague at Holy Trinity Church, Winnipeg.  We knew that this would be the last public, “in-person” worship that they would have for an unknown period of time, so I preached on the encounter between Jesus and the Devil, where the Devil tries to get Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, and see if angels would catch him, as promised in Psalm 91.  Jesus, quoting the law of Moses, said “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

“You wouldn’t jump off a cliff, to see if God’s angels would catch you,” I said, “But refusing to wear a mask, or social distance – and insisting on gathering in groups, whether church services or hockey games, is putting the Lord your God to the test; it is like throwing yourself off a cliff!”  I referenced the basketball player, Rudy Gobert, who, although known to have the COVID virus, in defiance rubbed his hands on all reporters’ microphones and cameras at a press converence, before he left the room.

Much later, I wished that I had pushed the analogy of cliff-jumping a little further, for it seems to me that, at the very least, defying public health rules is rather like pushing your grandmother off a cliff.

Then we went into lockdown.  Heather continued to see some clients (lawyers are, it seems, an essential service), but now she and her associates were vigorously wiping down all surfaces after each client left.

Getting COVID?
Meanwhile, just after that March 15 church service, Heather came down with something that looked for all the world like COVID!  Then I caught it.  At the time, we were not permitted to get tested, because we had not travelled in the past 14 days, nor had we knowingly been with anyone who was COVID positive.  We thought we might have COVID, but we’ll never know.  On our doctor’s advice, and just in case, we went into total quarantine.  Our neighbours, and our granddaughter, Alexa, brought us groceries.

What we do know is that, much later, in October, I did test positive for the virus.  I never got as sick as I was in March, but we followed all rules, and went into total quarantine once more – with loving support from the same long-suffering people.

A Sister
I’m not the only one in our family to test positive for COVID.  My younger sister, Janice, in Ottawa, also did.  But her situation was not a simple matter of quarantine.  She lives in a Personal Care Home, due to having slipped into dementia a couple of years ago.  She’s physically strong and vigorous, but can’t remember things, and names, and places, and what she did a minute ago.  She needs constant care.  But nursing homes, everywhere, have been ravaged by the pandemic.  Janice’s home set up a separate ward for COVID-positive residents, and Janice was put there.  Her regular nurse also tested positive, and ceased to come in to work.  He, during the pandemic, had been operating a computer tablet for Janice, which allowed her to talk to her husband and her two sons, but that stopped.  It was awful.

But she didn’t get seriously ill, and eventually returned to her more familiar ward.  In due course, her nurse, with his tablet, also returned to work.  We are under the impression that this crisis has now passed.  Except, of course, that Janice’s husband and sons still can’t visit her in person.  And the “second wave” could show up in her residence.

Back in the spring, Manitoba remained fairly untouched by the virus.  Cases and deaths remained extremely low – to the point where government authorities felt it advisable to “Restart Manitoba” – to get the economy up and running again.

Instead, what got up and running were COVID cases and deaths.  In early August there were less than 500 known cases in this Province; and only eight deaths.  Today, 24,700 cases have been registered in Manitoba, and 667 deaths.  Recriminations and finger-pointing are going in every direction.  But a vigorous and strict lockdown at this moment appears to be working – “flattening the curve.”  Let us pray that the “curve” gets flattened down to zero.

A Nursing Home
Speaking of the virus, Heather has for some time been on the board of directors of a Personal Care Home.  Now she is chair of that board.  It is a lovely and well-managed home, with a highly-skilled staff.  It is, in fact, the home where both of our mothers spent their final years.  My mom would say, with the last of her remaining thoughts, “This is a nice place!”  However, it is one of the oldest nursing homes in Winnipeg, if not the oldest, with small spaces and multi-patient rooms, where it is difficult to isolate,

Even so, from February until three weeks ago, this nursing home had no – zero! – cases of the virus.  Then, a non-medical staff person contracted the virus.  Asymptomatic, and unaware that she had it, she came in to work.  Now the majority of the residents and staff have tested positive, and several residents have died.  Heather is heartbroken.  She meets with other board members via Zoom, and gets updates from the nursing staff by phone.  Everything that can be done, is being done – but it is upsetting in the extreme to have been without cases in that home for ten months, and then to have this outbreak.

What, Travel?
The pandemic affected Heather’s and my world in another, less catastrophic way: You know that we are inveterate travellers: we go to a cottage in Québec every summer; we have taken several ocean cruises, we visit Rachael in California, Ariel in London, Markus in Toronto, John and Karen Bradley in Hudson, Québec, and Christophr in Vernon, BC.  In 2016 we drove with friends all the way to Nova Scotia, where my other sister, Dawn, lives.  We’ve driven in every Canadian province except Newfoundland.  In 2019 I put 29,733 kilometres 1 on our car.  But in 2020, I’ve driven a mere 6,674 2, almost all in Winnipeg.  We spent $2,000 less on gas this year than we did last year!  So there, I suppose, is a silver lining for our “shelter-in-place” regimen, should we choose to see it that way!

A church
The good thing about all this staying at home, is that I was able to help out at St. Margaret’s church, where I continue to be their “Honorary priest assistant.”  When Manitoba attempted to restart the economy, churches were allowed to once more have in-person worship services, and I ended up preaching there on three Sundays, and I both presided and preached at weekly in-person Thursday evening services – through July and August, plus every second week in September and October... until I tested postive for the virus.  But all in-person services were once more cancelled throughout the diocese, anyway.  The cancellation was not because of me!

I’ll be preaching once more at their morning service next Sunday, January 3 – but the service is online only.  No in-person worship continues to be the standard in this region of our church.

I’m really happy to be able to help out at St. Margaret’s, but I long for the day when we will once more physically gather together for worship.

A Campout
And, on the subject of happy things, I had five days of solitary wilderness camping in Riding Mountain National Park.  Despite it being very cold, and quite hard work, it was a highlight for me in this very difficult year.  I wrote about it in this blog, here.

A Bubble
Heather and I did not spend the entire year alone together in our apartment.  During the five months that Manitoba experimented with lifting restrictions, we enjoyed a COVID-free “bubble” with a small number of friends.  There were visits to a nearby RV campground, with burgers around a campfire, and fairly frequent visits with some other friends for “Canasta,” the card game.

The only difficult thing during that time, came when Heather and I received a notice of eviction from our apartment.  Yes, eviction.

A Dog
You see, since September, 2019, we had been dog-sitting a tiny Pomeranian named “Lola.”  She is a high-strung Calfornia dog, belonging to our daughter, Rachael.  She was making life difficult in their home, as Rachael was coping with a new baby, and an active toddler, so we brought the creature with us to Winnipeg.  We were going to return Lola in the spring of 2020, but once the pandemic hit, and the border with the U.S.A. closed, there was no way we could safely get her back to California!

Our building had once permitted cats, and while, in the last year or two, they changed to a total “no pets” policy, they “grandfathered” the cats that were already here.  So, to this day there are several suites inhabited by felines.  Lola is smaller than most cats, so we figured her presence, for a few months, wouldn’t be a problem.  But, somebody unknown complained.  They probably said, “Why can’t we have a little dog like those people on the eighth floor!?” – and the property managers pounced with an eviction notice.  The notice said that we must get rid of the dog by a certain date, or be out on our ear.

“Can’t you let us keep it until the borders re-open!?” we beseeched them.  “We can’t return her to her owners right now!”  But the managers were implacable.  I considered trying to draw the news media in: “Elderly couple evicted in the midst of a pandemic because of a tiny dog!”  But I ended up not doing that, because there would be no point having a delightful media storm, if we get kicked out anyway.

I put the sad story up on FaceBook, and we had a couple of friends offer to look after Lola for us, or even to adopt her.  In the end, she went to our good friends Richard Rosin and Ester Seidel, where she has adapted beautifully.  And, as Richard and Ester are part of our chosen, extended “family” (they were in our temporary COVID bubble), it’s as if Lola is still in the family.

Another Sister
In September, Heather’s sister Diana had a heart attack, and was hospitalized for almost a month.  Once again, COVID messed with normal living, because none of her family was able to visit.  She returned home – which is only a five-minute drive away from us – and we both saw her there once or twice.  She appeared to be her ebullient normal self.  But by the end of November, she was back in hospital, and on November 30, she died.  Thankfully, when the medical staff saw that the end was near, we were allowed in to be at her bedside.  There were prayers, and loving words, and an all-night vigil beside her, kept by her sister and her daughter.

Because of COVID, a total of five mini-funerals followed.  Five people gathered around the body at the crematorium on December 3rd, and I led a formal “Committal of the Body” service, using the Anglican service book.  Then the cremation happened.  Diana’s sons and some grandchildren came from Québec, and had a two-week quarantine, then there were four memorials – each with only five people present – on December 21, at St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Church.  I presided at two of these services, and Fr. Kevin Frankland, Rector of the parish, presided at two.

It was an intense time.

A New Law Office
In March, 2016, Heather joined a small law firm in Winnipeg.  It was supposed to be a form of semi-retirement, with her seeing a client now and then, and advising the only two other lawyers in the firm – the position is called “counsel to the firm.”  But then a number of things evolved, and not long before Diana died, a decision was made to move the firm to smaller premises in the St. James area of Winnipeg.  Moving day was November 30, the very day that Diana died.  Heather went from keeping a vigil at her sister’s bedside, to handling boxes, and files, and furnishing, and movers.

A New Computer
During Diana’s last days, I did some general communication with family and friend, not to mention FaceBook, plus correspondence with people who have found the “Anglican Priest” section of this website, and who send me questions.  And, of course, in this time of COVID, many of my volunteer activities have had to be carried out via Zoom-type video meetings.

I had a laptop which often went six or more hours per day on these activities.  And, some time in early October it crashed.  I re-started, and it worked, but then it would crash again, without warning, often when I was in the middle of something important.  I finally resurrected a nine-year old machine, with which I Zoom-chaired a committee meeting.

The long and short of this is that on December 8, I bought an expensive new computer, on which I am typing this blog.

If you’ve visited this blog before, you may have noticed that entries have been more sporadic in recent years than they used to be.  And, it’s been even worse in this 2020 COVID year.  Which perplexes me.  How is it, when very little is happening in my world, and in everyone else’s, that I have felt busier than I ever was in the days before I fully retired?

For example, Rachael and Michael sent an exquisite Christmas day photo of them, with their small children, sitting in front of their Christmas tree.  I thought, “I really should put this into my online family photo album!”  Then, when I went to the album, I saw, to my astonishment, that I had put nothing in it for five years!!!  So, stay tuned, because I’ve added some up-to-date pictures, with more to come, over the next little while.

If I get time!

Why do I feel so busy? so pressed for time?  Maybe it’s some unexplained aspect of the pandemic.  Maybe it’s just old age... after all, in 2021, I will turn 80.

Now, I recommend that you go back and re-read Heather’s letter!

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