In A Pickle  

In sickness and health, seniors are best at marital commitment

Elderly love story

I heard the elderly man’s heart break from across the room.

Every day, Ben faithfully came to visit his wife, Shirley, in the nursing home. Shirley had Alzheimer’s, but still remembered her husband and stiffly crawled onto his lap.

He cradled her like a baby and rocked her. Shirley rested her head against his shoulder contentedly, as her eyelids slowly closed, with a warm smile on her face. He brushed her cheek with his hand and softly kissed her, then wiped away his tears.

Ben whispered sweet nothings in her ear and she nuzzled him. Their love was palpable; something dementia wouldn’t steal from them just now. Their hearts beat as one to a soothing rhythm. Peace resonated into every nook and cranny of the outdated building, as it basked in their tenderness.

Some snapping and cracking of logs on the fire interrupted the gentle tempo, but there was no fireplace. It was the man’s heart, splitting open and bursting into a thousand hot embers. His anguish was tangible. The bittersweet scene that was unfolding deeply moved me. Their love was so endearing it was all I could do not to break down.

The disease rendered Shirley mute, but she loved him with every fibre of her being. She was serene with Ben, but inconsolable without him.

At last he slowly stood and carried the frail, aged woman a few meters and gently lowered her into the wheelchair. However, she wouldn’t let go of his neck and they wailed. Ben finally tore himself from her embrace and, blinded by tears, rushed out of the room. His eyes were streaming as the pouring rain that hammered against the window. The door slammed behind him as he hurried down the lane to his car.

I imagined his gut wrenching sobs as they ripped free from his vocal chords that welled up from deep inside his chest. Ben fumbled for the keys, got in his vehicle, and slumped over sideways. While lying in the fetal position, the man sobbed in the front seat of the old clunker.

A dark cloud appeared above. The thunder roared in indignation for the couple, while the wind howled in agreement with it. The downpour rained tears from heaven, as God, their Maker, wept for them.

I composed myself as he drove away. It was endearing to see their bittersweet affection grow each time Ben came to visit Shirley.

They unknowingly provided a priceless gift to my jaded, battle scarred heart. Within every cynic is a hopeless romantic, and this was much better than any steamy romance novel.

How do you manufacture that kind of closeness? We cannot buy true love. Their devotion, which was almost as old as the giant Weeping Willow out front, awed me. Her ancient limbs tottered in the wind and rain. The tree witnessed it all as she pitched back and forth, while the water dripped off her many leaves in mourning.

I swallowed hard and observed the staff, trying to reassure Shirley that Ben would return soon. It was sad to end the day on that note. However, since that time, I have had the honour of meeting several other mature couples who floored me with their unshakable allegiance to each other.

One such pair was a man named Barry and his disabled wife Grace, whom he doted on. He made her laugh and did all he could to make her feel better and lessen her distress. Because of her illness, Grace couldn't speak, but still had all her faculties and their relationship remained strong as ever.

The last noteworthy middle-aged partners met in a tavern. Brenda was a server and refused Owen's order for more booze. Although he was drunk, her concern for him astounded him when she wouldn’t give him another drink.

Owen came back the next day sober, and they became friends, which eventually led to romance and marriage, and he did not consume alcohol since that fateful meeting. Their relationship was short but meaningful, as she nursed him at home when he was dying of a brain tumour. Brenda grieved for Owen as though they’d known each other for a lifetime. I marvelled at how the unlikely union turned out to be so lovely.

There is hope for humanity yet.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Mischievous mutt's ghostly encounter

Dog senses the paranormal

Nala braced herself, refusing to enter the shower house at a campground near Tumbler Ridge.

She had the same response to the downtown core. “I’m not going there,” Nala seemingly said. Her reaction puzzled her human parents.

No amount of coaxing or treats could lure the dog into those invisible danger zones.

Some people believe animals see the spirit world. Pets react with barking or hissing, with their eyes fixated on the unseen menace. They’ll raise their hackles, ready to fight the apparition.

Nala, a border collie mix, locked her front legs and planted her butt on the ground.

“She’s stubborn as a mule”, her owner, Crystal, complained. Nala was a pacifist and knew she was no match for it.

With her fierce bark, she scared off coyotes and bears, but this was too much. Nala writhed around on her leash and growled at the phantom before her. Chills went down Crystal’s spine as she watched her dog’s disturbing behaviour.

Tumbler Ridge has 3,000 years of human history, plus evidence that dinosaurs that once roamed the district. There was also a report of a Sasquatch sighting on July 11, 2013. Those wild, hairy men are caretakers of the land. They’re believed to shape shift, making themselves visible to a select few. Was that what the dog saw? Or was it ancient humans?

At the outset, the area was populated by the indigenous nomadic Sekani tribe, followed by the Dunneza and then the Cree. The Dunneza or Dane-zaa (Beaver Tribe) foresaw the coming of the Europeans.

Nevertheless, it was not until 1981 that Tumbler Ridge attained official township status through metallurgic coal mining. Her dad worked at the mine and Nala came for a visit. Everything was intimidating to the young dog, with sights and smells only a canine would notice.

Nala was overwhelmed and went into a trance, transcending time and space. She observed the traditional people of history, living, battling, and perishing in this sacred place.

One tribe known as the Sekani, whose name stands for laughter, lived in the hills and mountains and they wandered the area. These hearty folk dwelt in brush huts exposed to the elements and wore mountain goat skins for clothing. At night, they covered themselves with those hides sewn together.

The nomads solemnly laid out their deceased on scaffolds composed of branches, situated high in the treetops, or propped them upright in trees hollowed out for that purpose. Sometimes they left their dearly departed with clothes and weapons. The corpses were on guard within the confines of their vertical, open tree coffins.

Nala, the sensitive mutt, saw more than the surrounding forest. Was something sinister stalking them? Maybe she smelled death. Whatever she sensed, it scared her. The pup wondered how to protect her family in the event the threat was supernatural. Eventually Nala returned to the present and left behind the hardy Sekani people who could’ve lived in this very campsite, a meadow deep in the wilderness.

It’s hard to imagine how they survived sleeping in open-ended twig structures in -30 conditions. The pampered pet and her humans had it much easier in the frigid temperatures in their winterized holiday trailer two centuries later. However, it was no picnic. The dog was restless and constantly wanted outside. Every time they opened the door, cold air blasted in and cooled down the place. It cost a fortune for propane to stay warm that Christmas of 2021.

When Nala wasn't hiding under the bed from ghosts, and things that went bump in the night, she got into mischief in those close quarters they shared. She assumed she was human and expected her family to thank her with a morsel of steak for warding off invisible entities. As far as Nala was concerned, she earned it by protecting them during the yuletide season.

Conversely, I believe Nala may have seen fallen angels, not disembodied spirits, with unfinished business.

According to Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 9:10 NKJV, “For the living, know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward” and “There is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in death.”

I’m sorry for being a buzz-kill.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Some draw a line when it comes to tattoos

'Inking' dilemma

“Does it come off?” my mother asked in a panic.

She licked her forefinger and vigorously scrubbed my tattoo with it. As a child, I remembered her doing that with dirty spots on my face and the rancid smell of her saliva that was left behind on my skin.

“No, Mom, it's real,” I replied. While I was looking over my shoulder at my sister Sheilagh, I noticed she was smirking, making it hard not to laugh.

People get “inked” for various reasons and tattoos aren’t as taboo as they once were, being only for criminals, soldiers and sailors. However, my mom wasn’t buying it.

“What possessed you to do it?” My mom shrieked.

“It’s my insurance policy,” I answered.

My ex said if I got a tattoo, he’d never want to be with me again. I thought, "Perfect, that’s my ticket to freedom!”

Marc was upset five years earlier, when I had my nose pierced. I was coming into my own and he didn't like it one bit. His tyrannical rule over my life and body ended. My weapon of choice was a sparkling plastic jewel. Through it, I reclaimed myself.

The ink job, however, I did after I left him. A few months earlier, I’d photographed a Swallowtail butterfly as it flitted about in our front yard and landed in a bush. In many cultures, it is believed this butterfly species represents grace and freedom of the indescribable human soul, and symbolizes a new start. I didn't realize I was on the verge of change.

My subject’s torn wing reminded me of a war wound,and I wondered if it escaped the clutches of a predator or fought its way out of the cocoon and had a chunk ripped off. I felt a kinship with the gentle but beautifully flawed insect.

I got my second tattoo on my honeymoon in Seattle. That one I covered up a large nasty surgical scar with a variety of colourful butterflies on a vine. They transformed the site of my scar from being repulsive to a work of art.

However, not all tattoos are lovely, nor even chosen.

The tattooing of human trafficking victims has been performed for a millennium. Slave traders carve a series of numbers onto the foreheads of their prey, which both dehumanize and traumatize them. The ugly mark is a way to prevent escape, as they’re quickly spotted.

In the rare event that rescuers free a captive nowadays, a pretty tattoo is often gifted to those unfortunates to hide the ugliness of past horrors. It is a healing modality for them.

There is a plethora of reasons people “ink,” including immortalizing a loved one or a pet on their bodies.

My co-worker has a dolphin tattoo in tribute to her late mother, her “bff,” who collected them for decades. The elderly woman died in a fire and along with it, all her memorabilia were lost. My co-worker finds solace in the leaping marine mammals on her forearm and resolved to start collecting them, like her mom did.

Conversely, tattoo regret happens when a tattoo is botched, or the person is remorseful for getting one. Laser treatment can remove the many layers of ink, but can leave behind an outline of the former imprint (a ghost image). The procedure is expensive, time consuming and painful. Sometimes the site of the former tattoo can become infected, just like when it was initially carved into the skin and it may disfigure.

Some people claim tattoos are a portal to the demonic.

The Bible warns against tattoos in Leviticus 19:28 (Amplified), which says, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.”

I got my tattoos in ignorance, as I didn’t know better. Since then I’ve had horrific nightmares.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.

However, when Jesus returns, he'll give me a glorified and perfect body made of light, being ink and wrinkle free,” says 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (New International Version)


This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Making peace with the past

Complicated relationships

The frail elderly woman trembled with excitement and asked, “Are you here to see me?”

Her hands quivered as she reached out. Sarah gently took her bony little hands in her own.

“Yes, Mom, do you know my name?” There was no response, but when Sarah told her “I’m your baby hellion!” she giggled and replied, “Oh Sarah, is it really you?”

Hellion was an understatement, Sarah reminisced. As the youngest of eight children, she sported a fiery temper and a foul mouth. She didn’t learn profanity from her mom, but got a kick out of her today. Her mother would say something and add the expletive “shit” to it, and then would cackle and cover her lips with her fingers. “I said a bad word, didn’t I?” she chortled. “You have a potty mouth”, Sarah told her, pretending to be shocked.

Her mother had dementia for a decade now. In this state, she was happy-go-lucky, and entertained herself in the nursing home. She suddenly burst into song, “Ka Ka Ka Katy, my beautiful da-darling, you’re the only ga-ga-ga-girl that I adore.” Sarah erupted into a chorus with the next stanza, and they both laughed. Sarah's husband Brent appeared uncomfortable, and her mom noticed and commented that he looked as though he was ready to bolt. Sarah played the clown and ran on the spot.

Brent, meanwhile, had an epiphany regarding their similarities. Sarah also noticed their mother-daughter traits, such as her devious snicker when she said something politically incorrect, unfiltered, or scandalous. Sarah suffered from foot-in-mouth syndrome too.

However, there was a dark side to her parent which Sarah remembered all too well. She was her mom’s scape-goat, the child whom she took out all her frustrations on. When Sarah and her sister Maureen got into fights, their mommy would grab a weapon and use it on Sarah alone. Maureen could do no wrong, and Mom always asked why Sarah couldn’t be more like Maureen. Their mom once armed herself with an outdoor extension cord and whipped Sarah with the metal prong end, leaving large welts on the youngster’s legs. She found it hard to walk for days.

Another intrusive flashback came to mind when she pinned Sarah to the ground and cut her fingernails. “Declawing the cat,” she’d bellowed. By cutting her nails, she left Sarah, a tiny eight-year-old girl defenseless against her inebriated teenage brothers. Sarah felt humiliated and undeserving of her mother's care.

Tears poured down her cheeks like rain while she spoke of this.

They had a tumultuous relationship, forever at war with each other. Sarah had her side of the story, while her mother had her own and would gaslight the kid.

Sarah could’ve gotten along better had she toed the line, but she didn’t understand her mother’s system, didn’t like her ways, and refused to comply. She crossed that blurred and nonsensical line that often shifted was distorted, and mostly invisible. It was as though her mom drew it in the sand, and in a windstorm of drama inevitably blew the mark away.

For years, Sarah was enraged, sought retribution, and eventually morphed into her mother.

Confucius said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” It took a long time for Sarah to learn that and stop retaliating. Proverbs 23:22 reads: Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. That Bible verse spoke volumes, and Sarah repented in 2008. Shortly thereafter, Sarah sought her mother out after years of no contact.

Sarah showed up at her care facility and when her parent opened the door, it looked as though she’d seen a ghost. Gingerly, Sarah requested to come in and asked for her mother’s forgiveness, and they verbally forgave each other.

A sense of peace, love, and sadness washed over Sarah as she visited her aged momma in 2020. She couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the last time she’d see her. Sarah gave her a kiss on the forehead and her Mom grabbed her face and kissed her cheek. As she clenched Sarah's hand, she said, “Good bye dear, it was nice seeing you.” “Good bye Mom, it was good to see you too.” Sarah walked out the door and down the long hallway with a lump in her throat.

Sarah reconciled herself with the past, with one foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, and one memory at a time, choosing to cling to and cherish this wonderful visit instead of the past.

Her mother passed away in 2021 with her golden child, Maureen by her side.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel writes about the humour in every-day life, and gets much of her inspiration from the late Erma Bombeck’s writing style. 

Doreen also has a serious side, shares her views on current events, human-interest stories and sometimes the downright bizarre. 

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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