WHY THIS BLOG?

I AM PARCA'S CHOSEN:
Parca is the Roman Goddess of Childbirth and Destiny and after you get to know me, you will see why I believe she has, without doubt, made me her Poster Child. I deal with the odd serious issue but for the most part, my posts are just some cheeky fun. You'll find satire with the odd parody tossed in....and most definitely a generous helping of hyperbole, with a dollop of facetiousness.

I am Canadian so expect a bit of politeness too. Sorry.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

BETTER HANDS ON A SNAKE: A Brother Broken By Disease and The Sister Who Picked Up The Pieces

Rhonda picked up Bob’s hand and placed it gently on the Stanley Cup.

 Splaying his fingers so they could feel its cool steel patterns, she helped them travel down the side and up again, allowing a slow and thorough sweep over the decades of engraved names.

She avoided looking at his tear-filled eyes, giving him a moment’s grace to enjoy a personal moment of wonder and awe, and a sliver of the privacy that his disease had stolen along with his ability to move or speak. Bob knew he could never die a happy man, but he and Bobby Clarke had touched the same Cup. That was happy enough.

Millions of people go to see the Stanley Cup. But how many people could say The Stanley Cup came directly to them?
                                                                            *

Born in a small prairie town in Canada, my brother Bob and sister Rhonda could not have been further apart. In every sense. A fifteen year age gap leaves a lot of dead space between siblings. The rare shared experiences don’t really stick. There is just a thin, shared branch of a family tree.

Where Bob was a tall, fit, Hollywood handsome jock with the kind of aloof self-assurance and blue eyes that melted chastity belts like chocolate bars on a July dashboard, Rhonda was a sharp-tonged girl with a pleasant face and our female family thunder thighs. Where Bob walked under a perpetual spotlight of attentive admiration, Rhonda was, I admit, largely ignored by her shitty babysitters (read: sisters, including myself). A household with six children is bound to have issues, and we had our fair share for sure, but we were always close-knit. We laughed a lot and went through more than a few decks of cards. That’s my memory anyway. Until that awful summer.                                                                                  
Most of us grown up and left home, going off to university, find jobs, get married or, in Bob’s case, to join an NHL farm team in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Mom had a scrapbook full of Bob’s headline-news hockey career, and we were all mighty proud.

He was 19 when St. Louis nabbed him. 6’0”, 185 lbs, played Centre with a smooth/effective style. He played for the Billikens first, and then went onto play in Syracuse, New York, and a few other American teams. 

Like all his teammates, he was waiting to get called up to the big leagues. He had always been a topnotch hockey player and much of my childhood was spent as a rink-rat watching him play with the local Junior A club, The Dauphin Kings.

Captain Bobby Buchy. Always the star of the show. At least in my eyes.
Maybe not just my eyes.

Scoring 5 goals a game was not unheard of for him, and when a team in Montreal tried to trade 4 of their players for him, it wasn’t a surprise. They surreptitiously flew him out to Quebec to court him, but Steve ‘Boomer’ Hawrysh wasn't having it. He called them to block the steal and refused to let him go. I can’t count how many times the games were stopped so rink staff could shovel the ice to find Bob’s lost contact lens, the crowd cheering upon its recovery.
His dream, like most Canadian kids who slept with their blades on, was to play in the NHL and nothing was going to stop him.

However, Multiple Sclerosis had other plans.

I was 9 when Bob left home. He started his professional career with all the eagerness in the world, but all too soon, he just wasn’t doing as well as he knew he should be. He wasn’t feeling himself. Was it nerves? Not enough sleep? These things were never an issue before, so why now? There was nothing obvious to point to, so it must be that he just wasn’t as good as he thought he was. His stats began to fall and his confidence followed. He blamed himself. Who else was there? He then moved from team to team; his total points dropping while his penalty minutes rose. He was a lover, not a fighter.

Was.

Now the only life he had ever wanted was slipping from his fingers.

Desperately unhappy, with his self-assurance and dreams now shattered, Bob left hockey and entered dental school, trying to wrap his head around his massive loss and new reality. But his naturally positive good nature and instinct for survival soon helped him refocus and his new path began to look brighter.

And then we got the call.

I was 14. My big brother was my hero, and now my hero was blind and couldn’t move. MS had drawn his name on fight night and it was Round 1.

Sucker punched. A TKO.

He was sick for months, and then unexpectedly he went into full remission. But at age 24, he was forever a changed man.

He began the life of a Free Spirit. Quitting dental school, living in the bush up North, building log homes, grabbing at pleasure at every turn, doing whatever the hell he pleased and living in constant fear of a relapse. People who didn’t know him though he was a bit odd, a drifter, or a charismatic pirate who was quick to laugh and cheat you at cards. And steal your girlfriend. 

He wandered.

And that was Bob’s life until, 10 years later, MS rang the bell for Round 2. This time it wasn’t a TKO, but he was on the ropes. And he’s hung there ever since.

A lifelong, slow and unrelenting attack.

Playing cards at the kitchen table (a family tradition), Bob would sometimes stand up and his legs would wobble. Those long muscular legs that used to pump like an iron horse on the ice, thrilling us all with their smooth elegance, now barely able to push back his chair. Struggling visibly, he would shun anyone stupid enough to offer assistance, and then leaning on the countertops and walls, he’d drag himself, tortured step by tortured step, to the bathroom. The usual 10 second walk became a 10 minute ordeal. One way.

We would sit back and wait, feigning interest in small talk. An unspoken agreement to provide a half-assed background din so Bob wouldn’t be embarrassed by us overhearing his difficulty making it up and back down the hallway. Grunting. Shuffling. Heavy breathing. None of us making eye contact with each other, only half hearing each other talk, listening instead with perked ears for the dull thud of a fall. Or a call for help. Lost in our private anguish and anger at the unseen evil that was attacking our brother. All of us helpless to fight back. Not allowed to help.

He would make it back eventually, sweating and red-faced from the effort, and we’d start up again like nothing happened. Deal the cards.

A true warrior, he fought. And he fought. And he fought.

Much later, suicide notes were found tucked in-between book pages: I will NOT end up in a wheelchair. I’d rather die.

What does one do with old suicide notes?

Rip them up.

Cry.

Don’t tell Mom.

                                                                    *

Although my brother won his fight against Suicide, he lost his fight with The Wheelchair.

Rhonda had remained at home and soon, mom and dad couldn’t live without her selfless, invaluable help. It suited them all perfectly and they had their routine down pat.

Then at age 34, health worsening, Bob had to move back home. Rhonda was now 21.

Things slid downhill quickly after that.

Defeated and dejected, Bob was learning to cope, but our family home wasn’t very big and definitely not wheelchair friendly. His legs were near useless now and his hands were starting to numb. Mom catered to him devotedly but inside, she was crushed. And scared. Dad just lived in some kind of denial. Accepting the truth would have broken him. The weight of all that fear and sadness became tangible and the symbiotic nature of their home drastically changed. Duties shifted and allowances were made, whether they were welcome or not. Rhonda fumed. Bob fumed. Frustration and anger mounted. Clashes of personality began to hit hard and daily petty spats between Rhonda and Bob eventually turned into shouting matches.

I think it was Mom’s obvious distress that finally made them run up the white flags, and they finally recognized that they were just two people who were pissed off at what life had dealt them and they’d become each other’s convenient punching bag. The wall of contempt fell and the healing began.

It started with civility. No more name-calling or rudeness. No arguments. They ignored each other for a while but spoke politely when circumstance necessitated. And then one night during a game of Rummy with Mom, Bob couldn’t hold his cards anymore. His fingers could barely move so they called it a night.

Next card game, Rhonda unexpectedly joined them and helped Bob deal. When she took his cards and shifted them around in his hand with his instruction, he shook his head sombrely and said, “I’ve seen better hands on a snake.”

The laughter around the table was loud and cathartic. Like a giant chalkboard brush wiping the slate clean.

                                                                           *

Bob, ever defiant and hungry for independence, decided he needed to be on his own and wanted to live in his old cabin by the lake. How’s that possible, one could ask? Great question. How can a man who cannot walk or move more than a finger look after himself?

He can’t.

And so the charming pirate re-emerged and with assistance from his new ally and astonishingly resourceful sister, arrangements were secured to have help come up twice a day to 1)  get Bob out of bed and 2) get Bob back in bed.

In-between those times, he was all alone.

 It wasn’t ideal. We worried.

“What if a hungry bear comes by, or your cat curls up on your face and smothers you one night? ”

“Then I die. My choice.”

Freedom to choose saved him from despair. Life became tolerable.

Then years later, at age 58, his condition worsening, Bob finally threw in the gloves and moved back home. Our aged parents were a handful for Rhonda to manage, and Bob, now a quadriplegic, became a full time job in his own right.

He was in and out of hospital with so many near-death bouts of pneumonia, we lost count. We’d visit him in hospital and he’d whisper-sing, ‘The cat came back, the very next day…’

A cat with nine lives, indeed! But then the whispering stopped.

MS took his voice.

So Rhonda and Bob developed an exasperating and painfully tedious way to communicate: AlphaBlinking. When lip reading fails, Rhonda starts with ‘A’ and works her way down, all the while looking to see if he is blinking once for ‘yes’, and twice for ‘no’.  Spelling out his words.

YOU try it. Good luck.

Predictably, set routines drastically changed after he needed a tracheotomy: Feeding tubes; perpetual throat suctioning; nightly distress checks every 2 hours.

My brother and sister carved out a life for themselves with the tools they were given. Neither are prone to verbally expressing affection, but they give each other the gifts of kindness, laughter, and a love that is never spoken, but always shown. Every day.

I love getting pictures of his colorful birthday parties.  Hilarious Halloween costumes. Christmas celebrations. Day drives to the parks and lakes.

What could top that?

Well...there might be ONE thing.

                                                                       *

It happened on August 22 2018, when Rhonda gave Bob the most treasured gift of his life.

Any true fan would kill to touch the Stanley Cup, and one day, to Bob’s utter amazement, news hit that it was coming to the house.

His house.

Dauphin Kings Alumni and Head Coach of the Washington Capitals Barry Trotz brought The Cup to town to raise money. Hearing that he couldn’t possibly come to the fundraiser to see it, he brought Lord Stanley to see Bob.

Barry said, in a SPORTNET article: " [my] favourite player was a centre named Bob Buchy. He reminded me of Jean Beliveau — tall, graceful, skilled. Everyone has a favourite player growing up and I guess a lot of them are [NHL] stars these days. Mine was a player from our hometown.” (link to article CLICK HERE )

Carrying the large iconic trophy carefully in his arms, Barry walked up the wheelchair ramp and into our hearts. My brother’s eyes were as wide as any Knight newly gazing upon the Holy Grail.

Rhonda’s face split into such a wide grin, she found teeth she didn’t know she had.
A chat.
Pictures.
Pure magic.
They say that our experiences are like deposits that we save in the banks of our minds. The more we experience, the more we save, and then in our solitary golden years, we can make memory withdrawals, enjoying them all over again. My brother led an interesting life for a while, but MS robbed him from filling that memory bank. That special day did much in way of enriching that vault.

There may be a special place in heaven for people like my sister and Barry… but Bob? Well, I’m not really sure where pirates go…
                                                                           *
*PHOTO ALBUM: BOB, RHONDA, BARRY TROTZ AND LORD STANLEY
**Link to SPORTNET interview with Barry Trotz where he mentions Bob being his hockey hero:

AGE 19: CAPTAIN BOBBY BUCHY of the Dauphin Kings 


                                                                                 

   




Off to play in St. Louis: (Rhonda is in this pic too)







Handsome bugger!

In remission:


Many years later, already in his wheelchair:

                                        Bob and my twins Scott and Chaelan circa 1992


Bob with Mom and Dad:

Happy holidays and celebrations with Rhonda:








And my favorite:

Bob with Rhonda, Barry and Lord Stanley:



And finally...
                                                  Bob and Rhonda: THEN AND NOW




THE END? Nope, not yet...

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