|Author Donna Morrissey|
Reading in The Fortunate Brother about the profound grief of the fictional Now family of outport Newfoundland over the death of their 23 year old son, Chris, in an oil field in distant Alberta has made me reflect on grieving in small town Canada. I doubt it is different in the other small towns of the world.
In small town Canada no one grieves alone. Whether wanted or not grief is a communal event. The descriptions of community grief in The Fortunate Brother felt real to me. The outport village of Hampden on the coast of Newfoundland reminded me of the real life farming hamlet of Meskanaw in Saskatchewan where I grew up.
Support in times of trouble is not limited to death. In The Fortunate Brother, Addie Now, mother to Kyle, Chris and Sylvie and wife of Sylvanus, is diagnosed with breast cancer and faces a double mastectomy to be followed by radiation and chemotherapy.
Within the family Kyle runs into the night upon hearing the news. He can neither comfort nor be comforted. Knowing his mother needs him he returns to offer support. It is Kyle that Addie chooses to take her to the hospital rather than Sylvanus.
Addie, having seen Sylvanus retreat into drunkenness over the death of Chris, will no longer abide Sylvanus and Kyle escaping from reality. She sobers them both by insisting they stop drinking or she will refuse the long and difficult and uncertain treatment. She will live for them if they will live for her.
Within a day, the whole community knows of Addie’s cancer. You would expect close family and friends to express their support. Certainly, the women she knows would be with her yet support is not limited to her peers in a small town.
Young men, in their awkward crude speech, sympathize with Kyle about his mother. They care about her. All share his sorrow for it is also their sorrow. Each young man knows Addie well and hurts for her.
Kyle resents the lack of privacy that comes with such community involvement in lives. He wants the anonymity of a big city.
Kyle may turn away from that community support but I valued and appreciated how Meskanaw supported families.
In Cool Water, author Dianne Warren set out in a wonderful work of fiction the strong connections between farm families in rural Saskatchewan. In my review, a letter to the young man who gave me the book, I wrote about those relationships:
The book depicted the loneliness of living on a farm with the nearest neighbour a half mile or more away. At the same time Cool Water set out how close you become to neighbours when they are few in number. The bonds with my farm neighbours when I was growing up were stronger than I have experienced living in town.
In reading about the reaction to Addie’s diagnosis I thought back to my life on the farm. My mother was a nurse who preferred working nights. Forty years ago she was retired when the young daughter of one of our farm neighbours was diagnosed with cancer. Treatment was unsuccessful and Debbie’s condition became terminal.
Debbie was in the large university hospital almost 160 km from Meskanaw. Debbie’s mother was with her in Saskatoon. Her Dad was back and forth for he had to keep the farm going and take care of their two other daughters.
As the end neared my Mom went to the city and stayed with Debbie during the nights. She wanted Debbie’s parents not to get exhausted and she wanted Debbie not to be alone should she awake in the night.
Over the years I have spoken at funerals about those bonds between neighbours at Meskanaw. I always knew I could count on my neighbours.