Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

December 2008

Dear Friend/Family Member/Facebook Acquaintance,

I am delighted to be wishing you and your husband/wife/kid/kids/cat/dog/other a Happy Hannukah/Merry Christmas/Joyous Economic Downturn! It’s been an exciting couple of months – hard to believe that Jack Layton/Gilles Duceppe/St├ęphane Dion almost took down the government.

I’ve included my 2007 letter as well in case you want to spend your entire holiday reading about my life! I apologize that I didn’t send out Christmas cards last year, unfortunately I was trying to save the environment/couldn’t figure out how to use the printer/the dog ate my address book.

Well, okay I didn’t have a dog last year but I do now! Her name is Georgia O’Beeffe, named after the artist formerly known as Georgia O’Keeffe. She’s an orange coloured mix of Australian Cattle Dog/Finish Spitz/Sheba Inu/all of the above. I’m having a great time with her but I really wish that she would stop eating the Christmas tree ornaments/white chenille couch/black leather shoes/all of the above.

Unfortunately she was a bit of a replacement pet after finally saying goodbye to my old kitty Gustav last Spring. Still happy to have Simba though who has been renamed Spare Cat/Putin (for his attitude towards Georgia)/cat-who-lives-downstairs-with-the-neighbours-now-as-he’s-upset-that-I-got-a-dog.

The animals are not the only ones keep me busy as David and I have been keeping actively jogging/meeting Robin Williams/weekending in Paris/planning New Year’s in Whistler. David’s had a heck of a Fall though getting a few bits (not those bits!) surgically removed, causing him to taking some time off work/spend more time sleeping/learn to ring the little bell when he’s ready for his dinner. All involved are hoping he will be feeling better soon! We are planning to spend a lot of time this summer in Spain on a bike riding/Paella eating/wine trip.

Of the places I traveled this year, the one with the most wine was the Okanagan’s Naramata Bench and the least amount of wine was found in New York/Muscat/Dubai/Doha. They all tied for heat and sand. This year I am most looking forward to completing the Penticton Ironman in August/taking piano lessons again/starting my term on the Board of the Arts Club. I am also hoping to spend more time relaxing (ha)!

I am still working at the Fraser Institute and am happy to have evolved into a new role – launching and hosting our new Fraser TV series on YouTube. I’m still hosting our Behind the Spin current affairs events series downtown – my favourite guest this year was David Frum/Ralph Klein/former VPD Chief Jamie Graham/Chief Justice Don Brenner. I will welcome former Australian PM John Howard here in February (he’s heard that there might be a job opening in Canada).

I hope that this note finds you well, and I really hope to see you soon for a coffee/run/snowshoe/bike ride/gossip session/dinner at your house/pedicure/long winter’s nap!

Much love,

Leah/Fluffy/Boo Boo Bear

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Heaven doesn't really exist

It's taken me 3 days to write this email - you'll see why below! Please note my disclaimer that I was brought in to help with this event just weeks ago as the main person fell ill...caveat in place, let's begin...
After my delightful lunch on the terrace we met with the hotel manager for a tour of the resort and to check out the venues that we will be using with our group.

I've never seen anything like this! The 3 hotels on the bay (again, this is the only development as far as the eye can see, for 100's of miles to the south, and the city is half an hour to the north) are stretched along a secluded beach. Of the 3 hotels, ours is the luxury 6 star one. Of the many amazing features, my favourite is a 200m exclusive + private stretch of sand reaching out to a large rock. Called Sunset Beach, guests can lounge on the dozen or so lounge chairs spread along the sand watching the sun go down, with water on both sides. Another favourite is the infinity pool. When you swim side to side and lift your arm for a breath, all you can see is water, which drops off the edge to the cliff below, so that you see nothing but water meeting water....

We are shown the dinner spot for our opening night with the Minister of Oil + Gas - a grassy tip of the far peninsula, with billowing linens covering tables set under palm trees. When night falls, the cliff wall is lit with coloured lights and a traditional feast laid out. It is breath-taking and I can hardly wait!

!*!*Reality Check!*!*

After my lunch and tour, I was shaken into reality. Apparently I'm not an Arabian princess, but here to work! 5:00 pm until 2:30 in the morning involved a laptop, slow internet connection, a business centre that closed earlier than the 24 hour a day service we were led to expect, and a dinner of almonds and diet coke out of the (complimentary at least) mini bar. The sounds of the waves, the singers from the lounge, and the chimes of laughter from the beach drowned out by the clicking of the keyboard....the program needs updating from all of the changes we've made over the last week. We've been told that its a cultural thing, that people don't confirm appointments or information until the last possible moment. It's nerve-wracking, but we think we're ready to go.


Unfortunately I went to bed before the fat lady sang. From my vantage point it was hard to tell the girth of whoever was wailing possibly ancient traditional camel-mating sounds from the lounge patio adjacent my window.

It's Hallowe'en when I wake up after a diet cola induced fitful sleep dreaming of planes, papers, and delegates, but my costume is ready to go! I dress as a rumpled, tired, + foreign event planner with a look of desperation around her eyes. I carry off the look convincingly well and the same lady who stayed 2 hours late for us last night in the business centre works with us as we try to decipher why the emails we send her with more materials to print are evaporating in the heat. The machine with the adjustable hole-punch settings is stuck on 4 holes which means that my notes look like snowflakes and none of the papers can be inserted into the binder. We've brought A4 paper stock as is the size here, but the templates from our printer, which were supposed to match, don't. The colour printing comes out so badly I'm not sure if someone's slipped LSD into my coffee or if its my eyes unable to focus.... The scent of incense is making me crazy and the air conditioning on so high I actually fear I might catch pnumonia.

In a moment of genius, I'd invited the guests who are arriving early to join us tonight for a casual BBQ and drinks at the beach bar before our formal program starts the next day. At 3:30 from the business centre, I vow never to come up any nice ideas like that ever again. The extension number we've given people to call to RSVP for the BBQ is very convenient unless you actually expect anyone to answer the ringing line. If someone does, they ask to take a message so that they can call you back. At which point I think they crumple up the little message papers and toss them into the incense burners.

The participant kits are delivered to the rooms, but very (in)conveniently placed in bottoms of desk drawers making it hard for guests to know they are there. Hysterically, I wonder at one point if this is some kind of Hallowe'en/Easter fusion celebration where you have to scramble around your room finding hidden things you didn't know you were supposed to look for, buried deep within the furniture.


It's 4:30 and I walk out to the pool deck. The sun is setting but I catch the last few rays as I slide into the water. Someone at the front desk in a stroke of brilliance has been asking the guests as they check in, if they'd like to join us for dinner. 15 have said yes, the reservation is in place, and I feel like a princess once again....


Our BBQ is set up down a path lit with candles, just above Sunset beach in a private area down from the hotel. Palm trees and lanterns sway in the warm evening air. I'm handed a cocktail and there are jumbo prawns on the outdoor grill. The guests arrive, tired but relaxed, and the dinner begins...

(A lovely evening all in all, and I consider myself lucky to be in the company of 6 people who all, amazingly and coincidentally, retrospectively predicted the financial crisis. Much of the evening is spent with them congratulating each other on their brilliance! : )


6 am wake-up call and our first day begins with an optional cultural tour of the Grand Mosque, local museum, and shops. Our advance guides had told us women could enter the mosque as long as our skirts/pants were below the knee and we were wearing a head scarf. Not so, and my calf-length capris are not enough to hide my sexy ankles from Allah. I understand that Allah is trying to tell me I need to nap on the bus instead for the next hour. I gratefully take his advice.

Our charming and relatively uneventful day (well sure, there's always someone lost in the market and late for the bus) includes some narration on Muscat. 30 years ago they had no phones, roads, water, electricity..... Incredible how far they've come under their Sultan. A modern fellow who has graciously also allowed women the right to drive. (Perhaps he'd change his mind on that if I were to take him for a spin?!?)

The day, however, takes a turn for the worse as we arrive back at the hotel. Our local partner, who is the host and organizer of our opening dinner starting in 2.5 hours, has left us a note. Shocking, really, to have any communication from them at all, given that they've been more elusive than David Copperfield over the past weeks and months.

The Minister of Oil + Gas has cancelled, they've subsequently cancelled the dinner on the peninsula, and if we'd like to give them a call, here are 8 phone numbers. (If you can accurately guess how many of the 8 phone numbers actually work I'll give you a dollar.) The hotel says no, they can't rebook us in to at least eat, with or without a speaker, as they've sent all the staff home. As I'm thumbing through the yellow pages trying to ascertain if Panagopolous will at least deliver (turns out they would), the phone rings!

Another Minister, of Heritage and Culture, has invited our delegation to join him and Her Excellency I Don't Understand The Name Over The Phone But Its This Long at an event they are hosting at the Grand Hyatt. They are very vague about the purpose of the evening, but given that they've cancelled our dinner and are insisting we attend, our work is now cut out for us. We find a bus, call back the photographer, track down 32 delegates who are spread over acres of hotel, change the departure time, and alter everyone's dress code. People are obviously disappointed but a sense of excitement and mystery settles over the bus. One of our dignitaries laughs and says "Welcome to the Middle East".

After an hour or traveling back through the city, the sense of excitement and mystery has been replaced by heat and hunger. However the Grand Hyatt looms large in white marble, and is enticing with its sparklingly lit pillars and porticos and a mile long line of Mercedes in the turnabout.

Its no small wonder that we've arrived on time and the event organizer expresses her wonder as well, in that nothing ever starts on time in the Middle East. A grand but entirely vacant reception area and ballroom are decorated to the hilt and we are invited to wait for the other of the 150 guests to arrive. Wait and have a drink to start. A non-alcoholic drink. Oh no.....

It is a Muslim country but the international hotels do serve alcohol. Just not, it appears when there are local VIP's in attendance. Notwithstanding the irony that no-one's actually in attendance except us, VIP or otherwise, we won't be served cocktails here! A dash through the dishdashas (long white robes that the men wear) on the mezzanine level upstairs finally reveals a small bar with a terrace patio over looking the ocean. And wine! With a lovely server who immediately sets to arranging glasses. I dash back down the stairs as the guests are just entering the reception area and whisk them up to liquid 13.8%.

No sooner have they started sipping, but the event organizer is calling for us to come back down as the VIP's are arriving. I actually consider telling the delegates to chug their wine as it's the only alcohol they're going to get, but decide I just can't stoop to that level. They're smart people and many figure that out on their own. A flurry of activity and the guests are down the stairs and then moved from our original tables behind a wall of pillars to better seating. Mike Harris and some of our other high-profile delegates are moved to seats of honour. Fabulous.
And then, the fun truly begins.

The reality of what we've been invited to starts to sink in. It's a fundraising dinner for a local Children's Library. As sweet as the event is, I'm not sure that many of us would have traveled halfway across the planet through 27 time zones at a ridiculous cost, in the interests of learning more about economic policy formation in the region, to attend this. It takes a moment longer for our guests to understand what's going on, what with all of the presentations being in Arabic. Unfortunately the gift of a children's book on ants at each place setting doesn't take long to read and soon everyone is restless and getting hungry. But for a few wedges of pita, there's no food in sight....

Our partners and "hosts" for this event have conveniently disappeared which is probably a good thing as I'm not sure what kind of sentence a charge of asphyxiation with a dishdasha would get me in Oman. At 9:30pm with the first course only starting to arrive, some of our delegation is heading for the exit in search of a taxi back to our hotel. Some plates arrive as we are leaving and I wonder if anyone else is considering tucking a chop in their pocket for the trip back on the bus.

We arrive back at the Resort to a graceful setting of sparkling and crisp Moet Brut with some elegant tables of food set up on the terrace near the pool. Having promised our guide my hand in marriage (probably as wife #3 if I think that through) if he can actually pull this off while we're en route from the Hyatt, I now throw in some cash and a kiss on the cheek.

Our guests visibly relax but don't stay long as its now 10:30 pm and they're due in the lobby, packed and checked out, by 6:30 am the next day. They start to wander back to their rooms through the peaceful garden until....

SPLASH! One of our senior dignitaries trips and falls into the pool.


I don't think there's enough champagne here to help me now...


2 am and we've got the details for the next day sorted out and our plan's in place. I return to my room and call for a 5 am wake-up call. All I've eaten since lunch is a raspberry off of the dessert tray but even the usual assortment of almonds from the mini bar doesn't really appeal. I reach to unplug my computer from the hotel's converter when....

Sparks and a small fire erupts from the end of the plug and my fingertips are now on fire. The jolt has sent me dancing and I would look for my phrase book to translate F*!K into Arabic but I can't see a thing. The surge has caused all of the electricity in my room to turn off and now its pitch black, and I'm hopping naked around the room with my blistering finger in my mouth.
I could care less about the blackness, but now that I've knocked out the phones, I'm mostly worried about my wake up call not getting through.

I grope around for my robe and finally find the door. I'm certain that if capri pants are unsuitable for the local religion, a bathrobe is my ticket to hell. Under different circumstances I might find this disconcerting were I not sure I'm not already there.

The front lobby is a good mile from my room and I furtively skip along the corridors hoping desperately not to run into a delegate. I am also hoping desperately to find a house phone but no such luck.

The reception staff, averting their eyes from my gasping chest and smoking hand, gracefully suggest another room while they try to fix my electricity, so that I can see well enough to pack and blow dry my hair in 3 short hours.

I fall into (some other bed), hoping that they've managed to reroute the wake-up call.

Day 1? Completed. Six more to go....

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I've arrived in Heaven!

For the first time (aside from the desert sand and heat surrounding every city) I feel like I have arrived in an area that much more meets my imagined view of the Middle East!
Although we're still surrounded by so many Western touches (Pepsi signs, Volkswagons, Pampers + Tang in the stores), Muscat is relatively much more traditional, and full of history and culture.

The buildings are a light cream, yellow, or light pinky stucco buildings with either castle-like or ruffled trim along the top of their 3-4 stories. Most buildings are and look very new, but there are no highrises and not a lot of steel and glass. Many of the most beautiful buildings are either mosques or (government) Minster's compounds.

Our guide and his driver quickly drove us past the cultural tour sites that we'll visit on Saturday with the group, and then along a brand new highway in an air-conditioned Land Rover over the rolling "mountains" to the Barr Al Jissah Shangri-La Resort + Spa. Lots of greenery with palm trees and flowers (all imported) and planted within the last few years. Until the installation of the desalination plant there was no water for things like bougainvilla bushes!

Once you are past the 10 ft of landscaping though at the edge of the road, there is just rock, rock and more rock. But it's beautiful! Shades of orange + cream and striated with lines and time. Some of the rocky hilltops nearer Muscat are crowned with forts from the late 1500's when they were protecting the then-village from the Portuguese invaders.

We drove over a rocky hill and through the gates of the Shangri-La, and this is how I define heaven! There is nothing but rocky features all around, but nestled against the green/blue ocean are the 3 compounds that make up the hotel. No other developments anywhere for miles.
My room is at the one at the end of the bay, looking over the curved sandy beach dotted with cabana chairs, umbrellas, and palm trees, along with the other 2 compounds, for about a half mile. The place is almost deserted and as far as I can tell there are about 10 staff per guest.

We were driven to the front door and entered the palatial lobby with walkways spanning over the indoor fountains and shallow pools. Its about as close to a modern palace as I can imagine, with marble columns and a large pircture window overlooking the cliff and out to the ocean. We waited on chaise lounges amidst silk pillows while the staff came to us with cold towels and fresh juice, taking our passports and bringing our room folios to us where we sat.

My room is even larger and better appointed than The Raffles was, with a full set of outdoor couches on the ground level patio. The ground only extending about 15 feet before the cliff drops off and the beach begins.

I am sitting now in the blazing afternoon sun, kept cool by the hearty but soft breeze, on the outdoor deck of the Sultanah restaurant which also overlooks the beach. I have lunched on a warm vegetable salad, and lightly grilled ahi tuna with sparkling and crisp pellegrino. Another couple is sipping champagne in the shade - but for them the place is serene and tranquil....


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

On the Road - Day 6

Good morning!

I've just figured out that I've hit the airport(s) 6 times in 6 days. Another 9 between now and November 11th - how relaxing!

24 hours since my last note and it's been a fast pace. We landed (late) in Doha and had a scant 4 hours to dash around to all of our meeting sites with our guide. Made easier was the fact that both Al Jazeera and the US Central Command base are off limits until we actually visit them with our group next week.

Doha's the capital of Qatar, a country of only a quarter million people. 6000 of which are members of the Royal Family and who spend some time in the palace compounds built along the water. Some of the buildings in Doha have been around since the 60's and most of the roads have been completed enough that getting around is easy + quick. The skyline again is dotted with brand new modern skyscrapers, most in varying stages of completion, with 500 towers to be build in the next 7 years by 2015. 500!!!!

Doha feels a little more like a resort, at least our hotel does as it's right on the beach with a large pool and cabana area. Not too relaxing though what with the sounds of construction everywhere around us.

Our guide Leel, who will be with us next week, finally captured what we've been feeling. It's been incredibly hard to confirm meetings, get answers back, finalize venues and speakers. Much more so than any other excursion I've organized. Leel (who comes from Sri Lanka) offered that people here have so much money that there's not a sense of urgency to anything. Most work in the mornings and take the afternoons off. Shopping is the biggest form of entertainment, as are afternoon coffees at Starbucks. Ah! That explains it.

The nationals of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are a minority and very well taken care of by their government, including free houses, cushy jobs, and a $25,000 subsidy for your wedding if you marry another national. All the service jobs in the hotels and elsewhere, and certainly construction, are all done by foreign workers.

Spent a half an hour napping on the beach in the late afternoon, but as the sun goes down just after 5 I have yet to experience the real heat. Everything is air conditioned to the nth degree so much so that I'm wearing more and more layers as I look longingly outside at the sun during the day.

Early morning with a 4 am wakeup call and back on the plane to Muscat, Oman this morning. We'll be on the ground for 3 days, with our participants starting to arrive tonight and tomorrow. Today will be a little frantic trying to get our packages organized for the guests, incorporating the 957 large + small changes that we've made to the program now that we've been here in person. The goal is to take half a day off tomorrow in the sun before we launch into the 6 am - 10 pm days of our program.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Arrival in the Middle East...

We're tracing the steps that we will do with our group when they arrive next week in the 4 cities that we're taking them to and so started in Dubai with a drive to Abu Dhabi and on the plane to Doha today.

We went to a Starbucks yesterday and it was exactly the same down to the uniforms and the white ceramic trays that the pastries sat in. Oh to be the supplier of white ceramic trays to Starbucks! You'd be set!

We were also on the road yesterday all day so lunch was from Burger King. (Such a glamourous way to travel). I had a Lite chicken burger on whole wheat (still working off my 3lbs!) But I could have had a Whopper or onion rings just like home. Other choices would have been Subway, Basken + Robbins, and of course McDonalds. I've also seen a Harley Davidson store and a "Safest Way" (like Safeway). All the major hotel chains are here of course, and the Hilton in Abu Dhabi was stunning - tallest tower in the city and right across the street from the beach.

The black floor length sabayas that the women wear are actually surprisingly sexy. I walked out of the elevator and a woman standing there was breaktaking. Of course all you could see were her eyes but she was incredibly beautiful. The women's robes have slight personalizations like crystals or sequins and some have brands like the YSL logo subtley embroidered. Another gal at the airport was walking and you could see that she had jeans and heels underneath.

For the men, wearing the white robes is a choice, but if I was a guy I'd be into that for sure rather than a heavy and binding wool suit in this weather! The more you see them the more you start to notice the subtle differences in the robes which look the same at the beginning. The higher quality ones are white white, starched and pressed just so, with very subtle quality trim. They personalize their outfits by their cufflinks, jewelry, and shoes. So far, no "dark-eyed" males have been learing, no matter what Gramma led me to expect.

I was sad to leave our hotel this morning, out of my large room with balcony overlooking the pool and then the city, with a walk in closet and bath tub that you could swim in. Raffles here is really new and modern and is like an upscale Four Seasons. I will especially miss my daily basket of assorted exotic fruit and floor butler, who knocks on the door every morning 5 minutes after my wake-up call with a silver tray of coffee and mini chocolate cookies. (Didn't try the cookies - 3 lb thing!!)

Yesterday I had a very short break at the pool where I was virtually the only guest there to use the swim up bar and current pool (where you swim in place against the current). I'm not entirely sure but I think that the walls are actually painted in gold in places - the hotel is built in the shape of a pyramid with a 4-5 story lobby full of Egyptian-style pillars, water pools, and comfy seating strewn (precisely casually) with pillows.

Last evening the General Manager hosted us for cocktails in the lounge where we sat in a Persian style gazebo with more pillows, overlooking the statues and waterfalls in the hotel's botanical garden. 2 other tables there had gals (who looked liked arabian fashion models, dressed in very high-end Western clothes) smoking hubbly bubbly pipes. They are tall (2-3 ft) ornate silver and glass and heated with steam with fruity scents. They're supposed to make you mellow and a brilliant conversationalist : )

Dubai is like one large construction site, and everything is brand, spanking new. Only a small town of 25,000 lived here in one-story sand houses 30 years ago. Now they boast the world's best of everything. The tallest skyscrapers, the largest theme parks, the top of the line golf courses - everything. Their unique (and very expensive) taste for creating man-made islands off the beach by taking sand and piling it out in the gulf has resulted in a massive development that from the air is shaped like a giant palm tree with 1000's of high end waterfront homes. Another development looks like a map of the world from the air, again comprised of tiny man made islands all designed to be miniature continents.

We drove by a huge modern building home to the world's largest indoor ski hill (totally man made and air conditioned to freezing). One mall, opening tomorrow, covers 50 football fields and has parking for 14,000 cars. Every road is under construction and buildings, over 100 stories high, are erected in less than 18 months with the most spectacular architecture. Crews are scheduled 24 hours a day and are recruited from Pakistan, India, and other Asian countries. I thought all of the world's cranes were in Shanghai but they're everywhere here as well. The city is now 1.5 million and growing fast. Although of course you get to the edge and there's nothing by scrubby flat desert as far as the eye can see!

I'll check in again soon, assuming that I can remain un-kidnapped for another couple of days.


Monday, June 02, 2008

The List


John just found
a small pad of paper
with my mother’s handwriting
still beautiful
but shaky.

With a list of 13 dates
written out from May 22 to June 3.

A little calendar of things she’s got
planned and what
she’s looking forward to.

On May 22 it says Make Buns
and on May 23 it says Make Chicken Soup.

Smaller expectations from previous calendars I know.

On May 24 it says Sort Books in Shed
which makes me sad because it’s one of the
projects that she really wanted to do when I was here last
but I was trying to keep up with my email from work
and so we didn’t.

The Books are her boxes of children’s books
that she wanted to look through and pick out
her favourite ones for me
in case I ever get around to having kids.
So that I will have them to read with them.

On her last night I asked her to tell me
which ones were her favourites
so that I can find them on my own.
She took a long time to answer and I’m not
sure if The Cat Box means that
there is a book called The Cat Box or
if there is a box of books about cats.

It’s May 31 today and she's already gone so
the pedicure she was scheduled to have
on June 3 will have to be cancelled.

It’s a sign of a good life when you still
have things you are
looking forward to doing even if you don’t ever get to do them.

-Leah Costello

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Still Here


We’re sitting on the porch and
I’m reflecting and being quiet
John’s talking.

We should do this and
we should do that and he thinks
I should go for a run with Catherine from
next door because
I would really like it.

And I probably really would but that’s not the point
and he catches my thoughts and says
he bets I thought that with my mother gone
no-one would still be trying to tell me what to do.

I smile and think that sometimes when people are
married for a long time they become
a lot like each other.

Or maybe they get married because
they are already a lot like each other?

-Leah Costello



Before she got diagnosed the second, and final time
I asked her how she was feeling about
her post-cancer life.

At that time, I believe,
she was mostly trying to
deal with the loss of her breast, the scars it left,
and the worry that the cancer might
come back.

So in answer to my question,
she said “Okay”.
And with more consideration,
“Pretty Good, you know”.
Because my mother dealt with everything that way.
And determinedly Optimistic.

But then she said, in answer to my question, that
the mornings were the worst.

She said that there were those moments
in the morning.
When you’re just waking up
from that sleepy haze.
The sun might be coming in.
The birds might be singing.

And you’re still just…feeling.
You haven’t started thinking yet.

And then it comes over you.

The reality.
The knowledge.
The understanding that things have changed
and are different now
and will never be the same.

Mornings were the worst.

Mornings were the worst.
But then she’d have her coffee
and go upstairs
and nudge the cat
and have some breakfast.
And have a Pretty Good day.

So I woke up this morning
in a sleepy haze
in my mother’s house
for the first time without my mother.

The sun was coming in the window
on the honey coloured beams
and the birds were singing outside.

And I was just…feeling.
I hadn’t started thinking yet.

And then it came over me.
The reality.
The knowledge.
The understanding that things have changed
and are different now
and will never be the same.

And I know what she meant now
that mornings were the worst.

This morning was the worst.

But then I went downstairs
and nudged the cat
and had some coffee
and then some breakfast.
I will try to have a Pretty Good day.

-Leah Costello

Friday, May 30, 2008

May 20, 2008 - 3:15 pm

May 30, 2008 - 3:15 pm

Her breathing’s really slow
and her eye lids flutter
and it’s really quiet.

But there are some birds chirping outside
and some ducks playing in the
pond made by the
overflowing creek.

Then, gently,
she just whispers to a stop.

-Leah Costello



I don’t know the medical term for it
but she’s got some kind of fluid
bubbling up in the back of her throat.

Her already strained breathing is
clouded further
by the froth and bubbles that
she’s trying to breathe though.

We wonder if this is maybe just part of the process
or if we can do something about it
to make her more comfortable
like we promised we would do.

Ruth left a vacuum-type thing
Like something you’d use in a dentist’s office
with a suction hose.

So I turn it on and it makes
a loud whirring sound
overcome only by the
whirring sound of the oxygen machine that is still
rasping in the corner.

We clear some of the fluid
but there’s more below that
and the suction won’t clear it out.

So I turn off the machine
and make her more comfortable
by touching her face and
holding her hand.

Listening to her and
watching her struggle makes
my own breath feel tight.

I hope, in agony, that she knows
and feels, that we’re doing our best.

-Leah Costello

Last Words


In the movies it seems like
people say their last words
and then shut their eyes
and they’re gone.

After 12 hours of her being unconscious
and unresponsive to
touch and sound,
I am wondering if I should stretch out
on the couch instead of
napping in the chair beside her bed
where I’ve been since Wednesday night.
I’ve been wondering this for a while
because in a situation like this
nothing happens quickly and you have
a lot of time to ponder even small decisions.

The couch looks more comfortable but then again
I can’t hold her hand from there.

And while I am thinking about this
she opens her eyes
and squeezes my hand,
which is still there,
and says “I love you both”.

Which seems like something
you would just imagine wanting
someone to say at a time like this.

But she actually just said that.

And now she’s been unconscious again
for nearly another 12 hours and I am still in my
chair because there will be lots
of other times
to lie on the couch.

-Leah Costello



She’s been unconscious
for over 12 hours now.

Which might not seem like a long time
if you’re lying on a beach on your
last day of vacation
or having a busy day at work.

But when all you’re doing
is watching someone breathe
and wondering if they’ll breathe again
it can feel like time is standing still.

She’s breathing on average
six and a half times per minute
if I were to count.
Which I do because what else
do you do when all you can do is
watch and wonder and count.

And six and a half times per minute
means that there are many times when
I think it has to be down to four now
because it’s such a long time in between.

So I count again and it’s still six and a half.

-Leah Costello

Thursday, May 29, 2008



Her nightie is bunched
under her arms
behind her back.
The collar is crooked and one side is pulled
up too high
and gaping
slightly around her neck.

At the store it would be
on a hanger
draped and smooth
but probably not as pretty.

-Leah Costello

Sunflowers for Mom


She’s sort of in and out of sleep
and part of it is that John can’t stay still.
He’s very intent on entertaining her
which is more than I have the will to do
and I admire his energy while
he admires my ability
to just sit with her for so long.

He comes with juice
and a spoonful of ice cream
and turns on her favourite music
and brings her a stuffed sheep.

He says that he will go and bring her sunflowers
but she has to promise to be here when
he gets back.

She nods yes that she promises
and seemingly seconds later
he arrives back with a huge
bunch of sunflowers
from the hill down the road.

I’ve heard the phrase
“her face lit up” but never really
understood it until
I saw my mother’s face
light up at the sight of that armful of vibrant yellow life.

Her movements aren’t completely coordinated
and she can no longer speak
but she reaches for the flowers
and holds them, glowing, while
John looks for a vase.

-Leah Costello