Subscribing to another way of going forward

It took me a couple of months to notice my magazines had run out.

When John died unexpectedly over two years ago, his wife, Arlene, kept receiving magazine subscriptions he had obviously just renewed. Knowing I was a fan of both The New Yorker and Walrus, she just dropped them off to me when they arrived. Somewhere, in some databank, John lived on; magazines unaware that once the din of dying passes, it is things like this that will press on the wound.

There was an odd little twist of sadness that came with the comfort of seeing his name on a regular basis. The real knife thrust of losing someone you love is these small things: phone messages, address labels, the sudden hollow when you stumble over the word, “we”.

I learned after my parents died about the slap of automatic renewals. In the early raw moments I didn’t want reminders of a life that was lost to me, but I’ve learned that random bits and scraps, in time, become welcome.

When he was alive, John would give me the magazines after he’d read them. We’d often discuss articles because the only thing better than reading something great is giving that joy to someone else. Christopher, at 21, acutely misses John, who was his only real grandfather figure. It is no surprise to me that he also reads these magazines, though I’ve never asked him if he notices John’s name on the cover, if he feels the same pang. Christopher and I recommend things to each other, as we miss the man together yet separately.

In the months following his death, Arlene and I both wondered how long the magazines would keep coming. I buy magazines at the airport or when I have an extra few bucks. Subscriptions are a smart way to commit, a gift amidst the bills and the only way the Letters to the Editor section ever makes any sense. John and I would even discuss these notes, insight into others who read what we did.

Six months in, Arlene was still handing them to me with a smile and a shrug. Over a year later, when we were christening a school with John’s name, the magazines kept coming. We were laughing at this model of planning she’d married, a man so optimistic he must have renewed these magazines even after he got sick. I told her once she could just cancel them, but she looked at me in astonishment and asked why she would do that, and I kept finding them in my mailbox. It takes a wonderful kind of person to see beyond their own grief and extend a lifeline of compassion to another.

This school year ended with the first graduating class from John W. Boich Public School in Burlington. I watched the collection of high school-bound kids cross the stage, girls sparkling and grown up and boys pulling faces for the camera, a gymnasium full of family and friends cheering them on. It was hard not to watch through my own Grade 8 eyes; it was harder still not to see it through John’s.

It reminded me, though, that I’m finally able to surrender my tangible tie to John, those address labels every month. The man will never be far from the hearts in my home, and seeing those kids bursting with promise reminded me of the many ways a life well lived can carry on.

Maybe Arlene and I were the only two surprised at just how long those subscriptions went on. Maybe John planned it just this way.

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21 responses to Subscribing to another way of going forward

  1. Kerry says:

    A very nice tribute to your friend .

    • Pat says:

      Nice article Lorraine. I’m still getting magazines with my Dad’s name on them. The other day, I applied for a building permit for a shed at the cottage. The Owner was still listed as my Dad, though he’s been dead 2 years and I sent them his death certificate. I got a little teary, remembering how much Dad used to love to build things with me.

  2. Sandy says:

    My parents take turns driving me nuts.
    Then I read this stuff and remember that I need to be thankful they are here and look past the crazy.
    Cant imagine the puddle I will be when I have to deal with these types of things.

    Thank you.

    • Beth says:

      Sandy, do we have the same parents?

      • Sandy says:

        This pic is NOT me but it does show what I recently did to my hair.
        My mom “What happened to your hair?”
        Me “I coloured it”
        Her “On purpose?”
        Me “Yes”
        Her “oh, it really changes your complexion”
        Me – walking away
        Her “it looks better from the back”

        There is just no response to that…….I guess she didn’t like it.

        • Kerry says:

          At least it didn’t turn green .

        • Pat says:

          I’ve got you both beat by a mile. A little over a year ago, my partner and I split up after 14+ years together.
          A short while after, over dinner with Mom, she interjected, “You know, you’re a much better friend than a partner.”
          I asked why she would say something like that? She shrugged, ” I’m just sayin.” Please shoot me now.

  3. Jeff says:

    Thank you Lorraine for such a touching reminder of John. Your insight and compassion are amazing. Thank you.

  4. Beth says:

    I looked your friend up on Google, as I am not from the area. What a lovely tribute to see the first graduating class. Lovely article!

    On a slightly similar note, I hope, I used to spend a lot of time with my grandfather at what is now our family cottage during my university years. My father’s military career had the rest of my family living in England and I would visit “Papa” when I needed my family fix. My favourite aunt has the cottage just down the shore, so I was well loved when I was there. Papa used to love getting those Reader’s Digest condensed books, where you would get about 5 condensed stories in one hard cover. I used to sit on the deck and read them, watching the moon over the Bay, Papa and I content in our quiet. He died over 25 years ago and his books are still lovingly stored on the book shelf. I don’t think they will ever be moved.

    • Lorraine Lorraine says:

      We have those up north, too. I remember reading Two Years Before the Mast and being utterly befuddled. The idea of chopping up a novel kills me now, but Dad used to order them:)

      • Kerry says:

        I’ve tried to read some books that were so poorly written that the only joy i found in them was ripping them apart . I was still out 10 dollars but i felt a little better .

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