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Russell Wangersky: If you knew then what you know now

Do I have a recipe for pizza crust ...
Do I have a recipe for pizza crust ...

It’s one of those things you already know, or else may have difficulty taking in. I think it’s also something that a lot of people my age are right in the middle of discovering: that, after your parents are gone, you’ll suddenly realize that there is something, that there are many things you want to share with them, and that you will never be able to have a chance to do it.

Russell Wangersky

Period. Full stop.

I mean, it’s obvious, if you stop and think about it — we just don’t either stop or think.

Both of my parents have been dead for a number of years. Both died of cancer, far off in Victoria, B.C., in a house they bought because my mother wanted to be far from the Halifax snow.

It’s simple things: a joke I’d love to share with my father, because it was the kind of bad joke he dearly loved, or a labour-saving trick or a tool that my mother would have loved to have had.

A recipe for bread — even sharing the realization that, even though I didn’t think about it, they were probably worrying about lots of things in my life that I never thought they would have. (Just as I now worry about my grown-up kids, even though they are almost certainly as oblivious of that as I was.)

I find myself mentally reaching for the phone — trying to remember their phone number, before remembering instead, jarringly, that it’s not their number anymore; that it’s a much longer long-distance than I was imagining.

When new parents bring a baby home, they get lots of advice: they’re told about the good things, about other people’s experiences; they may even get an earful about the lack of sleep and loneliness that babies can bring with them. Bring a baby into a room and everyone’s talking about babies: the good, the bad, the messy.

It’s not that way when one of your parents dies.

When parents die, what you hear most is that people are sorry to hear about it. Friends may tell you about their favourite memories of your loved ones, but no one really tells you the hard truth: that you will mourn for a long time, and that things will happen that you will want to share with those lost parents, and you’ll fall into that hole, on and off, perhaps for years.

It’s not just the simple fact of missing them — no. It’s the fact that you don’t get the chance to see something and say, “I know now. It took me almost 50 years to understand what you were saying, but I know now.” You don’t even get to say that you’re sorry for the worry and hassle the young you might have caused.

I think my parents were probably satisfied with the family and world they built. I know that they probably came around to this very same realization about their parents to some degree, probably at just about the same point in life where I am now, and where they, too, suddenly weren’t able to share it with their parents either.

Not the greatest of circles for anyone involved.

You’re busy. Everyone is busy. But if your parents are still around, you could remember the phone number. Heck, you can send email, if those same parents are technology-savvy enough to use that method of communication.

I heard a really good joke that would have made my dad pull an old cloth handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe tears from the corners of his eyes. And I have a pizza crust recipe — oh, I have a pizza crust recipe.

I just don’t have a place to put either of them.

Russell Wangersky is TC Media’s Atlantic regional columnist. He can be reached at — Twitter: @Wangersky.

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