Jody’s Celebration of Life is on Saturday, two days from now.  And my brain is messed up.  I still cry for Jody every day.  That’s a blessing for me, not a mess at all.  It’s all the other stuff that intrudes.

I want lots of people to come.  But I have no control over that.  It could be 50.  It could be 200.  I’m trying to let go of the numbers.  I know what’s true is that there will be a lot of love in the room.  That’s what’s important.  Love for Jody.  Love for me.  Love for the loved ones of the loved ones attending.  It’s going to be a Celebration of Life … Jody’s life, of course, but also of life itself.  What a precious gift we’ve been given to be on this planet, to contribute to the lives of others.

I want to laugh a lot on Saturday.  I have some funny stories about my lovely wife and I hope that I’m rolling in the aisles as I listen to her friends talk about Jody’s smile and fun spirit.  But I will cry too.  And I worry about crying all the way through the ceremony as I gaze out at Jody’s friends and think of her.  Then I worry about not crying at all, of suppressing myself, both the joy and the sorrow, as I wallow in the stress of the day.  But there doesn’t need to be stress.  How about if I let things unfold exactly as they do, and trust that our time together will be good for our souls?  Yes, that’s a good idea.

I’m playing four songs for Jody – two YouTube videos and two from DVDs.  I played them at my darling’s funeral too, and struggled with the technology.  What if that happens again?  Well, at the funeral, people were wonderfully understanding of my imperfections.  Nice folks will be coming on Saturday too.  We’re all in this together.

There was a fifth song in November, and it will also appear this Saturday … me singing “Annie’s Song”.  Back then, I only got a line or two into it before my sorrow ground me to a halt.  Friends and family picked up the tune and sang it for me.  It’s okay, Bruce, if the words won’t come again.  The choir will respond.

I think about the food that will be available after Jody’s celebration.  I had to order enough for 150 to get the room.  If only 50 people show up, health regulations would prevent me from donating the excess to the Men’s Mission downtown.  If there are 200 guests, there won’t be much for each person to eat.

Oh, what a tangled web I weave!  Let it all go, Bruce.  As the Desiderata said, “The universe is unfolding as it should.”  Let it do its dance on Saturday.

I’ll let you know early next week how the moments blessed us all.

Fifty Years After – Part 2

As Cam and I wandered the halls of Lawrence Park, looking at the photos of former classmates on the walls, we came across five girls sitting on the floor.  They all smiled when I said hi, which was lovely.  “We went here fifty years ago.”  Shock and, I think, curiosity.  “Do you still have school dances in the gym?”  Yes, a few.  I proceeded to tell them the ritual of the day:  girls sitting on one side of the gym, boys on the other.  I would walk across the floor, ask a girl to dance, and usually she would say no.  So … there I was, plodding back to the boys’ side, with everybody in the room knowing what had just happened.  Owwie.

The girls seemed to hang on every word.  I then launched into the topic of acne, since my young face had been covered with it.  Smiles of recognition.  And friendly goodbyes as we moved on.

We walked into the auditorium, where I’d attended countless assemblies, and performed in many concerts.  I was floating in my memories when I decided to turn around and face the back of the hall.  There on the wall were the missing plaques.  Under 1967, I was indeed there, resplendent in yellow calligraphy.  I just stared.  Who was this young man?  How much of him is with me now?  Lots.

I wanted to see the orchestra room, where I had practiced the cello for the five years of high school.  Being an orchestra member, playing concerts featuring symphonies from famous composers, had helped me rise above my acne and become a fuller human being.  There was a Vocal class going on as Cam and I passed the open door so we decided to come back at the end of the period

As the old kids were filing out, we walked into a room which was the site of one of the most traumatic moments of my life.  The Vocal teacher (also the orchestra and band teacher) welcomed us, and after hearing our story, invited us to listen to a few songs from the new group of students.  Sounded good to us.

I asked the gentleman if I could say a few words to the kids.  Of course.  I told them of our presence here fifty years ago.  I also told them about November 22, 1963.  It was ten minutes into our morning Grade 10 String class.  We were tuned up and ready to go, but our teacher, Miss Kuzmich, was nowhere to be found.  How strange.

In 2015, I pointed to the door and said, “Suddenly, that door smashed open and Miss Kuzmich fell through the opening, tears pouring down her cheeks.  ‘Kennedy’s been shot!’  And the shock raced through the String room.  I was immobile.  Terrified.  No body parts worked.  It was a moment that will never leave me.  At lunchtime, I raced home to watch TV with my mom, and found out that the president was dead.”

The kids listened and, I believe, gulped.  They too were silent.

We heard two lovely songs from the group.  So skilled.  So expressive.  We applauded.  Then I asked the teacher if I could sing a song.  Seems to me that Cam’s face dropped a bit right then.  But what the heck.  Time to sing.  Was it “Imagine” by John Lennon that flowed from my mouth?  How about a little opera from Verdi?  Naw … it was “Give a cheer for the good old gold and blue.”  The students smiled.

Just before we left the room, I said,  “Lawrence has meant a lot to me.  Fifty years from now, I hope that you look back on your days at LPCI with joy, that you reminisce about how your time here contributed to your life.”  We all waved goodbye.

It was a precious day in the hallways of my youth.  Thanks, young Bruce, for being there.  Thanks, young classmates, for giving me so much.  Thanks, young teens of 2015, for listening.


Fifty Years After – Part 1

Cam and I went to visit Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute in Toronto yesterday … our high school.  I had dropped in once as an adult, probably twenty years ago, but that had been a very brief peek at what had been.  Yesterday was the full meal deal.

After parking, we could have gone in the main entrance or the one by the auditorium.  Since as a teenager I was never allowed enter the school by the main one, I decided that as an adult I would stay consistent.  Besides, I used to hang out by the auditorium, sitting on a low wall next to the lawn.  In 2015, a wheelchair ramp was right up against the wall, making it impossible to sit in my spot.  Sigh.

As we walked inside, I looked at the left wall in the foyer for the many plaques which had featured the names of Lawrence award winners over the decades.  I was especially looking for one certain plaque from 1967 which included “Bruce Kerr” in yellow calligraphy on dark brown wood.  But the wall was blank.  Double sigh.  “No!  They can’t have gotten rid of us.  It’s my history.”

Cam and I slouched down the hallway to the office, where we explained our ancient status and asked permission to look around.  The secretary was most obliging and gave us guest badges to wear around our necks.  Before leaving the office, I did what any normal person would have done – I sang Lawrence’s school song:

Give a cheer for the good old gold and blue
Our sons will be always strong and true
We’ll go in fighting and get a victory
Our foes we’ll soon subdue
For Lawrence is going out to win
We’ll fight through our foes through thick and thin
Give a cheer for the team that’s out to win that game
And make that cheer a victory cry
Let’s go – we won’t stop until it’s victory
For the gang at LPCI

Victory, victory is our cry
Are we champions?  Well, I guess
Can we beat ’em?  Yes, yes, yes!

Two secretaries smiled big time.  They told me that most of those words had been scrapped a long time ago.  Politically incorrect, you know.  Guess it was hard to fit in “Our sons and daughters will be always strong and true”.  Plus “fighting”, “subdue” and “fight through our foes” were just a mite too violent.  So today’s kids don’t know the song.  Triple sigh.

So began three hours of exploring our youth in the halls and classrooms of Lawrence Park.  The best was yet to come.

Only Birds and Deer Need Apply

I’m visiting my friends Cam and Ann in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto.  Although most of the town seems to be dominated by huge, tall homes that fill nearly all of the lot, I’m sitting in an oasis of peace.  Cam and Ann live in a small house that’s 150 years old.  It’s part of a huge property that her uncle used to own.  He’s donated a small lake, with its surrounding wooded slopes, to the Province of Ontario, with one stipulation: no people will be allowed in this newly created conservation area.  Uncle holds the vision of a sanctuary for wildlife, untroubled by the purposeful activities of mankind.  Ann and other family members will be allowed to walk on the land until they move away from the property.  When they’re gone, no human beings will touch this earth … forever.

Yesterday afternoon, we went walking into another world.  On the shoreline, we watched an owl fly silently across the lake, and a few minutes later heard its mournful hooting.  Otherwise … silence.  The lake was frozen and was decorated with tiny animal tracks going across.  The trees were the tallest of guardians.  Some of them were the most exquisite pines – tall trunks of vibrant red topped by small clumps of needles.  Jody was there with me.

We walked to an old boathouse – a berth on the water topped by a large room with windows viewing the lake, topped by a rooftop patio.  Ann told us about the parties she had enjoyed there as a young person.  Looking down from the roof, I saw a dock extending into the lake, with two railings jutting out of the ice, and I was torn.  I imagined happy swimmers hauling themselves out of the water, lots of laughing, and peaceful moments of companionship as twilight settled over the land.

All the history of humans will end soon.  The birds will fly joyfully.  The deer will bound up and down the slopes unhindered.  A sanctuary for them, and not for us.  I was happy.  I was sad.  Life showing me all its colours once more.  Let both sides embrace you, Bruce.

Celebrating Jody

Dear friends,

I hope that you’ll come to Jody’s Celebration of Life on Saturday, January 31 at 11:00 am.  It will be held at the Bellamere Winery in northwest London.  The best way to find Bellamere is to get yourself to the intersection of Wonderland Road North and Gainsborough Road.  The Sherwood Forest Mall is on the southwest corner.  Turn left if you’re coming from the south and head west on Gainsborough.  Keep going past Hyde Park Road and you’ll find Bellamere about a kilometre along on your left.  There’s been major construction on Hyde Park, so I wouldn’t go that way.

From the 401 westbound, take the 402 where it splits off the 401 and exit at Wonderland Road.  Head north for quite awhile until you get to the Sherwood Forest Mall.

There’s free parking at Bellamere.  You’ll see two buildings.  Walk towards the right one.  Under the portico, go in the double doors on your right.  If you’re in a wheelchair, there’s a ramp in front of the single door that’s to the left of the double one.

There!  Directions handled.

Please sign the guest book on the long table as you go in.  After Jody’s celebration, I hope you’ll stay for a light lunch.

May our time together be a marvelous sharing of stories … of Jody’s smile, her humour and her love.  My darling wife touched so many people.  I hope that I’ll be laughing a lot.  Most likely I’ll also be crying a lot.  Both are just fine.

May you have the courage to come to the front and tell us about Jody and you.  We can paint pictures of how Jody moved through life.  I certainly have a few fun experiences to share.  Jody knew fun.  If you can’t imagine speaking in front of potentially a lot of people, please send me an e-mail of what you want to say, and I’ll read it to the group.

No doubt, there will be a lot of love in the room.  There’ll also be a lot of music … some of Jody’s favourite songs.


The past few weeks have helped me remember the beauty of my lovely wife that she showed as her life moved towards a close.  In September, Jody wanted to bake me a loaf of French pepper crackling bread, our Christmas tradition, but she wasn’t strong enough to do it.  So she coached Linda, one of our personal support workers, in the baking of this wonder.  There was Jody in her wheelchair, telling Linda this and telling Linda that.  And a couple of hours later … Voila!  My bread awaiteth.  And it was delicious, just as it’s been for twenty years or more.

Only weeks after Jody’s death did I realize that she wanted me to have one more loaf of our love bread, and that she knew she wouldn’t be around at Christmas for this blessed tradition.  Jodiette loved me quadruple oodles, and she still does.

For the last two months of Jody’s life, she wanted to wear all the rings that I had given her … and so she did.  Seven in all.  My favourite is the heart-shaped golden ring, with three little blue stones, that I gave to Jodiette as I asked her to marry me on English Bay Beach in Vancouver.  That was in September, 1986.  So many lovings ago.

My life has been changed by the time I got to spend with Jody Anita Kerr in this lifetime.  She gave me all she had.  Jody made sure I ate well, looked good and was happy.  Her song for me has always been “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”.

Search your heart and your soul
You can’t tell it’s not worth dying for
I’ll be there
I’d walk the fire for you
I’d die for you

On February 24, Jody and I will be in Budweiser Gardens, listening to Bryan Adams sing to us.  I only bought one ticket.  That’s all we need.  We’ll sing along.

I love you all,


Sweet Music in the Evening

Neal and I went into London tonight to listen to a Canadian folk music group, appropriately called “Eh?!”  Two fiddlers and a bass violinist.  All brilliant performers.  Their concert was held at The Cuckoo’s Nest, an intimate club that takes over Chaucer’s Pub on some Sunday evenings.  Chaucer’s seats about 50, and features a huge stone fireplace, dark wood, and beer steins on a high shelf.

We sat immediately to the right of the band, in the second row.  I was about eight feet from James fiddler’s right arm.  Joe bass violin was on the other side of James, and farther along was Anne fiddler.

Sitting right in front of me was a man of about my age with a very large head.  He kept that head extremely still throughout the concert.  There was no hint of grooving to the fiddle tunes.  I felt sadness and dryness coming off him, even a depression.  And so I felt sad.  I decided to simply be with him.  No beaming of positive energy his way.  Just let him be as he was, with my company.  But sometimes he would lean way to the left or right, trying to see beyond James.  The first couple of times, I was irritated, and then I let that go.  Actually, when he leaned right, I could see Joe playing haunting melodies on the bass, rather than just the top of his head.  So my neighbour was helping me out.

At the break between sets, I decided to talk to the gentleman, to see if I could make a contribution.  “Hard to see past the first fiddler from our angle, eh?”  Big smile in return.  I was happy.

The tops of Joe’s and Anne’s heads were just fine for me because I got to see three musical heads feeling the melody and making the harmony, swaying to the peaceful tunes and jerking wildly during the raucous ones.  Very cool.  Oh, and I also got to see Anne’s left hand on the neck of her fiddle, her fingers alternately caressing and smashing down on the strings.  Cool again.

During the love songs, Joe played his bass like a violin, moving his fingers way down the fretboard to draw out ethereal melodies, with his head bowed as in a trance.  Gone I was in those moments.  Tears came to my eyes as the distinct sound of incredibly high bass notes worked its way into my soul.  Jody came flooding into me.  She was happy I had brought her to the concert.  Always with me, my dear.

It was a lovely evening.  Virtuoso musicians.  Tunes that led me away.  And a bigheaded man who knows how to smile.




Another Celebration

Two weeks from now,  Jody’s Celebration of Life will be held at Bellamere Winery in London.  This afternoon, I went to another one, honouring Kathy, an occupational therapist colleague of Jody’s.

I didn’t know how hard it would be for me.  As I walked in, I recognized person after person.  First of all, Jody’s former boss from many years ago.  Last January, she had dropped off gifts at our house, but I hadn’t seen her.  The best of the lot was a sculpted fabric seat to give me some lower back support as I sat with Jody.  I’ve used it many times but never found out the woman’s address to thank her.  Today I did, mixed with sorrow and embarrassment.  She wasn’t fazed at all.  Just me.

I started talking to a friend of Jody’s who retired from Parkwood last month.  Soon, though, I was pulled away to say hello to another workmate of Jody’s.  A dangling conversation.  Made me sad.

As I bounced from person to person, I got scared.  We were here for Kathy, not Jody.  Except that I’m always here for Jody.  And people wanted to give me a hug.  So let them, Bruce.

A few minutes into Kathy’s Celebration of Life, it was time for the first musical number, sung and played by a mellow male guitarist.  Oh, no.  It was “Annie’s Song” by John Denver, a piece I had sung to Jody for years.  I tried to stop the tears but they pooled in my eyes.  “It’s not about you, Bruce.  It’s about Kathy.”   I thought about staring into Jody’s eyes all those times as I’d sung “Come let me love you.  Let me give my life to you.”  Oh, Jodiette.  How I miss you, my dear wife.

Later, the musician favoured us with “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

Oh, Jody.  Will you dry my tears, dear one?  They seem to go on forever.

Family and friends came to the front and talked about Kathy’s life, and how kind she was to everyone.  She was truly a wonderful person who had always treated me royally.  My focus moved to Kathy from Jody.  And I could breathe again.  But near the end of the ceremony, the master of ceremonies mentioned the good people who Parkwood had recently lost … “Kathy, Jody and Rob.”  And my tears came once more.

How will I ever cope two weeks from now, when maybe 200 loved ones will show up at Bellamere, and I’m the master of ceremonies?  I don’t know.  Jody, please be with me then.  Help me draw forth the love that’s already in the room.

I’m always with you, Bruce
I will shelter you
I will protect you
Love them all

In Its Own Sweet Time

I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out.  I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient.  I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it.  I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life.  The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled.  The wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them.  Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath.  In vain.  It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings needed to be a gradual process in the sun.  Now it was too late.  My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time.  It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.

And so it is with me … or could be.  I cry every day for Jody, often several times a day.  A part of me wants the crying to stop, the grieving to end.  Thankfully just a small part.  The wisdom eye knows that I will cry when I need to, for as long as I need to.  And if my weeping for my loved one extends over months or even years,  then that is the rhythm I must honour.  People may talk about me needing to move on, but there is a far deeper mystery that calls me for as long as it does.  I will listen.

Crying for Kindness

A few days ago, I was watching a commercial on TV and started crying.  Deep sobs.  Afterwards I couldn’t remember what they were selling.  All I retained was Person A criticizing someone who wasn’t there and Person B agreeing.  Then that scene was repeated twice.  On the fourth viewing, Person B responded to Person A by saying something kind about the absent someone.

I’ve been crying for Jody every day and I figured that my response to the commercial had something to do with my vulnerability.  But it still seemed a mystery.  And then I stopped analyzing it … the why and wherefore just floated away.

Tonight I was watching a CNN report about a terrorist attack being prevented in Belgium.  It was time for “a message from our sponsors”:

(Scene: two employees chatting in the office)

Person A:  I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.

Person B:  We could both use a vacation too.

(Repeat twice)

(Fourth time)

Person A:  I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.

Person B:  I’m going to swing by with Mary and see how she’s doing.

(Person A thinks … and nods)

And Bruce cries again, weeping uncontrollably for a minute or two.

Then I used the “rewind live TV” function on my PVR and watched it again.  There was a single message at the end:

Be kind
1 of the 5 ways you can end
the stigma around mental illness

The advertiser?  Bell – a large Canadian company providing TV and phone service.

Lovely to behold
Cry on, Bruce

Toronto – Part 4: The Music

Neal and I went to folk music concerts at Hugh’s Room on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.  Immersion indeed.

First up was Lillebjorn Nilsen, a singer-songwriter from Norway.  He had come to Toronto to pick up an acoustic guitar made for him by Grit Laskin, a mainstay of a longstanding local group called “The Friends of Fiddler’s Green”.  Lillebjorn was so enthralled with his new instrument.  It was as if he was making love as he played.  Grit was pretty happy too.

Lillebjorn sang in Norwegian, which was fine for the large Scandinavian crowd at Hugh’s but a challenge for me.  Even though he sometimes gave a little description of the song beforehand, I was getting frustrated.  I love lyrics most of all.  At some point, though, I let go.  “Just be with Lillebjorn, Bruce.”  So I did.  The soul of the man flowed out of his mouth and out of his fingers.  He could have been reciting a grocery list.  It didn’t matter.  He loved his country.  He loved people.  He loved making music.

At the end of the evening, he pulled out a Norwegian fiddle … with nine strings.  Oh, how he could make that violin sing!  Sad, joyous, mesmerizing.  Thank you, Lillebjorn.


Our encore visit favoured us with the songs of Paul Simon, offered by seven individuals and groups – two pieces for each.  Some of the songs I’d never heard of.  And the best performances came from a trio of musicians – keyboard/vocals, lead guitar and bass guitar.  I’m sitting here trying to remember their songs, and I can’t.  But it doesn’t matter.  The fellows were brilliant together.  I remember the smile on the face of the lead guitarist as he played a long lick … in a trance, it seemed.  One rollicking tune featured the pianist belting out the melody while tickling the ivories with his left hand and banging the keyboard lid against the vertical surface of the piano with his right.  So cool.

Then there was the trio of East Indian descent who gave us “The Sounds of Silence” – an ethereal female voice accompanied by a sitar.  Otherworldly.  Finally, the whole crew went up on stage for a rousing version of “Slip Slidin’ Away”.  We were in love.


Day three featured Joanna Chapman-Smith, a Toronto singer-songwriter who had lost her voice during an illness, and had it magically return months later, to our immense benefit.  Joanna was such an original … rich love songs, some unusual melodies, storytelling mixed in with the singing.  The place was packed in celebration of her aliveness and virtuosity.  I struggled with the long stories and with some of the dissonant melody lines but I marvelled at her humanity.  Such a glowing face.

The biggest revelation for me was during the break between sets.  I listened to the one hundred of us talk.  It was a symphony of voices that seemed to get louder as the minutes passed.  First, I resisted.  After all, I’m a nice little Buddhist guy that needs his large doses of silence.  But then I started smiling.  It was music.  It was we humans embracing our fellows.  It was sweet.


Sing me a melody, please
Make it last long inside me
Sing me a melody, please
Give me a good vibration