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Unrelated sunset panorama (maybe it’s symbolic)

It was hard to think of a title for this one, but I think I managed it okay. They’re lyrics from Shelter, but I think it fits fine.

So, today JV, Rachel, & I went to visit Mr. Olson. Allen tried to come, but that didn’t work out. Only 3 people per visit, and you had to arrange them ahead of time.

I had a lot of thoughts about this visit before I had even went.

This is initially started when Iris told most our year of Middle Years/Synergy kids about his cancer. Originally, we were going to all go in one group, as many of us as we could (since at least a third of us aren’t even in BC right now). We started to talk about what we could bring to the visit to make it more memorable. Photo collage? A powerpoint slide with each of us getting a slide? Letters?

All of those ideas became useless once we found out that there was a max capacity of 3 visitors at one time. We all just decided to go our separate ways, and visit him in smaller groups (or by ourselves if we wanted).

I had hesitations about visiting Olson. When I really thought about it, the teachers from highschool that I will probably remember 10 years from now are Mr. Sale, Ms. Patton, and Dr. Gabbott if he counts as a teacher (I guess he taught me TOK for a year). Mr. Olson wasn’t really one of the teachers that made a difference in my life. When I think of Olson, I really just remember Applied Skills being a semi-free block where most of the class activities was basically fun & games. Building a rocket, watching movies, having parties, building a diorama (that we never finished), organizing a Buskerfest, Google Sketchup, and knitting. None of those were really hard activities, and basically guaranteed a lot of free, excess time to play around. I also remember Photography 11, but we only had ‘classes’ about for a total of maybe 5 hours throughout the entire year (or at least from what I can remember), and the rest of the time was just wandering the school looking for things to take pictures of. I don’t exactly know what I’m going to really remember about the classes 10 years from now, but it would probably be something like “very chill, didn’t do much”.

I guess you could say he made me ‘start’ blogging. But I had already started blogging back in elementary school because of Tiffany (RIP Windows Live Spaces) so it’s not really true. Maybe I wouldn’t have blogged about my days and what I thought, but who knows? Maybe I would have become a short story blogger, wouldn’t that be cool? Though it’s very likely that because of the enforced ‘daily’ blogs (I only did maybe 2-3 a week, wasn’t on schedule then or now), I still continue to blog now. Though, there definitely was a gradual dislike for blogs as doing one every day became more of a chore, and less of a stress-relieving activity. That culminated in me blogging less and less during the 2nd year of Middle Years/Synergy. I remember making multiple 3-4 line blogs the day before submissions were due, to pretend that I had been blogging daily. It was around this time that I started a second blogspot blog, one just for myself, not bound by any deadlines or restrictions. That’s probably the only reason why I’m still blogging today. So I guess I should thank him for that.

When I told my mother I was going to take an hour off from working at the office on Friday morning, she wasn’t very impressed. “Terminal cancer? Why do you even bother to visit someone who is considered dead? You’re supposed to visit when they’re still alive.” “He probably doesn’t even remember any of you, whats the point?” “You don’t even think he made that much of an impact on your life, why do you care?” She definitely wasn’t supportive of the notion. While this was expected, it was more severe than I thought it was going to be. I’ll just chalk it up to Darren’s passing because of cancer, and VGH’s lack of due care (or so my mom thinks).

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It’s gorgeous.

My Midori Traveler’s Notebook (passport size!) arrived Thursday night, the day before the visit. I took some time to put the notebooks, planner, and plastic zipper into the thing, and went to bed. I some precursorory thoughts about the visit to Olson in it. It was just in case I forgot how I was feeling then. After the visit, I filled a few more pages on what I thought about. Now reading them a few hours later, I’m missing some important information that would’ve helped me write a better post. I guess I was too emotional to organize my thoughts properly. Also, writing is much slower when you’re not on a table. I guess my hopefully continued journal can count as originating from Olson as well. It was only because I enjoyed my blogs that I started to want to write when I am away from my keyboard.

I woke up bright and early. 7am is actually a rather late wake-up time relative to the rest of my weekday wake-up times. I lounged around on my bed until 7:30 before I bothered to get up. I decided to make an omelette instead of buying something unhealthy on the way to VGH. I actually didn’t know how long it would take me to get there. Google Maps told me it would be around 25 minutes, but that was for 1am traffic. I gave myself slightly over an hour to get there, which is about how much time I use to get to school in the morning. When I got to 41st street and Oak about 15 minutes in, I knew I was definitely going to be early. So I turned a few blocks early and tried to see if I could find any free parking spots in the residential areas. Nope.

Had to find my way back to VGH and park there. I never knew VGH was comprised of so many buildings, and how confusing it was to find parking there. I eventually turned into the lot knowing that I was most likely at the wrong building. I had to go all the way to P4 (out of 5 floors) to find an empty parking spot. I never enjoyed navigating parking buildings, but VGH’s is noticeably more confusing than others. Some places you’re allowed to turn, others your not, and even when you can, half of them are dead ends. It’s not the greatest piece of work, but I guess it works. The people parking here are more busy thinking about their visitee than properly navigating the parking.

So I found one. I went upstairs and found out I was in the Gordon & Leslie Diamond Health Care centre, or something like that. Olson’s room was in Jim Pattison building, so I had to go find that. I was prepared to walk 15 minutes in the cold to find the building, but it was right in front of the Gordon & Leslie building’s exit. Convenient.

I had some expectations of how the meeting would go. I would have nothing to say, probably neither would the other two. I also didn’t exactly know what was ‘allowed to be said’, since terminal illness is a sensitive topic and all. I expected the meeting to be 5-10 minutes, and we would be done. Putting it like that, there didn’t really seem to be a point to visiting, except for the sake of doing it. Originally, I was only planning to go if the entire class went to visit him, because then I would be there for ‘completion’s sake’. But once it became a 3 person cap, that couldn’t happen anymore. I wouldn’t have gone by myself, I would really only go if someone asked me to, because then I’d be going for their sake, and not really mine.

After a short wait, we went up the elevator. But first, why in the world does the elevator’s ‘arrival sound’ sound like an elephant? Like what in the world was the thought process behind it? Would it make the patients there laugh? They would be less likely to miss it? There’s gotta be a reason for why the sound is so… ridiculous, but I digress.

The 14th floor. 

Room 14420. 

Rachel knew the way, or at least, I didn’t know the way.

When we got there, Olson was facing the window, away from the door, doing what seemed to be eating breakfast (which seemed to be cereal and plain yogurt). He definitely didn’t realize we were visitors until a little bit after we said hi. I guess when you’re in the hospital, you just become used to the various hospital staff asking for you by your last name.

I’m not sure how the conversation really started. Some words were exchanged (way more loop-sided for Olson than us), and we introduced ourselves, and what we were doing. Oh, he said he was bad with names, and I said I was too. It was to make us feel less bad when he doesn’t remember our names. But when you have multiple hundreds of students per year, it must be hard. I mean, I’m already having trouble remembering my group members in my classes, I can’t imagine trying to remember 100 students. It did kinda look like he remembered our faces (even though we’re older now). When he finally saw JV’s name, he remembered that he had a brother. Either that, or he’s amazing at pretending, which is also commendable. 

I kinda messed up my introduction, embarrassingly enough. The question was “So what are you guys doing now?”, and I was the last to answer. “Are you at school too?” Yes, today I’m working – I’m still going to school, but I just work on Fridays. I’m doing commerce. Not very organized there.

So we continue to talk, or rather, we continue to listen to Olson talk. I guess that’s what happens when you’re in a hospital for a long time. I never remembered him as a chatty teacher. Maybe it was just that we were too young, or that he had to carry out the image of a teacher and not talk to us much. It’s not like he wasn’t open to talking to us, but it wasn’t anything like this.I guess at some point you long for conversation with people, even if it’s mainly just you talking. I already get that feeling if I only interact with people through text, it can only be worse.  It can’t be much fun being in a hospital room with what seemed like 2 other people (at least). I’m a bit regretful the conversation wasn’t more of a 2 way street. The street I turned on today said “one way only”, not much I can do there. 

Olson talked about how much happiness he’s been filled with, having all these students visit him. He talked about how even though he couldn’t touch all his student’s lives, he was happy he did touch some of them (wording). He talked about how we’re adults now and can handle the truth. He talked about his cancer, his operations, and his attempt at chemotherapy. He talked about how he wishes for us to carry on his banner. He talked about how his family has been helping him organize all the things related to the students. He talked about how he read a blog from one of his current students that said (I’m rephrasing here) “Mr. Olson’s been away for a few days. I guess he got tired and fed up with us and left.” and how it wasn’t true. He talked about how he was going to be able to go home tomorrow, and then eventually in a hospice. He talked about how he had a group of people from his 2001-2002 class. He talked about what Synergy/Middle Years meant to him. He talked about asking visitors for selfies to remember their faces. He talked about how he would read our blogs if we sent it to him. He talked about how he got to experience Vancouver’s elongated cold weather the day before. He talked about how he wishes for us to remember him during his better days, instead of now. He talked about how his doctor was surprised about how cheerful he was, even though he was essentially a ‘dead man’ (quote from said doctor). He talked about being a teacher even now. He talked about how a student had sung a song for him (it’s on his Facebook) during a visit yesterday. 

He also cried.

So did I.

The first time he started to cry, I first thought he was just taking his time to properly think about what he was going to say. Then I realized he was tearing up. I thought, I should go comfort him. But I didn’t. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because of the previous thoughts I had of visiting, or that I felt it wasn’t my place to (though in hindsight it’s worse to just let him cry), or that I didn’t have the right to. Thankfully, JV takes off his bag and comforts him. Rachel shared a glance. Afterwards though, we let him cry in peace (or isolation?).

I didn’t expect to cry. It just started to fall out as he first talked about how he was filled with happiness about all the student visits. How he wasn’t expecting anything like this. How he was so happy and lucky to feel as loved as he was. I’m not sure what, but it definitely resonated with me. Maybe a bit too much. Was it sympathy? Empathy? Pity? I think the first time was definitely empathy. Quickly, I tried up the tears and continued to listen to him talk. I wasn’t sure if the others noticed it the first time.

I don’t remember what caused the second time. Actually, I’m not sure what caused the third time either. But I do remember that his recollection of the current student’s blog got to me. I really wanted to ask “Did you reply?”, but I didn’t. Don’t ask me why, I wouldn’t know. I also know the part about “remember the smiles, not the tears” hit me too. It hit me because that’s what my parents said about visiting Darren while he was in the hospice. I wasn’t allowed to see him at all while he was in care. My mother said that the cancer really changed how he looked. He no longer looked like the youthful and confident man he used to be. Instead, he looked like a moving corpse. I was told it was hard to see him at that point, because the change in appearance really hit home the ‘terminal’ aspect of it all. My mother really hated how that was how she was going to remember him in the future, as that sight was what my parents had to often see for the 1-2 years he was in care for. I was happily surprised when I saw Olson. He definitely had lost a lot of weight, and he definitely looked tired, but he still looked alive (disregarding the cuts and incisions littered over his body). It wasn’t a bad sight. You could pass it off as him going through weight-loss, and just coming back from a long run. But the shared sentiment really put me over the border.

I don’t think I hid the tears well the second time. The third time it was a bit obvious.

When my brain processed the conflicting feelings of happiness from the plentiful surprise visits from past students, the impossible desire to properly inform existing students, and the certain thought of death, tears was the only thing it concluded. How painful must it be to realize the love people have for you only in your final moments.

I guess I didn’t realize it, and I still can’t realize it, but maybe Olson did affect my life. I mean, tears don’t come down for no reason, especially when I’m only recollecting what happen 13 hours prior. This visit was a pretty good idea, thanks JV.

Before we left (I’m ignoring our miscommunication about our card), he said he had one thing to say to us, that he couldn’t say to us while we were students as teachers had rules.

“I love you.”

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