Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List

2018.06.03 Kelowna Waterfront Park, Walk of Memories (8) WP

When Denis* moved into the apartment next door about five years ago, the noise volume suddenly increased to intolerable decibels. After several confrontations, we managed to find ways to handle the situation more respectably. He stopped blasting music in the wee hours, and I bought a variety of white noise machines to mask sounds I didn’t want to hear.

Over the last couple of years, the situation improved. We exchanged pleasant smiles and hellos, and even danced together in the park one time when there was an outdoor concert. We weren’t exactly ‘friends’, but we made peace as neighbours.

Winters have generally been quieter. With our windows closed, the sounds didn’t come through as loudly. However, one recent warm, sunny day, I heard Denis out on his balcony, banging around furniture and flower pots with a friend. He was big on outdoor living and making full use of his larger-than-anyone-else’s balcony space. I thought, “oh dear, here we go again.”

Later that day, I went to pick up the mail. I returned to my apartment door the same time Denis arrived at his.

“How are you?” he asked.

I looked up to see him with a woman pushing him in a wheelchair. I walked over to him.

“Very well, thanks,” I said. “But you don’t look like you’re doing too well.” I figured maybe he broke an ankle or something, but as I got closer, I could see how skinny he’d become. He had a slight build to begin with; but he now appeared about 20 years older than when I last saw him.

“I have terminal lung cancer,” he said. “Haven’t you heard me coughing?”

Up until that day, I had only heard small nagging coughs through the wall. But earlier that day, there had been an extended, violent cough.

I told him that I was sorry to hear about this.

“It’s okay,” he said, almost cheerfully. “I’ve been having treatments. Now, I’m just working on my bucket list.”

This intrigued me and put a smile on my face. I asked him what’s on the bucket list. He fired off a whole bunch of things he wanted to do right here in the Okanagan.

“Lake cruise, ziplining, parasailing…” were on his bucket list. I smiled and encouraged him. I wished him well.

Over the next couple of days, I wondered what I could do to help Denis fulfill that bucket list. Could I physically help him do any of those things, being that he is now in a wheelchair? Maybe instead, I could bring him some take-out dinner or even a special coffee?

I work from home and spend all day at my computer, while he’d be just on the other side of the wall next to me. I found myself anxiously listening to any sound from him that I could cling to: I listened for every cough. In my mind, I said, “Denis, you can play your music as loud as you want, any time!” It put tremendous perspective on my petty intolerances from the past. I felt guilty for wishing he’d move… I certainly didn’t want it to be under these circumstances! I hoped he would get better. Oh, please stay!

And then, it was quiet. So quiet. For days. I rationalized that he was probably in hospital for treatment; maybe they had to keep him overnight.

Then, I saw a woman go into his apartment. I heard her on Denis’ balcony, shifting things. I heard her offering Denis’ plants to the neighbour on the other side. I tried to tell myself that maybe he’s just not able to care for the plants during our hot summers while he’s focussing on improving his health.

But I knew. And I was grateful work sent me away for a week while Denis’ apartment was being cleared.

For the couple of weeks since Denis’ passing, I’ve been in a weird headspace. There’s been some guilt that I didn’t connect with him more positively as a better neighbour. There’s gratitude that our final exchange was a hopeful, positive sharing of his dreams and joys in life. There’s a deep sadness that he went so very quickly.

Predominantly, there was a disturbing, relatable feeling. Here was a man of my generation, who (like me) came to live far away from his family and ‘normal’ life. There was this feeling — entirely my feeling — of his life being unfulfilled. There was that outstanding bucket list.

What’s my bucket list? What should I be doing with my life? Am I on the right path? Should I move? What do I need to change to ensure I live each moment to its fullest? Denis’ passing has stirred all of this up.

Anyone’s passing causes us to face our own mortality and begin a very deep reflection on our own life.

Today in Kelowna, there was a Walk of Memories event. It’s an annual ceremonial walk to support reflection on loss. I only learned of it, like, yesterday. Having lost many loved ones in recent years, I felt drawn to go.

There were several gestures to partake in which gave people an opportunity to honour loved ones. My favourite was the sailing flags you could write a personal message on.

“How many flags can I have?” I asked the volunteer. She said I could have as many as I wanted, so I asked for five, knowing that even so, I’d have to write a bunch of names on at least one of those flags.

When I picked up a pen to write, there was one name that came out on top. I couldn’t say why he’d trump my parents, or my childhood best friend; peers I shared health issues with who didn’t make it; or my colleagues that were tragic losses. Maybe because Denis was the freshest, and I’m still processing the loudness of the quiet next door.

It was Denis’ name that rang loudest through my pen. I wrote:

“Denis: Here’s to your bucket list! Play your music as loud as you like! 🙂 ”

It was then that I was told these flags would be raised onto a sailboat, and take a cruise along Okanagan Lake. I feel tremendous gratitude to have been able to give Denis this symbolic gesture akin to one of those items on his bucket list. It gives me a sense of peaceful closure.

2018.06.03 AnnieZalezsak-Kelowna Walk of Memories (33) WP

*Denis is pronounced Deh-nee’. He was French-Canadian, from Quebec.

Denis: Here’s to Your Bucket List © June 3, 2018 | Annie Zalezsak

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Triggered Clarity

Creative Commons Zero (CC0)

Someone said something at me. Not to me, not directly; but it was obvious it was intended for my ears.

It made me angry. It made me mistrust her. It even made me think I hate her and never want her in my presence again. A virtual stranger says a few words I take personally as a judgement of me, and it sets me into a complete tizzy. Which makes me call her names in my journal, and changes a big decision on a direction I was heading, turning me 180 degrees around.

At first, it seems like I’m giving away my power to this person.

I work through the emotions. They are all over the place.

But the more I write them down, I pare away at the truth.

I realize that this is happening, because a choice I made to go down a certain road, no longer feels like it’s in my best interest.

In my mind, it seemed like a good idea, and for months I’ve been planning for this. But right here and now, it feels all wrong, and this woman showed up to scream it in my face. Indirectly, so I’d take issue, and uncover the real, less magnificent (but ultimately more important) choice for the next step in my life.

Sometimes, clarity is triggered in an unpleasant way. The important thing is listening and being willing to change plans according to what feels right and empowering.

Triggered Clarity © January 1, 2018 | Annie Zalezsak

Love Our Mother Earth

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Our Mother Earth cradles us,
upholds life,
provides our every need.
Her boundless love
contains us,
sustains us,
despite our growing greed.

Like rebellious children
her boundaries we test;
yet by her unconditional love
and providence, we are blessed.

Please stop poking and prodding her.
Give back her dignity.
Surrender to HER rights.
Let her rest.
Let her heal.
Let her BE.

Love Our Mother Earth © November 26, 2016 | Annie Zalezsak
(Inspired by the Pray for Standing Rock worldwide synchronized events, specifically the meditation held at the Pandosy Peace Centre in Kelowna.)

Going Minimalist

Having relocated many times over the years, I tend toward a minimalist philosophy. With each move, I determine what possessions I value most, and let go of the rest.

I have rare moments of “whatever happened to that…?” but I don’t yearn to repossess anything I gave away. Life is so much easier with less.

When I stay in one place awhile, I accumulate again. (I come from a long line of pack rats!) I get to a point when clearing the excess feels necessary for my sense of peace.

Here’s how I assess what stays…

1. I LOVE it! It’s ‘me’. It resonates with my soul and the person I want to be in this world.

2. It brings me JOY! I want everything I own to make me happy. No point in keeping things that don’t.

3. It’s MEANINGFUL. Association with a happy memory is good. A gift I don’t like or use, and keep out of guilt, evokes discomfort. Not good.

3. I USE it. It’s practical and makes my life easier.

Here’s how I determine what goes…

1. It’s served its PURPOSE with me. If the reason I got it has long since passed or my situation has changed, it can move on to live a new, fulfilling life with someone else.

2. I won’t MISS it. If I haven’t thought about the item for the last few months, I don’t need to continue paying for the space to store it.

2016.05.10 Stuff for Fort McMurray (4) WP3. Someone else NEEDS it. There are people in dire need of stuff that is sitting here doing nothing in my life.

For me, the Fort McMurray wildfire motivated me to haul out brand new (still tagged) clothes I bought on sale over the years (but didn’t quite fit into, yet!). Six bins full.

The things we redundantly hoard can make a world of difference to someone else.

Going minimalist is not about living without stuff. It’s about consciously choosing to surround ourselves with the best of what we love. And that is what make us feel rich.


Going Minimalist © May 11, 2016 | Annie Zalezsak

Buds Abound

Photo by Annie Zalezsak

Spring has arrived in Kelowna.
The ski rink disappeared
(I swear it was just there a minute ago).
Moo-Lix is now ice-cream-scooping.
Ogopogo is smiling brightly.
Mallard pairs eye me suspiciously,
guarding their planned parenthood.
It’s 10 degrees celsius
so people are wearing shorts.
I’m warm and unzip my coat,
but by the lake
I do it up again;
don my hat and gloves.
The wind still chills.
Tourist families dot the downtown.
Dogs-a-plenty.
Terriers still in tartan,
Marmaduke plods on a lazy leash,
black Lab dives after beach pebbles rippling the lake.
Buds abound
bringing promises of a new life
right in front of my home.
Inside, a little spider shuffles along my living room wall.
Ah, yes, it’s spring in Kelowna!
Spring has most certainly arrived.
I open my windows wide.
Hang on a minute while I fetch the spider outside.
“You’ll find it much nicer out on my balcony,” I tell him.
“Have a great day!” I say, as he scoots out of sight.

Buds Abound © March 9, 2014 | Annie Zalezsak

Window to Autumn

Photo credit: Annie Zalezsak

The tree outside my window is shadow dancing on my blinds.
It rattles its orange-yellow leaves in one final shedding for the season.
Its roots bathe in a sea of autumn colour.
The wind assists its transformational process.
As I witness, I, too, am changed.

© October 28, 2013 | Annie Zalezsak

Evidence of a Sordid Past

This is what I used to eat, till I learned that most of this is not real food
(or it’s genetically modified).

Photo credit: Annie Zalezsak

I started eating better in January 2013. These things were still in my cupboards until today. I kept them because I thought maybe someone visiting might want them. But how can I now, eating so much better, give this garbage to anyone I care about?

So it’s going in the dumpster. Anything unopened I will give to the food bank because, well, anything edible is better than starving, I suppose. It’s funny how whenever I go to a ‘normal’ supermarket now, there are aisles and aisles of products I no longer consider to be food.

This is what I bought on my grocery shopping trip today. There are still plenty of treats. But they are organic. Real food ingredients.

Photo credit: Annie Zalezsak

I feel a lot better for it!