Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reflections on a shitty week

I shouldn’t say that the entire week is shitty because it’s not over yet.  This leads me to wonder what next?  What other horrible news can I wake up to, tomorrow morning?  Which of my favourite musicians or actors or writers have died?  Which of my friends or relatives has been given a diagnosis of some horrible physical affliction?  Which group of innocent people who are just out in the world, trying to live their lives, will be bombed or shot at just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time?

This week should have been good for me.  I’m getting ready to move and, for the first time since Mark died, I am feeling excited about something.  I’m looking forward, working my plan, getting things in order.  The only fly in my personal buttermilk this week was a small flu/cold bug which has slowed me down a bit this week. Stuffy noses aside, physically, I feel pretty good.

Emotionally, I’ve been all over the place.  Monday, I woke up and read that David Bowie had died.  How could he be dead?  On Friday, his birthday, I saw that he (or whoever looks after his profile) was active on Spotify, playing his new record.  He was all over the media, Angie was in the Big Brother house in the UK.  Surely this is a joke, the Onion gone mad.  Alas, it was true.  Several reputable new sources confirmed it.  My heart, once again, felt smashed.  Not broken necessary, but very badly mangled.

On Tuesday, I read Stuart Murdoch’s reflections on the death of David Bowie.  You can read it here:

I left the following comment (although it looks like they don’t publish them) in response to Stuart’s great post:

Thank you for this Stuart.  Too often we do forget to count our blessings.  After we suffer a loss, we frequently focus on what is missing from our lives rather than what we once had.  Yesterday, I walked around feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach.  I lost my husband suddenly in August and learning about David Bowie's death dragged me back to those first few days after my husband died.  On very bad days, I sit on my sofa and cry and stare at the box on the mantle that his ashes are kept in.  On good days, I remind myself of how lucky we were to have had 16 years together when there are some people who never get five minutes of what we shared.  The same can be said for David Bowie.  He was always in my life, in the soundtrack of it, making me feel like I too belonged, that I wasn't alone on the planet.  You and I were lucky to have shared a part of our lives with David Bowie and we need to celebrate that once we've finished mourning.

This morning, I arrived at work and discovered that Alan Rickman, lovely, talented, amazing, best actor of all time, Alan Rickman, had died.  I was alone in my office and said aloud, “NO!” when I read it.  Again, making sure I checked several sources before believing it.  How cynical we are now that we can’t just read something in one place and believe it.  We’ve been lied to online so many times that we need to fact check everything.  I do anyway, I’m sure if you are reading this, you do that too.

The New York Times posted their obituary for Alan Rickman here:

Again, I left a comment on their post which I will share here:

In the last 5 months I have lost my husband, David Bowie and now Alan Rickman to cancer. It's SUCH a thief. I have said this a lot since my 63 year old husband died suddenly in August, cancer steals those people we love from our lives. Alan Rickman had an amazing talent. I was introduced to him via "Truly, Madly, Deeply" and have followed his film career ever since. One of my favourite Rickman roles was as Metatron, the voice of god, in Kevin Smith's Dogma. If god did exist, I would imagine that her/his voice would sound like Alan Rickman's. Oh that voice... cannot imagine that it's now silenced. What a loss, for all of us. My deep and sincere sympathies to his family and friends.

Add Lemmy to the list and it’s been a bad month to be an artist of a certain age who originated from the UK who I respected and admired.  Who is next? What horrible thing will slap us in our collective faces tomorrow morning?  I’m almost afraid to find out.  I will though, wake up tomorrow to find out what it is.  As I promised myself when Mark died, I’ll continue to get up each morning and keep moving forward.  It’s not always easy but it’s something that I have to do.  Unfortunately, it’s something that David Bowie’s widow, Iman and Alan Rickman’s widow, Rima Horton will have to do too.  They, like me, have lost their lovely husbands far too son and have joined a club, a sisterhood, that they would have preferred to have never joined.  Trust me, I know I can speak for them on that because I have yet to meet a widow who was happy about it. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Sad December

mark in strawberry fields
Mark in Strawberry Fields, October 2005
For as long as I knew Mark, in December he would get really depressed about the upcoming anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  Mark loved John and never got over his death.  I realize now, as I cope with my own grief, that Mark was experiencing deep grief that never went away.

One of the first road trips I took with Mark was to New York.  We left work on the afternoon of December 7, 1999.  The drive in the dark felt longer than it was, the December sky was clear and you could see Christmas lights on rural homes from miles away.  In Cobbleskill county, a police officer actually came out onto the highway from behind a billboard to pull us over and give us a speeding ticket.  it was like something out of a bad movie.  When Mark asked to see the calibration of his radar gun, the officer moved his hip toward Mark (who was still sitting behind the wheel) to show us both the gun he had in his holster as he said, "no." We took the ticket and went on our way.

Eventually, after midnight, we arrived at the Tuckahoe Road Motor Inn in Yonkers.  We didn't know anything about it but the Holiday Inn we found in our CAA book was full and it was close by.  Making our way there from the Holiday Inn, we actually found ourselves, "lost in Yonkers" at one point.  We got a weird room which was painted bright pink and was a "family" room which meant it was gigantic and had 4 beds in it, plus 2 sofa beds.  The view from the bathroom was of a field of garbage dumpsters.   As long as it was clean and safe, we didn't care.

In the morning, we drove into Manhattan and spent several hours in Strawberry Fields, sipping coffee and remembering John with fellow fans.  We were interviewed by a British documentary film crew who seemed surprised that we were there "all the way from Canada" - perhaps not realizing that it was a 6 hour drive.  They were gathering film for a 20th Anniversary project which would air in 2000.  In the years since, we were never able to track down the footage.  Being in the park that morning was sad and uplifting at the same time.  While we all missed John terribly, our shared love for him and his music brought us together and we celebrated his life as a community.

Since Mark died, I have not yet been able to listen to John or the Beatles.  I've tried but can't do it.  This morning on my drive to work, I heard a clip from a broadcast of "As It Happens" from December 1980.  When it was over, they played "Imagine" and I started to cry.  I didn't turn the radio off, I made myself listen to it.  Maybe I'm getting closer to being able to hear John's voice again without my heart breaking over my own loss.  I hope so.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Six Weeks

Mark at Finkle Shore, 2006
Mark at Finkle Shore, 2006
Six weeks.

Almost unbelievable that it’s been six weeks since Mark died.

At times, I feel as though it just happened.  At other times, it feels like he has been gone for years.

A lot has happened over these past six weeks.  Of course, I had to deal with the bureaucracy that one has to deal with after someone dies.  On top of that, I’ve been working on getting our home ready to sell.  Some days, I get up in the morning and feel pretty good and am actually able to get things done.  Of course, there are days where it takes everything I have to get up and feed the dogs.

On the day Mark died, I made myself promise to do the following things, every day, regardless of how I was feeling:

1.    Get out of bed
2.    Have a shower
3.    Get dressed
4.    Keep the dogs on their routine

I can say that except for a couple of days when I was dealing with some plumbing issues in the house and I couldn't shower (all sorted now!), I have kept my promises.  It may seem like these are simple things that a person should be able to accomplish everyday but when the weight of grief is pressing down upon you, it would be pretty easy to just pull the covers up over your head so you can stay in bed and cry.

Until Mark died, I never knew about the anxiety that can accompany grief.  It’s not something I’d really experienced before beyond the kind of anxiety you feel when you’re having a job interview or something.  During those first few weeks after Mark died, I suffered from anxiety almost constantly.  The anxiety affected my ability to sleep or eat properly.  I’d sometimes finding myself hyperventilating and feeling panicked while participating in ordinary activities.   Fortunately, the anxiety is subsiding and I seem to experience it more on the weekends than I do through the week. My ability to concentrate seems to be improving too. 

Tomorrow, I’m going back to work.  I was on vacation the first two weeks of August and, on the last day of my scheduled vacation, Mark died.  My doctor (I’ve been seeing her regularly over the past six weeks) has suggested that I go back part-time for the next two weeks with the hopes that I’ll be able to return to work full-time after Thanksgiving.   With any luck, when I’m back at work, my concentration will be okay and my anxiety will keep away.

There are a lot of assholes in the world.  Some days, it feels like we are only seeing the absolute worst in people.  Over the past few years, since Mark was first diagnosed with cancer, I tried to see the other side of things when dealing with someone who may not be very nice.  I’d say to Mark that to look at him, he appeared to be very healthy.  No one would ever guess that had cancer cells fighting to set up camp inside of him.  I’d remind him that just as no one could ever guess what was going on with him, we have no idea of what other folks are walking around with either.  People are, by nature, kind.  It’s easy to not see this as we rush through our busy lives.  I’ve had an opportunity to see things move at a slower pace and have experienced real kindness and been overwhelmed by just how good people can be. I don’t think that any good is going to come from suddenly losing Mark like I did but I have seen the absolute best in people since he died.  Since he died, I’ve been on the receiving end of more compassion and kindness than I could have ever imagined.  My family, in particular my parents, and my friends have been absolutely incredible and I don’t know how I would ever survived these first six weeks without them.

I have no idea what the next six weeks are going to bring.  I plan to face them the same way I did the first six weeks, moment by moment, day by day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thank you all

The following is a message I sent out to our friends and family this morning.

Hello everyone,

I must apologize for not sending this out sooner but I have been feeling very overwhelmed the past couple of days and it's taken me some time to process everything.  I wanted to thank each and every one of you who were able to join us on Saturday (either in person or in spirit) to celebrate the life of our beloved Chef Mark.

Mark would have been very touched (and probably a little bit embarrassed – although secretly he would have LOVED it) to see so many people gathered together, sharing stories, laughing at photos and remembering what a great guy he was.  A lovely friend of Mark’s sent me a note and said, “he had the strongest spirit and presence of anyone I've ever known. Simply a complex, fascinating, charismatic human being unlike anyone I've ever known.”  I think that describes him perfectly.

You will never know how much your support has meant to me since Mark died.  I’m continuing to take things moment by moment, day by day and I’m so grateful for all of you.  I’m so very lucky to have you in my life.

Much love to you all, Peggy xo

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mark Leslie Collis

Mark's obituary was published in the Toronto Star and the Kingston Whig-Standard today.

COLLIS, Mark Leslie (Chef Mark) - of Kingston, age 63, died suddenly on Sunday, August 16, 2015 at Kingston General Hospital. Mark will be forever loved and missed by his wife Peggy Shanks and his beloved dogs Gracie and Sam. Mark will also be remembered affectionately by Michael and Theresa Shanks (Amherstview), Patrick Shanks and Cynthia Deveau (Ottawa), his uncle Nate Collis (Toronto), members of the Collis, Shanks and Forbes families and a large network of friends. Mark is predeceased by his wonderful parents, Joe and Ida Collis, his brother Barry Collis and his ex-wife, Mimi Braidberg. He was an exceptionally talented, classically trained French Chef working in Toronto for many years, creating delicious meals at Fenton's, Vittorio's, Zaidy's, Carlevale's and Bemelman's Restaurants. Mark opened his own restaurant in Toronto, La Bionda which was well known in the late 1980's for its open kitchen and creative cuisine. In the 1990's Mark was able to combine his passion for food with his love for music through his catering company "Touring Kitchens." Mark cooked for many of his musical heroes including Roger Waters, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers and Leon Redbone (to name just a few). By the end of the 1990's he had met Peggy, moved to Kingston and opened Ida's Kitchen. In recent years, after retiring from cooking, Mark worked as a cab driver. A celebration of Mark's life is being planned for the fall. Mark's family would like to thank all of the medical professionals who provided such excellent care to him during his illness. In particular, thank you to Dr Tu Van Banh, Dr Hugh MacDonald, Dr Sulaiman Nanji, Dr James Biagi and all of the staff at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario. As an expression of sympathy, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations to the Kingston Humane Society ( or CFRC Radio Queen's University ( would be appreciated.