Today was going to be very special – I had everything ready except for checking my computer for new emails. Most nights I go to bed early but not before I check for phone and email messages. But sometimes I am too tired or just plain forgetful, so when I checked for my email messages today at 4:10 AM, I was saddened to learn that my friend Finley, who had been fighting cancer for the past several months, had passed. He was a volunteer at the Cancer Centre in Surrey and several hospices and palliative care facilities in the Lower Mainland.
I had just fed Holly her breakfast and decided to leave a little earlier for my daily walk on the Promenade in White Rock. On Fridays mornings, my friend Norm and I meet for coffee at the Whitby’s Coffee House, across from the beach. We usually get there by 8:30 AM and stay until 10:00 AM. And that’s when I usually start my walk on Fridays.
But today I began my walk at 6:30 AM because at that time there usually aren’t as many walkers/joggers, and I didn’t want anyone to see the tears that were streaming down my face as I thought about my dear buddy Finley. Some people can hold in their emotions – I can’t. I used to try to ‘man up’, and conceal my inner feelings but I don’t do that anymore – life’s too short. If you don’t like to see a 66-year-old crying, find another place to walk!
My daily walks usually last for an hour but today I was just going to walk until it was time to meet Norm. Norm was also a good friend with Finley, and I knew that he too, would be sad at the news of Finley’s passing.
I usually listen to music while I walk – but not today. I didn’t want to enjoy anything today – I just wanted to think about my buddy.
My thoughts took me to the day I met Finley and Claire at the Cancer Centre during one of my volunteer shifts. At first, they were both a little shy but after a few minutes, we were all friends. It’s easy to become friends with other people who share a common interest, but this friendship was different.
Now most people who know me, know that I am a hugger – I like to hug. If I know you – and like you – I’ll probably want to hug you. But if you’re a guy, I will probably wait until we’re good friends because some men find the act of embracing too “girlish.” But within a minute of first meeting Finley, I reached out my arms to him, and we hugged!
The other thing that I do when I hug someone special is this: I whisper a few words in their ear – something from my heart. If a person has just learned that they have cancer – I whisper words that will both comfort them and give them hope. If it’s a friend who appears sad, then I’ll try to find something uplifting to whisper. But I will never ‘whisper and tell.’ My particular hug/whisper is for you and you alone – it’s a secret that I’ll never share with others.
So there I was hugging Finley and whispering in his ear at our first meeting! Everyone at the table suddenly stopped talking and stared at the two of us – embracing like life-long buddies. And when I looked up at Claire I saw a tiny spark in her eyes – the type of look that only comes from a proud parent or partner. She never asked me what I had whispered to Finley, but I knew by her smile that she knew what I was doing.
Now, the one thing that volunteers do when they get together for coffee is talk about current events and work-related stuff. We also share many personal stories, and there are many concerning Claire and Finley that are memorable. Here are a few of my favorite ‘Claire and Finley’ stories.
But first, let me clarify something about Claire and Finley – Claire is married to Bob – although it’s no secret that they both loved Finley as though he was their son. And although Finley was 35 years old and born without the ability to speak, it never stopped him from communicating in his special way. And there was always a sparkle in his eyes whenever he made eye contact with you.
So here are some of the stories about Finley, but I know that there are countless more. I have already received several email messages about his many contributions from patients and staff from the BC Cancer Agency, Surrey Memorial Hospital and several Lower Mainland hospices.
Claire and Finley were also volunteers with St. John’s Ambulance and were recently awarded both a Gold and Silver medals for their dedicated service. I am glad that he was still alive to receive the awards, but he probably wondered why everybody was making such a fuss about him. And although it wasn’t an award, I gave Finley my four-year volunteer pin on the last day I volunteered at the Cancer Centre in December 2015.
Claire and Finley’s neighbor Donna recalls Finley licking her tears away as she was trying to come to grips with her cancer – and credits him with giving her the strength to continue.
At the cancer center and hospices, Finley was welcomed by staff, visitors, and patients.
One patient said that was the only time they felt whole again was patting and speaking to Finley.
Finley was asked by another patient to come back again so they would have a reason to ‘live.”
And there was one palliative patient who had been very distressed at the thought of dying alone and was only able to calm down when he met Finley.
But my favorite story is the one Claire recanted about a patient’s family member greeting Finley and her at the door when they arrived at the hospice and asked us to see their Grandpa, who had just died. But before Claire could respond, Finley went over to the bed and licked the dead man’s hand.
Finley then did something memorable – he turned to the window and looked up into the sky. Claire, the daughter, and the son-in-law didn’t think it was remarkable until the grandchild cried out “Finley sees Grandpa’s soul leaving!”
The family asked Claire to have Finley accompany Grandpa to the awaiting hearse.
And as the funeral coach pulled away, Finley stood by the little boy’s side as he cried out “Bye Poppy!”
And I’m pretty sure that Finley was crying his heart out too.
Goodbye, dear friend. You won’t be alone – Doug and Captain are there to show you around.
UPDATE: Saturday, July 23, 2016
This has been one of the most painful stories that I have ever written. Finley was one of my dearest and closest friends, and his passing has left a legion of fans brokenhearted.
My heart goes out to Claire and Bob – I know your pain.
Dedicated to Claire and to The St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.