This winter, on Monday, December 21st in James Short Park, Calgary will hold a city-wide memorial service for those who have passed away while experiencing homelessness in our city. Coordinated by the Client Action Committee (CAC) at the Calgary Homeless Foundation (CHF), this memorial, called the Longest Night of the Year, will give a space to many to remember those they have lost. For most individuals, this candlelight memorial will be the only commemoration of their lives lost due to homelessness.
The Longest Night memorial service is open to every Calgarian. The Aboriginal Friendship Centre will share a blessing, singing and drumming. Committee members of the CAC will share a few words and there will be an opportunity for those who have lost friends and family to the streets to write down the names of those they have lost.
Please join us for our candlelight memorial on Monday, December 21st. Lend your voice so that others take notice that there are still people without a home in our city. Come share your light and your silence so that those who have passed on are not forgotten.
Date: Monday, December 21st
Location: James Short Park, 115 4 Ave SW, Calgary AB
Forever set in time.
Guest Blog Written by Louise Gallagher December 8, 2009 in memory of James Bannerman
And as we wind on down the road,
Our shadows taller than our soul,
There walks a lady we all know.
Who shines white light and wants to show…
How everything still turns to gold.
And if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last.
When all are one and one is all, yeah, to be a rock and not to roll.
And she’s buying a stairway… to heaven.
-Led Zepplin, Stairway to Heaven
It was cold when I arrived at the hospice. Cold and frosty. A clear winter’s night. Stars littered the sky above. Glistening white in the black blanket of night. The half moon lying on its back low on the horizon. Snow covered the ground. Pristine white. It wrapped the earth in a wintry blanket. In the dark night, the hospice glowed like a beacon. Of hope. Of peace. Of little possibility of more life on earth for the man I’d come to see.
I had called around 7:30 to see how James Bannerman, father, son, brother, uncle, nephew, photographer, gardener, handyman, labourer, homeless, was doing.
“He won’t last a great deal longer,” the nurse told me.
I wondered aloud whether it was appropriate that I come.
“It’s up to you. You don’t have to,” she said. “As he nears the end, we will check on him regularly. We’ll do our absolute best to ensure he’s not alone when the time comes.”
When the time comes.
I thought about that time. That time when death descends and life is exhaled on one last breath. That moment in time when the physical body releases its spirit to the night. I wondered about James being alone. What if… Someone else called at that exact moment and the nurses couldn’t be there. What if… they timed it wrong? What if… he was alone?
I decided to drive the forty-five minutes to a small town south of Calgary where he had been taken earlier that afternoon.
It had been the only time I’ve ever heard James complain. We were in his apartment. The apartment we’d moved him into when he’d been released from hospital a few weeks before. The cancer was terminal. The doctor’s didn’t give him long to live. He wasn’t on any meds. He wasn’t in any pain. He just needed a place to stay. The main shelter wasn’t appropriate. Too busy. Too noisy. Too uncomfortable for him. Because we own an apartment building for senior’s, we had the luxury of affording him a place of his own to call home for his final days.
I had gone over in the morning as soon as I received the call. “They’re taking James to a hospice. We’re just organizing it now,” the staff member at the apartment building told me.
When I arrived James was failing fast. I sat with him and held his hands. They were cold. I warmed them with mine. We sat as people came and went. I didn’t want to let go of his hands. I wanted to warm them with mine, even a heart of stone is warmed in loving hands.
I’d written that line in a fairy tale for my daughters years ago. But James’ heart wasn’t of stone. It was a warm, kind, loving heart. A gentle soul, he was constantly on the go. “Cleaning up the river bank,” he’d tell me on my morning walk into work when I’d meet him on the river path, knapsack on his back, large plastic garbage bag in one hand. “I’m doing the city a service,” he’d smile.
Sometimes I’d see him in the garden at the shelter. Constantly weeding, moving plants, mowing grass. Or on a sidewalk of a downtown high rise office tower, shovelling snow, clearing up the mess.
It’s what he did.
Picture taking was his ‘retirement plan’, he’d told me once. “I’m getting kind of old for labour.”
He was fifty-two. The years of hard living lined his face like ridges of bark rippling across a tree trunk. He always wore a ball cap. Always carried his backpack with him. It held his precious camera, laptop and photo files. It had been stolen once from the shelter. “Someone obviously needed it more than me,” he said. And when it was returned by the police, he smiled. “I really only wanted the files back. I was kinda hoping I’d have to buy new gear. That one wasn’t doing the best job for me anymore.”
He never complained. Never whined. Never bemoaned his fate. “I’ve had a good life. The life that suited me,” he said.
And yesterday he whispered. “Cold.”
It was the only complaint I ever heard from him. It would be the last.
Early this morning, at 12:45 am James A. Bannerman passed from this realm to another. I sat beside him as his laboured breathing quietened. I held his hand. Spoke softly reassuring him he wasn’t alone. 80’s rock played on the radio. He’d asked to not be alone and that “Stairway to Heaven” be played. The closest we could find was, “Like a Rock.”
And he was. A rock. A quiet man of gentle voice and manner. A great man. A man of wondrous eyes. A man who saw the beauty in the angle of the sun hitting the corner of a building. A man who captured the awe of water dancing in the river as it passed through the downtown core to places far away. The man who saw a doggie in the window, and set him forever in time in a photograph.
James’ memory will be forever set in time.
May he rest in peace.