Sunday, March 08, 2015


Markku (Mark) Kullervo Kaarremaa

Photo by Wayne Hiebert
Passed away peacefully, but far too soon on March 2nd at the Palliative Care unit at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. Predeceased by his parents Keijo and Elsa, he is survived by his loving wife of 34 years Liz (Hammond), his son James (Heidi), brother Ilkka (Barbara) and mother-in-law Dodie (Hammond).  Missed and well-loved by his extended family of Lorne (Monica) Hammond, Catherine (Tauno) Tuominen, Sarah (Bruce) Fraser, James (Fern) Hammond, and nephews and nieces:  Christine, Tracy, Jayne, Anne, Alexander, Emily, Kavan, Darby, Ad√®le, Darcy and Lara.

Born in 1947 in Mikkeli, Finland, he moved to Canada at four and grew up in Surrey and New Westminster.  After finishing high school he attended Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design (Vancouver School of Art) where he pursued his passion for fine arts and photography.  After graduation, he became a professional photographer and moved to Nanaimo in 1976, where he worked for the Nanaimo Free Press for over 20 years then he became a freelance journalist for magazines. His photos appeared in publications such as The New York TimesNational Geographic Adventure, Wooden Boat, Beautiful British Columbia Magazine, and The Globe and Mail. His art lives on and a sample is posted at .

Photo by James Doe
Mark married Liz in 1981 and together with many close friends they explored the coast and warmer climes in cars, vans, boats, ships, dragon boats, canoes, kayaks and on foot.  He loved nature and life on Protection Island.  A wonderful neighbour, dinner companion, and chef, Mark was known for his sense of humour, love of quality food and conversation.  He will be deeply missed by those lucky enough to have experienced his warmth and kindness.

Liz wishes to thank Dr. K. Mann, the caring staff at the Palliative Care Unit as well as the Protection Island Lions and fellow islanders for their assistance.  In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to the Protection Island Lion's Club

Photo by James Doe
A Celebration of Life will be held at the Nanaimo Yacht Club, 400 Newcastle Avenue, Nanaimo starting at 2pm on Saturday March 21st.

If you have memories you would like to share please post them to his blog or email them to and they will be posted for you.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Last Post

A bit rough
Mark's last Facebook post
Mark passed away quickly and peacefully this afternoon, with Roger and I holding his hands.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Healing Songs

Northern canoes at Departure Bay, Tribal Journey 2008

Today was a special day for Mark.  My Tribal Journey canoe family came to sing a healing song for Mark to honour and thank him for the beautiful photos he has taken of our journeys (click here (2014) and here (2008) to see some of them).  Mark meet up with our canoe at various places up and down the coast for both the Ft Rupert to Cowichan Bay Tribal Journey 2008 and the Nanaimo to Bella Bella journey this past summer, capturing the spectacular events and scenery.
Tribal Journey 2008 canoe family

 When you view his photos of the journeys you get a physical reaction, perhaps a gasp of breath, a shiver or the hair on your arms stand up, and you start to understand the kind of impact the journey had on all the participants involved with them.

The canoe family gathered in the hospital courtyard where family and friends stood by.  Mark's bed was moved to the courtyard doorway of his room so he could watch.  He was so pleased.  He had mentioned it was going to happen to all his visitors and nursing staff for the last couple of days, ever since he found out they wanted to sing for him.

 They drummed and sang.  Above Mark's room three First Nation's children saw what was happening and joined in by raising their hands during the song. There was a lot of healing being done in the hospital rooms surrounding the courtyard today.
Ft Rupert canoes, Tribal Journey 2014

One of the paddlers who could not be there sent an email which expressed what I am very grateful for 'One thing about living with a photographer - with the good ones, part of them ends up in their pictures.'

and he has left a lot of pictures!

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hospital Beds

Beautiful BC Magazine, 1997 
My mother asked me what could she do to help around the house while I was at the hospital. I suggested that she phone the Protection Island Lions Club and ask them to pick up the hospital bed and equipment that they had so generously lent us.  We had it set up in our bedroom looking out to the Gary Oaks, the water where sea lions were belching and barking and where he could watch Anna hummingbirds at his feeder. Someone who had come to the island for weekends and had loved the island, left a bequest to be used for medical equipment for islanders.  We benefited with a walker, bathtub chair, wheelchair and a brand new never-been-used hospital bed.  Now that Mark is in palliative care, we won't be needing them.

I couldn't bring myself to phone the Lions Club.  If I did, I would burst into wracking sobs. It's when I tell someone what is happening with Mark that I fall to pieces.  So I casually suggested that she could phone them and, while I was away, the items could magically disappear and I wouldn't have to think about what they represented.

The palliative care unit at the NRGH is staffed with such caring people. Many are volunteers.  They make a point of reaching out to let you know they care. I suspect they all are there because they have lived through this experience. They all have this look in their eyes.  Hard to describe, but their eyes all have the depth of knowing.

Mark's room is large and his bed looks out onto a peaceful courtyard with greenery. Next to his bed is a large comfortable Morris recliner-style chair.  They have a kitchen we can use, a quiet room, a lounge, even a laundry.   I noticed a large, over a foot high, quartz crystal mounted on a ledge in a nook in the hallway.  On a discreet sign next to it is written something along the lines 'this light shines when we lose someone'. I wasn't sure exactly what that meant until I saw a sobbing woman rushing to a quiet dark corner in the lounge and a few minutes later the crystal shone.

Tonight Mike, a neighbour, phoned and offered to arrange the removal of the hospital bed while I was at the hospital tomorrow.  I gratefully accepted.  During dinner I mentioned this to my mother asking if she had mentioned the bed to Mike's wife.  She teared up and confessed she had. 'I couldn't do it.  Taking the bed away would mean we never expect Mark to come back home.'

'I know, but looking at the empty hospital bed everyday, reminds me of the same thing'.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Speed of life

They say that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate.  I think that means that time, too, is speeding up.  That could explain why we wonder where time has gone, why our lives seem to go quicker as we age and 'what happened to all those years?'

Today Mark's doctors weighed the benefits of trying to get the stent into his bile ducts and  decided that the benefits didn't justify poking around inside him.  So they let it be to keep him comfortable and continued to drain the bile...4 litres have been drained and still counting.

With this type of rare cancer, symptoms usually do not show until the liver is only functioning at 10%.  He was moved into the palliative care unit today.  We were told to only expect a week or two, but not a month.  Your mind splits. One part thinks this can not be happening and the other half of the brain manages to discuss it calmly.
 The doctor warned that at some point Mark will become confused so if there were people to see, things to be done, it should be sooner rather than later.

When ones knows you are near the end of your life, it is so heart warming to be able to pause that busy life and freeze those precious moments in your mind's photo album, moments like today surrounded by friends, family, even T-dog, laughing, joking, swapping stories and memories.

A quick update

Puffin 2011
Mark went into hospital today for a couple of  procedures.  They couldn't get a stent into his bile duct as it was so compressed and yes, it is cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).  They will try again tomorrow (Thursday) using a different technique and approaching it from a different direction so they kept him in overnight.  This afternoon they started draining the fluid around his abdomen and when I left this evening 3 liters and counting had been drained.  This should ease the jaundice and the discomfort and hopefully bring back his appetite.

Strangely he now has some pain, perhaps it is from aching organs and overstretched muscles as the shock they must have been under starts to wear off. Some of his symptoms have abated in the last two days, his voice is normal again, his double vision has gone, his sense of balance is a bit better and he has stayed awake longer and I doubt this is all due to the anticipation of a hospital procedure. After enduring all this he is still himself and his always cheerful nature prevails.   As a few people have pointed out, his nordic stoicism is showing.

It was so reassuring this week to have support people that knew Mark.  First, the occupational therapist who came to assess what changes might be needed in the house.  It turned out to be Andrea L'Heureux, a neighbour whose Album 'Hymns for Her' (how appropriate)  You can listen to Wildflower, written by another neighbour in Victoria.  Thanks to the Lions Club who provided all the equipment we needed very little more. And when we entered Medical Imaging a volunteer greeted us, Norma!  Janet's (Wayne) mother.  Wayne is one of Mark's best friends and they are both photographers. That greeting  and Andrea made the hospital and Island Health Services more like a big caring community.  Thanks you.

It amazes me that he can get out of the wheelchair and, with only people on each side of him to balance him, get into the boat on his own for the trip to town today.  I doubt the doctors and nurses would believe it if they only knew.

Heading to the hospital

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Smoking pipe
One thing I have learned these past few days is that everyone has their stories.  So obvious but it's also something we forget.  The theory is far removed from deeply knowing and remembering to respect them for their unspoken story.  

Cougar, 1996
Mark has the creative eye to capture stories visually. That is why he was a photojournalist, telling stories with his pictures.  But there were also stories behind the stories.One of his more famous photos 'Cougar' was for a story for Beautiful BC magazine.  He went out with the cougar researcher to track some radio collared cougars. They were within 400 ft of at least two cougars but could not see them or photograph them.  They only knew they were there in the bush, right next to them because of the radio signals.  A few days later a cougar tracker phoned Mark to let him know they had caught some troublesome cougars and were relocating them and did he want a picture?  The two cougars were in a cage about the size of an average living room.  The tracker opened the door of the cage, brandied a ruddy big stick at the cougars ready to beat them off Mark while Mark ducked into the cage, fired off a roll of film with his motor drive, retreated out of the cage reloaded and went back in for more.

So many pictures, so many stories.

Adrianne before her husband disappeared while sailing in July.
He had wonderful stories. 
The lab technician, a young woman around 30, who took six vials of Mark's blood the other day had a story.  I don't know her story nor how she knew Mark's unfolding story, perhaps the specific blood tests told her or perhaps intuition, but she knew.  She came over to me after and put her arm around me and quietly told me it will get better 'I know.' she explained 'I am a widow too.  Just remember that things will get better.'

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Cabbage Island, 2014
This whole week has been filled with family, friends and food. Mark and I are so blessed to have such a large family and so many friends. Today brought the three Tuominen sisters (childhood friends), brothers Eric, Marks godson, and Tim whom Mark has known since they were babies. Their parents Paul and Nancy skyped in from the Bahamas.  Roger and Annette, who only two weeks ago came for a visit when life was normal, had gone south for a week out of email range and returned Friday night to find our shared world changed. 

Mark has shared so many adventures with Roger and Paul. Every year for at least the last 15 included a summer adventure or two. Earlier expeditions included Kayak trips down a wes tcoast fjord to the open ocean and along the coast somewhere for a week or two of exploring. Then came water taxis to get us to the remote coasts faster. Then came water taxis to a base camp and kayak day trips. As we aged, camping gave way to renting remote camping resorts or cabins for base camp. Lately the guys have taken a motor boat to explore islands. All these expeditions led to some of Marks best outdoor scenes. 

Friends are sending letters filled with warm memories of adventures, Marks dinners or Marks holiday and travel tips. Thora wrote a series of Mark memories. 
I think it sad that for people who aren't family or very close friends, we often only get to know the real essence of a person at either an award ceremony or at a memorial for them but all these phone calls visits, emails and letters mean a lot to Mark and he is getting to hear how others see his own essence. 

How lucky we are that we have a little time to share memories, express appreciation and say goodbye to Mark.  Leave your message to Mark here and I will read it to him.