The three things you can learn from my preschooler

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My three and a half year old preschooler said three of the best things tonight. Three things that we could all use a reminder of, and three things that make me think that preschoolers have got it way more together than us adults.

1. Saying good night to her wee sister, Ella, Maddy said, “I love you just the way I am.” Sure, she got a bit mixed up, but we know that Maddy was saying that she loves her sister just the way she is. Isn’t that the way it should always be? Loving one another for exactly who they are? For all of their amazing qualities and all of their messy parts?

2. When we were doing our nightly “highs and lows” during our bedtime routine (our favourite and least favourite parts of the day), I shared with Maddy that my least favourite part of the day was when someone said something to me that hurt my feelings. Maddy immediately said to me, “You should have told him/her not to say that, that it hurts your feelings.” Yes, babe, that’s exactly what I should have done.

How much easier life would be if we all were able to communicate with such simplicity. Something we should all strive for – being open and honest with one another when we are hurt, and being open to the constructive criticism when someone shares with us that something we have said or done has been hurtful.

3. Also during bedtime routine, we talked about Great-Grammy, Grammy, and Uncle Rob, and how much we miss them in heaven. Maddy told me that they must all wear their clothes all of the time so that when they are allowed to come back home they will be ready right away.

After I reminded Maddy that they will never be able to come back home (goodness, I’m looking forward to age six when she will understand the permanence of death), we were talking about how we can feel sad and also still be okay. And, more importantly, that we can feel sad and be okay even when the world wants us to just be happy. We talked about how we can be okay sooner if we honour our feelings than if we ignore our feelings. Then Maddy said to me, “I can like a movie while I watch it, and still like it when it’s over. So, we can still love Grammy when she’s in heaven. We can look at pictures to be happy again.” Yes. This. Thanks, kiddo, for simplifying for so many why mourning is okay.

I am a very proud mommy tonight. More than anything I’m thankful to have had so many people in my life who loved me just right, so that I have been able to love Maddy just right.

I hope that Grammy, Mom and Uncle Rob are looking down on us tonight and wrapping Maddy and Ella up in that same love.

Last chance for everything

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I’m into a new phase. I’m past that early acute grief. It took over two months for the shock to wear off…. for my brain and my heart to know that my mom and uncle were dead. In that time, every day I was constantly bombarded with, “Mom and Uncle Rob are dead? Mom and Uncle Rob are dead!” I was constantly wondering how this could happen, why it would happen. Though, of course, no good answers ever came to me.

Those early months felt like a dark, weighted cloud was sitting on me, pushing me down. I was split in two. A part of me wanted to feel joy again, to get past the pain. An equally strong part of me never wanted to feel any happiness again, wanted to stay in that pain. Staying in that pain felt almost like a way to make this not real. Like I would wake up one day to find out this had all been a terrible nightmare.

The weight of that dark cloud made it feel like grief was happening to me. I felt so out of control. As the weight slowly lifted, I was able to see that allowing the weight to lift didn’t make this any less horrible, sad, or tragic. It didn’t make me miss my mom or uncle any less. It didn’t mean that I loved them any less. It did give me some breathing room. I no longer feel like grief is happening to me. Now I feel like an active participant in my grief. I’ve established a small sense of control in what still feels like a chaotic and unsafe world. I feel like I’ve gained control over my grief work, setting aside time each day to work through whatever my mind and heart needs me to.

Right now I have two ways of being: deeply sad, angry, or anxious, or, distracted from sadness, anger, or anxiety. I am able to take interest in things, but it’s active and tiring, and I have to pace myself. I still don’t feel real happiness or pure joy. I smile and I laugh, but it’s smiles and laughter that are fragile, the pain just under the surface and threatening to break through at any moment.

The lifting of the weight has started to bring my memory back. For three months the accident acted as a broken sieve, holding back memories that I desperately craved. I wondered if my memories would ever return, despite the assurance from my grief counsellor that they would. It felt like my memories were just another thing that the universe was taking without my permission. Perhaps our bodies are designed that way to protect us from the massive pain that we surely couldn’t endure all at once. In particular, my mind craved the memory of the last time I had seen my mom and uncle, just a week before the accident. Despite my efforts, that visit had become a blur and no details were within my reach. The details are starting to come back. Though not complete, I remember a lot about that last visit now.

It was Thanksgiving. Madeleine and I spent the afternoon sitting on the floor of my parents family room, making beaded necklaces and bracelets. The last gift Maddy would give my mom. After Maddy lost interest, she asked my mom to help her find specific beads, whatever her favourite of the moment, all of the butterflies or all of the hearts. My mom joked with me that she’d be finding beads under her furniture for months (without doubt, after every visit I would get a text from my mom about her decorative marbles Maddy loved to play with, and all of the bizarre places my mom was finding them).

mom and maddy

Eric and my brother, Scotty, took Loki to the dog park. While they were out, Madeleine kept repeating to everyone, with incredible enthusiasm, “Welcome home!” Mom and I convinced Maddy that she should run to the door to say that to daddy and Uncle Scott when they got home. Alas, she forgot by the time they walked through the door.

We all sat together for dinner, dad taking one of his “table pictures”. Prior to the accident, my dad’s insistence on having the same photo at every family gathering was annoying. Today, I’m so happy we have that last photo together. I only wish my oldest sister and family were with us that weekend. After dinner, as usual, my family sat around the table chatting, nibbling on dessert and enjoying some drinks.

fam jam

Eric and I decided it was time for us to leave. Maddy had had enough and it was starting to show. We started pulling our things together. I kept getting side tracked, and by the time we were walking out the door, I hadn’t even really said a proper goodbye, yelling to everyone that we were leaving because Maddy was grumpalicious (and I was halfway to grumpy pants). As I walked out the door, my Uncle Rob called to me. I remember turning to him and letting out a huge, “Ugh!” I then apologized and said Maddy was freaking out and I needed to leave. His response, so clear in my head now, “I just wanted to give you a hug goodbye.” I went back in and gave him a hug and kiss. I can’t remember if I hugged my mom. As I walked to the door, my Uncle said he’d email me to set up a weekend to visit, hopefully in two weeks if we were free. That visit still sits in my brain… the visit that never happened.

While we were driving home, I called my mom. Madeleine was in total panic that we’d left a bag of chocolate at the house. Maddy wanted us to turn the car around, but Grammy assured her that she would save it for our next visit. She promised she wouldn’t let Grandpa eat it. I told my mom that Madeleine was crying because she forgot to say “welcome home” to daddy and Uncle Scott. My mom responded, “Better hope she doesn’t remember that we didn’t make purple play doh!” Every visit home, Madeleine would tell my mom what colour play doh she wanted to make, and they would make it. Maddy began to equate a visit at Grammy’s house with helping Grammy make play doh, and helping Grammy make everyone banana strawberry smoothies. A week earlier, we had called to let Grammy know that we felt like purple play doh next week. Madeleine never brought up the purple play doh. I don’t remember how that phone call ended. I like to believe that I told my mom I loved her, like I often did when we would hang up. I can’t be sure though.

We got home that night tired, and a bit grumpy, but it felt like every other visit. It didn’t feel like the last one. There were no signs that this was it, that I would never see my mom or uncle alive again. I didn’t know that the next time I would see them, they wouldn’t really look like themselves, they wouldn’t be smiling and laughing. They wouldn’t tell me that they wanted to give me a hug goodbye. I didn’t know that that was my last chance for everything.

Big, scary feelings

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We use the term big feelings in our house to talk about strong, overwhelming, or scary feelings. When Maddy is having a tough time we acknowledge her big feelings, label them as best we can, and try to help her manage them. We talk about how everyone has big feelings, even adults. We work hard to have her understand that big feelings are okay to have, that we can learn to work with our big feelings instead of against them, and most importantly, that she can trust us to help her with her big feelings for however long she needs us to.

Since the accident, I am the the one having non-stop big feelings. Grief is overwhelming, consuming, and can be downright scary. Right now, I am messy and broken. I have felt messy and broken before in my life… but not this kind of messy and broken. This is new territory for me. I sometimes feel like a shell of my former self, just trying to get through the day, or sometimes the moment. Grief is unpredictable. Emotions wash over you at unexpected times… sometimes contradictory emotions that feel difficult to reconcile. Grief can be irrational, and even though you can identify the lack of rationality in your thoughts, you can’t control the feelings that surface, you can only work with them so that you can continue to heal.

It’s scary to not recognize yourself, to not know who you are anymore. Who am I now that I don’t have a mother? How does my family fit together without the glue? Where do I fit in the world now? I will always miss my mom and uncle, and the world will always be a different place after this experience. I woke up as one person on October 18, and fell asleep as a completely changed person. I am traumatized, grief-stricken, forever changed. I have become, and for the rest of my life will be, a motherless daughter.

Sometimes I feel shame as a grieving parent. I feel guilty that the girls have to live in a house so full of sadness, and anger; that their mom is irritable, sluggish, and pained. I feel guilty thinking that my mom and uncle would want the girls to live in a happy home. Even though I can recognize my mom as an imperfect, but wonderful mother; I feel as though my imperfections, so apparent while I’m grieving, are failing my family. I can tell myself that my mom and uncle deserve to be grieved, and that they would understand, but guilt is a sticky emotion.

I have worked through this idea of being an imperfect parent before, finally accepting that showing your children that you’re human is of huge service to them… because they too are human, and need to accept themselves as the beautiful, unique people that they are. Our family anthem is pretty much Secrets by Mary Lambert. But, I have never felt as imperfect as I do right now. I am not present with my girls in the way that I’d like to be. I am doing my best, but it feels like it’s not enough.

Tonight, while we were driving in the car, I began to cry. After some time, from the backseat we hear Maddy say, “What’s that sound?” There was a pause. Eric responded, “Mommy is crying. She’s feeling really sad thinking about Grammy and Uncle Rob. It’s okay to cry when we’re sad.” Another pause. Then my sweet child said, “Mommy, I want to hold your hand. I want to help you calm down.”

The next time I feel shame creeping into my thoughts, I will think of this moment, of those words. Despite what I want, my girls will one day feel messy and broken. Maybe it won’t be the result of the early loss of their mother, but it will be something. Life gives everyone their knocks, and one day, hopefully a long time from now, it will be Maddy and Ella’s turn. When it’s their turn, I want them to be able to be loving and kind to themselves. I want them to feel as comfortable as they can with those big feelings. I want them to allow themselves to show their messy selves to the world.

Grieving will not just expose the girls to sadness and anger, it will expose them to an imperfect mother who keeps putting one foot in front of the other. A mother who works through big, scary feelings, who shares her big feelings with people she can trust, and who asks for help when she needs it. I hope that it will one day show them that despite all the heartbreak, we can heal into a new version of ourself. Life might break us sometimes, and we might accumulate more life experience than we may have ever wanted, but we can be our authentic, real, imperfect selves.

My sweet Madeleine, Grammy and Uncle Rob would be so proud of the thoughtful, kind, and caring little girl you are becoming. I am so very proud to be your mommy.

Too soon to say goodbye

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I was 30 years old, and 37 weeks pregnant on October 18th. It was a lazy Saturday afternoon at our house. I was sitting on the couch in our living room when I got the call that forever changed my life; changed who I am.

My Mom and Uncle Rob were killed in a car accident that afternoon. My Uncle was declared dead at the scene, my Mom hung on for 3 hours, and was air lifted to the nearest trauma centre before she was declared dead. I lost my breath, my centre, and my heart that day.

The world is not the same to me, it feels unsafe, unpredictable, and confusing. I am not the same. I don’t know who I am anymore. I don’t know where I fit in the world.

There are no words that I can use to help anyone close to me understand the pain that I feel. The deepest, darkest pain I have ever felt in my life. I can’t tell you what I’m feeling… because there are no words. No words that could paint a picture even remotely close to how I feel. I try, and will continue to try, but the right words just don’t exist.

I lost my closest Uncle and my Mom in the blink of an eye. No chance to say goodbye. I was not finished needing them. I was not finished being mothered. My kids were not finished needing them.

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For now, I will leave you with what my sisters and I wrote and shared at the celebration of life ceremony:

While it is difficult to sum up in a couple of minutes, we hope that what we share will give you a glimpse into the profound effect our Mom and Uncle have had on our lives, and what special people they were.

Uncle Rob was more than an uncle to us. He was so incredibly involved in our lives, spending more time with us than typical of an uncle. Over the past couple weeks we have described him as a second father, and an additional grandfather.

Our uncle had a great sense of humour and a quick wit. He was thoughtful, generous and kind, always thinking of others. He was someone you could call for advice – especially if you wanted a perspective on cars, or home renovations. No offense to our loving dad, but in most cases, Uncle Rob was the go-to person on these topics. He would always set aside time for us, and it never felt as though you were intruding or asking too much. No matter our need, Uncle Rob could always be counted on.

He was a collector – in his own life seeking toy soldiers, die-cast cars, model tanks, old currencies, and parts for his 1950 Chevy. This is a passion that he shared with us. Attentive and in-tune with our individual interests, he scoured the internet for hard-to-find items we enjoyed, including Betty Boop figurines, cow collectables, and the more difficult to find Disney Cars cars.

Uncle Rob was affectionate and loving. As we became teenagers and then adults, he showed his affection through different means, like marking our first mothers’ day with bouquets of flowers, and showering our children with love. He wasn’t shy about calling or sending us an email to express pride in our accomplishments.

Our uncle absolutely adored Logan, Madeleine, and Chloé, as well as the family dog Loki – and the feeling was mutual. He shared a particularly strong bond with Logan. Logan spoke of Uncle Rob so frequently his daycare providers confused him for Uncle, rather than Great Uncle. Always wanting others to feel special, Uncle Rob would let Madeleine paint his nails with the purple nail polish he had given her for Christmas, and had a piece of Logan’s handmade Cars artwork framed for Logan’s room.

In the last few years prior to our Grammy’s death, Uncle Rob demonstrated many attributes that we admire. He was strong for Grammy, always showing care and compassion. Without ever complaining, Uncle Rob drove Grammy to and from her medical appointments, and always ensured that she was well cared for. Uncle Rob made sure that Grammy had every opportunity to see family, including those out in New Brunswick.

It is easy to see that mom and Uncle Rob were brother and sister. They shared many admirable traits.

We have always admired our mom, not just as a mom, but for who she was as a person. She was family focused – the super mom of moms – but also a Girl Guide leader, an active church member, a sewer, a lover of the colour pink, but best of all, someone we could always count on. Mom was a very sensitive, warm, loving, generous and compassionate person. She centered her universe around taking care of others. She led by example and unintentionally influenced many of her children into various careers that help others. She was a wonderful listener and we always knew that we could call her any time.

Growing up, even though she had her hands full with four kids, Mom supported us all in our individual varied interests including dance, swimming, music, and many team sports. It didn’t matter how we performed. Even if we made mistakes, whether little or big, Mom just knew how to make us feel that effort was all that mattered, so proud of everything we all did. As adults, she watched us cross finish lines, fundraised with us, and helped us paint our homes.

Mom has given us a strong example of how to be a caring person not just within a family, but also within a community. She has shown us that the greatest blessing in life is to connect and support others, that we are all stronger together. In our most vulnerable moments, we knew that we could always count on Mom to be gentle and kind. Mom fearlessly gave unconditional love, loving people for who they were, not for who she wished they would be. This allowed her to provide each of her kids and grandkids with the support and love that they needed to thrive. Mom always gave people the benefit of the doubt, took a situational approach to understanding others actions, and ascribed to the philosophy that kindness could heal. She instilled in us the importance of building others up, and the values of family, education, and work.

Of course, mom had her share of endearing quirks, like not allowing us to load the dishwasher, filling the ice-cube trays from the Brita, picking out all of the Cheetos from the Munchies mix, and not letting us sit in the living room. But, she was lighthearted, and showed us through example, how to accept ourselves quirks and all.

Although she didn’t have dad’s sense of humour – some might say thankfully – she was fun to be silly and joke with. We can recall many fun moments when we teased her for her singing, or jokingly told her that one of us was pregnant when we weren’t. We made her Facebook profile one Christmas without her knowing, jokingly focusing the profile information around her love for Logan. We had no idea how much she would eventually use Facebook to stay connected with family and friends.

Mom has always been a role model for us as mothers. She has always lit up with the presence of her kids and grandkids, not just with pride in the things we’ve accomplished, but out of pure joy of our existence. No matter what was happening in Mom’s life, she always managed to make sure we knew that we were among the most important things to her. She supported us in the paths we chose in life, never questioning our motives or abilities. She gave us confidence to pursue all of our career goals and other life aspirations.

Mom adored her grandchildren, Logan, Madeleine and Chloé, more than you can love life itself. The day Mom learned that she was going to be a grandma, she had tears of joy. Both the grandmother and the teacher in her loved to hear every little accomplishment the kids’ made, no matter how small. We can only believe that she will be watching over the arrival of her newest grandchild in just a week.

Mom was a caring, kind, fun-loving woman, who has left a huge mark on the world that she has left behind. She made our world a calmer, safer, and better place.

To Mom and Uncle Rob – thank you for the years of support, and guidance you have given us. Thank you for filling our lives with love, laughter, and irreplaceable memories. We will forever remember you both as two of the best cheerleaders we have been blessed to have in our lives.

 

 

I can’t clean up because…

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The top ten reasons why my three-year old can’t clean up her toys…

10. “We still need these for our camp site.”

9. “It’s a lot of work,” or “It’s too tricky.”

8. “Uhhh, you first!”

7. “I can’t see my toys.”

6. “I already did.”

5. “I’m busy cooking onion strawberry soup for dinner.”

4. “My back hurts.”

3. “It hurts when I bend over.”

2. “The baby/sheep/horse/puppy in my belly makes it hard for me to bend down.”

1. “Because mommy likes to clean up my toys!”

One step

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Before our sweet Madeleine came along, we got a lot of advice from other parents. Still to this day, the two most important pieces came from a colleague of mine, and a colleague of Eric’s.

A woman at my work said to me, “You are never going to be or feel ready. So just do it when you think it’s right.”

A man at Eric’s work said to him, “When things aren’t going well, don’t worry, they will get better. When things are going well, be warned, they will get worse.” The natural ups and downs described so easily.

When Madeleine arrived, people told us,

“Don’t worry, it will get better.”

“All babies cry.”

“You will get to sleep again.”

Amongst a number of other things. I often reflect on these comments and think that they need some changes.

Don’t worry, it will get better. It might not get better, but you will get better.”

It’s true that as parents, you figure things out, and you get better. But, it’s also true that those memories of the first time spent with your baby are engrained and tough to remove.  When you think you’ve been able to move on, you are expecting a second, and the fear and panic from those days comes rushing back. You remember the isolation, the loneliness, the exhaustion. You remember how it felt as though nobody believed you. You remember the feelings that to so many people, you are simply a carer-of-baby, and not a person who is equally as important as baby.

Then you cross your fingers and pray that next baby will be different. Next baby won’t have colic. Next baby will want to be soothed. Next baby will smile and laugh. Next baby will sleep for longer than an hour at a time when he or she is 9 months old.

But, then you’re hit with the realization, that next baby is the least of your worries, and that first beautiful baby of yours is who you are most worried about. Most people will tell you not to worry, first baby will adapt. But, most people have not lived in your home. Most people have not lived through what you have lived through. Most people don’t can’t understand.

All babies cry. All babies cry. Some cry more than others. Sometimes crying means that something is wrong. You are probably right if you think your baby is crying too much.”

Yes, this is true that all babies cry. It is actually not helpful to tell a new mom that all babies cry. She will be too polite to let you know that this is something she has known for many, many years. She will forgive you for saying something like this, because she knows that you’re just trying to be helpful. She won’t need you to know the myriad of reasons she discovered that her baby cried more than most. She won’t have to, because someone else will have validated her experience for her. She will share the bits and pieces that she’s comfortable sharing, with the people that she feels safe sharing them with.

You will get to sleep again. You will get to sleep again… in 18 years.”

The level of exhaustion I felt in Maddy’s first year is something I’m not sure I will ever experience again. It was a true life lesson in why sleep deprivation is used as a torture method. It was an experience where exhaustion played at sanity. I remember waking up to a crying baby, and physically not being able to move. I would try to will my body to get up, but it was not possible.

Over time, sleep does become more consistent. It’s true that you will sleep more than when baby is 3 months old. But, it’s also true that you might not sleep through the night again for many years. You might have a child that doesn’t sleep, no matter what you do. You might be woken 7 times in a night when your child is 3, on a regular basis. You might have a child who takes hours and hours to settle into sleep, no matter how consistent and routine-based your evening is. Your expectations of sleep will change – and you will somehow figure out how to be productive with all of that waking. You will let your body be your guide, and take it easy when it needs you to.

The last three years have been a time of ups and downs, with unexpected curves, and needed plateaus. It has been a time of wild growth, and of deep love. We have learned, we have been hurt, we have been tested, and we have been cared for.

There was a time that I wasn’t sure that I could manage a second baby. There was a hesitant decision to listen to our hearts. Now there is fear and uneasiness. We are entering a kind of work and preparation I never thought I would need to do to expand our family, but we are showing up each day, and taking one step at a time.

 

 

Peaks and valleys

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I’ve been having a rough go emotionally the last little while. I’ve sat down a few times to blog, but couldn’t get the words quite right. The last couple of months have thrown us some twists.  A family vacation that was more difficult than we imagined, despite our endless preparations for it. Repercussions from our family vacation. Follow-up visits with some of our lovely doctors/therapists. Appointments that included information that we weren’t prepared to hear quite yet, and that have left me in a state of confusion and with a feeling of helplessness. A pregnancy that keeps moving forward towards the arrival of a beloved babe, but that sometimes feels like another test to add to our family load. These challenges followed a very lovely and emotionally positive and strong winter – it feels like the a temporary valley. A valley that has its own beauty, even though I’m actively working on climbing out of it.

There are many lovely, amazing things happening right now too – which are acting as an equalizer to this funk. My work hours have reduced to 24 hours a week. Even though I adore my job, I feel like I can breathe and I’m finding balance after a hectic work winter. We are enjoying the summer, spending most of it outdoors, as that is Maddy’s favourite place to be. I am finding strength in my closest friends, in my community, and at home. I have a lovely new haircut thanks to a very talented, long-time friend. Nothing like a new haircut to make you feel like you can take on the world :)

The hardest feeling that I’m battling is hurt. As I’m sure any parent reading this will understand, I hurt so deeply when things are hard for Maddy and I can’t fix them. I hurt so deeply when I run out of patience and am not the mom I want to be, especially when I know that the situation that I have lost my patience in is beyond mine, Eric or Maddy’s control. I hurt so deeply, when I’m on the edge of coping, and I have to leave Maddy in a time when she wants me. I worry that she sees it as a punishment for something that isn’t really her fault. I worry that she might use those times to assess her worth or value in this world. I always try to explain when we’re both in a place to talk, but I don’t know if my words are enough.

Parenting is amazing, exhilarating, and incredible, but it sure has tested me more than I expected. Some days it feels like one foot in front of the other is a success to celebrate. Other days I sit and look over the past 3 years and can’t believe what we have accomplished as a family. Every day I love Maddy for exactly who she is, a sometimes over-the-top silly, clever, very inquisitive, strong-willed, determined, active, beautiful little girl. But, there are some days that I wish more than anything that the road was not so hard for her, or us.