2016

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Starting 2015 caught me off guard. I didn’t expect the day to cause such pain, because new years was not a day that I typically spent with my mom or uncle. This year, I was prepared that it would hurt.

A new year. A year that I will see, but that they won’t. A year of memories to be made, memories that will not include our beloved mom and uncle. A year of seconds. The first year that we will look back 365 days and not have them there.

It’s hard to explain, and yet not hard at all. Special people are missing, and all I can do is miss them. To stop missing them, would hurt more than to miss them with every fibre of my being. On good days… and bad days. In happy and sad moments.

Eric and I are entering 2016 trying to make some big decisions as parents. At least, decisions that feel big, even huge, in this moment. All I want to do is call my mom. Not because I have a specific question that I need an answer for, not because there’s nobody else we can talk to, and not even because I have something particular that I want to say, but simply because she’s my mom.

When I was pregnant with Madeleine, an extended relative hosted a baby shower for me. My mom was there. She was always there. One of the planned activities was for all of the mothers in attendance to share a story with me about motherhood. They each gave brief stories – some funny, some full of love, some about the challenges of navigating motherhood. When it was my mama’s turn, she told me about the time I fell off the counter and landed face down as a baby. Then she told me about the time she fell down the stairs holding my oldest sister in her arms. She told me that she wanted me to remember those stories the first time I dropped, or otherwise injured, our new baby.

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And, I did drop Madeleine. She rolled off the change table. I was standing in front of her and my hands were pulling at the box of wipes, so I tried to catch her with my leg. I basically kneed her into the drawer and then she fell to the ground. I laugh about it now, but I felt awful when it happened. Even though I felt awful, I did remember my mom’s stories. I remembered how much I adore my mom even though she has made mistakes. I remembered that even my mom, who always seemed like super mom, like a woman who just took motherhood in stride, once dropped not one, but two of her children (and who knows about the other two, haha!).

I want to call my mom. I want her to tell me that Uncle Rob is at the house. I want her to say, “Uncle Rob wants to know….” And I want to hear his random question. I want to know more about when I was young. I want my mom’s comfort. I want them to still be on my team, cheering my small family on. I want to know that no matter what decision Eric and I make, that they would be with us on the rollercoaster.

My mom taught me that a mother, like any person, doesn’t need to be perfect. She also showed me in a million different ways how to do good for others, not just as a mother, but as a friend, a colleague, a mentor, and a community member. She showed me enough that I learned what I think she wanted me to, but it wasn’t enough that I was done with absorbing her love and lessons.

A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take. Cardinal Mermillod

 

14 months

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It’s been 14 months since my mom and uncle Rob died. So many people have asked me to try to describe what it feels like to have a loss like mine. I have many times tried to articulate it, and I have failed as many times as I’ve tried. But, I keep trying, and I’ll keep trying, because silence doesn’t serve me. Writing helps me. It helps me to clarify my own feelings. It helps me to find my voice, and it helps me to find those around me who are here for the long run.

Fourteen months have passed. Too quickly. Too slowly. I still miss them. I miss them so deeply that it is just a part of me. I don’t want to not miss them. They are so intertwined in who I am, that without missing them, I would not be me.

Significant loss fourteen months out still hurts. That shouldn’t be surprising. Twelve months is not a magical number that fixes things. Christmas two was harder than Christmas one. I was less numb this year. I could really feel this year. The permanence was stronger; the forever-ness.

After a year has passed, what does it feel like?

It is days where I feel mostly okay, and yet that mostly okay is also different and unsure. It’s knowing that a word, a song, a picture, a smell, can turn that mostly okay into pretty awful. And, for the most part, those words, songs, pictures, smells, catch me by surprise. I don’t realize how much they’ll get me until they’ve got me.

Days of mostly okay always have a tug at the heart. Every smile, laugh, joy, has a tugging at the heart. The tugging is just how it is now. I can’t make the tug go away, even if I wanted it to.

Loneliness of not having the one person I want to call to talk something through. It doesn’t matter how many people I talk it through with, it’s still incomplete, because the one person I want to tell I can’t. It’s lonely not having the one person I want and need to ask, “what should I do?” Even if I know mama’s answer would be, “I don’t know.”

Loneliness because even the people who desperately want to understand don’t… and can’t. And, thank goodness for that.

Anxiety that catches me off guard, making it hard to breath. It’s my heart beating fast, my tears just below the surface. It’s busy hands to still my mind, then still hands when I’m ready to let the wave crash over me. It’s finding my way to the other side of the wave still intact.

It’s hearing your 4-year-old from the back of the van, “Mommy, I don’t want to worry you, but there’s a bad thing I have to tell you. I’m sorry to tell you this, but at the end of this movie Captain Hook will have to go to heaven. Is it okay for you to watch still?”

Desperate longing that can never be fulfilled. Wanting to feel the soft skin on the back of my mom’s hands, or to pull the clasp of her necklace to the back of her neck. Longing to feel another of my uncle’s bear hugs. Craving to see them embrace my kids; heck, to even know Ella.

intervals

Moments or days of resisting change, or not wanting to accept the ripple effects of losing the nucleus to our family. It’s moments of the opposite, of wanting everything to change all at once. Wanting to avoid the differences. It’s feeling confused.

It’s finding my people. The people who get and support me. The people who I can trust. It’s getting to be someone else’s person too.

Questioning life: Why do things happen the way they do? What does it all mean? Reading all kinds of theories and pulling the parts that are comforting into my toolbox. Consuming book after book and article after article and being no further ahead… actually, being further behind than before I started.

It’s thinking about the accident, the sequence of it, and asking myself the same questions for the millionth time. It’s thinking about the bystanders who stopped at the scene of the accident, who jeopardized their own mental wellbeing to help two strangers. It’s wondering how they’re doing after 14 months. It’s being so grateful that my mom and uncle weren’t alone.

Wondering what it must be like, to get in your car one day not knowing that it is the last thing you’ll ever do. It’s so simple, and yet I still can’t wrap my mind around it. One day you’re alive and well, and you do everything for the last time…. and that’s it… and everything you leave behind is forever changed.

Two people have left, and my whole world has changed. Nothing can ever be the same again. I can wake up and face each day, but I am not the same, and I wouldn’t want to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

remember

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Every November Canadians remember. Each year I lovingly pull out a photo of my Grandfather, and pause to reflect on what he and so many others sacrificed for our freedom. Last year, in the chaos of losing my mom and uncle, the day slipped past me. This year, though the loss is still fresh, the chaos has subsided, and I find myself in a place of remembrance once again.

grandpa

This is the first year that Madeleine has begun to understand the meaning of November 11. Her kindergarten classroom had a veteran join them yesterday. I was really curious to follow-up with Maddy, to see what the veteran had shared, what she had absorbed, to answer any questions she had lingering. It took me by surprise when I asked Maddy, to find that she was so upset about Remembrance Day, that she couldn’t really talk about it. She started shouting at me, and ended with, “You know that they’re not alive anymore!”

My heart felt so heavy for her, that at four years of age, the reality of death was so real for her.

I spent some time reflecting on what death means for Maddy. How will experiencing a sudden death change her? At four, Maddy knows that death leads to chaos, sadness, anger, anxiety…. I could go on. How will that shape her? Perhaps this experience will increase her empathy towards others, make her more forgiving and accepting of others. Perhaps she will cherish the love and time that so many friends and family share with her in a different way than other young kids. How will this loss change her understanding of Remembrance Day?

It hadn’t crossed my mind that the realness of death that is already part of her world would help her to be deeply grateful to those Canadians who willingly gave up so much, so that we could enjoy the freedoms we have today. Yes, at this age, it is hard for her to wrap her head around, and presents itself as anger and confusion. But as she matures, and is able to process those feelings, I think that her understanding will be deep. She will hear stories of her Great Grandfather, and understand his sacrifice, the sacrifice of so many, and their families. She will know the importance, deep in her soul.

We Remember.

still searching

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Shortly after my mom and uncle’s accident, I was at my uncle’s house with Eric and Madeleine. I was still pregnant. Walking into the empty house was like walking into a room without oxygen. The idea that my uncle left the house on October 18, and that since then, nobody had slept another night there, left me breathless. It literally knocked the wind out of me and I had to consciously take deep breaths.

At some point while we were there, my “uncle’s car” drove down the road. Now, obviously this was not my uncle’s car. My uncle’s car was in pieces. I had seen the photos. And yet, as I stood in the living room looking out the window, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the road. Even though my mind knew better, my heart had a strange hope hiding deep inside. Hope that the car would turn into the driveway. That my mom and uncle would get out. That this was all some misunderstanding. At the time, I found it completely bizarre how I could “know” that they were gone, dead, never coming back, and yet, at the same time harbour hope that I would still see them both again one day.

I recently joined the What’s Your Grief online book club, and the first book we’re reading is Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I am only half-way through, but I love the title – magical thinking – that bizarre hope that a person you have seen dead with your own eyes, is really not dead. And, a week ago when I started the book, I thought in my head, “yes, yes… I know what that’s about. I used to have that.”

Then, tonight, while waiting to be seated at a restaurant, I got a glimpse of a man who looked similar to my uncle. It knocked the wind out of me, just like that black car did many months ago. After my brief glimpse, I woman stood between us, blocking my view. And, wouldn’t you know, I squirmed, without taking my eyes off of this man, until I could get a full view to confirm that it was not my uncle. Those brief seconds felt like forever, and I desperately hoped that this man was the man whose lap I had sat in as a child. I hoped that I’d be able to run up and be wrapped up in his huge hug. That I could cry into his shoulder and tell him how awful it was thinking that he was gone.

I’m not sure why, maybe because of seeing that man at the restaurant, I chose to read Love You Forever to Madeleine tonight. At the end of the book, we were talking about how mommies and daddies love their babies forever and ever even when they get sick and old. Madeleine burst into tears and told me that she didn’t want Eric and I to die, and then asked if Grammy was old and that’s why she had to “go up there” (her 4-year-old way of speaking of the abstractness of heaven). In that moment, in a very different way, I had magical thinking. I wanted to tell her that of course we won’t die on her. We’ll be here for as long as she needs us.

But, now, even more than ever, I know that I can’t tell Madeleine that. Because even though I don’t want to ever leave her, that is not within my control. I want to be able to forever nurture her, and reflect back to her who I see her as – a perfectly imperfect person. I don’t ever want either of my girls to feel the pain that I feel, to be motherless. But, that is the price we must pay for deep love and connection.

 

 

 

but, why?

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But why is the sun visiting Australia now?

But why is it time for the sun to go to Australia?

But why does time keep passing?

But why is time passing part of life?

But why don’t you know?

But why should I ask daddy?

After a visit with a university friend of mine who currently lives in Australia, Maddy has had her interest in understanding the sun sparked again. She quizzed me for a half hour about Australia tonight. She often asks me questions that I can’t answer, and never accepts that I don’t know something (I should probably bookmark this to remember when one day she never accepts that I do know anything ;) ).

Time. It does just keep passing. Asking why is to ask a question that many have pondered and none have answered. Time, both a blessing and a curse. Non-grief time feels somewhat standard. It speeds up with age, and tends to be relative to the number of new experiences you are having. Grief time is like an elastic band. Everything feels so far and so close all at once. To those of you in non-grief time, October 18, 2014 might feel like more than half a year ago. For me, it feels like yesterday. And yet, at the same time, it feels like a lifetime since I heard my mom and uncle’s voices. It feels like a lifetime since I felt the soft skin on the back of my mom’s hand. It feels like a lifetime since I spun my mom’s necklace around her neck and quipped that someone must be thinking of her.

I asked my grief counsellor if she thought that this elastic-grief-time is our brain’s way of protecting us. She said, “yes, it could be.” In one sense it deepens the pain, when you realize that it has felt like forever since that “last time.” In another sense, it allows us to feel the closeness that we crave – a split second of time where the heart and mind temporarily forgets that it’s been forever and it feels like just yesterday.

On October 18, I felt like I wanted to die. Or, at least I knew I didn’t want to live in a world that didn’t include my mom and uncle anymore. I didn’t want to live and I didn’t know how to live in that world. That world shouldn’t exist, and so I wanted to refuse to be a part of it. In the acute stage of grief, and a bit beyond, I cried so much, that crying was my normal state. To not be crying, was weird. The sadness of that time was the deepest pain, not being able to be in the world without feeling disconnected. Anytime I found myself around anyone who either didn’t know or didn’t acknowledge what had happened to me, I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “MY MOM AND UNCLE ARE DEAD! I DON’T HAVE A MOTHER!”

Seven and a half months have passed and the shape and form of the pain has changed, but it’s still as present as ever. I no longer have that feeling of screaming at the top of my lungs, but I do find it difficult to be in social situations still. It’s particularly difficult being amongst those that don’t know. There’s something to be said about draping your house with a marker, or wearing black. A message to the world, “I’m grieving, be gentle with my heart.”

Still, the sadness is pervasive. It’s always there, but it’s depth varies now, compared to the early days when it was always deep. Crying is no longer my most common state, but it is still common. I read this the other day (there was no citation) and it really struck a chord with me,

It’s not the kind of sadness where you cry all of the time, but more like the sadness that overwhelms your entire body, leaving your heart aching and your stomach empty, making you feel weak and tired. And yet, you can’t even sleep cause the sadness is in your dreams too. It’s almost a sadness you can’t escape.

To know me, now, is to know sadness. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the fact that I will never truly be okay. But, in accepting that I will never truly be okay, I think I will be okay. The greatest gift you can give to me and others who are in sad phases of their life, is to accept them, sadness and all. I will show up if you let me be me.

everything

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I’m just coming off of the never-ending stomach bug from hell. One evening, while the littlest was siphoning off the only fluid my body had managed to retain (I wish I was kidding), I started thinking about all the times my mom has helped me when I’ve been sick.

When I was little (and not-so-little) my mom would always station me in her bed so I could put on the TV if I was feeling up to it. She would place a bucket next to the bed, with a little bit of water in the bottom, knowing that I was horrendous at actually making it to the toilet to throw up. Mom would bring me ginger ale and ice in a glass, with a spoon, so I could stir out all of the bubbles. She would make me chicken noodle soup. These are still the things I like when I’m sick. My very patient hubby, Eric, still even lets me throw up in a bucket (I can hear my mom scolding me, exaggerating the vowels in my name).

I learned young where my mom learned her skills from, when once while my parents were away, I had to wake my Grammy in the middle of the night after a nose bleed had covered my bed sheets. Despite (probably) being quite tired, she was kind and patient, and helped change the sheets and stop the nose bleed.

My favourite ‘sick’ memory is from when I was in grade three. My mom and dad had been away on vacation, and my Grammy was staying at our house. On the day my parents got home I didn’t get to see them before leaving for school. I waited until I thought they’d be home, and then I faked sick.

Once we were home, my mom called my Grammy, as she often did. I was lying in our family room, in the sun spot created by our sliding doors. I was enjoying the warmth of the sun on my skin when I heard my mom say, “Ashley’s home sick. I thought that she just wanted to come home because I’ve been away, but she must really be sick…. she’s sleeping on the floor in the family room.” The thing is, up to that point, my mom never made me feel like she knew I was faking. She took the time to take care of me even though she had suspected it was that I missed her, not that I was sick. There was no lecture about faking sick. I couldn’t even tell if my mom was even slightly annoyed that I faked sick to come home. On that day, in that moment, my mom gave me exactly what I needed: her love and time.

Mom and Grammy, 2013

Mom and Grammy, 2013

There is still a lot of sadness for me when I think of these memories, depending on the day sometimes crippling sadness, sometimes just a few tears. This memory had me really thinking about all the hours I saw my mom talk to my Grammy on the phone. I have always spent a lot of time on the phone with my mom, but I had assumed that I would have many more years of that. I expected afternoons with tea and shopping trips, just like my mom and Grammy had enjoyed. I expected to chat with mom on the phone when one of the girls was home sick from school. I expected more.

I expected more, and even though I believe that I am missing out on so much, when I think of these simple memories, I also know it to be true that my mom gave me everything.

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I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

I am the girl with the dead mom.

My hand aches. My heart aches.